Eating healthy is hard. It’s even harder for people who can barely afford to eat at all

Canned pudding and fruit on a food bank shelf
It’s becoming more expensive to eat healthy, and food banks are having trouble keeping up with the demand. (Nicola MacLeod/CBC)

Household food insecurity is directly linked to health issues, including heart disease and diabetes. For someone living with a food ailment like celiac disease or diabetes, going to the grocery store is a big expense, and specialty foods are not usually available through food charities. That means their nutritional needs are often not met.

More than 26,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians rely on food banks regularly, but many of these stopgap measures can’t meet an increasing demand.

Julie Greene, assistant executive director of Celiac Canada, says a gluten-free diet is the only relief for celiac disease.

“Currently, there is no treatment, there’s no cure,” she said. “The only medicine is eating food that is gluten-free. And unfortunately, the cost of gluten-free food is incredibly expensive right now.”

Tracking down specialty foods is not easy or affordable, he says.

“When you go to the grocery store, you know you’re doing your risk calculation: ‘is this food safe or not?’ Now you’ve got to add on ‘can I afford it or not?'” she said “And then: ‘Do I need to make an adjustment to the rest of my budget to make this work?’ That’s when it starts to be a burden.”

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition in which eating gluten sparks an inflammatory response in a person’s body and affects their ability to absorb the nutrients from food.

A sign on the inside of a door reads 'FOOD BANK CLOSED.  We regret to you that this food bank location will close as of May 19th.  We hope to find a new home soon.  Please visit an alternative food bank for assistance.'
Food banks are closing their doors, putting more pressure on other food charities. (Heather Gillis/CBC)

Diabetes Canada senior manager Ann Besner says day-to-day diabetes management is much more difficult in food-insecure households.

“A lack of food can make it really difficult to eat consistently, which is important when you’re living with diabetes,” she told CBC News. “When you don’t eat regularly, it can make your blood-sugar levels much more difficult to manage. And then of course diabetes is a condition in which it’s very difficult to maintain.”

Besner says financial support from the government and collaboration with community organizations are ways to combat food-insecurity.

“We get people calling our organization for various referrals to support the community and there are a lot of excellent programs out there, but people are really struggling and and we know that to address this problem it’s going to take a whole systems approach,” she said .

“So at Diabetes Canada we are advocating to governments, including the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, to fund the development and implementation of a comprehensive province wide diabetes strategy.”

This is a picture of a red food pantry.
Joshua Roberts operates this free food pantry in his neighborhood of Buckmaster’s Circle. (Steve Finn/CBC)

The Frecker Drive food pantry in St. John’s is a small cupboard that is stocked with essential food items by neighbors. Jane Henderson, one of the founders, sees the food insecurities that people face first-hand.

“I think it’s just a tough time for people. Research shows that for every person that reaches out to a pantry or to a food bank, there’s probably eight to nine more people who are food insecure.”

The Signals54:59Can you afford to eat a healthy diet these days?

The show speaks with Julie Greene, the assistant executive director of Celiac Canada and asks how rising food costs are impacting folks. We also ask listeners if they feel they can afford to eat a health diet these days and how that is impacting their health. At the start of the show Adam hears about a St. John’s neighborhood that is struggling to keep a small community pantry stocked.

The pantry was intended for emergency use, but Henderson says people now depend on it.

“It was meant to be used as an emergency measure for folks who didn’t have anything for supper or they just wanted something to tide them over until their next paycheck. It’s a very small pantry, but we are finding now that we simply cannot keep up with the demand.”

Henderson fears that with the recent closure of the Corpus Christi Food Bank there will be more hungry people who rely on small community run pantries, like the one on Frecker Drive.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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