Fall School Gardening

Had a beautiful day in the Britannia Secondary School garden today with herbalist Lori Snyder who shared with us her plant knowledge. Also showed us how to make cedar hydrosol, much like an aromatherapy. Also cleaned up the garden, harvested some parsnips which we brought over to the school cafeteria, pruned the raspberries, covered the beds with leaf mulch in preparation for the winter, and planted some more native plants including Lingonberry, Evergreen Huckleberry, Nootka Rose, Thimbleberry, and Red and Black Currant in the šxʷqʷeləwən ct Carving Centre garden.

Funding to support this program has been generously provided by Evergreen Foundation and Seeds of Change

Britannia Sukkot Festival Celebrated

The Grandview Woodland Food Connection/Britannia Community Centre in partnership with the Jewish Museum and Archives was very pleased to host the Sukkot Holiday celebration at Britannia on Oct 10th providing community a wonderful opportunity to experience this wonderful Jewish holiday. Over 120 people joined us in celebration, learning, and sharing in a wonderful Syrian dinner By Tayybeh that was held in the šxʷqʷeləwən ct Carving Centre.

Each year in October, the Jewish holiday of Sukkot is celebrated. It is both agricultural in nature, celebrating the harvest, as well as historical, commemorating the forty-year period during which the Jewish people roamed the desert after the Exodus from slavery in Egypt.

The word “Sukkot” refers to the temporary dwellings or Sukkahs that were lived in during the exodus and in which all are invited to live and eat during this holiday period in memory of the “period of wandering”. Sukkahs are built with certain design principles including exposure to the natural elements, and symbolizing human fragility along with resilience and community as family and community gather together in the Sukkah to share food and sleep.

As a part of our Sukkot event, we commissioned an architectural firm to create an original sukkah specifically for our event. Following an artist call out, FSOARK Architect Inc. created a gorgeous Sukkah called eyepiece (see photos below)  and described here in the artist statement.

“Eyepiece is comprised of interconnected triangular wooden frames, in which foraged plant specimens are cast in thin lenses of bioplastic, creating a completely biodegradable structure. The design is inspired by the idea that a sukkah roof is protective yet permeable – an “imperfect” covering that offers the occupants an intimate connection with the shared cosmos. The duality of a sukkah roof is the kernel of the design concept; it functions both as a microscope through which we examine our own faiths, as well as a wide angle lens broadening our perspectives on the faiths of our neighbours. The plant materials that form the roof of Eyepiece include species native to BC, all of which form part of Coastal Salish peoples’ traditional and contemporary diet and cultural use. The selection not only embraces the Indigenous peoples’ plant knowledge and cultural heritage, but also draws our attention to the subtle beauty of our land, and the fragile balance that allows these plants to thrive. By presenting a montage of specimens mimicking the setting of a natural history museum, we encourage the occupants to reexamine the deeper and broader meaning of our existence, one plant at a time”.

Sukkot expresses universal themes of harvest celebration, agricultural origins, community, cultural identity, along with human vulnerability both historical and contemporary including displacement, migration, and colonization to name a few. Interestingly, Sukkot offers close parallels with the struggles of Indigenous communities to reclaim their land and cultural identity. As such, the Britannia Sukkot Festival brought together community members from diverse cultures to celebrate the harvest through a community feast and sharing in both a Jewish Sukkot and Coast Salish led ceremonies, recognizing and acknowledging that we are on unceded and occupied Coast Salish territory.

Photos by Wendy Oberlander and Ian Marcuse




November School Gardening

Despite a grey and wet day yesterday, we managed to get out into the Britannia Secondary School garden with Outreach Alternate too dig up dandelions and make apple cider vinegar tinctures including rose hip, nettle, and yarrow. Plants are healing and the students really got into it curious and enthusiastic to be learning about the unique ways that plants are medicines. Thank you to our herbalist Lori Snyder for sharing her plant knowledge.

Funding to support this program has been generously provided by Evergreen Foundation and Seeds of Change

Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge 2017 – Last day

Like last year, participating in the Welfare Food Challenge has helped me to better understand the lived reality for people living on Income Assistance. Everyone knows that living on $710/month in Vancouver with the high cost of housing and food and all, is completely unrealistic. Where does the rationale for $710 come from? How can policy makers truthfully justify this number?

Eating on $19/week as I have this past week confirms what we all must know, which is that Income Assistance rates are cruel and punishing. I have felt hungry most of the week, I feel a bit more tired, I am sure that I have lost some weight. A person cannot live with any dignity on such little money. Worse, they are apt to get sick. With little money to purchase food, those on IA are then dependent on the charity sector to get by….a shocking development that we have seen institutionalized in this recent era of neo-liberalism and downloading of government responsibilities onto communities. For more on this subject read Graham Riches indictment of the charity food sector in First World Hunger Revisited: Food Charity or the Right to Food.

I have always believed that the measure of a just and compassionate society is how we treat our most vulnerable. I believe in the adage that the wellbeing of each individual is inextricably tied to the wellbeing of all. Sadly, we find ourselves living in a greedy, consumerist society in which our (self) worth becomes measured by our purchasing ability. It is hard to feel hopeful these days but there are glimmers of hope as people around the world are fighting back. Our new NDP provincial government has promised to tackle poverty, a pro cyclist woman mayor was just elected in Montreal, the first transgender member of a state legislature in Virginia, Democrat Danica Roem, beat out a republican, a progressive feminist Prime Minister was just elected in New Zealand. There  is a rise in activist politics and a growing resistance to policies of hate and discrimination……There is hope.

Overhauling our income assistance policy is an important fight also for food justice, ensuring that those who are struggling (and we all struggle from time to time) get the support they need to get ahead, to get healthy, to feel connected to others, to feel a part of community, to feel a positive self worth, and to be an active member of the community however one freely chooses. This should not be so hard to achieve. Imagine how great it would be if everyone was well fed, well housed, well paid, well loved. This is the community I want to live in.

Ian Marcuse

Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 6

Looking at other food is really hard. I feel spoiled by the variety of food that I normally have access to …. as I said in my post from yesterday. I can only imagine how hard it would be for someone on low income to go into any store full of amazing food to eat.  In fact, I find myself not wanting to go into stores at all. I avoid contact with food other than what I need to eat and as I become more aware of my obsession with food, I am also trying very hard to put all food out of my mind. This could become very stressful.

As I sit here and type, wondering what of anything important I have to say, I am feeling very aware that I actually feel very hungry. I take back what I said earlier about the rice and lentils perhaps being enough.  I really want  to cheat right now, run out and grab some potato chips, anything to satiate myself. Maybe water will help. Okay, get some water….I am back, yes, the water helped a little. I must be loosing weight. My stomach is definitely flatter, but for a slim person like I am, I really do not want to loose any more weight.  Without a question, $19 is a starvation diet.

So people then turn to the Food Bank or programs like ours, whether they be community kitchens, bulk buy programs, or other community meals to get by. It is not like there is not enough food for people, but we have put an economic cost on food and much of it is becoming unaffordable, even for working people.  We have put a cost on poverty or a cost on a person’s self worth and what we are saying is that you have no worth, unless you can afford to consume. In response we need to let people know that they are valued. We need to say that no matter what a person’s lived situation is, that everyone has the right to good quality, nutritious food. We should all be able to walk into Choices Food Market and buy what we want, to have food choice.

Instead, if you have no money, you get what scrapes are given to you, mostly food of such poor quality that it will make a person sick.  You get donations which for the most part are overly processed carbs, you live on pasta and tomato sauce or hotdogs or whatever other food is really cheap.  While it is possible to eat healthy on a budget, by preparing more grains and veggies, such as lentil dahl, a person still cannot live on $19/week. My healthy plates of broccoli, eggs, lentils and rice that I have been eating this week are okay from a nutritional perspective, but it is still not nearly enough. For me to adequately fill up, I would need  to go to some food program, which may or may not give me healthy food. Again, I get what I get…no choice.

I leave you with this rather unappetizing look at how hot dogs are made, some of the food people eat to fill their bellies.


Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 5

Another day of eating rice and lentils, which is actually serving me well. I was able to get quite alot by purchasing bulk, so at least I eat one very large plate of food each day. We should not denigrate this diet though, considering billions of people on the planet eat this food everyday, which makes you realize that they eat this food because it is cheap and can provide a reasonable level of nutrients, if not keep you alive. They are an inexpensive, low-fat source of protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Combined with Rice, I have been able to keep myself going. My energy is holding, though I do feel a bit tired.

But I am not used to eating the same food every day. I also realize how important spices are to bring flavour to otherwise less tasty food. Thank god for salt and pepper to make the rice and lentils actually taste great. Thing is that we see food all around us, It is really mind boggling the variety of food we now have available to us. literally every food from every part of the world, plus tons of crazy processed foods.  We really are spoiled by the variety of food we can eat, though this availability has come at a huge price whether it be transportation costs, the environmental costs of degraded farmland, forests and oceans, overfishing, cultural and social impacts through the commodification of local foods.  The list goes on. So many questions about this level of consumption. The ethical issues of what we eat are enormous. Being aware of what we are purchasing is important. Being limited by what I can eat, helps me focus on what I am eating.

Compare these pictures and what do they say.

























Being able to choose good food over poor quality food is a huge privilege and the feeling of being limited by what I can eat, having little food choices, being dependent on charity or what have you, I imagine to be very stigmatizing to one’s self identity. Food is so central too our beings. Not only does it feed us physically, but it connects us to others. In my work, I often talk about the importance of bringing a holistic perspective to our community food programming and recognizing that food nourishes our whole selves – our physical, social, cultural, emotional, spiritual and so on.  Food programs with dignity strive to incorporate this spectrum in programming, for example creating programs that have a high degree of social activity, provide for human connection and relationship building, that honor individual or community’s cultures or desires.

I love eating. I think we all do, and perhaps this is certainly one of the most important things that unites all of us – this love of food. At the same time, as Joyce Rock, past Executive Director at the Downtown Eastside Neighborhood House and visionary behind the Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables Project, has said, food is being used as a weapon in the Downtown Eastside on the vulnerable. I understand her to have meant this as the way in which our social policies and the charity sector is, whether intentionally or not, withholding good, nutritious food that is maintaining poverty and ill-health, or dumping tons of poor quality diabetes causing foods on vulnerable residents knowing full well the implications. It is this knowing that makes it criminal and morally reprehensible, as Joyce Rock worked so hard to bring to our attention and change.

Being limited by choice, lacking self autonomy, and personal freedom is perhaps something we all feel under the capitalist, corporatist system we live, but this will be felt to the extreme by those dependent on the welfare system, more or less designed to beat down one’s self dignity. Perhaps no where is this so obvious than in the dehumanizing Income assistance rates that are not even enough to pay for rent in Vancouver. Through the Challenge, knowing when I walk into a food store that I am, for this brief moment, without choice. I cannot eat what everyone else can, I lack food access, I do feel different in a negative way.