Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 1

ian-marcuse-headshotI work as a community food developer with the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, a Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Network, whose principal mandate is supporting community members who are struggling to access healthy and affordable food. Our organization is interested in furthering systems change work that addresses the underlying causes of poverty and food insecurity. As part of this work, is the need to build awareness of food insecurity in our communities while exploring the relationships between the lack of food access and the many intersecting social policy areas, including income assistance, housing, health, etc. I see the Welfare Food Challenge as an important campaign to address one of the key policy areas that can help ensure that individuals who are on income assistance receive enough money to access food of their choice in a dignified manner.

Here is my Challenge experience …….Ian Marcuse

Yesterday, I went to the cheapest food store on Commercial Drive and put together a meal plan for the week. My biggest fear is that my energy levels are going to crash and I will not be able to work. My health is my biggest concern and I do not want to have to take time off work if I am feeling too tired. I need to work.

My meal plan is pretty simple – 1 cup of coffee with 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter or coconut oil for breakfast and rice and beans or rice and lentils or rice and hummus with a small handful of steamed veggies and a couple of olives for lunch, which I hope will carry me through the the rest of the day…no dinner…just one meal a day.

I am very aware that ordinarily I am able to eat high quality food and for which I am very grateful. I have also made personal choices that allow me to afford this food – I do not own or drive a car, I rarely fly or ever take expensive vacations, I live in a co-op, and I generally  consume within my modest means. But because of my health concerns (and age of 55), I prioritize healthy eating.

And we know that food insecurity has its greatest impact on one’s health. In my work with the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, I have heard from many program participants, many who suffer various illnesses and who rely on food donations and who also describe getting sicker from the “charity” food they find, much of it high in sugar or refined carbs. Fresh produce, quality protein like fish, meats, and dairy are too expensive for a person on disability or income assistance or fixed pensions or low wage jobs.  I know what ill health is and how precious good food is for me. I also understand how important good food is for everyone, no matter what your life situation. Certainly, those who are struggling the most, deserve this basic human dignity.

Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge Preparation

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.

Nourish Our Neighbourhood

October is the perfect month to enjoy a bowl of soup! Through the month of October, Eternal Abundance will be donating $1 from each bowl of their daily soup to Nourish Our Neighbourhood! Made with 100% organic gluten-free ingredients and served with housemade flax crackers and hummus or toast and hummus. Healthy, delicious, and supporting sustainable agriculture and neighbourhood nutrition and food security.

Nourish Our Neighbourhood is our annual fundraising campaign. One hundred percent of proceeds from this campaign will go to support community-based food initiatives in your community. 50% of net proceeds will be given in your neighbourhood and 50% will fund the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, our umbrella organization.

We need your support! All throughout the month of October check out our amazing partners here.

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Back to School, Back to Eden

Just had our first day of garden teaching with the Britannia Home Ec 8, Bio 11, Outreach, and Streetfront Alternatives classes. Had students explore the garden with all their senses. The outdated standardized testing model is out and teachers now have greater flexibility in their curriculum with a focus on hands-on experience in collaboration, critical thinking, process, and communications and allowing increased space and time for students to develop their skills and explore their passions and interests, all that fits well with a garden focused experiential learning and experimentation.