Heightened food costs hammer Nuu-chah-nulth-aht
Throughout the regions of Nuu-chah-nulth territory there are a number of various remote communities that have limited access to grocery stores. From villages located in Clayoquot, Barkley, and Nootka Sound many community members travel extensively, multiple times a month, to nearby towns such as Port Alberni, Nanaimo, and Campbell River for groceries. With the additional costs and measures associated with the long journey to larger towns, inflation and heightened cost of food continues to place pressures on members within communities.
Elmer Frank, elected chief of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and community emergency services manager explains that it’s always been a challenge to get groceries in Tofino due to the high cost of food in local grocery stores.
“Most of our families we go to [Port Alberni or Nanaimo] for grocery shopping, because of the fact that we can get a grocery cart for the same price as we can get for three bags in some of our grocery stores here,” said Frank.
From Tofino, a journey to Port Alberni is 126 kilometers, and to Nanaimo is roughly 206 kilometers.
“It's a big demand to have to go to [Port Albernia and Nanaimo] for groceries and for essentials that you need for a household. However, I mean, it is getting tougher and tougher because of the increases [in] pricing,” said Frank.
Frank notes that fuel costs also have an additional impact with traveling to Port Alberni and Tofino.
Canada’s 2022 Food Price Report states that in the last twenty years the food inflation index rose significantly, with an grocery bill rising by 70 per cent between the years 2000 and 2020, this outplaced general inflation.
With retail food cost outgrowing the increase in income across Canada, according to the 2023 Food Price Report, it is predicted that Canadians will continue to feel the impact of food inflation in 2023 due to the continued impacts such as climate change, transportation costs, oil costs, and dropping Canadian dollar, among others.
“When the government and companies and the big corporations start increasing the prices, we suddenly have to become adaptable to that,” said Frank.
Frank explains that the remote village of Opisaht feels the ‘brunt’ of increased cost of food.
For Ahousaht resident, June Titian, due to living in a remote location, groceries have been expensive for as long as she can remember.
Titian plans to do grocery shops in [Port Alberni] around her work and childrens schedule, dependent on weather, and around the Kennedy Hill closure schedule. She travels to Port Alberni for groceries one to two times a month, though she also has groceries delivered to Ahousaht.
Though Ahousaht, located on Flores Island, doesn’t have a grocery store, at the beginning of the pandemic, Titian explains, there was one.
“I loved it. It was so convenient and saved a lot of money being able to avoid traveling,” wrote Titian in an email to Ha-Shilth-Sa.
“I always make a list before I shop, noting the staples that need to be replenished, and I try to meal plan for the week so I know exactly what I need to buy,” she wrote. “I often forget something and luckily the Ahousaht General Store does deliveries to the Ahousaht dock several times a week.”
Sylvia Dennis, Huu-ay-aht elder, travels the 85 kilometer stretch from the village of Anacla to Port Alberni to buy groceries.
“I have to travel to Port Alberni when I can, and at least… every two weeks I try to stock up… while I have the means to,” said Dennis.
When Dennis doesn’t have access to a vehicle, and she’s in a pinch she gets a ride to Bamfield where she shops, though she tries not to due to the high prices and lack of fresh fruits and vegetables.
“Even in Port Alberni… food is so expensive. I have to cut back on a lot of things when I'm shopping for our family,” said Dennis.
Feeding a family of five, though Dennis gives her children healthy food she also has had to cut back on items such as meat, vegetables and fresh fruit due to high prices.
Bamfield Main is known for its highly frequented logging trucks, low visibility, and multitude of accidents. Since 2020 the road has undergone construction to pave the roads making it safer for citizens in remote communities to travel in and out of their community.
Dennis said that her journey to Port Alberni is weather dependent.
“Sometimes there’s logs or trees on the road, so I have to be really careful when I go into town,” said Dennis.
Similarly, Titian notes that she has traveled to Tofino from Ahousaht in storms to grocery shop, and it has been a scary experience.
“I avoid traveling all together now if it's stormy weather,” Titian said.
For Francis Jack, of Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation and a newly single father of two, he plans ahead to get a hold of a social assistant grocery support driver.
This is a service provided by Mowachaht/Muchalaht First Nation so community members who cannot drive can access grocery stores in Campbell River, which is 87 kilometers away from Gold River.
The Social Assistance Grocery Support Drivers are a free service and with only 8 monthly trips from Gold River to Campbell River.
The service is in high demand, and if booking doesn’t happen right away, folks often miss out, said Jack.
When the service is not available Jack has to hire out of pocket.
“I do post on Facebook and I ask around if anybody's going, I chip in… for gas, their time, and when it comes down to it, it usually ends up being a hire, which is quite a bit more costly,” explains Jack. “It takes away from my budget [for] groceries and other necessities.”
Jack explains that though Gold River has a Co-op, it doesn’t have all of what he needs for his two children so he often shops in Campbell River.
“With the inflation of everything going up, I get up to two thirds of what I used to get when I would shop,” said Jack. “Even a bag of oranges or bag of apples is pretty costly.”
“I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one that struggles,” said Jack.
Frank notes that he understands factors associated with the need for increased costs, such as climate change, however, there also needs to be more innovative ways to support a sustainable way of living.
“I think that, you know, everybody has to now look at how they're budgeting going forward, because some may and some don't have that ability to increase their budgets.. for inflation,” said Frank. “That's another challenge that we face.”
Alexandra Mehl, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Ha-Shilth-Sa