Suzanne Johnson, Day 7

Welfare Food Challenge ¶dash; Reflecting on the week long experience

I decided to participate in the Welfare Food Challenge not only to highlight issues of food insecurity but to transform my level of understanding through a real experience. I was to assume that I was starting from scratch and could eat only the food that I could purchase with $21 for the week. This meant that I could not even touch the salt & pepper shakers in my cupboards.

I will admit that I was inspired by my coworker who is absolutely amazing at sharing his knowledge of being healthier through very tasty food. Can a dietitian eat healthy on a welfare food budget? I should hope so! With a minimum of four years university and a full year of practical training, dietitians are equipped with the skills to determine how much food, in what combinations and how to get the best buy, among many other elements of food and health related knowledge.

Of course, there are many others who are not so highly trained and if you consider the experience of many aboriginal people who have survived the legacy of colonization and who have been raised in boarding schools where often times the availability and quality of food was much worse than even welfare would allow for. Consider how being removed from your own indigenous culture and left to fend for yourself at the age of dismissal from school with very limited food skills from either world, left you prepared in the life that faced you. This would include passing the knowledge along to future generations. I have many opportunities to discuss the issues of food insecurity in First Nation communities and the common theme is that when buying food from the store, the main goal is to fill your stomach. Nutrition always comes secondary if even that high a priority. So with that knowledge I pursued this challenge with the goal of filling my stomach, with the goal of making the food last. Of course, I also wanted it to be tasty, which believe it or not is why I chose the noodles. They have a handy little flavour pack in each portion that could be utilized if needed. They also don’t require cooking because they are previously fried. This lent an element of convenience when required.

I had purchased enough food to do my best to meet the minimum recommended servings from Canada’s Food Guide. Here is a summary of the recommended number of servings from each food group according to Canada’s Food Guide, what I purchased, what I ate, along with the results of a provincial diet study of First Nations:

Food Group Recommended # Servings CFG What I Purchased My Average Intake BC


Vegetables & Fruits 7-8/day 2/day 2/day 4.4
Grain Products 6-7/day 6/day 4.4/day 4.0
Milk & Alternatives 2-3 <2/day 1.6/day 1.0
Meat & Alternatives 2 >2/day 2.3/day 2.0

Notes: CFG is Canada’s Food Guide
BCFNFNES is BC First Nations Food, Nutrition and Environment Study

My daily calorie intake was on average, almost 1000 kcals lower than what was required to maintain my current body weight.   The math worked out accordingly and my body weight was 2lbs less at the end of the week. Several micronutrient intakes had a high probability of being inadequate including: calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and potassium. This would definitely set me up for increased illness such as cold and flu as well as further reduced energy levels. My sodium intake would most definitely have been excessive if I always consumed the soup base package from the noodle soup.   This could potentially affect individuals living with heart, liver and kidney conditions. I was able to meet my requirements for fat, protein, fiber, iron, and B vitamins including folate.

Despite the hunger, tiredness, reduced thinking capacity and irritability described in previous blogs, I was always able to keep my humour and positive state of mind, a luxury given the knowledge that I would only follow this for a week. Still I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, have my daughter ready for the school bus and get her ready for bed in the evening. I didn’t go to town once during this whole week thus didn’t eat out and had to decline two meals that were offered at meetings that I attended. I can imagine how quickly my mental wellness would decline should I need to continue with this inadequate level of food intake.

I also wasn’t able to share my food. I had enough of it, in more ways than one. That is I had planned for enough for everything except fruit and vegetables but as the days wore on, my fatigue and dissatisfaction for the food I had available increased and I found that physically I couldn’t eat as much. I didn’t want it, and no one that I offered it to wanted it.

“Shallow understanding accompanies poor compassion; great understanding goes with great compassion.” ~ Tich Nhat Han

Through this experience, I have learned that I definitely eat for more reasons than physical hunger and could quite possibly get away with less. I also learned that there is some truth to the frequently shared belief that it is too costly to eat healthy foods. I was able to purchase chocolate milk (three additional teaspoons of sugar) from Walmart for less than the cost of white milk anywhere else. Most importantly, I have learned how absolutely difficult it is to function at a level that offers any sort of productivity while eating on the $84 allowance that is allotted for single individuals living on income assistance.

Eliminating poverty is the best medicine money can buy.” ~ Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, in April 2008

Poverty costs the people of B.C. over $8 billion every year. Poverty cost the health system alone over $1.2 billion a year. The cost of a full anti-poverty program would be less than $4 billion – a savings of $4 billion in the money and huge savings in human well-being. So let’s stop this cycle because people living in poverty do not choose to be there.

Fighting poverty and social exclusion is a collective responsibility. Some things you can do to support this challenge is to have conversations with family and friends about food security initiatives and possible solutions. Contact your local MLA, volunteer your time and skills at an organization that supports poverty reduction, and sign the raise the rates petition.

Signing this petition may not do enough to change the situation for First Nations living on-reserve who are serviced through a federal responsibility. Often the increases in provincial rates are not matched with adequate funding from federal sources leaving First Nation administrations struggling to manage the many special needs that arise with social assistance clients such as funeral expenses for family, housing repairs etc. Become an ally by learning more about the real history of First Nations of BC, by supporting the exertion of First Nations rights in their traditional territories, by partnering in economic ventures and by supporting could finally be an appropriate sharing of the resources of this province with its First Nations.

In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of. -Confucius

Cost of Poverty in BC:


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