I ended my Challenge this past Sat evening, a few hours before the end of the week, at a Witness event where a feast was served. It seemed contradictory, but somewhat fitting to end my Challenge where delicious healthy food was offered and shared amongst a group of research participants and their family and friends (witnesses) who were involved in a place-based learning project exploring traditional environmental knowledge and sustainability. The dinner was amazing – salmon, wild rice, and roasted vegetables and all the more amazing when eating with a group of interesting people. Had I still been on the Challenge I would not have been able to attend the event. I would have missed this wonderful social and educational event.
Attending the feast highlights the very important social aspect of food along with my privilege. Food brings people together and I am fortunate to have ben invited, to be a part of an interesting, intelectual, and stimulating community. Food in this case signals class privilege.
I also now see how much I take food for granted. …that it will always be there for me, without fully realizing the central role it plays in my life. Ending this challenge, with its severe limitations, with a life affirming feast, reminded me that food provides us more than mere physical sustenance. Food feeds my social experience, nourishes my emotional well being, connects me to culture and identity, invokes memory and story, and so on. Food nourishes my whole being.
My partner’s diet was also compromised this week. While she was not on the Challenge, she was also affected. Since food is social we were not preparing food together. She had plenty of good food around, but the familial patterns of preparing food together disrupted her daily healthy food practice.
We need to take social responsibility for changing this system so everyone has good food to eat. Expecting an individual to live on $18 a week for food is cruel. It reduces a person to basic survival and illness at worst. Ideally, the basis of a dignified food system nourishes the whole person.
Now that I have ended my Welfare Food Challenge, I feel an increased conviction to take a hard look at the work I am doing to support groups like Raise the Rates and food justice in my community. I am very interested in the many discussions and efforts within the context of our work as community food developers with the Neighborhood Food Networks to better understand this term food justice. I am also encouraged by recent discussions globally that are now pointing the way towards a new food justice understanding defined by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshias in their book Food Justice as “representing a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities”. This focus creates new opportunities for a deeper analysis of structural inequality in the food system. It also requires connecting food inequality to broader social policy and movements.
Being on the Welfare Food Challenge has helped me to better understand the challenges that those on income assistance face. For one week, I embodied the struggle which made it a bit more real for me, though fully grateful that I have stability in my life. And with this stability and privilege, I will continue to work for a more just world as an ally to my friends and fellow community members who themselves are struggling.