Rural food insecurity: When cooking skills, homegrown food, and perseverance aren’t enough to feed a family

Ellen V. Buck-McFadyen


OBJECTIVE: More than 1 in 10 Canadians experience food insecurity, and a growing number of families rely on food banks each month. This ethnographic study aimed to give voice to rural families about their experiences with food insecurity while situating the findings within the broader social, political and economic context.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with women who had children living at home, and interviewer observations within the food bank were recorded as field notes. Content analysis was combined with the constant comparison method of data analysis to identify common themes regarding the experience of living with food insecurity and the influence of public policy.

RESULTS: Seven female participants described the emotional toll that food insecurity had on their well-being and relationships, with stress and depression common to many women. Strategies used to stretch resources included cooking from scratch, growing produce, stocking up on sale items, hunting and fishing, and paying half-bills. Many participants described going without food so that their children could eat first, and three participants went without prescription medications. Rurality and social programs were identified as both supports and barriers to overcoming food insecurity.

CONCLUSION: Participants in this study were highly skilled in attempting to feed their families with limited resources, although this proved inadequate to overcome their food insecurity. This highlights the need for policy initiatives to address the root causes of food insecurity and health inequities, including access to rural employment and high-quality child care, drug benefits and guaranteed annual income programs.


Rural health; policy; social determinants of health; food supply; poverty

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