A recent survey from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Social Change has revealed food insecurity in the state continues to be a pressing issue.
Such is the concern expressed by report authors Dr Katherine Kent, Sandra Murray and Dr Denis Visentin they asked the question: Is food insecurity the new norm in Tasmania?
Food insecurity has remained an issue in Tasmania despite the state having an apparent wealth of fertile farmland and priding itself on agricultural production.
While the problem has simmered away for a number of years, the reality of the impacts and acuteness of food insecurity in Tasmania bubbled to the surface amid the COVID pandemic.
St Vincent de Paul Society Tasmania chief executive Lara Alexander said the significance of food insecurity had been highlighted at emergency food relief supplying groups which saw increased presentations to their service.
Ms Alexander said among the record numbers of people in need, new faces were showing up and taking advantage of food supplies.
This increased presentation was compounded by the fact service provision was impeded by the pandemic itself with charities unable to provide the services they once had due to public health restrictions.
The latest food insecurity report showed during the pandemic as many as one in four of the almost 1100 people surveyed were struggling to find where their next meal might come from.
While that number had decreased to one in five, the report expressed concern due to the fact prior to the pandemic that number sat at less than one in 10.
A key finding of the report expressed concern over the ongoing ramifications of the pandemic on Tasmanian food security.
Of particular note in the report was the fact 11 per cent of households were experiencing "severe food insecurity" meaning they had to regularly go without food.
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City Mission client services operations manager Ray Green said City Mission had experienced a 15 to 20 per cent increase in people attending their food relief service.
"In the last 12 months, we've provided 24,700 meals across the North and North-East. That's up quite significantly," he said.
"In Launceston, that's a 1000 meal increase for the same time in the previous 12 months."
He said the main reasons were an increase in financial needs - meaning less money for food - as well as difficulties finding affordable housing and increasing rates of family violence and mental health battles.
Part of St Vincent de Paul's emergency food relief supply is their food van service.
The food van had to be halted last year as the pandemic swirled about Tasmania but was fired back up as quickly as possible to an overwhelming reception.
Food van volunteer and South Launceston rotarian Craig Mitchell said he had noticed a marked change recently whereby those utilising the food van were unfamiliar faces trying to find some food to give to their children.
"I had a chap the other day and he said, 'I've got two daughters, can I get some extra sandwiches?'," he said.
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Ms Alexander said this was a theme being recognised in Launceston.
We've found that Ravenswood and other places around Tasmania some people coming to the vans are not actually homeless but they quite often are families that come and get sandwiches for their kid's lunchbox for the next day.- Lara Alexander, St Vincent de Paul Society Tasmania chief executive
"It acts as a bit of support for those families in need. Just that little bit extra that helps."
Mr Mitchell said the use of these sandwiches was either to bulk up a child's lunchbox or could even have been part of a late night dinner.
The food insecurity report showed the way those with an insecure food supply battled around a lack of food was to either eat less or eat lower quality food.
While the effects of food insecurity and the prospect of a child with an empty lunchbox is evidently visceral, the compounding impacts mean emergency food supplies are a stop gap or means to an end rather than a solution.
With only five per cent of food insecure respondents accessed emergency food relief through charities, the food insecurity report also highlighted the need to reshape attitudes towards how Tasmania can reduce the number of those left wondering where their next meal will come from.
Ms Alexander and Mr Green said this was something emergency food relief groups were working towards finding an answer to.
Interestingly, the answer may fall outside of raising awareness about the services themselves or increasing their activity, rather, come from capitalising on the fertile land and community attitudes present in Tasmania.
Mr Green said there was a possibility for left over fresh produce from farms to become part of the battle to reduce food insecurity.
It's not necessarily about, in Tasmania, that we don't have enough food to feed people but how we use that food and not waste it.- Ray Green, City Mission client services operations manager
Ms Alexander said there had also been discussions about encouraging community gardening attitudes and education about skills to be self-sustainable.
Those discussions had been extended to the state government, as indicated in the food insecurity report, who had received a recommendation from the Premier's Economic and Social Recovery Advisory Council to "include strong links to local agricultural and hospitality businesses including training opportunities for program participants".
The Examiner is raising money for four charities that provide food relief and other supports: the Benevolent Society, St Vincent de Paul, The Salvation Army and City Mission, through the Winter Relief appeal.
In the first two weeks of this year's Winter Relief Appeal almost $5000 has been raised and last year the appeal raised a record $119,334.
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