Food Insecurities Among The Nunavut People

Food insecurity is an issue in many areas of the world, despite the fact that the richest nations on earth tend to take the availability of food for granted and engage in wasteful practices. In Canada, the Nunavut people are experiencing lack of access to safe and healthy food at a level that is four times the national average. Although nearly 10% of Canadian households experience a lack of access to the type or amount of food that they require because of a lack of income, the territories of Canada are experiencing significantly greater levels of food insecurity than the provinces. In Nunavut, the rate of food insecurity affects more than one third of the population because of the exorbitant prices of food and levels of hunger. This paper will examine the social determinants of food insecurity among the Nunavut population, and the relevance of this issue to social workers and other healthcare professionals working with this and other similar populations.

A report issued by the Nunavut government in 2014 indicated that there were essentially 11 social determinants resulting in food insecurity among this population. One of the key factors involves the challenges to the quality of early childhood development among this population. The struggles faced by the Nunavut people associated with food insecurity include soaring rates of infant mortality, overcrowded housing and stressful home environments, poverty, lack of access to quality healthcare facilities as well as support, the high rates of substance abuse and smoking by women during their pregnancies, and culturally appropriate screening and assessment for the growth and development of unborn children. Additionally, there are certain problems faced by the Nunavut people regarding culture and language, because there are struggles due to the extremely rapid changes in these issues within Inuit communities because of the results of their children being placed in residential schools as well as colonialism. This has caused a rise in the prevalence of the population speaking mainly English in combination with a decrease in the use of the language used by the Inuit.

A major cause of food insecurity among the Nunavut population occurs because of extremely high levels of unemployment as well as underemployment; these problems result in particularly low incomes in the households of this population. These issues are compounded by a lack of access to adequate levels of quality foods that includes opportunities to purchase foods grown locally. Additionally, the high cost of living in Nunavut areas is exacerbated by the disproportionately high cost of food that is purchased in stores in the communities of the Inuit population. The explanation for the high cost of these products are the expensive means of shipping such food to the areas inhabited by the Nunavuts.

Other social determinants of food insecurity experienced by the Nunavut people include the lack of adequate opportunities for employment in these communities, as well as the scarcity of opportunities for the Nunavut people to earn income in their own communities. In addition, the extremely high cost of living in Nunavut communities contributes to problems with income distribution. In regards to housing, there are not many places that provide enough housing for the Nunavut people, in addition to the very high cost of rent; combined with housing that is typically of substandard quality and without proper ventilation. Another social determinant of food insecurity involves the issue of homelessness. In addition, problems regarding personal safety and security confront the Nunavut people, because there are many struggles with the issues of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Frequently, children in these communities have witnessed domestic violence, which is compounded by the use and misuse of alcohol and other substances.

The history of food insecurity among the Nunavut people involves the centuries-old ability of the people to survive in some of the harshest conditions on earth, living off the land and sharing food among their extended families. The Inuit taught their children to track animals, use harpoons, and create clothing made out of sealskin that was both warm and waterproof. All of these practices represented the ability to either survive or be killed due to the harsh elements. As soon as fur traders and explorers began to arrive, the Nunavut people were forced to use guns and tools while at the same time, the Europeans began to understand that the Nunavut knowledge of hunting and making clothing to survive were invaluable. The two cultures were able to coexist relatively peacefully until the Cold War caused Canadians and Americans to focus on the north in order to meet their needs for defense.

In addition, in the 1950s, there was a tremendous amount of interest in the Arctic from missionaries and conservationists, who were motivated by a desire to convert and educate the indigenous people as well as protecting and preserving wildlife and natural resources. The result was that the culture of the Nunavut people was devastated, including their ability to feed themselves. Children from the indigenous people were removed from their homes and placed in residential schools, resulting in the elimination of knowledge of traditions. Hunting was no longer a common and anticipated aspect of life for the Nunavut people, so that in modern society, they rely on food that is purchased from stores, with most of it being high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats. In addition, the food was shipped north at costs that were exorbitant and unaffordable.

Social workers must be involved in the problem of the challenges of the quality of early childhood development among the Nunavut people, because early intervention by health professionals can have a significant impact on outcomes pertaining to food insecurity. By providing education and support to the Inuit people about the importance of physical and emotional child development, there is the potential for this population to engage in practices and activities that might directly impact the development of their offspring and thus provide a more optimistic future for generations of indigenous people to come. In addition, the social work profession promotes cultural competence and respect for diversity so that social work provides an ideal helping profession to address the issues facing the Nunavut people.

There have been many symposiums, strategic planning sessions, and other attempts to focus on food insecurity among the Nunavut people during the last several years. The problem has been identified, and there have been many legitimate strategies for addressing the problem now and for the future. Two of the more practical and potentially successful interventions include increasing access to and use of country foods in facilities such as day care centers, schools, and other facilities that are easily accessible to large groups of the Inuit population, and which would provide early intervention to the youngest members of the Nunavut; this would be useful in helping them practice nutritional food intake. In addition, another remedy might be setting up community-wide nutrition interventions, such as clinics that offer nutritional education that emphasize the importance of balanced and adequate caloric intake as well as providing financial resources for the indigent, unemployed, or low income members of the Inuit community.

Food insecurity among the Nunavut population has many causes, but the key issues that must be addressed involve the quality of early childhood development that is contingent on adequate amounts of nutritional food intake. The problem has arisen due to many factors, but essentially has resulted from the decimation of the Nunavut culture which included hunting for food and relying on the land to survive. Colonialism played a role in the elimination of the cultural aspect of finding food, which has become largely based on food purchased in stores that is extremely costly and comprised of unhealthy ingredients. Social workers can play a significant role in addressing these issues because of their history of promoting cultural competence and respect for diversity when addressing the types of concrete problems facing a variety of populations including the Nunavuts.