Gent Family, Day 1

Start of Day 1


We started the day early this morning, chopped apples, carrots and onions, put on porridge, checked the soaking beans and rising bread. This is Day 1 of our week long food welfare challenge. To make the most of our $105 we’ve spent a great deal of time planning and prepping for this week. I think planning and searching out food for one’s family could be a part time job. Let alone the time necessary to prepare these less expensive options.

I could be accused of spending too much time thinking about food, but this week was a bit different. In my downtime I will sometimes browse blogs, collect cookbooks, ‘pin’ recipes, frequent markets and ogle Whole Foods produce displays. Food is inspiring, sitting together preparing and sharing a meal is the pinnacle. We aren’t gourmands exactly, but we eat well and we appreciate food. This week has turned things on its head. Food wasn’t pleasure, but fuel. We could hope for pleasure, but mostly it is about ‘getting by’. I know I’ve told the kids that when they are down in the dumps, to think of food as medicine. So I still think about food all the time – when can I eat next, how to stretch it for lunch, is it enough, is it healthy enough for the kids?

Becoming so much more mindful now of our budget than any recipe ingredients, given that we quickly whittled a list of groceries. Can this be satisfying? Hopefully we’ve developed a plan that is notionally nutritious (not really), but have been focused more on keeping things filling to avoid hunger and to last the entire week. Derek and I both can more easily do without, we are most concerned for how this week will go for the kids.

We have the benefit of economies of scale with 5 of us, but the added stress of caring for dependents. The meals were variations of ‘beans and rice’. Meat was out, as was coffee, cheese, yogurt, spices, and packaged lunch treats for the kids. Organics were sacrificed as well, we bought margarine instead of butter, opted out of buying peanut butter instead got cheez whiz (school friendly). Noticed limited local options (or really any concern, as it’s all about price at this point).

Can start to imagine the challenges without a car for transportation, or when the monotony of this diet is an on-going reality of life rather than merely a week-long challenge exercise.


Porridge for 4 today, with apples. Gus opted to eat a couple of eggs with frybread, exercising his limited choice when he saw the pot on the stove. Put some lentil soup on early to make sure it was cooked in time to send for lunches. Enthusiasm only from Amelia – she usually likes to take an opposite position from her sibs, so we’ll see how the other meals play out.

No protein this morning, and hot water instead of coffee. Going to dig a bit for the right energy levels at a press event this morning, and will avail myself of free coffee at the office – my only rationalized “cheat” – free coffee not that hard to find?


Will start my speech with a brief personal introduction and talk about my reasons for participating individually, and for including my entire family in the challenge. Participating with my own kids is particularly important to me, in that my hope is not only to build more public awareness and personal empathy, I want my children to better understand how privileged they are, and set a stage for them to be part of our solutions in the future. I also want to further recognize the incredible costs of child poverty.

Maybe a comment here about the complexity of this budgeting exercise and a recognition of the sophistication that is necessary (and is expected) of individuals and families on income assistance. As someone who’s spent their entire career in the financial services sector, I’m impressed and a bit daunted by the acumen necessary here. I’ll speak to the importance of financial literacy and planning skills – those that already exist among individuals living in poverty, and the profound importance of these skills to the welfare of people living with little income and few assets.

I will then speak on behalf of the Vancity Community Foundation, and by extension, the Vancity membership, in that the Credit Union Board has formally endorsed the 7 point Poverty Reduction Plan developed by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, which we also support financially.

A key tenet in this plan is an increase to welfare rates in our province. It also includes suggestions around things like access to childcare, affordable housing, community health care, minimum wage and fair, living wages, which are all connected to helping people out of poverty and making our communities better places to live. I will encourage others to check it out, and to endorse it as well.

I believe that reduced poverty is really good for our economy.

Speaking on behalf of a private sector employer (both as a cooperative credit union, and as a community foundation supported by many donors), we have made a commitment to paying a living wage, not just to employees, but contractors and for related services. This is commitment of which I am very proud, and we want to encourage other employers to make this commitment. It is entirely doable. And it creates multipliers we all benefit from.

We believe that lasting solutions will involve individuals and private sector actors, together with nonprofit partners and good public policy, all working in concert. Cooperating.

I will share that this week is co-op week across Canada, and how proud I am to stand in solidarity with others here.
Approximately 1 in 5 children live in poverty in BC, where we have had one of the worst records in Canada here for more than a decade, and this is a statistic that has changed very little during this period.

For many years, Vancity has supported First Call, BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, to help provide a voice for those who do not have one. Namely children and youth. I’m particularly proud that we have deepened our relationship with First Call and the Living Wage Campaign as of April of this year, and they are now housed with us at the Foundation.

This year’s Child Poverty Report Card, (which is profoundly under-resourced, and could really use more contributions), will be out in about a month, and I’m hopeful more people will pay attention to what it’s telling us. This year is the 25th anniversary of the federal commitment to end Child Poverty.

I will thank my colleagues who are participating with me from Vancity, Emily Beam from the Foundation, and Senior Vice President, Jay-Ann Gilfoy from the Credit Union’s Senior Executive Team. Having a member of the Senior Executive speaks to our commitment and the importance of this issue across our whole organization.

Vancity both funds and invests in a broad range of initiatives supporting poverty reduction, enhanced financial literacy, affordable housing, and strengthening the non-profit sector. We are a community organization, committed to supporting the development of healthy communities. We believe these communities are characterized by social justice and financial inclusion, sustainability, and where cooperative principles are thriving.

A thank you to Raise the Rates for organizing this challenge – providing an opportunity to increase awareness, and for your ongoing efforts.

A further shout out to those participating in the challenge, and a recognition of those that face this challenge (or a similar challenge) every week, in some cases over generations. We need to change this.


End of Day 1

‘Just heading home on the skytrain now, after a community celebration, filled with food and drink, congratulating donors and awarding grants to organizations addressing homelessness in Surrey. Impressive spread of food and wine I tried to ignore after riding out here filling my belly with carrots and some fry bread.

Met some fabulous people at the launch event this morning. Bill Hopwood is inspiring for speaking truth, Bif Naked in using her rockstar powers for good. She really is awesome! I watched her engage so genuinely with everyone who approached her, and respond so well to all the questions thrown at her. Jen commented later on Bif’s blog about when she was asked why she does all this advocacy work, she responded something like – because I’m a human being, why wouldn’t I? Bill had some great comments effectively chastising the media for only paying attention to celebrity and reporting on the underlying issue by happenstance – solid commentary on our society and our priorities. The headlines only validate his analysis, and how much they were not listening to him. Some important messages still got through, and I want to thank Bif for this support.

Fraser sticks in my mind, sharing his stories with me afterward, about living on income assistance and the roller-coaster of diet when financial capacity fluctuates. His advice – watch your moods a few days into the exercise, that’s when you’ll start to notice it, and perhaps even more interesting, he warned of the week when we come off the challenge. Your grocery bill will be higher than the week before you took the challenge he said. Black licorice is my weakness, he shared. To paraphrase: “When I get some money now, I crave the stuff so much I buy and eat too much of it. I’ve always liked it, but since the income fluctuations started, I have a real problem. Lucky I don’t have the same issue with booze or drugs, but I know people who do.” New insights (for me) on the effect of a system that propagates this uneven distribution of resources, and a good warning for things to come.

Just spoke with Jen by phone, screaming headache today (she didn’t avail of the free coffee), and the kids have ramped up their consumption of our food box giving her worry about whether we’ll make it. If we run out of food, I suggest, what an interesting message to share. Get your ass home, she retorts.

I’ll be out again tomorrow night at a ‎black tie gala where I’ll sit and watch others consume in the name of celebrating ourselves for helping those less fortunate and making the world a better place. Increased sanctimony could be an anticipated effect of this challenge on me.

I do need to get my self home, and expect the weekend to be one of overcompensating on the homefront for being away particularly when the stresses are amped up. Need to better appreciate what an incredibly lucky man I am. Maybe that’s a more positive personal outcome here. Maybe this is more therapy than advocacy.

Train will be to my station soon – look forward to seeing my family, hearing their stories, hugs and then sleep. Good nourishment in absence of nutritious sustenance.

%d bloggers like this: