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.

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