Ian Marcuse, Day 7

Posted on the Grandview Woodland Food Connection website. I ended my Challenge this Sat evening, a few hours before the technical end of the the week, at a Witness event where a feast was served. It seemed unsettling, but somewhat fitting to end my Challenge where delicious healthy food was offered and shared amongst a group of research participants and their family and friends (witnesses) who were involved in a place-based learning project exploring traditional environmental knowledge and sustainability. The dinner was amazing – salmon, wild rice, and roasted vegetables and all the more amazing when eating with a group of interesting people all learning about environmental sustainability. Okay, I cheated a little by ending my Challenge a few hours early, but I would not have been able to attend the event otherwise. I would have missed this wonderful social and educational event.

This week has raised my awareness of how essential good nourishment is for our physical well-being as I struggled to maintain my energy. This week I have obsessed about getting enough calories and protein, worried about my workload and whether I will have enough energy to make it through the week, worried about my health, and worried about sticking to my budget. In my normal life, I don’t worry about these things nearly as much and certainly do not worry about getting enough good food to eat. I have a good job. I feel very fortunate right now.

I also now see how much we take food for granted. …that it will always be there for us, without fully realizing how central a role it plays in our lives. Ending this challenge, with its severe limitations, with a life affirming feast, reminded me that food provides us more than mere physical sustenance. Food feeds our social experience, nourishes our emotional well being, connects us to cultural and identity, invokes memory and story, titillates our taste buds, and so on. Food nourishes our whole being.

Expecting that an individual can live on $18 a week for food is cruel. It reduces a person to basic survival and likely illness at worst. A person is reduced to eating poor quality, high carb food and supplementing with foodbanks and other food programs that have replaced a properly funded social safety net. There is no room in the welfare diet for any type of whole person nourishment, which is the basis of a dignified food system.

Now that I have ended my Welfare Food Challenge, I feel an increased conviction to take a hard look at the work I am doing to support food access and food justice in my community. I am very interested in the many discussions and efforts within the context of our work as community food developers with the Neighborhood Food Networks to better understand this term food justice. I am also encouraged by recent discussions globally that are now pointing the way towards a new food justice understanding defined by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshias in their book Food Justice as “representing a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities”. This is a necessary refocusing that creates new opportunities for a deeper analysis of structural inequality in the food system and connection of the food movement to broader social movements.

It will take a lot of us working together to address such inequities and the Welfare Food Challenge is doing very important work to raise awareness of the need to better support those who are struggling and on income assistance.

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