By: Amanda Rylott

What is your grocery shopping routine? How long does it take you to get to a grocery store? Which grocery stores do you tend to go to? Imagine that the only places to buy food in your area are convenience stores and that you do not have access to a car. Or, that you live in a neighbourhood with grocery stores that you’re unable to afford. These are questions we may not think about on a regular basis – if at all – but these are important questions in understanding the differences between food availability and accessibility. So, what are these differences, and why do they matter?

Food availability is when people have food and food networks in their vicinity. Food networks are places like grocery stores, farmers’ markets and other spaces in which you can buy food. Areas that do not have these food networks are considered “food deserts” and mostly consist of convenience stores and fast food restaurants. In food deserts, community members have to travel outside their area to find a grocery store, which can be even more difficult and time-consuming if they do not have access to a car.

Food accessibility refers to whether people can actually OBTAIN that food. That is, whether people can consistently and easily purchase food. In some cases, neighbourhoods can have food available, but some community members may not be able to actually access that food. This tends to happen when the only food networks in the vicinity are expensive; these scenarios are considered “food mirages” – a neighbourhood having plenty of food options but people in the area are unable to afford them.

The solutions to community food insecurity are highly dependent on how people view the problem of it – such as when the problem is viewed as an accessibility issue over an availability issue. But instead of adding more grocery stores to a community, we can look deeper into the structural issues of the community as to why people are unable to afford or cook food. With this new view, solutions may now look like increasing minimum wage or advocating for safe and affordable housing, so people can afford to shop for food in their own communities and cook in their own homes. Supporting community food security is more than just advocating for more grocery stores – it is advocating to decrease barriers to accessibility.

To learn how to get involved, check out more of The Compass website and these other organizations working towards a more equitable food system:

FoodShare Toronto –

The Stop Community Food Centre

Amanda Rylott has an MA in Development Studies – Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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