I have decided to participate in the Welfare Food Challenge, not because I am looking for a challenge. In fact, I would much rather avoid challenges in my life right now and feeding myself on only $18 a week sounds like a pretty tough challenge. But we also need to bring attention to the staggering inhumanity of our low income assistance rates, which are a mere $610 a month for an individual.
For more information on the Challenge please visit Raise the Rates
Friends of mine have said, no way are they doing the challenge, and have rightfully acknowledged that feeding oneself on $18 a week is simply not possible, that it is an absurd idea. Not only is the amount too low, but food prices have also increased. I tend to agree that the Challenge is impossible and expect this week to be more of a fasting week as I doubt that I will be able to eat very much at all. I am wondering, how will I get enough protein, enough calories, enough nourishment? How will I sustain enough energy to work? Will I need to book time off work? Will my existing health concerns (I struggle with a chronic inflammatory mystery condition) flare up? Will I be forced to eat the cheap processed carbs that I need to avoid to remain healthy? I am already anxious about my health.
In two days the Challenge begins. I will try to maintain at least a small amount of healthy protein, likely nuts and seeds, some healthy fats like coconut oil, but since these fats can be expensive and since I still need to maintain my energy for work, I may need to get more of my calories through cheaper carbs like beans and rice. I will still be able to afford a tablespoon of coffee to keep me going, which I calculated at .11 cents a cup. For sure, I will look for as many vegetables as I can afford. Potatoes would be the cheapest, but hopefully I can also find some greens for higher quality nutrients. Maybe I can afford a few tablespoons of the superfood chia or maca powder to throw in my coffee, something to prevent me from crashing. I am not sure that I am prepared. I feel like I need some professional nutritionist advice.
So what is the point then? What will I learn? How will this contribute to meaningful advocacy or policy change? In my work as a community food developer and working in the area of food access and equity, I often think about the impact of my work, and of others working in this field. Is our work changing anything? How do we change the system that results in poverty and food insecurity? Certainly the Challenge cannot be won, but perhaps it will help to draw attention to the need to increase assistance rates. Perhaps the challenge will deepen my personal understanding and empathy towards those that struggle with poverty every day and to further my awareness of my own privilege of being able to end the challenge whenever I want. These, and more, are a few questions that I have.