Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 4

Really enjoyed this Saturday just to lie in bed. The hunger has faded, maybe because my stomach is getting used to eating less food, but I am feeling more tired and slept alot today. Feeling completely unmotivated to do anything and feeling like I am on the edge of a possible cold (which I rarely get) so possibly my immune system is a bit weak. Cheated  and took some oil of oregano (which is actually quite expensive) cause I really do not want to get sick. Oh ya, and also not feeling very cheery….a bit depressed.

Here is my breakfast – some tea with butter and 3 tables of coconut milk, two eggs for protein. I look forward to a more filling lunch of lentils and rice, a few pieces of broccoli and 1 stick of celery. I have noticed that I am wasting less and even ground up my egg shells and mixed them in my lentil and rice lunch.

At the same time, I am feeling very fortunate that I do not live in poverty and can return to a normal healthy diet next week. I feel guilty saying this knowing that for anyone on Income Assistance this is not really possible, but most frustrating is knowing that we can easily remedy this problem. We have created poverty knowing full well that the fix would be relatively easy and affordable in the larger scheme of things. There is ample data to show that ending poverty can actually save us money, no more so than in our health care costs.

I have already said that I suffer from chronic inflammation causing pain. At the same time, I am able to stay relatively healthy and in fact, other than a low level chronic pain, I rarely get sick and have been able to more or less work full time and live within a decent enough standard of living. But I know that many people who suffer far worse health issues than I and who are not able to work are staying ill. I have heard from some people who I work with, who have told me that they are getting sicker from the food they eat, namely poor quality, processed crap they get for cheap or as donations. Imagine someone knowing full well that the food they are eating is making you sicker, but also not having the choice because it is all they can get. It is really quite shocking.

And even in the few days that I have been on this crappy diet, and as much as I have tried to select healthy food with my $19 (eggs, butter coconut milk, a few veggies, lentils and rice), it is still not nourishing enough and I am already starting to feel unwell. This experience is really showing me the value of healthy food for feeling well, energetic, motivated, and happy. Everyone, no matter what their life situation deserves to feel this way.

Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 3

Went to bed feeling hungry, woke up hungry, been hungry all day. Feeling a bit more groggy than usual and thinking how I enjoy sleeping even more cause when you are asleep you do not feel the hunger. I am looking at all the food around me and desperately craving to eat more, to break this awful, cruel diet.

So in my work as a community food developer, first and foremost is the understanding that food insecurity is a result of income insecurity. The programs that I run, like community kitchens, bulk food buy, food workshops, school gardening, community meal programs all help to improve food access and food literacy and hopefully help to decrease food insecurity, but ultimately we need social policy as advocated by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition and others that provides for a minimum basic and dignified standard of living – affordable housing, living wages, universal dental and childcare, to name a few basics. To this end, our work must include advocating for social change and food justice, much like what Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshias in their book Food Justice understand as “representing a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities”. This is a necessary refocusing that creates new opportunities in our work for a deeper analysis of structural inequality in the food system and connection of the food movement to broader social movements.

Also check out Kirsten Cadieux’s and Rachel Slocum’s article What Does it Mean to Do Food Justice? who describe four key points of intervention necessary in transforming food systems. These include: inequity, exchange, land and labour.

An example that illustrates well a transformative food justice practice is the work of the US organization Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) “aimed at dismantling racism and empowering low-income and communities of color through sustainable and local agriculture”. Their work is foremost validated through an ant-racist framework recognizing relations of power and privilege as they confront race and class inequity. GFJI also provides leadership, training and empowerment supporting communities of color to engage in food system policy and advocacy (systems change) and more directly by creating meaningful employment opportunities in the food and agricultural sector for these communities through non-exploitative mechanisms of cooperation, equitable land access with sound environmental practices, and fair working relations valuing all labour.

The Growing Food and Justice Initiative illustrates the importance of engagement and empowerment of those communities most affected by food insecurity, giving them a strong voice to address systemic inequality and relations of power while also creating opportunities for direct control over one’s livelihood and food situation. This is transformative work that is rebuilding a new alternative food system based on dignity and communal self-reliance.

There is much work to do but change is certainly possible. But the first thing people need is food in their bellies so we all have the energy we need to reshape the society we want.

Raise the Rates Welfare Food Challenge – Day 2

It is very uncomfortable to go hungry. After one day, I am feeling lethargy seeping in.  I have hunger pangs and my stomach has been growling like a angry bear. I do not feel like doing much. I just wanted to stay in bed.

Started the morning with a cup of tea, a tablespoon of butter and equal amount of coconut milk to give me a bit of fat energy. It is about a quarter as much fat as I would normally eat, and is not enough to keep my energy levels up. Then I ate lentils and rice with a bit of broccoli and two eggs shown in the photo below. It may look like alot and yes it is as healthy as I can make it, but I only have enough food for one large meal a day and then a second much smaller portion to fend of the hunger pangs later in the evening. Two days in and I am counting down the days until I can turn to a normal healthy diet. This is my privilege

f2

I feel I live a comfortable life. I don’t make a huge amount of money but I live simply. No car, no expensive travel, I live in a co-op and so on. But I do spend alot of money on food – good quality organic food. In part because I have health issues that are very much affected by diet. If I eat badly, I feel crappy. My food bill per month ranges from as low as $208 (rarely this low) to as high as $726 a month. Mostly it averages over $500/month, which means that I sometimes spend as much as a person on income assistance gets for all their expenses – $710 for rent, food, bus, phone, everything. And I do not think my diet is unreasonable. It is simply a healthy, nutritious diet that we all deserve. The problem is that food is getting very expensive, especially good food.

I was just talking to a friend yesterday who is on income assistance and waiting to get on disability. She has been near homeless, staying with friends, couch surfing for several months lately. Her last place lasted only two weeks at which time the upstairs tenant and manager of the house sexually assaulted her. No witnesses, no charges, so of course she left and was once again at the mercy of friends and looking for another place to rent. She finally found a shared apt last week, after much looking, for $750/month in Marpole, which she likes and has a good roommate. She told me that it was pretty much the cheapest place she could find, but since she is only getting $710 Income Assistance, she is very much dependent on the generosity of friends to give her extra money. But at the same time she actually feels lucky to have this apartment.

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