Dear friends & readers,
As you may know, I have been active on food issues for a number of years: I have advocated for local, sustainable food systems; I have worked with youth teaching them valuable food skills that will help them in life; I have changed the way I eat to cohere with my values; and I have written regularly about food issues here on my website. I see myself as a proponent for socially equitable food policies – in particular, I see that there is a huge need for increased access to healthy and affordable food… especially for those on limited incomes.
While I may be living on a low income in comparison to many, I am still living well. By that I mean I can afford to live in a dignified way, pursue my interests, and maintain a healthy and productive life. I still have the means to enjoy a social life in Toronto (not cheap) and can access the kind of food I want (i.e. local, mostly organic, and often specialty foods given my food intolerances – also not cheap).
Starting today, I am embarking on an experience that I am sure will change my life. While I may not be able to give up my privilege, I will be forgoing my preferred foods in order to experience a slice of reality when it comes to the kind of food that those on social assistance have access to. I will be joining hundreds of other Toronto youth in the Do the Math Challenge: living off of a food bank hamper for up to one week. It is part of an Ontario-wide campaign to Put Food in the Budget - that advocates for an increase in monthly social assistance rates of +$100 so that people may have enough food to last for a whole month. Current social assistance rates fall far short of this.
$585! Take a minute to think about that. I personally could barely cover my rent with that money, let alone pay for food, phone/internet, transportation, etc.
Food is a flexible budget item — one that isn’t fixed each month, and where decisions to eat cheaper food, or even skip meals, are often made. This is why places like food banks opened up in the 70s and 80s. But here the thing: they weren’t supposed last. They were created as a temporary measure in the midst of a recession. 30 years later, there are hundreds across Canada, and in Ontario, they serve up to 374,000 people each month (40% of whom are children)!
This has to change.
This week, as part of this challenge, 100 youth in Toronto are living off of a typical food bank hamper to raise awareness about these issues and pressure the Ontario government to raise social assistance rates by $100. We’ll be blogging, talking to media, and sharing our experiences as widely as we can.
I’d love for you all to follow our stories. Tell your friends. Think about ways that we can all take action to deal with the enormous issues of poverty and hunger in our country.
Here are some ways you can learn more:
- Check out the Put Food In the Budget website (http://putfoodinthebudget.ca/)
- Read our collective blog posts (http://youthdtmc.posterous.com/ – Toronto youth site & http://pfib.posterous.com/ – Ontario-wide site)
- Come to our rally Monday Nov 15 @ The Stop’s Wychwood Barns (http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=115255188536533)
- Follow us on twitter (www.twitter.com/putfoodinbudget)
- Take the “Do the Math” Survey where you can compare your total estimated monthly costs to the income of people on social assistance or working at minimum wage
I will be writing about my experiences here on the blog, and will notify others of updates via Facebook and Twitter. As always, you can subscribe to receive email updates if social media / blog checking isn’t your thing.
And for those who are curious what a single person’s food bank hamper typically consists of (and what the 100 of us will be living from next week) here’s the list, along with the specifics of what I will be eating in bold:
- 2 boxes Kraft Dinner (or substitute extra rice if gluten-intolerant)
- 3 single-serving-size scoops dry rice
- 1 loaf bread (or substitute extra rice)
- 2 small cans soup (bought 1 large can that I will split up)
- box of dry cereal or 3 packages instant oatmeal
- any TWO of: 175 g tin of tuna, chicken or turkey; small jar peanut butter; 3 eggs
- 2 small cans of tinned vegetables (1 spinach + 1 green beans), or 1 tin vegetables and 1 fruit
- 1 potato
- 1 onion
- 1 can plain beans or chickpeas, or 1 can pork and beans
- 3 granola bars or 3 fruit chews
- 1 quart milk Decided to opt out of this since I am allergic to dairy and doubted they’d have almond or rice milk at a food bank.
- 3 juice boxes Opted out of these too since we were instructed to buy the cheapest brand and since I am intolerant to processed sugar (which is present in all cheap juice boxes), it was either calories with a definite stomach ache, or skipping it altogether.
So…looks like I will be eating a lot of rice this week, and zero fresh produce. I just finished my not so big grocery shop and it was the worst time I’ve had in a grocery store ever. I will write about that rather sad experience in the next post.
I look forward to your support, thoughts, and comments via the blog in the coming week.