Thriving Canadian food banks elicit mixed feelings and serious questions

Farm Credit Canada and agriculture minister Gerry Ritz joined forces at an east end Ottawa Food Bank warehouse this week to launch a national drive away hunger campaign.

It is a great initiative by the minister, the national farm lender and the Canadian food bank establishment. FCC has been doing this for years.

The goal is to have FCC employees in five provinces — Alberta, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan — collect food for those who do not have enough to feed themselves or their families through the month.

The focus is on rural Canada’s hungry.

“FCC’s drive away hunger campaign is making an impact in rural communities across the country,“ Food Banks Canada said in a statement before the May 7 launch of the campaign in Ottawa.

“The passion and drive of their employees is inspiring and is a testament to the commitment they have to their communities.”

Yet there remains a plague of hunger and malnutrition in our midst.

Hunger in Canada. How can that be?

It is one of the world’s richest countries and a veritable storehouse of protein production, much of which is exported.

Canada has its share of obese people. It has its share of over-fed and food wasting people.

Yet within the country, hunger stalks the land.

In Alberta, 53,000 people use food banks every month. In Saskatchewan, the number is 25,000 and in Ontario, 412,000.

In fact, food banks have become a mainstay of Canadian society since the first one was launched more than 25 years ago in Edmonton as a “temporary” measure during an economic downturn,.

More than one million Canadians, many of them children, use food banks every year.

So this week’s FCC launch of the latest food bank drive, supported for the first time in person by the agriculture minister, is a tribute to FCC’s commitment to social responsibility and the government’s support.

That’s the good news.

The bad news has to be that in a country as rich as Canada, food banks offering food charity to hundreds of thousands of Canadians still are necessary and are in fact a growing part of the national fabric.

Critics insist there is a “food bank industry” or a “food bank dependence” syndrome that leads people to depend on charity for their protein rather than look after themselves.

That may be true for some, but as a kid whose rural parents slid into deeper poverty and welfare payment survival for a while after illness, evidence is not strong that people would rather beg than fend for themselves.

So in a country as rich as Canada, where food is plentiful, surpluses are exported and standard-of-living ratings are among the world’s highest, it is unconscionable that food banks feed one in 30, that government is in the business of promoting charity and that poverty or other causes have made food banks a community mainstay.

Good on FCC, Ritz and the Canadian government for supporting them.

Bad on Canada for not seriously examining why in this land of milk and honey, families and their children still have to line up and feel the humiliation of asking for food charity.

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