Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 1

Today I will be starting the Raise the Rates BC Welfare Food Challenge. I am feeling very nervous about the week ahead and I am fully expecting to feel like crap. I know this because I took the challenge last year and quickly fatigued by mid week. Not good when I also needed to work. But, I managed to get through the week on beans and rice, focusing on carbs to keep the energy going. Carbs are cheap but not the high nutrient, quality fats, and protein that we all need to stay healthy. Truth is I don’t want to do this, but I also know that it is important to raise awareness of the dreadful income assistance rates for people who are unable to work. 

The income assistance rates are a miserable $710/month, while considerably more than the previous year, after rent (calculated at $548 or the realistic cost of an SRO) and a few other necessities like a bus pass and phone hook up, it works out to only $76/month or $19/week left for food. No one can feed themselves on $19/week, and so are dependent on the charitable food sector, e.g. food banks. This is a malnutrition diet. It is criminal. This needs to change. Do we have no heart left.

The picture below is what I will be eating for the week. My strategy to get through the week is to eat mostly lentils and rice that I hope will fill me up so I avoid the terrible feeling of hunger. Where I can, I will squeeze in a couple eggs or less a day, some butter and coconut milk, also to give me a little protein and important fat that we need. I will also add in a few vegetables like broccoli and celery (will buy more later in the week).  My worry is if I will get enough protein and fats, but I am pretty certain that I will not. My usual diet would include alot more veggies, fish, nuts and seeds and lots more healthy fats like olives, avocados, coconut cream. I am just afraid of getting sick.

I already struggle with a chronic inflammatory condition and low grade chronic pain on a daily basis, mostly joint pain, so I am very careful about my health and diet in particular. My hope is one week will not do any lasting damage…….So, I am lucky in this regard. I can stop after a week, which is not the case for many others who do not have the privilege that I have to eat as well as I do.

In my work as a community food developer with the Grandview Woodland Food Connection, I develop food programs and help support community members who are struggling to access healthy and affordable food.  In my work, I am also aware that people who experience food insecurity also experience much poorer health. In a recent evaluation of our Bulk Food Buy program, 63% of participants reported preexisting or other health problems. And for many, poor diets exacerbate their health problems.

After 10 years of working in this field, I am seeing on-going and persistent food insecurity in our community, with roughly 1 in 5 residents reporting some degree of food insecurity or lack of access to good food….Nothing is changing, and though community food programs can lesson the hardship and support some systems change (like creating alternative more cooperative healthy food purchasing based on equitable exchange), we still really need campaigns like the Welfare Food Challenge to help raise awareness of this issue.

Ian Marcuse

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