Last updated Sep 16, 2019
Food security is defined here as having a sustainable food system that ensures access for all to nutritionally adequate, affordable, culturally acceptable and safe food. It encompasses the issues of:
- Cultural appropriateness
- Nutritionally adequacy
- Food safety
Sustainability incorporates the idea that the supply of and access to food is ongoing, regular and enduring. Emergency food distribution can meet a crisis situation where adequate food is not available because of community or family events (such as fire, flood or drought situations, or personal accident, loss of employment or income). But a sustainable and secure food supply is one that provides healthy food to meet the on-going food needs of all parts of the community while at the same time maintaining healthy ecosystems that can provide food for current and future generations with minimal negative impact on the environment.
Thinking about a sustainable food system brings into focus a number of food supply issues. Some areas have worked to improve local supply by supporting meals on wheels or café meals for older or disabled people, mobile food vans or pop ups, famers or local markets, food co-ops or bulk buying programs, farm to fork initiatives, by fostering urban agriculture, by educating people on how to grow food in their backyard or community gardens, how to preserve food in times of plenty and how to reduce food waste. In other areas, local organisations have worked on ways and co-ordinating and improving food rescue and re-distribution mechanisms.
At the regional level where food producers and urban food consumers co-exist, food supply initiatives have included working to limit urban growth and to retain agricultural land, building new channels of distribution to ensure the viability of food producers, adopting local food procurement policies, shortening distribution networks and delivering fresh local food at lower prices, and building links between residents and producers to increase access and reduce price.
Accessibility is a term used to describe the factors that can inhibit people’s capacity to find, purchase and acquire the food they need: food outlets need to stock affordable, nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate food. Outlets need to be close to where people live or work, and easy for people to get to. People need the means to travel to the food outlets and to carry the food home: location, physical capacity and appropriate transport to travel to these food outlets are all critical to accessibility.
Affordability means that can people afford to buy nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate food locally or to be able to acquire such food on a regular basis. There are two aspects to affordability: the cost of accessible, nutritionally adequate and culturally appropriate food and the disposable income that people have to spend on food. Thus while cheap fresh food may be available at a market 10 kilometres from where someone lives, they cannot purchase this if they do not have personal transport and there is little or no public transport to the market. On the other hand, access issues may be minimal but income to purchase food limited. Food relief agencies are reporting an increase in demand from working families where their income can barely meet housing, utilities and transport costs and there is insufficient to buy adequate food.
Cultural appropriateness means that nutritionally adequate food is available and affordable that supports the health of people from culturally diverse backgrounds and enables them to retain traditional eating and cooking traditions, for example access to kosher or halal food, or to local shops that supply familiar types of grains, bread, fruits and vegetables with which to prepare traditional meals.
Nutritional adequacy means that food that supports health and wellbeing is accessible, affordable and culturally appropriate. The concept of nutritional adequacy also incorporates issues associated with individual and household capacity to acquire, prepare and consume food that supports their health and wellbeing. Many factors affect this: lack of skills, education or cultural understanding of what foods are nutritionally adequate, limited knowledge of how to plan or prepare a healthy meal, limited household resources to store or cook food (for example people living on the street, in boarding houses or caravans) and impaired capacity through ill health, addiction, or mental impairment. This area has seen a good deal of focus by the health and community sectors where the emphasis has been on informing and educating people on how to adopt and maintain a healthy and nutritional diet. Work here has included the development of resources and education programs for people at risk of food insecurity in areas such as meal planning, shopping, meal preparation, feeding children, maintaining a healthy family diet, avoiding obesity and overweight, catering on a low income and learning how to save and to budget.
Food safety means that food handling, transportation, food preparation and food storage facilities and practices are adequate to ensure the food is not contaminated and does not threaten people’s health. We tend to think of food safety in terms of commercial activity, but the safety of food in the domestic situation is also important. If people do not have the resources to buy a refrigerator, or they live in a setting where there is limited food storage space, or they do not know about the risks of food contamination then their food may be not be safe to consume.
Food Security Environment
Food insecurity at the global level can refer to a breakdown in the food supply system because of extreme climate events, industrial action, oil shortages, and drought leading to lower production levels, and so on. It may also occur because of environmental degradation, economic imbalances, climate change, war or insurgency.
Food insecurity at the national and state level may also occur because the food supply chain has broken down or been disrupted by similar environmental issues, but it has also been noted that food insecurity is likely to increase under the influence of certain factors such as urban growth and the alienation of food producing land, agribusiness and supermarket trends, production and transport costs, food pricing etc.
Certain communities may experience high levels of food insecurity because of a variety of economic and social factors, for example communities in remote parts of Australia are reported to experience high levels of food insecurity under the influence of their remote location, their limited options regarding food growing and food purchase, the high transport costs, poor storage facilities, high unemployment and low income circumstances of the residents. In cities, some communities are described as food insecure and this is usually associated with high unemployment rates, lower incomes, and low car ownership rates, local food outlets being of the convenience or fast food type rather than fresh food and public transport being limited.
At the individual or household level, food insecurity refers to when people do not have regular access to the food they need for a healthy life. The experience of food insecurity can refer to periods of food shortage, feeling anxious about where the next meal is coming from, eating a poor quality diet as a result of poor food options, or to more extreme situations including feelings of hunger, running out of food and not being able to afford more and having to rely on emergency relief services or other coping mechanisms.
Strategic & Legislative Context
National Policy Context
The National Food Plan was Australia’s first ‘whole of government’ food plan, intended to bring together all aspects of the federal government’s food-related policy. Its development was announced in 2010 by the Gillard Government and the Plan was released in May 2013. The aim was to ensure that “Australia will have built on its high level of food security by continuing to improve access to safe and nutritious food for those living in remote communities or struggling with disadvantage. The National Food Plan website was archived in July 2013; however, the discussion and consultation papers remain.
Victorian Policy Context
Despite many calls from public health advocates for the Victorian state government to adopt a state food plan or food policy or to focus specifically on food security issues and thus provide leadership and a policy framework for on-going work, this has not yet been achieved. There are however a number of plans and strategies that touch on aspects of the food security scenario, but the policy settings around food have never really been brought together. Food security is discussed largely in the context of food production; food safety as a health issue in food retail; healthy eating and physical activity as obesity and chronic disease prevention strategies, food waste as recycling, and urban development as about housing and transport infrastructure.
Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan
For those working in the public health sector, Victoria’s strategic framework has been largely in the form of the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 which requires the Minister for Health to prepare a State Public Health and Wellbeing Plan every four years. In September 2015 the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan 2015-2019 (VPHWP 2015-19) was released by the Minster for Health. This plan articulates the Government’s 6 priority areas to improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians, the first priority being “healthier eating and active living”. The plan is divided into 3 sections:
- Part A: Understanding Health and Wellbeing
- Part B: Strategic Direction
- Part C: Accountability
In Part A, it is stated: “Food security is likely to deteriorate for some, given the projected global population growth, existing and emerging food production constraints, changing consumption patterns, interruptions to sustainable agriculture production and water supplies and the anticipated impact of climate change.”(Page 21).
In Part B, two strategic directions relevant to healthier eating exist (Page 31):
- “Promote consumption of healthy, sustainable and safe food consistent with the Australian dietary guidelines.
- Support healthy food choices to be the easier choices for all Victorians by working across the entire food system.”
In October 2016 the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Outcomes Framework was produced. This was designed to support monitoring and reporting progress towards achieving the health and wellbeing outcomes and their determinants. The framework identifies 5 domains, a number of outcomes and a set of indicators. An accompanying document, The Data Dictionary, exists to provide the detailed technical specifications for the identified measures in the framework.
Since 2012, both community health and primary care partnerships have been required to develop strategic plans with reference to the Victorian public health priorities and on the same cycle as local government health and well-being plans.
Victorian governments have tended to invest in education and awareness raising programs around nutrition, healthy eating and physical activity. Until 2010 the government program was badged as Go-for your life and Kids Go for your life. A new program was devised after the change of government and the Victorian Healthy Eating Enterprise (VHEE) was launched in 2011. The website states this was designed as a “whole of community approach and focuses on workplaces, schools, early childhood services and health services”. The VHEE was a combination of statewide and local initiatives trialled in 12 local government areas as a part of the broader framework Healthy Together Victoria. Healthy Together Communities. A number of documents were launched as part of the VHEE including:
- The Healthy Food Charter: creating a vibrant healthy eating culture
- For hospitals (retail outlets and staff catering) and other workplaces: Healthy choices: food and drink guidelines for Victorian public hospitals
- For hospitals (inpatient menus) and residential aged care facilities: Department of Human Services Nutrition standards for menu items in Victorian hospitals and residential aged care facilities
- For licensed children’s services: Get up & grow: healthy eating and physical activity for early childhood
- For primary and secondary schools: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development School canteens and other school food services policy and food planner.
The state government established The Centre of Excellence in Intervention and Prevention Science (CEIPS) as a public health research organisation designed to strengthen the preventive health effort in Victoria. An evaluation of the Healthy Together Program was funded and implemented; however few results have been released to date.
Koolin Balit is a statement of the Victorian Government's strategic directions for Aboriginal health to 2022 and was launched by the then Minister for Health in May 2012. Koolin Balit: Victorian Government Strategic Directions for Aboriginal Health 2012–2022 has the stated objectives of:
- closing the gap in life expectancy for Aboriginal people living in Victoria
- reducing the differences in infant mortality rates, morbidity and low birthweights between the general population and Aboriginal people
- improving access to services and outcomes for Aboriginal people.
Clearly food is an important component of the six key priorities of:
- a healthy start to life
- a healthy childhood
- a healthy transition to adulthood
- caring for older people
- addressing risk factors
- managing illness better with effective health services.
The Victorian Planning and Environment Act 1987 and Planning and Environment Amendment Act 2013 provide the framework for local government to deliver urban infrastructure and within which each LGA is required to develop a Municipal Strategic Statement (MSS). The role of the MSS is to provide a statement of the key strategic planning, land use and development objectives for the municipality and the strategies and actions for achieving them.
Plan Melbourne 2015-2050 was released in 2014 and is the Victorian Government’s long term integrated transport and planning strategy for metropolitan Melbourne until 2050. Plan Melbourne provides a long-term vision for land use, infrastructure and transport planning for the Victorian population, transport and housing needs in the future. It is an integrated land use and transport strategy providing spatial representation on the growth pressures of congestion, housing requirements, accessibility to jobs and services, mitigation of climate change by protecting natural assets and land encroachment of rural settlements.
Non-Government Policy & Innovation
The Food Alliance (now Sustain: The Australian Food Network) was founded in 2009 as a direct outcome of years of dedicated food security advocacy and research by community-based individuals and organisations, working in combination with the leadership and support of the Victorian Foundation for Health Promotion (VicHealth) and the findings of Food For All a food security program funded by VicHealth that noted that there were challenges at the local government level in tackling broad based state and national issues beyond the capacity of local government.
The Food Alliance was modelled on the Food Policy Council development in North America, which were created as multi-stakeholder ‘whole of food system’ governance bodies to address the food system as a whole. In other words, instead of many advocates working on the isolated symptoms of a failing food system, Food Policy councils aim to establish and implement platforms for coordinated and strategic actions and interventions.
In the first phase of its life (2009-2012) the Food Alliance worked within Deakin University primarily as a ‘food think tank’, conducting research into strategic issues such as planning and food access, and making submissions on food-related government policy development. With the awarding in 2013 of the Victorian Food Systems Network project, the Food Alliance entered a new phase, where it builds partnerships and relationships to identify strategic project opportunities for food system change. This is reflected through the creation of the Urban Agriculture and Healthy Food Systems Working Groups, an initiative to create for the first time an Urban Agriculture Charter and Network for Victoria, and practical interventions, such as Know Your Food Bowl and Farm-to-School.
The Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance was established in 2010 as an advocacy and social networking body seeking to influence the growth of a fair food system around Australia.
The Victorian Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL) is a research/think tank sponsored by the Melbourne School of Design, the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne that has played an important role in stimulating debate around sustainable agriculture and its role in supporting food security. VEIL’s work has included action research around the development of a regional ‘Food Hub’ on the peri-urban fringe of southeast Melbourne with the dual aims of providing better market access and fair returns to farmers, hence strengthening long-term local supply; and making fresh food accessible and affordable to local people.
VEIL has also made an input to the development of a Regional Food Plan for the Melbourne Regional Development Australia and has supported thinking around the development of a creative food economy in southern Melbourne. Of particular interest in the EMR is VEIL’s mapping of Melbourne’s peri-urban agricultural land capability. This work focuses on methods used to map and classify land within the peri-urban areas of: Nillumbik Shire, City of Casey, Mornington Peninsula Shire and parts of the Cardinia and Yarra Ranges Shires. The full report is yet to be published however the preliminary evaluation Mapping Melbourne for land capability is available.
The Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth) has long been acting in the food security space with a specific focus on practical and policy action at the local government level. The first food security project was funded in the Cities of Yarra and Maribyrnong in 2000, followed by the five year VicHealth's Food For All program in nine municipalities from 2005-2010. A number of publications are available that document these initiatives and support local government to take action.
The National Heart Foundation (NHF) has worked with VEIL and VicHealth to create Food-sensitive planning and urban design: A conceptual framework for achieving a sustainable and healthy food system (FSPUD). FSPUD is an approach to planning and urban design that considers the intersection between public health, planning and urban design, and environmental sustainability. This approach is based on the belief that the way we design our environments either deters or supports people to meet their needs. FSPUD looks at how to create places that make it easy for people to access healthy and sustainable food in urban environments. FSPUD principles outline the approaches and interventions required to shift to a more sustainable and resilient food system and ensure people can meet their food needs into the future.
The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) is a peak body in local government. It was also an active player in the food security space in the first 10 years of the century and was funded by VicHealth to be a clearing house for resources around food security during the Food For All years. Whilst the VLGA appears not to be as active currently there are still a number of useful publications available through their library, for example the 2009 work Integrating Land Use Planning and Community Food Security: A new agenda for government to deliver on sustainability, economic growth and social justice. This was a joint publication by the VLGA and the Community Planning and Development Program La Trobe University, Bendigo Campus.
Community Indicators Victoria (CIV) is a VicHealth funded project aimed at increasing the capacity of local government practitioners to make evidence informed decisions. It does this by providing a free online repository of community health and wellbeing indicators and advisory services on how to use evidence in community planning. This framework, initiated and peer reviewed in 2006 and again in 2012, adopts a social determinants of health approach and consists of five main policy domains which categorise more than eighty health and wellbeing indicators. These indicators serve as measures of progress and provide a method of tracking health and wellbeing issues over time. Another key objective is to provide evidence on how communities are faring at a local, regional and state level using data maps and customised Community Wellbeing profiles.
Local Policy Context
A number of mandatory plans at the local level (government, community health and primary care partnerships) have increasingly provided a framework within which policy and planning around food security, food access, healthy eating and closely related issues are articulated. Plans mandated by the state government include:
- Local government Council Plans (sometimes called City Plans), Municipal Strategic Statements and Municipal Public Health and Wellbeing Plans. All of these are required to be revised every 4 years in line with Council elections. The latest iteration is 2013- 2017 and these can be found on each Council’s website.
- Community Health strategic plans including the Integrated Health Promotion Plans: these too are revised every four years and on the same cycle as the above local government plans.
- Primary Care Partnership strategic plans are also in line with the four year local government cycle.
Local government also develops a range of other non-mandated plans, policies, strategies and guidelines which may have relevance to or make mention of food related issues. These vary widely and include:
- Food policy or food security policies/plans for example:
- City of Casey: Food Security Policy
- City of Darebin: Food Security Policy
- Hobsons Bay City Council: Improving Access to Food in Hobson Bay (Food Security) Policy Statement
- City of Maribyrnong: Food Security Policy
- City of Melbourne: Food Policy.
- Background papers, (research, discussion, community consultations and issues papers) around food security and food access have also been done by a number of other municipalities for example Banyule, Ballarat, Frankston, Greater Bendigo, Greater Geelong, Hobsons Bay, Moreland, Mornington Peninsular and Wodonga. These can all be found on the relevant council websites.
- Plans and guidelines affecting the use of open space such as urban agriculture or urban food production strategies, nature strip planting guidelines, community garden guidelines, (Darebin, Moreland, Yarra etc).
- Sustainability or environment plans.
- Plans with a focus on specific population groups such as Indigenous Australians, people living with a disability, older people, youth and family services, children, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
- Business or economic development plans, structure plans for the planning of specific areas.
Impacts & Outcomes
The experience of food insecurity has a high cost to individuals, families and to the community as a whole in terms of reduced physical, mental and social health and wellbeing and the cumulative effect of such inequality and disadvantage. Overall food insecurity has been linked both as cause and effect in relation to low social capital in terms of the individuals and the communities within which they live.
Impact on Physical Health
Access to sufficient quality and quantities of food is essential for healthy eating, which in turn is a key building block to good health. Burden of disease data show that preventable diseases which can be affected by diet such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer rank within the top ten causes of death in Knox, Maroondah and Yarra Ranges. Paradoxically, food insecurity is also associated with higher rates of overweight and obesity. If the food supply is unpredictable, inaccessible and/or of poor quality, people tend to over-consume cheap or free foods when available, thus increasing the risk of obesity.
Impact on Mental Health & Wellbeing
Short term and chronic long term food insecurity can also have an impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. One of the immediate issues arising from poor food access is anxiety about not having enough food to feed themselves or their family, and depression at not being able to afford a healthy diet for family and children. Inability to feed oneself and one’s family can also contribute to a sense of powerlessness that not only affects mental wellbeing, but also affects the capacity of a person to change their circumstances, to take more control of their own health and welfare, and to adopt new skills.
Understanding is growing of the negative effects of the absence of a varied diet including fresh fruit and vegetables on behaviour, concentration and demeanour in children and young adults and mental impairment in older people. For example children from low income families receiving regular breakfast at school are reported as presenting fewer behavioural challenges in the class room, having greater capacity to concentrate as well as improved school attendance (Byrne & Anderson 2014).
Impact on Social Inclusion & Life Chances
Healthy eating is more than just eating nutritious food. It is also about the cultural and social significance of sharing food where for many food is a focus for social interactions with family and friends. Research shows that people who experience food insecurity are more likely to feel excluded from society, powerless and socially isolated (McGlone et al, 1999). In addition, evidence is mounting of the impact of food insecurity in children. The provision of breakfast program to students in disadvantaged schools is reported to have a positive impact not only on behaviour, but also on school attendance, punctuality and on educational achievement.
Impact on the Environment
What we eat not only affects our health and wellbeing, but also has major environmental implications with how it is produced, distributed, processed, sold, prepared and disposed of. In a report by Watermark Australia (2007), it was found that our food choices could make a bigger difference to household sustainability than direct water and energy use with 50% of Australian urban household’s water use being estimated to be through their food compared to 11% directly in showers, gardening and cleaning.
In Victoria, 47% of municipal waste sent to landfill is food and green waste (EcoRecycle 2005). This has immediate environmental impacts (release of methane as it decomposes). It is also a wasted resource. Overall, 23% of Australian emissions come from the food system (Garnaut 2007). In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from car-based shopping can be greater than the transport emissions from production and distribution phases. Ideally, there is a need to encourage change in how people access food (i.e. through walking and public transport) to ensure that increased local food purchase does not require extra car trips (Foster, C. et al. Environmental impacts of food production and consumption: A report to the department for environment, food and rural affairs, Manchester Business School, DEFRA, London, 2006).
Impact on the Urban Form
Again the question of chicken or egg arises in terms of whether food insecurity is affected by or affects the urban form. Research consistently shows that residential areas termed “food deserts” (i.e. more than a certain distance from fresh food outlets) tend to have poorer public transport, lower per capita income, and more convenience or fast food outlets. All the aspects of limited urban infrastructure seem to cluster in areas where people are food insecure.
Food Security in Australia
In Australia, data on food security have generally been collected via the question “In the last 12 months, were there any times that you ran out of food and you couldn’t afford to buy more?” This question was first asked in the last (1995) National Nutrition Survey of adults 16 years of age and over and at that time the estimated national food insecurity frequency was reported as 5% of adults across Australia. This rose to 8.9% of adults in the areas of most disadvantage (Wood et al 2000a), 12.8% of adults living on a low income and reporting fair or poor health, and 16.5% of persons on a low income who were aged 16-24 years (Wood et al 2000b).
The latest national data come from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Australian Healthy Survey 2011-12. This Survey reports that nationally in 20011/12, 4.0% of people lived in a household that, in the previous 12 months, had run out of food and could not afford to buy more, and that 1.5% of all Australians live in a household where someone went without food when they couldn't afford to buy any more. It is also reported that nationally, more than one in five (22%) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are living in a household where someone went without food when the household ran out of food compared with less than one in twenty (3.7%) in the non-Indigenous population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote areas are more likely than those in non-remote areas to be living in a household that had run out of food and couldn’t afford to buy more (31% compared with 20%).
Food Security in Victoria
This same Australian Health Survey reports that in 2011/12 around 3.7% of people in Victoria were living in a household that, in the previous 12 months, had run out of food and had not been able to afford to buy more and 1% went without food when they couldn’t afford to buy any more.
The Victorian Population Health Survey (VPHS) first incorporated the food security question in 2008 and again in 2011 and reports slightly higher levels of food insecurity. In 2008, the VPHS noted that 5.6% of Victoria’s population reported running out of food in the previous 12 months and not being able to afford to buy more. The 2011 survey figure was lower at 4.6% of Victorian adults. Over the two surveys, women consistently reported a higher incidence of food insecurity compared to men, and younger people as compared to older people.
Food Security in Victoria
Table 1: Ran out of food in the previous 12 months, Victoria, 2008-09 and 2011–12 by gender and ageMore
Determinants & Risk Factors
Determinants of Food Security
The determinants of food insecurity are the broader societal factors which shape the way in which risk factors interact to result in community, household and individual food insecurity. In a wealthy developed country like Australia these determinants reside in three environments; the economic, the physical and the socio-cultural. In a developing country we could probably include the natural environment as a determinant where severe climatic conditions such as drought, soil degradation or desertification become important factors in food insecurity.
- The economic determinant: the unequal distribution of income and resources that results in significant numbers of people living in poverty with insufficient income and resources to cover their day to day expenses including housing, utilities, transport and the purchase of appropriate food.
- The physical determinant: the planning and development of our towns and cities (and rural and remote areas) that result in the growth of suburbs or communities which have unequal access to appropriate infrastructure such as fresh food outlets, affordable housing, and public transport.
- The social-cultural determinant: the social, economic and physical disadvantages that people experience when they are frail and elderly, or culturally different, or physically or mentally unwell and the way these disadvantages intersect to impair their capacity to access and afford culturally appropriate and nutritionally adequate food.
- The natural environment determinant: the alienation and degradation of food producing land as a result of urban growth and climate change. The growth of cities and towns combined with the impact of higher temperatures and lower rainfall can result in the reduction of food producing areas close to major population centres, and numerous challenges for those involved in the production and distribution of food, (higher costs, lower productivity, diminished returns, longer supply networks etc) and also those at the end of the food supply chain who then have to absorb the additional costs.
These determinants can be described as structural or societal factors that underpin the existence of food insecurity in Australia i.e. they are fundamental aspects of our society that are generally not within the capacity of the individual to modify or even of local level agencies; they require system or structural change.
Risk Factors for Food Security
Within this framework, each of these determinants can be described as intersecting with a number of associated risk (and protective) factors that enhance (or diminish) the likely impact of the determinants. These risk factors can be described as “modifiable” and their impact can potentially be tackled at the community, household and individual level.
The risk factors are closely related to one another and can also be considered within the economic, physical and socio-cultural framework.
Economic risk factors include:
- Low income due to reliance on social security, low wage and /or insecure jobs and high levels of unemployment.
- High living expenses for example, food prices, rents and housing affordability, petrol costs, mortgage rates, utility bills and other fixed costs making a demand on income.
- Living in single income and sole person or sole parent headed households especially as a woman. These household structures are associated with living on a low income, finding secure accommodation difficult to afford and challenges in making a limited budget stretch to cover all necessary expenses.
- Limited financial skills combined with low income.
Physical environment risk factors include:
- Living with housing stress; this includes living in insecure, unstable housing, or housing that is unaffordable for the individual or family or living rough or in temporary housing such as boarding houses, crisis accommodation services, refuges etc.
- Living in areas where there are few local fresh food outlets and limited public transport.
- Living in households or housing types which have limited facilities for cooking, refrigeration, storage etc.
- Lack of personal transport and low levels of car ownership.
Socio–cultural risk factors include:
- Low proficiency in English, particularly among newly arrived migrants and refugees.
- Cultural requirements (for specific food items, financial obligations to others).
- Living with a chronic disease or disability, or an alcohol or drug dependency, or mental illness.
- Lack of knowledge and skills in relation to nutrition, food shopping, meal planning, food preparation and cooking and for recent arrivals lack of knowledge of Australian food and how to prepare it. The umbrella term “food literacy” is sometimes used to cover these factors.
- Low levels of education and potentially low levels of literacy and numeracy.
- Isolation and lack of social networks.
Natural risk factors can include:
- Lack of capacity to produce food locally.
Economic Environment Food Security InterventionsMore
Prevention/primary prevention interventions
Given the economic determinant of food insecurity relates to the unequal distribution of wealth and income, the potential for local government or community health to address this determinant is limited. Therefore no interventions are noted here.
Early intervention/secondary prevention interventions
Interventions to increase the supply of affordable food:
Potential interventions here revolve around addressing the risk factors associated with living on a low income and coping with high living expenses. The focus of these initiatives is therefore to increase the supply of affordable food by actions such as:
- establishing or supporting food co-ops, bulk buying, markets, food swaps, farm gate sales, farm-household links
- enhancing the provision of low cost or subsidised meals programs
- enhancing food rescue and food redistribution programs.
This has been an area of considerable activity, but little evaluation of impact. Many lessons have been learnt not least of which is the importance of ensuring that ideas that begin with project funding become integrated into policy and practice i.e. business as usual in the relevant Council, community agencies or local businesses. The VicHealth Food for All Program ran numerous interventions including:
- The Robinvale community market took four years of hard work and on-going Council input to become established and sustainable, to engage local growers, the local Indigenous community garden and local businesses and community groups.
- Efforts to establish farm gate sales and a farm gate tourist trail in the Swan Hill region involved working with tourism agencies, the farming community and local government: maintaining the initiative after the end of the project funding was a challenge.
- Food swaps can be a way to enhance urban agriculture and share food at no cost.
- Cafe meals programs can be a successful way of improving access to healthy food for vulnerable people such as people who are homeless, disabled, or elderly and isolated. See the Cities of Yarra and Maribyrnong; and also in Stonnington and Port Phillip through Inner South Community Health. Engagement of café owners as collaborative partners with shared values and vision seems to be critical to the success of this delivery of subsidised meals to at risk populations in local cafes.
- Food redistribution strategies included establishing local network of food relief agencies to enhance and co-ordinate and advertise local food support options, and enhancing food support with meal planning, food preparation and food storage advice. Efforts were made to establish a local foodbank in both Dandenong and in Wodonga. The Avocare Community Connect Distribution Centre in Dandenong in partnership with Foodbank Victoria, combines a range of activities including education, training, work experience and employment support plus, volunteer opportunities, catering, the provision of cooked meals, sandwiches and fresh food to local agencies for redistribution and direct to food insecure individuals.
- The Albury Wodonga Regional Foodshare operates as a “collaborative service that addresses food insecurity among people experiencing hardship in our region.” The focus is on food rescue, food sharing, empowerment of people and sustainability.
Treatment/tertiary prevention interventions
Interventions to support financial literacy:
Interventions identified here are arguably in the tertiary prevention or treatment area and focus on supporting people to acquire skills in financial literacy so as to manage the challenges of living on a low income.
- Provide budgeting, income management, savings and financial literacy information and support.
- Ensure these programs are tailored to specific population groups, e.g. in languages other than English.
Treatment programs for those with a gambling addiction or substance use problem could also be identified as tertiary prevention programs to support those whose disposable income is limited by their addiction, as more general programs they are not addressed here.
A number of successful financial literacy support programs have been run by the Brotherhood of St Laurence and all have been extensively evaluated research. These include no or low interest loan schemes, a savings and loans schemes in conjunction with the ANZ Bank and training for community workers to enable them to support their clients with financial literacy and planning.
The VicHealth Food for All Program saw number of areas develop information about the availability of cheap meals (Brimbank) or how to prepare meals on a budget of $50 a week which was the estimate at the time of the amount of money many people had for food after paying for essentials. (Swan Hill). These all have value especially when used in conjunction with community development work with the target audience, however sustainability of the resource is difficult without ongoing funds.
Built or Physical Environment
Built or Physical Environment Food Security InterventionsMore
Prevention/primary prevention interventions
Interventions to support affordable housing and food sensitive infrastructure:
As noted one of the determinants of food insecurity lies in the planning, design and development of our towns and cities. This suggests that primary prevention interventions should consider how urban infrastructure such as housing, transport and the distribution of food outlets can be modified to support the food security of residents. Local government has some (limited) capacity to do this through the development and application of the Municipal Strategic Statement and other planning regulations and local laws. Any work in this are needs close collaboration with social and urban planners, open space and transport planners.
- The adoption or promotion of integrated planning approaches and Food Sensitive Urban Planning Design principles.
- Advocacy around the provision of affordable housing.
Vic Health’s Food for All Program was developed to assist local government to address food insecurity in nine LGAs with a focus on priority at risk populations. The program ran for five years from 2005 to 2010 in partnership and was founded on the idea that LGAs could use integrated planning approaches to influence key factors affecting access to food including transportation, housing, economic development and land use. The hard copy and You tube resource Ten ways local government can act on food security is based on the evaluation findings and provides arguments and evidence of action in relation to the following:
- Identify who carries the food security agenda within Council
- Establish a local evidence base
- Incorporate food security across all Council policy and plans
- Model food access in Council-run activities, facilities and programs
- Use Council’s regulatory and fiscal powers to drive change
- Influence land use, business mix and the built environment
- Support residents to adopt healthy eating practices
- Support residents to grow and harvest food
- Build partnerships between council, community, welfare and other support agencies
- Advocate on broader food security related issues such as public transport, housing, urban land use, food pricing and labelling etc.
The National Heart Foundation recommends the adoption of food-sensitive planning and urban design approaches (FSPUD).
Food-sensitive planning and urban design does not simply assert that we have a problem in our cities, but sets out to identify new ways of tackling issues, providing a suite of ideas and innovations that cities should now embrace. It tackles a topic that has little precedent as an agenda for the planning of cities in Australia. It also sets out a host of reasons why we should add food to the core elements of the planning and design of our urban areas. (FSPUD 2011, p.1)
Good et al (2010) undertook a piece of work that aimed to identify how local government planning tools could be used to influence physical and policy environments to support healthy eating behaviours in communities. Although based in Queensland, it remains relevant to Victoria. An audit of Queensland’s legislative and non-legislative local government planning tools was conducted to assess their potential use in addressing strategies to achieve positive nutrition outcomes. Ten strategies were identified and covered the following themes: improving access to healthy foods and drinks; increasing access to breastfeeding facilities; decreasing fast food outlet density; and unhealthy food advertising.
Montague (2011) summarises the evidence that underpins the value of taking action in this area and concludes that there are three key areas where planners can take action to ensure food sensitive design principles are adopted.
Firstly, in relation to land use patterns, local government planners can:
- Ensure that processes to undertake precinct or structure planning identify, zone or designate sites for fresh food retail or production.
- Ensure that the potential for food production options in communal open space are included when undertaking open space planning.
- Advocate for changes in the Victorian Planning Provisions where it is identified that these prevent or hinder food sensitive design.
- Advocate for the adoption of a specific zone for commercial urban agriculture.
- Consider how they can use local laws to influence food access in situations where they believe their legislated planning powers are limited. For example, local government reports that it has limited powers to influence the mix of food retail outlets under the current state planning scheme. However, it may be possible to use Council bye-laws to modify the size and the location of the signage that advertises specific types of food outlet such as fast food chains.
- Explore the possibility of following the example of some local authorities in the UK who are seeking the powers to ban “unhealthy takeaway food outlets” if they are close to schools.
Secondly, planners can take action in relation to urban design measures at the individual building or site, street and neighbourhood level by:
- Including food production options into building, street and neighbourhood design.
- Ensuring affordable housing options are part of any new development.
Finally, given the evidence of access as a barrier to food security (and the limited role of local government in the public transport system as a whole) local government can take action in relation to modes and patterns of transport, action could be taken in:
- Providing community based transport to key food retail outlets.
- Encouraging food retailers to provide transport or delivery services.
- Ensuring walkability or cyclability for residents to reach local fresh food outlets.
- Undertaking advocacy to higher levels of government in order to influence the provision and frequency of public transport which in Victoria but not Queensland, is a state government responsibility.
Early intervention/secondary prevention interventions
Interventions to increase local access to fresh food:
- Identify food deserts and work on ways to eliminate them.
Actions may vary considerably depending on the local issues. It may be a question of increasing public transport, developing local structure plans such as the City of Darebin Structure Plan for Reservoir (a known food desert with high levels of food insecurity) contains an explicit discussion of the food security needs of the area, discusses the need to ensure the provision of affordable housing, sustain a vibrant community gardening culture, and plans for the potential development of a number of other urban agriculture initiatives and the inclusion of two new supermarkets into the area.
Bringing fresh food into an area via mobile fresh fruit and vegetable vans has been tried in a number of instances see Food for All: Lessons from two community demonstration projects however, sustainability of these options has proved to be a challenge.
- Promote community transport initiatives and advocacy around public transport.
The City of Dandenong Food For All program identified that a caravan park, home to a number of people living on low incomes and without personal transport, only had walking access to a petrol station fast food outlet when a bus stop was moved a considerable distance away. Advocacy by Council with the private bus company resulted in a shift of the bus stop to just outside the caravan park. City of Melton organised community transport to bring older residents from outlying small communities into Melton to do grocery shopping. Challenges to be overcome here included changing the local rules that prevented shopping trolleys being carried on Council’s community buses or arranging for a trailer to carry the shopping behind the bus.
Treatment/tertiary prevention interventions
Interventions to ensure adequate food storage capacity:
1. Act (eg by using licensing and inspection powers) to ensure boarding or rooming houses, caravan parks etc have adequate facilities for food storage and preparation.
Local government has powers in relation to the licensing of boarding or rooming houses and caravan parks that include three areas: planning, building and public health inspections.
Basic requirements in a rooming or boarding house are identified in the handbook prepared by the Registered Accommodation Association of Victoria Running a better rooming house: A best practice handbook for operators 2014 and environmental health, planning and building inspectors can be encouraged to look more closely at these issues.
- Each resident must have access to and use of food preparation facilities. These can be provided in the resident’s room or a shared kitchen.
- If these facilities are in a resident’s room, they must include a food preparation area, a sink, oven and cook-top in good working order, a refrigerator with at least 80 litres capacity, a cupboard with a minimum 0.1 cubic metres (100 litres) of storage capacity for each person in the room.
- A shared kitchen must have a:
- food preparation area, a sink, an oven and cook-top with four burners in good working order for every 12 or fewer residents who do not have an oven or cook-top in their room (based on the maximum number of residents the rooming house can accommodate).
- refrigerator with at least 400 litres capacity.
- lockable cupboard for each resident, with a minimum 0.1 cubic metre capacity.
2. Initiate a loans or saving program to support purchase of white-goods for food preparation or storage such as refrigerators.
The VicHealth Food for All program in Swan Hill in conjunction with a local credit union, established a savings and loans scheme specifically to enable low income clients to purchase refrigerators and have access to a temporary frig whilst saving the money to purchase one. Numbers were limited and it was found that a loan scheme had limited success without broader based financial support and counselling.
Socio-Cultural Environment Food Security InterventionsMore
Prevention/primary prevention interventions
The socio-cultural roots or determinants underpinning food insecurity appear to reside in the systemic disadvantage experienced by people in vulnerable population groups. This remains a fundamental challenge for local government and community health to address: therefore no interventions are identified.
Early intervention/secondary prevention interventions
Most early intervention initiatives in this area revolve around the idea that lack of food literacy is a risk factor for food insecurity (as well as a risk factor for obesity and other chronic diet related diseases) that this can be addressed by the provision of food related education.
Interventions to enhance food literacy:
- Provide education and support around diet, nutrition, meal planning, cooking, shopping, food storage; etc.
- Deliver education programs and food literacy information targeted to specific population groups at greater risk for example recent arrivals, males living alone, young single parents, etc.
Interventions to increase supply of fresh food in organisational settings:
- Promote healthy food policy adoption (eg leisure centres, swimming pools, sporting clubs, schools, early childhood services, senior citizens clubs etc).
- Promote healthy food policy and procedures adoption by schools, workplaces, early childhood, aged care services etc.
These two areas are possibly the most active areas for intervention and state and federal governments have made significant investments over the last few years including the national Healthy Communities Initiative (200+ Australian LGAs) and the Victorian Healthy Together Victoria (14 Victorian LGAs). Both were branded as healthy eating and physical activity promotion or obesity prevention interventions rather than food security interventions. Large sums were allocated centrally to evaluation, but limited information has been published. Many programs and local government recipients of funding undertook evaluations themselves; however, most of this material remains unpublished.
The evaluation data that there is from the programs funded under these initiatives (for example HCI programs run by the City of Melton, and the Cities of Kingston and Bayside) and from the VicHealth Food for All program indicate that participants increased their understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet. A number of initiatives focussed specifically on recent arrivals (Cities of Dandenong, Brimbank and Maribyrnong) including:
- The Welcome Kit a multi-language resource detailing how to store safely, prepare and cook Australian fruit and vegetables.
- Meal planning, followed by market trips and cooking sessions.
- Preparing healthy school lunch box.
- Cooking programs for single males from Africa, for young single mothers, for older men living alone and many more.
Again the lesson seems to be, short term programs, initiatives and publications have value, but tend to falter as external funding ceases.
Treatment/tertiary prevention interventions
The potential interventions identified here revolve around the risk factors for food insecurity namely, limited education, low levels of English language proficiency, limited literacy or numeracy and limited food literacy.
Interventions to ensure food safety:
- Support low cost food safety training especially for those with low literacy and English proficiency.
- Support the accreditation of community kitchens in community centres.
Literature and resources in this area are scanty. Several of the Food for All programs ran low cost food safety training so that farmers could prepare items for sale like jam or chutney, pickles and preserves out of their produce, and so that community agencies could run cooking programs in Neighbourhood Houses and people could participate in food preparation in food rescue sites.
Local government and community health have picked up the idea of community kitchens and the delivery of food literacy/cooking programs. Whilst there is value in all council facilities having accredited kitchen where education and community food events can be held; care has to be taken to ensure that these programs reach at risk, vulnerable population groups, not simply enhance the skills of those who already have them. The Master Chef generation is well and truly here.
Natural Environment Food Security InterventionsMore
Prevention/primary prevention interventions
The determinant of food insecurity founded in the natural environment can be described as the alienation and degradation of food producing land as a result of urban growth and climate change. To address this determinant requires action on a national if not global level. However, potentially, efforts can be made at the local or regional level to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the impact of climate change. These strategies can include the promotion of sustainable farming practices and the reduction of community, household and individual water consumption, energy use and waste production.
Early intervention/secondary prevention interventions
Interventions to protect and enhance the production and distribution of fresh food locally:
- Explore zoning practices that protect local peri-urban agricultural land.
- Ensure local growers have access to support to enhance production and promote local sales.
- Promote the adoption of organisational policies around the purchase of local food.
Montague (2011) gave a then up-to-date review of peri-urban agriculture literature and concluded:
Firstly, the peri-urban strategies described in the literature cannot be described as proven food insecurity prevention or amelioration measures. Rather they should be seen at this stage as strategies that can support the viability of peri-urban food production and provide generalised community benefit (as well as environmental benefits and therefore potential benefits for future food security). In many cases these strategies (especially those designed to increase the financial viability of peri-urban farmers) require adaptation to increase food access for those who are currently food insecure. Ideally social, economic and environmental goals that incorporate sustainable food production close to urban areas and community food security can all be met by supporting peri-urban agriculture but in reality, there may be times when these two different dimensions of food security do not always, necessarily complement each other.
Secondly, the arguments about the need to retain high quality food producing land around major cities are persuasive in environmental, sustainability and long term economic terms. These long term goals clearly require national, state or at least regional action. In addition, local level action is necessary to support the viability of peri-urban food producers and ensure community food security goals can also be addressed.
In summary, what might work over the four environments for health are summarised below.
In relation to the natural environment emerging evidence suggests that planning powers could be used to preserve agricultural land and support agricultural practices. Examples include:
- Zoning support/ explicit statements in Municipal Strategic Statements re preservation of prime agricultural land in close proximity to urban areas or limitations on the extent to which land can be subdivided and sold off as hobby farms which do not produce food.
- The use of regulatory and fiscal powers to support ongoing food production in peri-urban areas, for example by facilitating the management of the urban farming interface such as agricultural noise, smell and waste management issues, fire and water issues.
In relation to the economic environment: emerging evidence suggests that we could improve the financial viability of peri-urban farmers and food producers and at the same time increase accessibility and affordability of fresh food by:
- Supporting the implementation of Community Supported Agriculture programs.
- The creation of links between peri-urban agriculture and food banks and food rescue strategies.
- The adoption of food procurement policies by hospitals, local government, schools and other institutions.
- Support for farmers markets and farm stalls. However, it should be noted that these may not have any impact on food access issues for people who are food insecure unless they are tailored to the needs of socio-economically disadvantaged communities; this would include attention to place, time, price and access issues.
- The promotion of local food trails, buy local campaigns and agri-tourism initiatives.
- Being flexible in the application of regulations re signage and road side sales to facilitate farm trails and road side sales.
- Flexibility in the application of Food Act requirements to facilitate production and sale of value-added products such as jams and juices from fruit farms: examples include cheaper food safety training programs, flexibility in registration of farm kitchens for food production.
This document also gives a number of brief Australian case studies of food security initiatives in these areas.
Carey et al (2011) propose that policy initiatives to increase fruit and vegetable consumption should include measures to address the pressures facing production, and that the most effective policy responses are likely to be integrated approaches that aim to increase fruit and vegetable availability and affordability through innovative solutions to problems of production and distribution. They provide some brief examples of potential integrated policy solutions are identified to illustrate the possibilities and stimulate discussion.
Burton et al (2013) provide information on current urban agriculture practices in Australia, including a critical review of good practice urban agriculture and analyses the opportunities and barriers for extending and expanding upon these practices.
Treatment/tertiary prevention interventions
Interventions to support urban agriculture:
- Initiate and support urban agriculture options e.g. home gardening, community gardens, productive open space.
A review of the literature (Montague 2011) to identify evidence of the impact of urban agriculture initiatives on food security concluded that whilst systematic evidence was not yet available, there appear to be a number of ways in which local government can support food production in urban areas. In the built environment, this includes planning support to include food production in new developments (roof top, balcony, vertical) or to retro-fit existing urban developments. In the economic environment, local government can support urban food production by providing practical and financial support re the availability of:
- composting (bins)
- water use (tanks, hoses and pumps)
- soil preparation (soil analysis, labour support, compost or topsoil provision, fertiliser)
- growing (raised beds, seeds, seedling, tools)
- means of redistributing excess domestic food production e.g. market sales, food swaps, food rescue donations.
In relation to the natural environment, Councils can support the development and maintenance of urban food production by:
- Planning work to ensure food production is incorporated into development and maintenance open space, parks and gardens, nature strips.
- Advocacy to vary zoning regulations to facilitate urban farm development.
- Variations in the local application of water regulations to support food growing.
In relation to the social environment, local government can support urban food production by:
- Promoting the environmental, nutritional and economic benefits of domestic food production.
- Providing information and education about the skills needed for domestic food production e.g. soil preparation, mulching, composting, water use, pruning, planting, harvesting, bee keeping, chicken and duck keeping, for using home produce via cooking, preserving or sharing excess fresh food.
In response to growing interest in urban agriculture, local government is beginning to adopt specific policy to support this, sometimes in conjunction with community health. The City of Moreland, in partnership with Merri Community Health Services run a Moreland Food Access Project which involves among other things a garden network, community gardens and food growers food swaps. The City of Moreland is in the process of developing an Urban Agriculture and Food Production Strategy.
In 2014, the City of Darebin became the first council in Australia to adopt an urban agriculture strategy and the two publications Urban food production strategy 2014-2018 followed by the Urban food production strategy implementation plan 2014-18 summarise a range of food growing initiatives across infrastructure planning, community development, climate change mitigation.
Darebin is also the home of the Darebin fruit squad: a team of volunteers who harvest excess fruit from peoples’ fruit trees as well as provide advice on tree maintenance. The harvest is shared between the tree owners and a variety of charities. Anyone in Darebin or surrounding suburbs can call in the fruit squad when they have a tree that needs harvesting. This avoids fruit being wasted and also assists homeowners who may have otherwise ended up with a mess of fallen fruit causing a nuisance and possibly encouraging disease. The fruit squad also provides advice and expertise on pruning trees and dealing with basic tree problems and disease. The outcome is an urban orchard in people’s back yards that are healthy and productive. The fruit squad also provides people an opportunity to meet neighbors and build their networks.
Darebin was closely followed by the City of Yarra with its Urban Agriculture Strategy 2014-2018 complemented by a series of guidelines in relation to community gardens, nature stirp and garden beds, planter boxes, productive trees.
Four inner Melbourne LGAs developed the Growing Green Guide: A guide to green roofs, walls and facades in Melbourne and Victoria with advice from industry experts and academia. The guide is written for professionals involved in the design, construction and maintenance of green roofs, walls and / or facades and highlights urban food production, promoting the opportunity for food growing on a local scale, for community gardens, school gardens and social enterprise.
Edible Bus Stop UK is a landscape architecture and urban design organisation that aims to transform unused land around bus stops into productive growing land. People catching public transport or walking past are encouraged to pick food to eat or take home to cook. The aim is not only to provide food but also to improve the amenity of the area and in doing so make the place safer and more pleasant. The project brings the community together in working bees also improves connections and leads to community strengthening.
The Food-Sensitive Planning and Urban Design (FSPUD) case studies include a description of a street and public open space orchard managed and maintained by the homeowners association, which is funded through a quarterly levy on each homeowner’s rates notice. Homeowners automatically become a member of the homeowners association when they purchase a housing lot – active participation is not compulsory but is encouraged.
3000 Acres is a project that aims to connect people who want to grow food to land that is not currently being used. 3000 acres recognises that many people living in cities want to grow food but lack the space required. There is also underutilised land within the urban setting that is lying dormant. 3000 Acres has a team of planners, designers and gardeners to assist individuals and groups to contact landowners and negotiate usage of land. In addition 3000 Acres can put people in touch with other gardeners to build groups who can work together. From a landowners’ perspective it provides an opportunity to get unused land cleaned up and maintained.
Cultivating Community is a non-government organisation with a wealth of experience and resources to assist local level work around food growing including:
- Public Housing Community Gardens
- Community Gardens
- School Food Gardens
- Food Waste Projects
- Food Systems Projects
- Workshops and Consultancy
- Developing Innovative Projects.
The Fitzroy Community Food Centre (FCFC) is a space managed by Cultivating Community incorporating a kitchen and a garden. It is being developed as a community food activity hub, engaging and partnering with community groups and organisations that will run a multitude of food-related programs, events and activities in the Centre. The Centre’s activities are based around micro enterprise, food security, food waste and food system advocacy and community building, for both public housing tenants as well as the wider community.
A detailed consideration of food security and community gardening in a Melbourne Neighbourhood Renewal area (Davis 2009) includes a series of tables that summarise how councils, community health, schools, other non-government organisations such as neighbourhood houses, and the state government can support food security and community gardening.
Both Montague (2011) and Australian City Farms and Community Gardens Network entitled Evaluating Sydney’s community gardens (2006) give useful overviews of the values, challenges, likely impact and lessons in relation to community gardens.
Food Security References
Food Security ReferencesMore