What does food security have to do with the price of ground beef in Ottawa?
This week, the Heart and Stroke Foundation issued a report on the surprising discrepancies in the cost of healthy foods across Canada, which could put them out of the reach of the poor.
Their standard basket of heart-smart groceries costs $225.07 in Ottawa, one of the most exorbitant totals in Ontario, whether compared to big smoke Toronto ($185.44), isolated Bearskin Lake ($216.15) or even just-down-the-road Kingston ($164.47). Only Dryden, at $240.70, offered a rawer deal.
Some foods cost more here than the national average, some less. But according to the survey, a kilo of lean ground beef, which across Canada costs on average $7.18, somehow averaged $13.21 here. In notoriously expensive Nunavut, the cost was only $11.99.
Why? Good question. Methodology can always be questioned (lean ground beef could be had at Hartman’s Your Independent Grocer this week for $8.13 per kilo), but food pricing is far from transparent.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation, after the usual nagging about the vital importance of fruits, veggies and whole grains, noted that alcohol prices are regulated upwards for health reasons, so why not regulate the price of basic healthy foods downwards?
Indeed, in November, as the economy tanked and the growing ranks of the cash-choked perhaps felt need of a drink, Ontario hiked the legal minimum price of a case of beer 6.25 per cent, to $26.50. The Ministry of Finance admitted to being lobbied by the big brewers, but piously insisted the decision was taken with only the health of Ontarians in mind.
The foundation’s report quoted the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s definition of “food security” as a state in which “all people at all times have the economic and physical access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food necessary to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
“A lack of food security,” the report warned, “due to economic and geographic barriers is a significant determinant of health and an important heart health issue for some Canadians.”
While the Heart and Stroke study got plenty of ink, there was almost zero media coverage for Food Secure Canada’s national assembly on just such issues, held in Ottawa last November.
The conference necessitated a mad scramble for organic and local food to feed the expertly fussy delegates. One would hardly be surprised, once the bill was presented, if organizers started looking to places like Barrie, where, extrapolating wildly from the foundation study, the grub might have been 30 per cent cheaper.