Food not just for thought: Painting the picture of Food Security within Edmonton

April 17, 2024

Written by Rebecca Redd 

Partnered with the Edmonton Seniors Coordination Council (ESCC)


Food security is a multifaceted issue with various definitions, reflecting its complexity and numerous dimensions (Mills, 2021). Factors such as poor health, lack of social support, and economic challenges, including inflation and the impacts of COVID-19, commonly contribute to food insecurity (Issawi, 2023). Within the senior population, the concept of food security encompasses unique challenges (Park, 2019). Physiological changes such as decreased mobility, increased chronic disease, economic instability, and sensory decline present distinctive barriers to healthy aging and accessing nutritious food (Park, 2019). Some seniors also contend with isolation, compounded by seasonal challenges such as snow removal or icy sidewalks, and changing dietary needs as appetites decrease and specific nutrient requirements increase (Park, 2019). Economic limitations further impact food insecurity, particularly among lower-income senior demographics. For example, according to Statista (2024), the income of a Canadian senior (65+) in 2020 averaged $32,020. However, the average livable wage in Alberta is $22.50/hr, totaling $45,000 a year (Blair, 2024), highlighting that most seniors experience a fixed income below the average livable wage. Another concern regarding food security is rising food costs, with a projected increase of 5-7% from the 10.5% increase in 2022 (Vital Signs, 2023); the typical household food budget is consuming 20% or more of income, whereas in earlier years, the same food would consume 10 – 15% of the household income (Vital Signs, 2023). Finally, cultural factors add another layer of complexity as some communities need help finding diverse and culturally appropriate food options (Mills, 2021). The aging population is rapidly growing, with the number of individuals aged 65 and older surpassing that of children aged 0-14 (Hallman, 2022). This demographic shift underscores the urgency of addressing food security issues among seniors to aid in healthy aging. As the need for senior food security initiatives grows, collaborative efforts are underway to address these challenges.

The Project

Organizations like the Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council (ESCC) support healthy aging within the senior community. The ESCC provides backbone support to other senior serving organizations, coordinating various programs and resources, including outreach and social prescribing, which help seniors navigate essential services such as tax assistance, CPP access, social connection, and home support. Moreover, the ESCC collaborates with diverse organizations to expand its reach and support underserved aging communities. Through partnerships and initiatives like the University of Alberta practicum in collaboration with the Department of Human Ecology, the ESCC researched food security trends and gaps within the aging sector (ESCC, 2024). This research project included two areas of research. First, this research includes compiling comprehensive asset map resources detailing affordable meal options, low-cost groceries, and other food assistance programs available to seniors in Edmonton. Second, this project included qualitative data collection through relationship-building conversations. The qualitative data consisted of conversations with ten diverse organizations working to combat food insecurity and those with programs targeted toward the aging sector (Redd, 2024).

Gaps and Trends

These conversations highlighted gaps, trends, and conversations regarding food security within the aging sector. Many gaps and trends were discussed with organizations during the relationship quality portion of the report; however, three main themes impacted accessibility for food security in Edmonton. The first barrier identified is transportation/delivery access. Services such as Edmonton Meals on Wheels, CANAVUA, and Westend Seniors Activity Centre offer delivery for seniors. However, most of these delivery services are done for a charge or are run on a volunteer basis (Redd, 2024). These charges are not to gain profit for the organizations; they are used to cover basic costs such as gas and insurance to allow organizations to offer these services. However, this means that there are extra associated costs with accessing meal programs, which is challenging because many seniors live on a fixed income. These unexpected costs can impact close budgeting. Volunteers offer a fantastic service (Redd, 2024). However, services that depend on volunteer ability can impose a lack of consistency within an organization. Not only are there cost barriers to access, but there are other implications, such as vehicle expenses.

The second barrier is access to year-round foods and ethnically diverse food groups. Local farms and farm trip programs, community gardens, and hydroponics work wonders in the summer months of Edmonton (Koay & Dillon, 2020). However, barriers arise regarding the winter months and the types of foods grown in Canada. Considering Canada is a multicultural country, finding ways to grow foods year-round reduces the need for corporate grocery access, positively impacts seniors’ social isolation, and creates a place to produce foods and interact with others (Koay & Dillon, 2020). Currently, in ethnocultural food stores, the prices of culturally appropriate foods are high due to the cost of import, making the taste of home a luxury item. There are ethnically appropriate foods that are easy, affordable, and that can be grown in Canada, such as Okra, an edible plant found in West Africa, which is rich in fiber and lowers blood sugar, aiding in diabetes (Zelma, 2022). Finding a way to introduce these inexpensive and diverse foods will fill two gaps: affordable food and a connection to home for communities. In addition, the lack of diverse foods impacts the individual who can access free food services such as the food bank because their cultural needs and diets still need to be met.

The third identified barrier is language. Though Canada has two official languages (English and French), we are multicultural; having accessible labeling or QR codes for labeling provided in various languages will help people access the correct foods. Through conversations around food security, some stories of negative experiences have risen; this includes individuals mistaking cans of dog food for canned fish (Dicky Dikamba, Personal Communication, 2024), and people from African communities who have never used white sugar, buying white sugar instead of salt (Elizabeth Onyango, Personal Communication, 2024). These mistakes impact how people access food and may create a stigma around accessing the correct food. Additionally, when accessing culturally appropriate foods is unsuccessful, more people visit and use the healthcare system (Sarkar et al., 2019).

Calls to Action

These barriers apply to the aging sector and are common barriers in many food security platforms. Canada is currently in a food crisis, and this article includes four calls to action to motivate change. The first call to action includes collaboration and sharing of resources; funding is slim, and having a platform, such as the John Humphrey Centre, is an important step and a part of the conversation to act as a sounding board and a point of connection for other grassroots organizations to come together as a collective and be stronger together by joining forces and ideas (Jessica Kinsella, Personal Communication, 2024). Another call to action is research for community greenhouses. The need for year-round grown food in community gardens will help create connection, reduce isolation, and increase food security. Using examples and blueprints from initiatives such as Potlotek Atlantic Indigenous, who launched houses in 32 First Nations communities in Cape Breton. This initiative was impactful, allowing the community to become self-sustainable while decreasing the supply and demand for groceries and thus forcing large grocery chains to either lock in or reduce their pricing (Chisom, 2020). Next is a call to chefs, hospitality folks, researchers, and food scientists to create ten culturally diverse, nutritious, affordable, and tasty recipes that can be taught at community kitchens in the community or accessible through other means of media. The collaboration of ideas among chefs and food scientists can instill passion and interest in food and help break down barriers with easy recipes crafted to fit and adequately suffice the meal and nutritional values of foods to aid in healthy aging (Yvonne Chiu, Personal Communication, 2024). These meals can be targeted at families or be created for specific demographics, such as awareness of dietary restrictions, certain eating times, and affordable ways to get protein and vitamins into the diet. Finally, a call for government action to create policies regarding food waste and expired food products, creating accountability for the five giant corporations that control 75% of Canada’s groceries (Evans, 2023). Examples of policy can be taken from the Ontario initiative. In 2018, the Food and Organic Waste Policy Statement was issued, providing targets and guidance for municipalities, businesses, and institutions regarding food insecurity and reducing food waste. This directive urges businesses, including grocery stores, restaurants, food processors, hotels, and motels, to collaborate with food rescue organizations to prevent edible food from being wasted (Ontario, Action Plan, 2018).


The time for action is now. Implementing preventative measures to support seniors in healthy aging and the overall well-being of Canadians is imperative while exploring innovative approaches to tackle the ongoing nationwide food crisis. By uniting our efforts, we can amplify our impact and effectively remove barriers, reshaping the global perception and understanding of food security. We possess the strength, knowledge, and unity to make significant strides in food insecurity. Always remember, we are stronger together.

*****Please take a moment to review the Food Security Report prepared by the John Humphrey Center for an in-depth analysis of projected food security trends for Edmonton in 2030. You can access the report here: Agenda 2030: Edmonton Food Security Report (

Additionally, I encourage you to explore the Fresh initiative established by the City of Edmonton, aimed at ongoing efforts to address food security issues. You can learn more about this initiative through the FRESH: Food and Urban Agriculture Strategy ( on the City of Edmonton’s website. For further inquiries or connections, please reach out to the provided email address on the City of Edmonton’s page.


 Blair, N. (2024, March 13). Income statistics in Canada. Made in CA.

Chisholm, C. (2020, December 26). Potlotek one of first Atlantic Indigenous communities to Launch Garden Initiative | CBC News. CBCnews.

Evans, P. (2023, June 28). Canada’s grocery business doesn’t have enough competition – and shoppers are paying the price, report finds | CBC News. CBC news.

Hallman, S. (2022, April 27). This census in brief article examines recent trends for the population aged 85 and over in 2021. Government of Canada, Statistics Canada.

Issawi, H. (2023, February 3). Edmonton area Groups Fighting Food Insecurity Set the Table for Collaboration. Edmonton Journal.

Ontario Food & Organic Waste Framework. Toronto Environmental Alliance. (2018).

Park, J. Y. (2019). Food insecurity among the elderly in developed countries: Insights from a multi-national analysis. file:///C:/Users/RebeccaRedd/Downloads/f748570b-45f0-4f2d-92a8-2f1f62b58852.pdf

Redd, R. (2024). A Qualitative Research Report on Food Security within the Aging Sector. Edmonton Seniors Coordinating Council (ESCC).

Sarkar, D., Walker-Swaney, J., & Shetty, K. (2019). Food diversity and indigenous food systems to combat diet-linked chronic diseases. Current Developments in Nutrition, 4, 3–11.

Vital Signs Report. (2023). A look at Food Security in Edmonton. Edmonton Social Planning Council (ESPC). ECF_Vital-Signs-FullReport_20745_Digital_F2-1.pdf ( Accessed: March 22, 2024.

Zelman, K. (2022, June 7). Okra & diabetes: Can help lower blood sugar? benefits, risks, & uses. WebMD.


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