Why You Should Consider What You’re Donating to Food Banks this Holiday Season

With the Holiday season fast approaching, a lot of people begin to wonder how they can give back to their communities, whether it be donating their time or physical items.  

A common theme in December is to see grocery stores collecting food and schools instituting food drives to collect non-perishable food items to donate.  

The Ottawa Food Bank began their annual holiday season food campaign on dec.1 and have already seen success. 

With events like the annual “Fill a Bus Campaign” hosted by OC Transpo and annual school food drives seeing large quantities of food donated, it bears the question, how good is the food people are donating to these causes?

Ottawa currently has 114 emergency food programs and food banks across the city, distributing 14 tonnes of food a day.

With over 38,400 people relying on food banks regularly every month according to the Ottawa Food Bank, this number increases with the holiday season approaching. 

According to the Dieticians of Canada, food insecurity is the inability to acquire or consume an adequate quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.”

A lot of food donated to food banks are canned and processed foods like soups which are high in sodium, starchy pasta, and macaroni and cheese boxes that contain no nutritional value, basically ‘empty calorie’ foods. 

After talking to several organizers of food banks and people who use them, one thing has become clear, people need to start thinking about the quality of the food they donate to people who rely on these organizations. 

People who use food banks are grateful for all of the assistance they provide, and organizers are happy to see the community assisting the people who need it, but the food that is donated is not meeting the nutrition standards a regular person should consume.  

The Parkdale Food Centre in Ottawa is setting the standard for ‘Good Food Organizations” as they only accept foods that are non-processed and contain lots of nutritional value and buy tons and tons of fresh produce! 

Karen Secord, the manager of the Parkdale Food Centre, believes everyone should have access to the same quality of food recommended by Canada’s Food Guide.  

She even revealed to me a few months ago that at a meeting with university officials, someone said:

“I use food banks to empty out the back of my cupboards of the food I forgot about and don’t want to eat.”

This just furthers the stigma around food centers, and makes you realize the clients who use them are sometimes being fed ‘what everyone else doesn’t want as opposed to what they need. 

“What is food? If you’re measuring it in terms of pounds, lettuce and broccoli don’t weight nearly as much as a can of soup, but it has way more nutrition in it,” Secord said.  

Secord also recognizes this isn’t always the case, and there is a lot of awareness going on about this, but she thinks it is unfair to degrade the users by giving them processed and even expired foods.  

People who use food banks are usually relying on them due to other factors like low wages and the high cost of living.  

Irena Forbes, a dietician and advocate for changing how food banking is carried out in British Columbia, says Good Food Centres are moving in a direction that should be mandatory for all food banks, but is aware it is not economically feasible for all organizations to do this.  

Donations of nutritious food or money is always appreciated so organizations can purchase this for their clients.  

Allowing everyone to have access to healthy and nutritious food is not only important to individuals who use them now but can even affect the future of the children who are also users of these food banks.  

Approximately 33 per cent of Ottawa users have children who are forced to rely on the food they receive from food banks. 

Forbes says that time and time again dietitians have proven processed foods are unideal for development and health care costs are 76 per cent higher for severely food insecure households compared to food secure households, meaning the most vulnerable people.  

As I said earlier, every little bit is appreciated, and food banks and their clients are so grateful for the support and donations they receive but thinking about where your food is going should make you think about the quality of it.

Just think, “Would I buy this for myself to eat monthly?” and if the answer is no, should you be subjecting another human being to that.  

Just some food for thought!