2013 Participants Bio’s

Cathy Wang

Cathy Wang is a 4th year dietetics student at the University of British Columbia. She completed the welfare food challenge because she is passionate about helping everyone gain access to adequate, nutritious, and safe food. During this week, she faced some of the difficulties that people on welfare encounter everyday: hunger, low energy, and constant stress about getting enough to eat. Watch her experiences here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U5GCqCx99A4

Kathy Romses

KathyRKathy Romses is a registered dietitian who is passionate about delicious, healthy, local, sustainable food and supporting healthy lifestyles. She has spent most of her life in North Vancouver. Her biggest worries are not having enough food to have the energy to work, live compatibly with others (she has been known to get “hangry” or angry when she doesn’t have regular meals) and enjoy her physical activities. She doesn’t expect to make it through the week because her public health dietitian position was recently eliminated and she needs to have the mental energy to apply for jobs and go through job interviews.

Denise Swanson

Denise Swanson was born and raised in Vancouver, and still lives there with her grown son. She is a long-time employee of Vancouver Community College, teaching English as a second language. She heard about Raise the Rates and The Welfare Food Challenge through the Unitarian Church of Vancouver. She is terrified just thinking about being unable to afford feeding her espresso addiction this week, not even a drop.

vanessa bui

Veeharro folks! my name is vanessa. i am a queer first-generation Vietnamese youth born on traditional Lekwungen territory (victoria). i currently reside on occupied and unceded Coast Salish territories (vancouver) – Musqueum, Tsleil-Waututh & Squamish nations respectively – and live in the Strathcona neighbourhood. i spend my time educating myself on anti-oppression and decolonization principles, watching episodes of The Wire, and working part-time at PeerNetBC. i’m taking the Welfare Food Challenge because i have no idea what it is like to live on welfare. after this week, i still won’t truly know, but will at least have an opportunity to reflect on my privileges and to learn more about how the welfare system works. a challenge i will be facing this week is navigating grocery shopping and meal preparations with my partner, as she will not be participating (she currently lives on welfare). we’ll see how it goes!

Marjorie MacDonald

MMcDonaldMarjorie MacDonald is a faculty member in the School of Nursing at the University of Victoria and also teaches in the School of Public Health and Social Policy. She has been involved in the development of the curriculum for the Public Health Nursing area of focus in the MPH program. Marjorie is supervising several masters and PhD students who are conducting research in a variety of public health areas including: global health, HIV/AIDS prevention, food safety/security, violence prevention, the contribution of public health nursing to promoting reproductive health, health promotion and sexual health. Her research interests include public health policy and practice, public health services research specifically related to public health systems renewal, health equity, public health and primary care collaboration, public health human resources planning, adolescent health promotion, smoking and drug use prevention. She is the current President of the Public Health Association of British Columbia.


Erica Kang

ericaMy name is Erica Kang and I am currently living in Prince George, 750km North of Vancouver (or a 8-9hr drive). When I moved up to the beautiful North a couple years ago, it was a huge shock to see how expensive food is up North compared to in the lower mainland. Even the bigger cities in Northern BC (such as Prince George, Terrace) have a small selection of grocery stores, and resultant high food prices. As a Registered Dietitian working at BC Cancer Agency Centre for the North, I often see patients who struggle with finances and making ends meet. Consequently, they are at risk of weight loss, nutrient deficiencies, and overall malnutrition. I am taking on this challenge because I would like to live in the shoes of my patients, and experience what it feels like to have such a limited budget to spend towards food.

I will be posting daily status updates through facebook – check out www.facebook.com/ericakang.

Colleen McGuire, MA RD

ColleenAs a registered dietitian and co-author of Dietitians of Canada’s Cost of Eating in BC report for 2011, I understand the barriers that stand in the way of social assistance recipients as they try to access food on such a limited budget. I am about to find out firsthand what it is like to eat with only $26 per week. While doing the Challenge this week, I will be keeping in mind the fact that I have a grocery store within a reasonable distance, a fully functioning kitchen with which to prepare food, and the knowledge to do this preparation; these factors are lacking for many on social assistance. I hope that doing the Challenge and writing about it will raise awareness at the government level and the community level that changes are needed in terms of our social safety net and in our food systems.

Follow my challenges this week on twitter @every_table.

Monica Drefs

MonicaMy name is Monica and I live in Vancouver. I’m a social worker whose worked with people struggling to live on income, and disability, assistance. From where I stand, it seems like the stress of trying to find safe, secure shelter and decent food consumes most of the time and energy of people on income assistance. I’m not sure how they have any personal resources left to look for work or pursue skills training! I am also concerned about the impact on the health and well-being of children whose parents are trying to survive on income assistance.

I am taking this Challenge as an act of solidarity with people and families on income assistance. I also hope it raises awareness in my community about the realities of our income assistance system in British Columbia.

I am worried about giving up caffeine and chocolate to afford a basic diet. Caffeine and chocolate definitely bring enjoyment and energy to my days! I am not looking forward to missing out shared meals with friends this week.

Melissa Baker , RD(t)

Doing this challenge is important to me personally and professionally. I work as a dietitian recommending foods everyday that many people cMBakeran’t afford. I also grew up in a smaller town with a lot of food insecurity and spent close to a year in Northern BC where food insecurity is high as well. Struggling with food insecurity is a huge daily stress, especially on those with families to feed. I have witnessed so many people develop chronic disease due to limited access to healthy, good tasting food. I am prepared to try to eat for $26 per week to bring attention to the challenges and barriers faced by people receiving income assistance. The most recent Cost of Eating Report, which has been published annually by Dietitians of Canada for over a decade, shows that over twice that amount is needed to purchase food for a healthy diet. We need to raise the rates!

Follow my week on the challenge via my twitter handle @UpBeetRD or on my website at http://www.upbeet.ca.

Good luck to all the other challenge takers!

Sam Mickelson

sam MickelsonSam spends most of his days coordinating a few programs at Gordon Neighbourhood House in Vancouver’s West End. When he’s not working, Sam is often meandering around the city in search of tasty food and adventure. As a food lover and advocate for social justice, Sam is undertaking the Welfare Food Challenge to raise public awareness about the inadequacy of welfare rates and how poor nutrition impacts an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, and social well-being.

Sam’s twitter is: @sjm89


Alex Minard

I live in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver.

I am an architect with the Vancouver office of Perkins+Will. In addition to our focus on the ecological impacts of building design and city making, Perkins+Will is deeply committed to addressing the social impacts. In 2007 we established a firm-wide Social Responsibility Initiative in support of our commitment to the 1% Program of Public Architecture. As the coordinator of the Vancouver office’s Pro Bono work, I have collaborated with a variety of organizations in the DTES, including the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, Potluck Café Society, and Atira Women’s Resource Society. In interacting with these organizations, I have begun to understand some of the obstacles faced by many of our neighbourhood’s residents.

Why I am doing the Welfare Food Challenge: Last year I learned a great deal from participating in the Challenge. I am doing it again to ensure that these lessons stay fresh and vivid in my mind and body.

Chris Buchner

I live in East Vancouver with my partner, son and dog.  I work in Public Health at Vancouver Coastal Health and have had the good fortune to be involved in many important initiatives at the crossroads of health and social justice.  In doing this work, I’ve become convinced that improvement in social justice is healthcare, particularly when it comes to addressing inequities.  Some of the most important steps we could all take to improve the health of our communities would be to support policies that promote equity and lessen disparities in income and access to key services, especially in early childhood.  I’ve decided to take this challenge as part of the effort to raise the profile of the health impact of inequity.  My only worries I have about doing the challenge relate to my personal will power – eating on only 26$/week is a choice for me, and I need to remember that it is a reality for many in our communities.

Jenna Drabble

I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba. My master’s thesis research has brought me to Vancouver, where I am studying the Right to Food activism in the DTES. There is a clear relationship between food insecurity in Canada and inadequate levels of social assistance and I absolutely believe that increasing welfare rates is necessary in order to promote justice in our food system and enable access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food for all members of our community. As I prepare to begin the Welfare Food Challenge, I am thinking of my friends and neighbours who make it work on a food budget of $26 a week. I have a lot to learn about living on this kind of budget and I know that this will definitely be a difficult, eye-opening week for me, but I am glad to be able to show my support for Raise the Rates and participate in the challenge.

I will be blogging at: blog: http://jdrab.tumblr.com/


My name is Rachel and I am a nurse in Vancouver. I have been interested in health equity and social justice for most of my life. In my work, I meet families who are struggling to meet their basic needs (ie. food, shelter, social support). When I heard about the $26 welfare challenge, I saw it as a chance to increase my awareness of the daily reality for many individuals and families in BC. I acknowledge that I am in a privileged place to choose to limit my food budget and that at any point could opt out. The fears and anxieties (and one nightmare in which I wasn’t allowed to buy cereal) I have felt about preparing to eat off $26 are fleeting and easily calmed when I remember that I will be able to eat whatever I want after only seven days. I am nervous and already feeling defeated after my grocery shopping trip. I have one dollar left. It will be an interesting week.

Sarah Nattrass

I am 24 years old and live in Vancouver. I am currently in my second year of my Masters in Community Psychology at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, and I am also a server at JOEY restaurants.

I was drawn to this challenge for a few reasons. First, while I certainly know that I am privileged, it is hard to truly appreciate the extent of that without experiencing (even to a small degree) the life of those who are not as privileged. Second, I am doing my masters thesis on how community practitioners from privilege can become allies to marginalized communities, a role that largely involves trying to understand the lived experiences of a community that is often vastly different from their own. As such a practitioner who is committed to working for social justice, I recognize that while I will never truly understand the oppression faced by many communities, I can commit to trying to learn as much as I can and to putting myself in others’ shoes whenever possible. What better place to start than this challenge?! Although I have typically looked internationally when volunteering and thinking about my future work, I also recognize that considering B.C. has the highest poverty rates in the country there is a tremendous amount of work that can be done locally to try to bring health and wellbeing to more people. Therefore, I really want to become as informed as possible about the lived realities of those who are marginalized in order to be most effective in my work.

I am both excited and nervous to be participating in this challenge. Healthy eating is actually one of the biggest priorities in my life and as a result I actually probably spend the majority of my disposable income on healthy food and supplements. Therefore, the biggest challenge I anticipate is feeling as though I’m not able to meet my nutritional needs. I also do a lot of physical activity and therefore worry that I will not have as much energy for the things that I love to do. Lastly, a great deal of my social life consists of eating out with friends and family, therefore I imagine it might be a bit of a lonely experience feeling as though I am not able to participate in my social activities in the same way. I am certain this challenge will be an eye-opening and powerful experience for me, and I hope that collectively we are able to make a difference to welfare policy in this province!


Wes Regan

WesWes Regan is the Executive Director for the Hastings Crossing Business Improvement Association and a Community Economic Development consultant focusing on social finance, social impact employment and community programming. He has lived and worked in the DTES off and on for over ten years and is currently a resident of Strathcona.

Wes graduated from Simon Fraser University and Langara College with degrees in human and urban geography and will be returning to complete a Master of Urban Studies at SFU this spring. Passionate about food justice, food security and urban sustainability he is a founding director and treasurer of the Vancouver Urban Farming Society and a partner with Urban Stream Innovation, a food systems technology startup.

Sieun Lee

sieunI live in Burnaby. I’m a graduate student in biomedical engineering at Simon Fraser University.

Why I am doing the Welfare Food Challenge: I want to gain a better, first-person understanding of the situation experienced by those who are most in need in our society. This challenge will help me to form a better opinion on welfare and poverty issues, and also give me and people I talk to a chance to become more aware and interested in those issues.

Seth Klein

sethkleinSeth Klein is the British Columbia Director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a public policy research institute committed to social, economic and environmental justice (www.policyalternatives.ca). He has been a social activist for over twenty-five years.

Seth was hired to open the CCPA’s BC Office in 1996. Under his direction, the CCPA–BC Office has grown to 14 employees, 4,000 members, and publishes regular research reports on topics such as taxes, minimum wages, poverty and inequality, resource and environmental policy, and health care.

Seth is the co-chair of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, and on the Advisory Committee of the Metro Vancouver Living Wage for Families campaign. He is an advisory board member for the Columbia Institute’s Centre for Civic Governance, and a co-founder and instructor for Next Up (a leadership training program for young people committed to social and environmental justice). His research deals primarily with welfare policy, poverty, inequality and economic security.

Seth has been listed by Vancouver Magazine as one of the 50 most powerful people in the city, and by Homemakers Magazine among the “60 men we love.”  He does not know how he ended up on either list, but he humbly accepts the latter.

Seth will be blogging on the Challenge at: http://www.policynote.ca/

Sarah Carten

SarahI’m a Public Health Dietitian with Vancouver Coastal Health.  Despite many years of working on improving access to good food, I realize I have only a theoretical understanding of the stress and anxiety involved in trying to obtain enough good quality food on a limited budget.

By participating in the challenge this year, I hope to understand at a much deeper level the extent to which worry and anxiety can dominate food decision making when forced to make do on $26 for the week.

In the weeks leading up to the challenge, I noticed how much of my time was spent thinking about my strategy for spending $26 to be sure that I had as much food as possible.  I obsessively watched prices at grocery stores; I compulsively wrote lists of cheap foods to consider.  I worried about how I would concentrate at work or how I would participate in activities that I enjoy if I had no energy.

In talking with friends and colleagues, I heard many different priorities when choosing how to spend limited funds: for some, variety and flavour was important; for others, it was healthfulness.  For me, it was about quantity; I was willing to compromise on variety, flavour, and nutrition in order to get enough food to feel satiated.  It’s incredibly sad for me to realize that these unpalatable purchasing decisions form the reality for so many people in B.C. every single day.


Melanie and Jawad

Mel and JawadI (Melanie) am a Registered Dietitian and have been working in public health and food security for 13 years. I am doing this challenge because I have seen first hand the struggles people face to be able to buy the food they want and need to support a family when living on a limited income. Although I have worked with food insecure clients, I don’t think I can truly understand the struggles (emotional, physiological, mental) they go through until I experience the situation myself. I hope that by doing this challenge I can increase both personal and public awareness and understanding of how difficult or near impossible it is to eat (never mind eating healthy) on just $26/week (in our case $52/week) and that systemic changes are necessary to support the health and well being of our citizens.

I (Jawad) am new to Vancouver and BC, but have always been passionate about how social justice issues interact with economics and public policy. I see this food challenge as a way to live for a week in the increasingly common but nevertheless absurd position of not being able to afford healthy food despite having most of it grown right here in BC. I think the politics of corporate food production, health, and social policy within Canada are leading towards outcomes that are more unhealthy, more unequal in terms of opportunity and less optimal for our intellectual productivity as a society. If access to healthy food becomes even more difficult due to increasing distortions in supply management, we will not be able to afford the very public policies which define us as Canadian.

Rev. Margaret Marquardt

MargaretAnglican Priest Serving at St. Thomas Anglican Church, Chair of the Eco-Justice Unit of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster (lower mainland) and Member of the Metro Vancouver Alliance (a member Alliance of the 70 year old Industrial Areas Alliance – IAF), a broad based organization of Unions, religious, community and small business Working together for the common good.

Student of the Simon Fraser University’s Restorative Justice year-long Certificate course.

See the letter from 40 members of St Thomas parish to Premier Clark,

Isabelle Payne

IzzyMy name is Isabelle Payne, or Izzy as most people refer to me. I currently live on the Westside of Vancouver in the Arbutus Ridge area. I work part time in mental health and am a full time student at UBC. I have decided to take the challenge because I would like to be able to try and relate to what it is like for so many of my clients who live on welfare and People with Disability each month and how hard it is for them to survive on this budget. Its hard for me to believe in a country such as Canada that people are expected to live on such a minimal amount and be able to purchase healthy food (lets face it, good food can be expensive in Vancouver). The worries I have are not being able to complete the challenge. I work in an office environment and I am use to going out for coffee breaks twice a day, plus I usually purchase my lunch, instead of bringing it. I have been trying to plan ahead of time, by researching places to shop that are affordable, however I am finding this challenging.

Donya Jalali

DonyaI am 23 years old and living in Vancouver. I recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a BA in psychology and I’m now exploring what this city and our society has to offer me. For the last 5 years I have been working as a Lifeguard in North Vancouver which has supported me well during my undergraduate years. I have never lived in or near poverty and I struggle in accepting poverty as an inevitable part of life and/or society. I am taking the Welfare Food Challenge to raise awareness of the poverty that exists in welfare and to challenge the stereotypes about those living on welfare.

Madelaine Parent

I live in Kitsilano, Vancouver. I am a 5th year UBC student about to complete my degree in Food, Nutrition, and Health. I have a passion for nutrition, food-related issues, and the environment. When I’m not tweaking recipes to max out their health, affordability and sustainability potential, I love singing, playing my guitar and sewing.

Why taking the Challenge: As someone who is passionate about the positive outcomes of healthy eating, both on individuals and on our population, the issue of food security in Vancouver is one that is of great concern to me. With a minuscule $26 dollars per week available to individuals on welfare, not only are these individuals unable to eat healthily, but they are also unable to make sustainable food choices, which are required to improve our food system and our environment. By taking part in the Welfare Food Challenge, I hope to bring awareness to this issue and help to see that a change is made such that those on welfare have access to a healthy, sustainable diet. I also hope that this experience will help me see through the eyes of someone living under these circumstances, allowing me to relate to those who I aim to help someday through my career endeavours.

Worries: That I’ll begin to HATE beans & rice by day 4, and that I’ll fall asleep at my desk from lack of coffee


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