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The Heavy Price Tag on Food Security in Northern Canada

Contributing Author

Would you be willing to buy a jug of orange juice for $26? In the Northern regions of Canada, food and essentials can be far more expensive than many of us are used to here in Southern Ontario. Residents of places like Nunavut have shared photos and videos of prices of foods and necessities in their local grocery stores, like Northmart, bringing awareness to just how costly doing their groceries can be compared to elsewhere in Canada. One video uploaded by Olivia Young displays several surprising prices, such as a single cantaloupe costing $7.39 and a pack of 8 beef burgers costing about $31. More photos by Jarret Hardisty and Maggie Lucy Kilabuk from Facebook show a container of strawberries costing $14.39 and a single head of broccoli priced at about $12.

Olivia Young / YouTube

Jarret Hardisty / Facebook

Maggie Lucy Kilabuk / Facebook

The reason why these foods cost so much more in Northern Canada can mostly be credited to the difficult methods of transportation and the preservation of foods when transported over long distances. The constant winter-like weather and conditions in the region don’t allow for much farming like raising livestock or growing fresh fruits and vegetables. Food shipments can only get delivered through ice roads when waterways are frozen, or by ship or plane. Flying into the remote locations of certain communities can also come with significant costs.

According to a study by the University of Toronto, from 2005-2014, food insecurity had increased by 46.8% in Nunavut and 24.1% in the Northwest Territories (Beaumont, 2016). 86% of Nunavut’s population was comprised of Indigenous peoples in 2012. The Inuit continue to select local animals like seals, polar bears and caribou as their preferred sources of food yet 70% of the territory’s households still suffered from challenges in acquiring affordable nutritious food in 2014. With high rates of unemployment and poverty in fly-in communities, food insecurity is a common issue in the Northern Canadian region. An Inuit family who had the limited opportunity to sell a freshly washed polar bear skin for $4,439 had said that it "still wasn't enough to pay off a new sofa set and other household items, including food,” (Gomez Sarmiento, 2019).

"Some of these students go to school and that’s the only time they have a meal to eat,” said Vern Cheechoo of the Mushkegowuk Council in Northern Ontario. The food from programs in place to support children, seniors, and those in need are also reportedly not sufficient for a healthy diet (Flanagan, 2020).

Although the government has a program to provide subsidies and reduce the costs of nutritious food and essentials for residents of Northern Canada, Nutrition North Canada, its impact is not great enough to reduce food insecurity. For instance, we can see in Young’s video that the price of a single cantaloupe was $11.46 before the subsidy and $7.39 after it.

Olivia Young / YouTube

Additionally, we see in Young’s video that a packet of Mr. Noodles still costs 99 cents. Empty calorie foods that are full of preservatives and have little to no nutritional value may be the most affordable options for those who don’t have the financial capacity to purchase healthier fresh foods. They may be cheaper but Canada’s Food Guide suggests limiting highly processed foods, as overconsumption of these foods leads to health problems such as chronic disease.

A price of $34.99 on a pack of 6 Aquafina water bottles may astound those of us living in cities like Toronto but it’s a price that families in Nunavut have to live with. If you’re looking for ways to help with the widespread issue of food insecurity in Northern Canada, support charities! Some excellent registered charities that are recommended by Feeding Nunavut include the Ilisaqsivik Society, Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre, and the Niqinik Nuatsivik Food Bank. You could also help with tackling food insecurity, hunger and poverty in the GTA by supporting the Rising Sun Food Drive Foundation! Food insecurity may be a large-scale issue, but even the smallest of contributions can become a piece of a larger puzzle in taking the right measures to address it.

Olivia Young / YouTube


Gomez Sarmiento, I. (2019, November 26). PHOTOS: How families eat in The ARCTIC: From an $18 box of cookies to polar Bear stew. NCPR.

Beaumont, H. (2016, August 4). Food prices are out of control in Northern Canada. VICE.

Feeding Nunavut. (2021, February 11). Our registered charity picks !! Feeding Nunavut.

Flanagan, R. (2020, October 21). $20 hamburgers and $2 bananas: The cost of food insecurity in Canada's North. CTVNews.

Garfield, L. (2017, September 21). Food prices are insanely high in rural Canada, where Ketchup costs $14 and Sunny D costs $29. Business Insider.

Government of Canada, S. C. (2016, March 29). Inuit: Fact sheet For NUNAVUT Inuit: Fact sheet For nunavut. Inuit: Fact Sheet for Nunavut.

Health Canada. (2020, October 14). Limit highly processed foods. Canada Food Guide.

Young, O. (2019, April 9). The Price Of Food In Iqaluit, Nunavut [Video]. YouTube.

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