To our knowledge, this is the first study to document and examine utilization of CFPs in the Canadian Arctic, and the Arctic more generally. The data provide a snapshot of utilization at a specific point in time (May 2010), and while we interviewed all users over a 4-week period, we recognize that we will have missed those who use the programs at other times of the year. The study describes users of CFPs who typically have a low level of formal education, are unemployed, rely on social assistance, and have a low household income. This is not surprising, with utilization profiles similar to those in southern urban centres [54
]. Contrary to our expectation that new arrivals to Iqaluit would be overrepresented in utilization of CFPs reflecting the breadth and quality of their social ties, the majority of users were born in Iqaluit, and of those from elsewhere, the majority had been living in Iqaluit for more than five years. Lack of shelter is a challenge facing many CFP users, especially ‘hidden homelessness’ characterized by a lack of a secure and permanent dwelling, involving individuals and families moving from one temporary housing situation to another [51
]. These situations are typical for users of CFPs, and compound challenges of finding a job, getting an education, recovering from previous trauma, and achieving food security. Housing is a broader problem in Nunavut, where overcrowding in substandard houses is widespread [47
]. While addictive behaviour was reported by 9% of participants as a reason why they had difficulties obtaining food, this likely reflects the nature of the research approach (i.e. formal survey/interview), with key informants and some users noting that addiction is major problem facing those using CFPs. We did not detect an association between employment status, place of birth, gender, age, presence of hunter in the household and utilization of CFPs. This is likely due to both low sample size, as well as low variation in the data.
The role of low income, limited educational achievement, unemployment, hidden homelessness, and addictive behaviour represent proximate causes of food insecurity and CFP use, and form part of what Coates et al. [58
] describe as a ‘cluster of problems’ affecting food systems in multiple geographic and cultural contexts. These challenges are particularly acute in Arctic Canada where the cost of living and reliance on a limited number of economic sectors is high [59
]. Food in Nunavut, for example, on average costs twice as much in southern urban centres with household income significantly lower [45
]. Ultimately, these causes can only be understood in the context of sweeping socio-economic transformations that have affected Inuit society over the last half century as former semi-nomadic hunting groups were resettled into permanent settlements beginning in the 1950s and incorporated into a colonial relationship with the Canadian state, detailed descriptions of which are provided elsewhere [12
]. Iqaluit was one of the first permanently settled communities in the eastern Arctic, beginning with the building of a US Air Force base in 1942 [47
]. This was accompanied by rapid socio-cultural change with the associated development of the formal education system, relative decline in hunting, expansion of the wage-based economy, and rapid population growth [17
], with implications for how food is produced, processed, distributed, and consumed, and hence food security.
The nutrition transition
is one consequence of these broader influences, with the rising consumption of store foods at the expense of traditional foods widely documented across Inuit communities [4
], access to which is determined by monetary resources in contrast to the moral economy of reciprocity and exchange that governed access to traditional food [17
]. There was historically little need for formalized food programs, as household sharing networks would ensure food access (except during periods when wildlife resources were scarce). Sharing networks continue to be important for Inuit – differentiating the northern CFP experience from that in the south – and the majority of respondents reported that they could access traditional foods through such networks, which is important given the limited number of participants who reported having hunters in the household. Nevertheless, as documented here and elsewhere, in a contemporary context in which hunting is expensive, harvest success is being affected by climate change, and fewer people are engaging in harvesting activities, increasing demands are being placed on diminishing supply of traditional foods [21
]. Sharing outside of the household – the primary means of traditional food access for CFP users – is therefore often unpredictable and infrequent, especially for those with less to offer in terms of reciprocity (e.g. material resources). For the more vulnerable members of the community who do not have access to financial resources or have stable housing, this diminished social safety net leaves few alternatives but to use CFPs. The vulnerability of sharing networks is particularly apparent in enhanced CFP usage in November and December, times of the year when traditional foods are hard to access due to ice freeze-up and uncertain snow conditions on inland trails which limit the ability to hunt [73
]. At these times, sharing concentrates among those in the immediate household and for elders.
Another consequence of these broader changes has been significant acculturative stress
among northern populations, linked to the rapid changes in livelihoods and culture, and experience of residential schools [10
]. Many of the older respondents were born and raised in small hunting camps, resettled in Iqaluit, spent time at tuberculosis sanatoria in southern Canada in the 1950s and 60s, and now live in a modern community. The significant associated acculturative stress and intergenerational trauma provides the context for many of the social and health challenges facing Inuit communities including Iqaluit [13
]. Thus the financial constraints faced by many CFP users reflect more than the cost of food and unemployment; they are exacerbated by household financial management skills, problems of addiction, and poor living conditions associated with acculturation and recent development of the monetary economy [63
]. Similarly, problems of addiction need to be situated in the context of past abuse and also changing relationships with the environment. The land is a fundamental component of Inuit culture and central to health and well-being – both through the act of hunting and being on the land, and also the act of sharing and consuming traditional foods – yet for CFP users this link was often lacking: few were able to afford to hunt, instead relying on sharing for traditional food access. This directly affects food availability, but also has broader ramifications for well-being [85
In-light of the magnitude of food insecurity in the Canadian north, food policy is increasingly recognized as a central component of anti-poverty/community development strategies. Addressing the broader determinants of food insecurity is essential for such policy interventions, yet the pervasiveness and persistence of these causes despite recognition at a policy level is indicative of the challenging nature of intervention required. Moreover, at a community level, such ultimate causes are often beyond the scope of what can be achieved, necessitating broad-scale territorial and federal involvement [14
]. In this context, while CFPs do not address root causes, they provide a valuable service for a community undergoing rapid change. While it has been argued in the general scholarship and among some northern commentators that CFPs can create dependency and thereby increase food insecurity in the long-term, users in Iqaluit have few alternative sources of food, and numerous barriers make it difficult for users to obtain waged employment necessary for food access. CFPs also provide much more than food. They offer a safe place to go, and in the case of Tukisigiarvik, provide access to culturally important traditional foods which many otherwise would not have access to. Herein, this work suggests a number of priorities for food policy in Iqaluit:
· Continuing support for CFPs. While the food bank and soup kitchen rely on donations, Tukisigiarvik recently lost most of their funding as their grant from the Aboriginal Healing Foundation came to end in 2010. The center represents an intervention developed by Iqaluit’s Inuit population after consultations identified the need for a wellness, counselling and advice center to help Inuit in Iqaluit cope with the health and social issues they face. It draws upon traditional approaches that recognize food insecurity to be representative of broader socio-cultural challenges, and as such provides more than just food for those in need including counselling, cultural activities, advice on life skills, and structure.
· Promotion of traditional foods at the food bank and soup kitchen. Many participants expressed their gratitude towards the foods offered at the food bank and soup kitchen. However, many also expressed desire to see traditional foods being incorporated in the menus of the soup kitchen, or being offered at the food bank because of the difficulty they have obtaining them otherwise, and more diversity of foods offered. Currently however, the food bank can not serve traditional foods harvested locally because of food safety regulations.
· Education on how to make the best of store foods offered at the food bank. Items offered through the food bank are through local donations, and users often reported not knowing how to make use of the food received. The development of cooking classes, pamphlets with recipes, and workshops that teach users how to get the most nutritional value out of the distributed foods were identified as important, and could be undertaken at little cost .
· In addition, a number of broader initiatives are needed to strengthen the traditional food component of the food system. Maintaining access to traditional foods is widely recognized as essential for secure food systems in Inuit communities, providing culturally valued nutritious food [14
· Enhanced support mechanisms to ensure that CFP users can access hunting equipment.
Many participants reported having to sell hunting equipment to access money to buy food, resulting in short term access to material resources but loss of the means of harvesting in the long term, with associated food security implications. Many also reported having hunting skills but no equipment, or could not go hunting because of the cost associated with hunting. A number of hunter support mechanisms are available in Nunavut, and were reviewed by Ford et al. [73
]. The challenge for CFP users is that many would not meet the requirements for such support mechanisms, while in a community the size of Iqaluit demand for assistance significantly exceeds the resources available. An alternative intervention to the individual focused grants aimed at full time hunters would be a co-op system to allow community members without equipment to access hunting gear. This would provide access for those who want to harvest part-time, prevent people from feeling the need to sell hunting equipment, and spread limited resources around the community. As one participant said: "I used to be able to hunt before moving here, but not anymore, because I don’t have gear"
(male , 25–
years old, unemployed.
· Sharing networks to distribute country foods need to be preserved and facilitated: Sharing of traditional foods remains important in Iqaluit and for CFP users, although the long-term sustainability of such practices has been questioned in light of socio-economic transformations. Initiatives that facilitate the sharing of traditional foods are needed, with community freezers, reduced cargo cost for shipping of traditional foods between communities, support for the new traditional food market in Iqaluit, subsidies on traditional foods sold at stores, and subsidies to hunters to allow them to go hunting, all offering potential entry points.