Spring has arrived and Easter is coming fast! Whether Easter is a religious holiday for you, or just a chance to eat more chocolate and spend time with loved ones, it’s likely that food will be an important part of Easter weekend. However, with disparity in the access to food, putting together a celebratory family meal can be very challenging for some of us.
Food Banks Canada, with a network of over five hundred local food banks, has been fighting food insecurity for almost four decades. Prior the pandemic, there were over a million people per month visiting food banks across the country. Within the pandemic, usage has surged and made the need for support and awareness more urgent than ever.
Neil Hetherington is CEO of Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, which is part of the FBC network. We sat down with him to discuss the work food banks do and what they need from those who can help, as well as a partnership between Food Banks Canada and Egg Farmers of Canada.
The two organizations have partnered on various charitable food initiatives for over a decade, and this season enlisted a roster of top Canadian chefs to develop Easter holiday recipes, perfect for a casual brunch or a big dinner with friends and family. The recipes put a focus on affordable household ingredients and no-fuss substitutions, and are designed to make Easter entertaining, simple and delicious. We will share some recipes below!
But first, let’s say hi to Neil Hetherington.
On Food Bank Canada’s website it states, “Before the pandemic, food banks in Canada were visited more than 1 million times per month. They were already at capacity and struggling to meet their communities’ needs.” Can you speak about what ‘food insecurity’ is and how it is experienced in Canada?
Food insecurity is a symptom of people experiencing poverty. The underlying reasons have always been there; they’ve just been intensified by the pandemic. Generally, there are three underlying reasons for food insecurity: a lack of affordable housing, decent employment, and income insecurity. For example, if you’re on income assistance (like CERB or disability) sometimes, no matter how frugal you are, it’s impossible to cover all your expenses with that amount, and people find themselves relying on food charities to make ends meet.
How have Food Banks experienced the Pandemic?
Usage levels at food banks have increased over the pandemic. Despite the economy opening up, this past March was our all-time highest number of client visits since the pandemic began. And that’s because inflation is hurting so many people whether it’s at the gas pump or at the grocery store.
Outside of donating food, what are some things Canadians can do to help reduce and end hunger in Canada?
Advocate to change systems through engagement. Engage with your elected officials (call, email, write) outlining the change you want to see. Each level of government has a plan for food security and eliminating poverty. Push to see action by asking for a commitment from your elected officials – be active. We’d like to see an increased sense of agency and urgency. The need for urgency not just during the pandemic but as we move out of the pandemic, keeping up support and awareness to help lessen food insecurity.
What are the best foods and products to donate?
Foods that are high in protein like canned fish, beans, and peanut butter. Personal care products, items for babies and children, and feminine menstrual and hygiene products.
What are some things that we might not know about Food Banks?
We source and offer fresh food! We don’t only accept non-perishable food items. Monetary donations are a great resource and we use those funds to buy perishable food items directly from farmers and food producers. Farmers and fresh food producers around the country also donate to us.
Another lesser known fact is we’re set up like a grocery store! Our visitors are given points to shop and they choose items as they see fit. That way people can shop according to their preferences and personal needs.
What are the more popular items among users of Food Banks Canada?
They’re the same items that are popular outside of food banks as well – versatile whole-foods, high in protein.
Tell us about the partnership with Egg Farmers of Canada for Easter one-pot and one-pan dishes?
FBC and EFC share an alignment of values – feeding individuals. Everyone has a right to food. How can everyone access that? That’s at the base of our partnership. We’ve been partnered with them for about 10 years and this year we’ve created an enhanced partnership for Easter with great, low-cost, accessible recipes by top Canadian Chefs that give Canadians unique meal ideas with everyday food items.
Of the chef’s one pot/sheet dishes, which is your favourite?
Oh, that’s like asking me to choose a favourite child, haha. But I’ll be trying Chef Josh’s Creamy Pasta dish first.
Thanks, Neil, for taking the time out to talk with us.