Katelyn Siggelkow, Day 1

Returning home from a family trip to Ontario late on Thursday evening, I was greeted by a neighbour who had come over with his son to welcome me home and gift us with a “last supper”. Confused at the doom in his voice as he served these last words like a life-sentence, I looked to my roommates for an explanation. They laughed nervously, hesitant to break the news that starting the next morning, we’d be embarking on the Welfare Food Challenge. For the next seven days, we’d have a budget of 21$ each from which to purchase everything we would consume. That means no spices that are already in my cupboard, no free sugars nabbed at McDs, no soup kitchens, no Costco samples and no potlucks!

This is an exercise to understand what it is like to live on the $610/month welfare stipend. The $21/week is what is left for groceries after rent, hygiene and transportation are taken into consideration. This is part of the Raise the Rates Campaign which recognizes that the current welfare rates are not adequate. People on welfare are surviving because of their creativity, not because of the $3/day food allowance. Accessing outside resources such as soup kitchens, begging or stealing are some of the creative measures that the low living allowance forces many to take.

welfareThis challenge is especially difficult after returning from a week of feasting with me family, celebrating my brother’s wedding. One all-you-can-eat shrimp feast would have blown my entire week’s budget.

Only one day into the challenge and I am so aware of the toll that this shift is taking on me. It is stressful to budget so strictly! Even staple food seems frivolous – flour? Salt? Oil? COFFEE??? They may last forever, but they come with too big of an upfront cost.

I skipped breakfast this morning since I didn’t have a chance to shop in advance. I’m still attempting to maintain a healthy lifestyle, so it wasn’t long after my morning run that my stomach started growling. And without my morning caffeine I found myself much less engaged in morning meetings. I entered Chinatown with the mantra, ‘only buy it if it is ridiculously on sale’, and I left fairly successful with a bag of day-old half price buns, some tofu, huge bags of bell peppers, apples, and potatoes for only a dollar each (keep in mind, there is a reason they’re only $1), and some bananas (thanks Ecuadorian laborers – it’s very difficult to be local or fair trade on this budget!). And just like that, half of my budget is gone already!

As I write, I’m enjoying some fairly tasteless potato stuffed peppers and remembering that I don’t even like potatoes, but a friend told me once that potatoes have all the nutrients you need to survive – so I am confident I won’t become malnourished this week!

one caffeine please I’m embarking on a challenging week. I’ve long ago establish that caffeine and food are a requirement for me to be a decent person. If you know me, you know I can get pretty hangry (hungry-angry). Yet I am still trying to interact with empathy and compassion for my neighbours as I go about my day, knowing that this is their reality and there is no ending date for them.

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