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Majority of St. John’s residents are dissatisfied with the city’s food choices

Survey of more than 800 people by Food First NL found 90% wished to change some things, many things, or everything about the food available to them
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Just 10% of respondents in a new food assessment survey conducted in St. John’s, NL say they are “very satisfied” with the food they can obtain in the province’s capital. Price, quality, and lack of availability were the most common complaints.

The findings are based on a survey conducted by Food First NL, a non-profit organization that works to ensure people have access to affordable, healthy, and culturally appropriate food. They are based on an online survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Feb. 26.

Ninety per cent of respondents said they wished that some things, many things, or everything about the food available to them was different, with 68% saying it’s too expensive, 55% saying it’s of low quality, and 47% saying it’s not readily available.

“There’s potential for improvement,” said Sarah Crocker, program coordinator with Food First NL, and lead on the food assessment. “Our work focuses a lot on people who are food insecure or facing poverty, but there is a ton of room for improvement in the quality of the food. That was something noted by respondents from all different income brackets.”

More than two-thirds of respondents (69%) indicated they always (meaning once or more per week) shop at a grocery store for food, while 14% said they frequently shop at retail stores offering food, and 9% indicated they frequently shop at convenience stores such as Dollarama. Nine per cent of respondents shop at small vendors such as an independent fishmonger or bakery.

Nearly one-quarter (23%) of the more than 800 respondents identified access to cultural food as a problem, a number that rises to 67% among respondents representing the city’s BIPOC population.

Access to culturally specific food ingredients has become a key focus for the city. In May, the St. John’s Farmers’ Market presented the findings of At Home in the Kitchen, which was developed with a specific focus on finding out what is missing from the city in terms of food ingredients for cultural communities.

The organization used data from meeting and discussions with members of the city’s cultural communities to develop four social enterprise business briefs with the potential to be used as a starting point for new small businesses or social enterprises.

According to Food First NL data, 84% of communities within Newfoundland & Labrador do not have access to a standard grocery store. And with the lowest number of farms of any province, it is heavily reliant on imported food, with nearly three-quarters (71%) of its food brought in from outside the province.

Asked to identify five possible focus areas to improve food in their neighbourhood, respondents listed income solutions such as increasing wages or social assistance rates. Other areas included changes to places to shop for food; improvements in local transportation that would provide greater access to retail; increasing or preserving access to programs that facilitate the growing, fishing or hunting for food; and new or improved food programs.

Crocker said the plan was to use the findings to create a food action plan for the city. They will also inform program coordination and food policies within the city, she said.

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