Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Reflections on the Challenge

One year after completing the 5th Annual Welfare Food Challenge I'm finally sharing some wrap up thoughts on the experience of our family.

While I know a few brave souls taking on the challenge again this year, I have been dealing with some health issues recently that make the stress of this challenge something I'm not taking a chance on this time around.

Of course, it is a remarkable privilege to choose not to go hungry because it's bad for your health, and totally frustrating that there are so many people who need healthy food but can't afford it!

While I was able to feed our family pretty well through the week last year, it sure was a lot of work to do so. And I even took advantage of a few things in our life, like using a co-op car for a day to do our shop, and that we have a kitchen full of things that made it easier to prepare it all. This blog is where we posted all the details of our experience as a family doing the challenge for the week, so you can read the specifics if you like.

With the Welfare Food Challenge beginning today for the 6th year, I was rereading the posts we shared last year, and reliving in my mind what it was like, how much anxiety it caused within me. All the time researching, preparing, and then prepping, baking, cooking. Remembering that it was always a temporary thing for us, the week of meager food spending, but for too many people it's a vicious cycle that is near impossible to break out of.

While the new provincial government did increase the monthly rates by $100, that still forces people to meet all of their needs on only $710 a month, in one of the most expensive places on earth to live. It was easier for our family to cobble together a good meal plan for a week with $54, than it was for individuals participating who only had $18 to feed themselves. And after the rate increase this year participants only get to spend $19! Though the rates were raised a wee bit since last year, the cost of living continues to raise too!

We did the challenge last year because we wanted to take some form of action and add our voices to the many who are calling on governments to Raise the Rates and support policies that genuinely would help those in need, rather than trapping them in endless cycles of poverty and despair.

I encourage you to check out some of the participant stories. I found following along with others last year to be very informative and their experience gave me even more food for thought. I will be sure to follow participants this year to see how they do. I'll get to hear first hand experience from Ian Marcuse at work, but while not participating in the challenge, it sure will be hard to not share food with him like I did last year!

One project he was a part of was the creation of a food map for folks who are looking for low-cost/free food at any time. This incredible new map was created by Vancouver Coastal Health public health dietitians who partnered with Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, UBC Land and Food Systems students and instructors, the City of Vancouver and Fresh Roots, that may help you find something close to home.
The map highlights food assets located in Vancouver. Food assets are places where people can grow, prepare, share, buy, receive or learn about food. Community organizations and schools are included on the map because they are places where community members can get support with learning and health or connect with others in their community.
Every human should have access to good healthy food close to home at affordable prices. Every human should earn living wages for their labour. Every human should have access to affordable housing. And since humans are also citizens who elect representatives to various levels of government to meet our needs (food and housing are needs!) we all have to keep finding ways to raise our voices together, and keep taking any actions we can, until these needs are met.

I'm grateful to the organizers who keep up the pressure to Raise the Rates all year, every year. I'm also grateful there are so many people that are willing to participate in this challenge to amplify the voices of the hungry in our province. My thoughts are with you all.

Be well everyone.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Sasha's Final Thoughts

I have missed a few days worth of posting, but it was for KITTENS!!
I had an awesome breakfast on Sunday. Guess what it was. Yes, WAFFLES! After waffles we went to City Hall to listen to a discussion about poverty. For me to sit on a couch for two hours, wasn't exactly fun for me, and afterwards my stomach hurt because I ate a lot after eating a little for days.
The challenge overall was surprisingly normal. Not much changed, just less food everyday. Now that we are back to normal, I think everyday in my head about the challenge. I remember everything I learned, and everything I was able to teach others. And every night, I have the same nightmare, of being on welfare. That would suck! People, wake up and RAISE THE RATES!!!
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, because now that the challenge is over, I won't be posting. It has been fun to write, and I hope fun for you to read. That's all folks!
Signing off for the last time,

Sunday, 23 October 2016

The week is done, here's what's left

By the end of the week the work to make food was routine. We do a lot of cooking normally, but the difference for the week of this challenge was the two days of work to prepare most of what we needed for six, effort that paid off once we were back at work. 

The other difference was all the mental preparation, and the emotional impact of such intense focus on social assistance and its inadequacies for the many thousands of people that rely on it. 

This challenge was a week of focus on food, but we also had the privilege of living in our cozy home, having a community of people around us at home and work that supported us, the ability to use our fairly well equipped kitchen, and have toiletries and other basics that kept life comfortable, even when we were hungry. If we had to buy toilet paper, etc as part of the challenge we would have had less food! What a nightmare choice for people to have to make! 

Well we started the week with a table food of food, and ended with maybe enough for a day left over. Here's the breakdown of food we ate with the stuff we bought.

The full list of what we had to start with:
Potatoes  10lb bag  $1.99        Lentils   1 lb  $1.61
Carrots    5lb bag    $$2.99      Beans   2lb   $2.54
Cabbage   4.3 lb    $1.69         Chick peas   1.3 lb $2.03
Celery   1 bunch    $1.49         Rice   1.3 lb  $2.13
Garlic    2   $0.38                     Pasta    1 lb   $1.67
Onions    3   $0.83                   Flour    2.2 lb   $3.51           
Apples    10    $1.77                Oats    1.3 lb   $2.29
Bananas   8   $1.48                 Sugar   .91 lb    $0.90
Raisins     $2.89                      Eggs    18      $4.79
Soda Crackers    $1.97           Peanut butter     $2.64
Cinnamon    .03 lb   $0.27       Yeast     .08 lb   $0.48 
Margarine      $1.49
Vegetable stock     $2.39
Canned tomatoes   3   $3.87
Milk  1L (not pictured)   $2.10

Leftover $1.80 we used to 'buy' a piece of ginger and one sweet potato we already had in house.

To recap the last of our meals: we had pasta and sauce on Friday night, and Saturday I made a potato/cabbage bake with onion & garlic, which we had for our last dinner along with some more pasta. Saturday we snacked on the last of the carrots and celery with the hummus, and ate the last of the muffin bites and crackers.

What it made:

Vegetable stew 
Carrot/Lentil/Ginger Soup with crackers 
1 bread loaf + 12 buns
2 batches of 24 muffin bites + 6 muffins
36 veggy cookies (made with potato, carrot, lentils, onion, garlic, flour)
Hummus (rather chick pea puree with some salt, peanut butter and smidgen of oil)
Big pot of beans & cabbage dish served with rice = 3 dinners and a lunch
Pasta and sauce 
Potato/Cabbage bake (with onion, garlic) 

What we have left:

- one portion of potato/cabbage dish, and one portion of pasta
- a little bit of hummus and little bit of peanut butter
- 1/2 cup of oatmeal mix
- 1/2 cup of sugar
- little bit of cinnamon and yeast
- one vegetable stock cube
- little bit of margarine (we ran out of oil quickly and this was our butter/oil rest of the week)
- 2 cups of cooked beans left in the fridge (I forgot to include in pic)

My head is full of lots more I want to write about, but we're now off to enjoy a brunch at the Whip (where Sasha can finally indulge in the waffles she has been dreaming of all week.) before heading to the Town Hall meeting at City Hall organized by Raise the Rates and the City of Vancouver. 

On a happy note, my post for day 6 and 7 were delayed because we were going through the process of adopting two little kitties from the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA), and yesterday we brought them home. Adopting kittens was something we were already in process with before we signed up for the challenge, but I know for those on assistance, having a pet is not really an affordable option. They are very good for cuddles and making you feel good, which is something everyone can benefit from, but a privilege for sure. We are very happy to welcome Willow and Socks into our home and our family.

Waking up Sunday morning to the cuteness of these kitties, as well as putting on coffee for the first time in a week, and having a full banana, were the luxuries of life I was grateful to enjoy. Time to ease back into life as normal, full of thoughts on all I've learned from this experience, and a heart full of gratitude for all that is good in our world...especially the food.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Sasha's thoughts. Day Six

Hello folks!
Today was pretty awesome! Pro-D at school today, so I had most of my meals at club. Breakfast was oatmeal, but dad poured WAY to much milk in and it was really gross! Lunch was soup and coleslaw, from home. Dinner was pasta and sauce, at home.
Seeing as tomorrow is THE LAST DAY!!! I have really been reflecting on the challenge. Not only have I learned a perspective from a person on welfare, but experienced a week of home-made treats, gross breakfasts, and after-school-dinners. It has definitely been a week to remember!
I can't wait for breakfast on Sunday morning! We are going out to The Whip, and I am looking forward to waffles! (I still want waffles, especially after this morning!)
That's all for tonight! A filling Friday it was today, and can't wait to share my Scrumptious Saturday tomorrow!

Almost Over

We are almost at the end of our challenge and I have yet to post any comments.
Its been a challenging week. Smaller than normal portions and at times no second helpings...but in most cases I feel that I have been fairly well fed. Most of the credit goes to Kathy my amazing partner in life who fully embraced the challenge, and who was determined to make sure that we had a varied and interesting diet throughout the week. She has baked bread, buns, muffins, and biscuits to give us all treats, and something to dip into our soups and stews. She researched the cheapest places to find food to feed the family with our $54 dollars to spend, and has kept us all in a positive frame of mind throughout the week. Without her I am not sure that I would have lasted the whole week. Kudos also go to my daughter Sasha who stayed positive and has posted to this blog several times already. Sasha's willingness to stick with the challenge, and to experience it with us as a family has certainly helped me in those weak moments when I wanted to "cheat" and eat something that we had not bought with our $54, and to resist those beers in the back of the fridge that were calling my name.
It's also been an eye opener and has really driven home to me the message that we need to get those rates raised to make sure that those among us that rely on welfare to get buy are given enough money to be able to buy healthy food for themselves and their families.
Kudos to those other individuals and families who also chose to take on this challenge.
It's not easy, but the important things in life rarely are.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Past the half way

Before heading to work yesterday I spent another dose of time in the kitchen, the space of ultimate privilege in a challenge like this: oven, stove, fridge, hand blender to puree the soup, utensils galore, and more. The last things I made up were some biscuits (because I didn't have enough flour to make bread), and a coleslaw made with cabbage, carrot, and raisins dressed with the last spoon of yogurt, salt, pepper and sprinkle of sugar. (Good, but better after it had a day to sit in the fridge)


Honestly, I wanted to cheat and use a spoonful of mayo to make it nice and creamy but glad I didn't as it was fine without, and the guilt of the cheat would have gotten to me after spending so much time reflecting on all the lack of options for people on any assistance.

When I got home from work last night I had planned on making the tomato sauce for a pasta dinner soon, but Mark took over and had the home smelling good with garlic, onion, celery and our 2 cans of tomatoes in no time. The past few days he has been a big help cleaning up the kitchen in between my baking/cooking/prepping messes, but it was nice to release the final dish to his care and relax. :)

Now that we are more than half way done the week, here are some of my thoughts in the past couple of days.

It feels surreal at this point to be maintaining this challenge with the end so near. In this weird state of mind I don't know how to articulate well. I feel I've proven that it is possible to feed a family on very little, but also hope I have shown that the effort and stress of it all is madness. I'm thankful for the supportive people who have followed along so far pointing out the amount of work we've put into making it through the week without reaching big hunger levels of others doing the challenge.

It should be easier for people to find healthy, affordable food close to home. We would not have had the amount we had if not for the 3 hour shop in 4 stores in 3 neighbourhoods. Not practical at all. And would be a nightmare in the rain on transit. Taking hours longer.

One more for Ian.
Yesterday on the way to school, Sasha mentioned "we could do this for a lot longer I think" and I said "no way! not without me having a total breakdown." I'm glad this has seemed relatively easy for her, but weeks of preparation for the challenge, and this week itself have been all consuming for me, and I know I could not maintain this level of planning and preparing on a regular basis unless I had to! Even though we have had portions to share with my friend, by Saturday night we will have gone through almost all of it, even the potato bag. I'll be sure to post a pic of what remains once we're done.

I have followed the Welfare Food Challenge in previous years always amazed by the various ways people get through it, and was stunned that this year the budget for the week was down to $18, and things aren't changing for those on assistance. I was uncomfortable about 'playing poor' for a week, and had friends who shared concerns on this lens too, but ultimately I believe it takes a diversity of tactics, a lot of action, and a lot of voices to make a real difference, and this year I felt we should try lending our voices to the 5th year of the challenge because a decade of stagnate rates is long enough. Thank you to all of you who have taken a moment to sign the petition to Raise the Rates!

We actually have been working poor for a few stretches of time over the years, mostly have always been paycheck to paycheck life. Once lost power because we chose groceries over bills, so we do understand from our own experience too. (And when I was younger I lived out of my car for a week because I had tired of finding places to stay, but at least I had my car.) I have never been someone who deals with financial stress very well, so in penny pinching times of the past I would always procrastinate on paying bills because its so hard to decide how much to pay, and to which important service to make a payment (hydro, phone?), and trying to catch up to zero on all bills takes forever once you fall behind and not enough money is coming in. I had breakdowns regularly, even though I knew at some point we'd catch up again.

It is a relief to have reached a stage where we have enough stability that I don't worry about the regular monthly cost of life anymore. We have all we need, some of what we want, and live simply yet fully. Everything about this challenge has reinforced my appreciation for the benefit this has on my mental and emotional well being, and for my health overall. And I have come out of survivor mode of someone always piecing income together wherever I can. We always benefited from one of us having a stable income so we always managed, even when it was hard. But all the time spent imagining life like this full time, especially with children to care for, made me stressed even though it isn't real for me.

For people in further depths of poverty than I've ever known, just how do you find the inner strength to get through?

The list of stresses of poverty is lengthy, especially if you are a parent. In a press release today, from the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society, Westcoast LEAF, BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre and Community Legal Assistance Society, which makes many important points like this,

Some 185,000 people rely on social assistance (aka “welfare”) in B.C., including 35,000 children. Social assistance rates have been frozen since 2007 and sit well below the poverty line. Rates are vastly inadequate to meet recipients’ basic needs and protect their human rights. B.C. is the only province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy. 
I read this and almost cried:
“Our province’s impossibly low assistance rates mean that many of these single moms are scrimping on food for themselves in order to save their kids from extreme malnutrition. Many of these women also live in fear that their children will be apprehended by the child protection system because of poverty – not because of abuse or a lack of love.”
Someone I know tried joking with me before we began the challenge that Sasha could call him if she got hungry, and he would call social services to come get her and make sure she was fed, but the reality of that situation is not a joke. First I pointed out she will not be malnourished because I would take smaller portions to make sure she has enough, and that he could choose to feed her instead, and also that she would never choose to leave us (maybe by 18 she'll feel otherwise?) But I would be devastated if someone took Sasha because we couldn't feed her, and I don't see the logic in children being removed from loving homes ever. Help families who are hurting, not hurt them more!

However, we are not hurting. We are fine. More hungry than usual, and I have felt less energetic, but otherwise we're pulling through this a-ok.

I'm feeling frazzled and full of rants from the ridiculousness of our systems of 'help', not sure if I'm making sense, and no longer sure what I want to say, so it's likely time to rest. Only 2 more days left for us, and a few more posts to come.

Be well everyone.

Sasha's Thoughts Day Four+Five

Sorry I have neglected to post! I have had a very nice menu for two days, though:
Breakfast was oatmeal, and an egg. Lunch was egg salad and dinner was leftover bean-cabbage-rice stuff.
Breakfast was oatmeal, and an egg. ( Yes, again) Lunch was soup and coleslaw and it was another night I stay late after school at club for preteen night, so that's where I got dinner. It was pretty good!!
Tomorrow is a Pro-D day, so I will be at club all day, but they only supply snack late afternoon, so I still get my family's dinner, lunch and breakfast. Tomorrow being Friday, afterwards is the last day of the challenge! Sunday we are going out for breakfast!
I will keep you posted!