Study shows food security a problem for thousands of Winnipeggers

WINNIPEG —; A study released by University of Winnipeg researchers shows thousands of Winnipeggers don’t have have access to healthy food or cannot afford high food prices.

The authors of the study, Kyle Wiebe and Jino Distasio from the university’s Institute of Urban Studies, detailed the areas of the city where food security remains a serious concern and classified them into ‘food deserts’ and ‘food mirages’. Food deserts are defined as areas where there is no grocery store within 1 KM of the neighbourhood.

A food mirage is a neighbourhood that has access to healthy food but due to low-incomes, cannot afford it.

“We found that barriers [to healthy food] is dynamic. And it’s not always distance-related,” said Wiebe.

Distance of neighbourhoods to grocery stores

Map of Food Deserts and Food Mirages

Winnipeg Social Deprivation Index

ChangSha Night Net

Wiebe said he hoped this will mean a more nuanced discussion for governments to find solutions; that there are issues of long-standing poverty that continues to hurt communities in a number of ways.

“A grocery store is not going to solve all the problems in the inner city, not by any means.

85,000 inner-city Winnipeggers live in either a food desert or a food mirage. 35,000 people in suburban areas experience the same problems. Researchers also developed a Social Deprivation Index; various factors that can make getting healthy food an additional challenge. These factors include low-income households, residents who do not own a car and populations of recent immigrants and Indigenous ancestry.

“It’s really not just about access to food, it’s about all the other things that have contributed to this in our city,” said Distasio.

RELATED: Canadian families of all income levels feeling the effect of food prices: Angus Reid

Distasio added that there is a misconception that building a grocery store in low-income areas can instantly solve problems. He said while residents would have closer, physical access to healthy food – it doesn’t mean they can afford it.

“It’s about people who live in front of food that can’t walk in that door and purchase that food. That’s the tremendous tragedy we see in Winnipeg.”

Currently, there are 59 national grocery chain stores (including big box stores such as Safeway, Walmart and Costco) and 14 regional chain stores in the city of Winnipeg. But 62% of inner city residents in Winnipeg still do not have walkable access (within 1 KM) to one of these stores.

But the issue can be far reaching beyond low-income neighbourhoods as well. The Winnipeg Harvest said, families, no matter the income are under tremendous stress to buy food that is not only affordable and nutritious as well.

“Even minimum wage, full time, full year, comes nowhere near the amount of money need,” said Donald Benham, spokesperson for the Winnipeg Harvest.

Benham said fruits, vegetables and dairy are often the first to be put back on the shelf because of cost. And he warned that no matter where one may live, whether it is in a food mirage or areas that do not encounter these challenges, there is a real world cost for the entire city down the line.

“If [a resident] has gone to the hospital 50 or 60 times, in that process, we’re all paying for it. We’re all paying for the lack of nutrition that person has had.”

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