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Working towards #ZeroHunger in Toronto this World Food Day 2018

Currently, more than 800 million people around the world are undernourished. Contrary to a first assumption, not all of them are confined to developing countries. In the city of Toronto alone, food banks received nearly a million visits last year. On 16 October, we celebrate World Food Day 2018, dedicated to raising awareness and garnering support for the ambitious, yet realizable Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2: Zero Hunger by 2030.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) unanimously designated every 16 October as World Food Day during its 20th summit in 1979 to spread awareness and rally governments and organizations in the fight against hunger. The first World Food Day was celebrated in 1981 and has been celebrated annually ever since.

FAO is one of the United Nations’ agencies with the longest history. It was inaugurated in Quebec, on October 16th 1945, during the UN’s first session, and was given the mission to defeat hunger worldwide. Today, the headquarters are located in Rome, and FAO counts 194 member countries and is present in 130 countries. Its activities vary from assessing food shortage and identifying its root causes such as inefficient production, food loss or waste, to promoting disaster relief and improving agricultural yields via education, or fighting locusts and distributing fertilizer.

For this year’s observance day, FAO is primarily working with SDG 2, one of the 17 SDGs established in 2015. These goals intend to unify the work conducted by nations, non-government organizations and other stakeholders towards a sustainable future and range from eradicating poverty to ensuring clean water and gender equality across the globe.

With approximately 821 million people in the world going hungry, more than 150 million children suffering stunting and 45% of infant deaths being attributed to insufficient nutrition, it is not a surprise the special importance given to this issue by the international community. In Canada approximately 8.3% of all households experienced food insecurity from 2011 to 2012 with the corresponding number for Ontario showing 8.7% of all households were food insecure 2013-2014. More recent data responsive to the progress to the goal Zero Hunger is still being processed.

In Toronto, 1 in 5 live in poverty which may affect the ability to provide food for themselves and their families. The number of visits to food banks in Toronto increased by 68% in the past decade and almost a third of those visits are confined to Scarborough. Although it is difficult to point to a single group of people facing hunger, the statistics for Torontonians relying on food banks’ support reveal that food insecurity is somehow connected to poverty, disability and senior population but not to education (35% of food bank clients had completed a post-secondary degree).

The issue at stake is paradoxical. On a global scale, there is more than enough food produced to feed everyone but the number of people facing hunger is on the rise. With so many people already relying on food bank support and the amount of people going hungry every year, what is being done to combat this issue?

Eliminating hunger in the GTA

To eradicate hunger in the long run, the City of Toronto has established a poverty reduction strategy spanning 20 years. This strategy focuses on 17 goals, including the elimination of hunger and increased access to “affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food”. One of these initiatives is the Student Nutrition Program which provides over 200 000 children and youth from Toronto with healthy meals and snacks in schools and community centers.

The City of Toronto is not alone. A large number of charities, such as 80 food banks, share the municipality’s interest on finding solutions. The Daily Bread Food Bank and its 10 000 volunteers distribute food to their 130+ member agencies on a daily basis, feeding more than 5 000 people per week. Their mission is to “Reduce poverty through research, education and the promotion of social change” and in 2017, they published the Who’s Hungry? report to collect important statistics for use by media, government and non-profit organizations. Feed It Forward is a charity opening a “Pay What You Can - Free, No Waste Grocery” store in Toronto. Together with their “pay what you can” restaurants, they estimate that since 2014 they have fed close to 40 000 people and prevented 33.6 tons of food waste from going to landfills. Second Harvest is another example of a food rescue organization, which identifies sources of surplus of good food in risk of going bad. Such donations are turned into 30 000 meals every day across Ontario, saving a vast amount of food from ending up in a landfill.

You can help

When thinking about hunger, the mind is often drawn to developing countries. People are often not aware of or forget how hunger permeates society even in developed countries such as Canada. Hunger has a different face here on the streets of Toronto, where people risks going without food for a day to pay for electricity or maybe have to skip lunch at the end of the month. There is a lot of effort on trying to remedy this situation and a large and invaluable part of this work is being done by volunteers. Every local and small action counts to help the FAO (and our city) to achieve #ZeroHunger by 2030.

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