St Vital is known for being one of Winnipeg’s wealthier suburbs. This is not without reason, a couple of neighbourhoods in St Vital have median household incomes in the six figures (going as high as $124,000 in Victoria Crescent). But what is often missed is that there are many people with low incomes as well in St Vital. Indeed, there are neighbourhoods with comparable income levels to inner city neighbourhoods.
It was pointed out to me that only a stone’s throw away from one of Manitoba’s most lucrative malls are some of the poorer neighbourhoods in the city. Here are an array of challenges including security, drugs, and gangs as well as social isolation, lack of employment, disabilities, and mental health issues.
There are significant food challenges for people with low incomes in St Vital. In one focus group I did at a Manitoba Housing community we talked about how the cheapest grocery stores are not located near many of the housing complexes. Consequently, many people end up taking cabs back from the grocery store. On cheque day, I was told, there is a “parade of cabs” coming down the street. At around $10 each, this uses up much needed money.
Other challenges have also been talked about. Some nutrition workers indicated that there is a lack of awareness that food security is a challenge for St Vital. Awareness was a significant concern for them as they try to build on their nutrition-related programs.
Food skills is another challenge that I have heard mentioned several times. Several interviews have discussed the lack of food skills in their community. People know what to do with Kraft Dinner or hot dogs or pudding in a cup – but are often not familiar on how to prepare healthier options. For many, I was told, this was a multigenerational problem. Their parents hadn’t prepared healthy foods, and so now they are also unaware or unable to.
Finally, fast food has been indicated as a challenge. There are lots of fast food options in the community. The neighbourhood of Lavelee, which has the second lowest income in St Vital, has the worst food access ratio (comparing the distance to fast food and the distance to grocery stores). Interestingly, I was told that it was one way that parents reward their kids and feel good about their parenting – “if you’re really good, I’ll buy you a slurpee.” But this is also a problem as it is an easy option for people who are not aware or unable to prepare healthier options.
There are many people in St Vital who are, and will always be, food secure. But it is important to not forget that there are a significant number of people in St Vital for whom accessing food is an ongoing challenge.