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Revealed: The Hidden Hunger in Rocky Mountain’s Tourist Paradise

A new documentary film sheds light on the harsh reality faced by those who keep the tourist economy running but struggle to afford their meals

Behind the glossy shine of the Rocky Mountain tourism economy, there’s a food security problem for locals.

A new documentary by filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk takes a behind-the-scenes look at local groups and how they are helping people in need put food on the table in expensive resort towns.

The film is called Food Is My Teacher.

It follows Vancouver’s Dr. Tammara Soma, co-founder of the Food Systems Lab at Simon Fraser University, on a journey across western Canada to uncover different people’s relationships and personal connections to food.

Not surprisingly, Soma discovers the soaring cost of living in the Bow Valley is hitting some residents hard at the dinner table.

Especially hard hit are the people who clean hotel rooms, work the ticket offices, load chairlifts in the winter, toil in the restaurant dish pit, and do the countless other service jobs that tourism depends on. These are low-paying jobs in a town with higher-than-average food prices. 

“It just seems to be getting worse, actually, because the cost of living is getting higher and the cost of food is getting higher, so more and more people need the food bank,” said Yanchyk in an interview with the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Canmore; Unaffordable for Many 

Canmore has the highest cost of living in Alberta. According to the Bow Valley Job Resource Centre, the average wage in Canmore is $20.75 per hour.

That’s $18 short of the $38.80 per hour that The Alberta Living Wage Network says you must make to live comfortably in Canmore!

One of the groups featured in the film is the Filipino Organization in the Rocky Mountains.

Grocery stores in resort towns charge a premium for food marketed at the tourist crowd and leaving locals footing extra high grocery costs | Tara Clark | Unsplash

According to the organization’s president, Jun Cacayuran, the COVID-19 pandemic sparked “an alarming increase” in the number of Filipinos across Alberta needing help.

“We came up with giving free food packs,” Cacayuran said. “We did that every day during the pandemic … That was the start of our collaboration with the (local) food bank(s) and food rescue.”

Cacayuran arrived in Alberta from the Philippines in 2013 with his children to join his wife, who was a temporary foreign worker at a Banff hotel. They stayed on.

As an employee of a local hotel, Cacayuran said he sees avoidable waste of food that is still fit for human consumption.

He hopes to work with local hotels to reduce waste and redirect some of this food in the community to help decrease food costs for residents. 

Price gouging at the grocery store is another big problem, especially in a tourist town.

Even though grocery stores like Save-On-Foods and Safeway offer local deals of 15 to 20 percent off on the first Tuesday of the month to residents, the costs of groceries are still higher than in non-tourist centres.

Any other day of the month, it’s an expensive trip to the grocery store.

“The prices are so high, and it is because it’s a tourist-built area and, seemingly, it is patterned on the pricing of those tourists coming in, and less visibility goes to the locals,” said Cacayuran. “That’s why we are pushing to get in some forums and meetings to discuss the differences between the locals and the tourist pricing on food.”

Food Is My Teacher was filmed in the summer of 2022 and is currently airing on CBC Gem.

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