0 In Put Food in the Budget

Day 7: Fin.

I am actually writing this posting Sunday night. Day 7 was yesterday, but I was too busy getting ready for the talk I gave at church today. I only managed to get half way through what I had prepared to say before I started to cry.

Again.

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I’m hopeful that this week will bring less tears. I am tired of being such a delicate flower.

This was our final meal. It’s pasta with the dreaded, disgusting tomato sauce:

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I’ll be posting in a few days about next steps and where we go from here, but I wanted to take up some virtual space answering some questions I’ve received throughout the week via email, Facebook and in person about Do the Math and our experience.

I’ll start with my favourite question:

So, are you guys, like, radical hippies or something?

My immediate response is to say “no”, but I suppose it depends on what you mean by “radical”.

If by “radical” you mean “a deep and profound belief that every human being has the right to a life of health and dignity”, then yes, we are radicals. It would make me sad if this was considered a radical thought, though.

As for the hippie part, Jason does have long hair, we both love Folk Festivals and we had a child out of wedlock. Take from that what you will.

If people don’t want to rely on food bank donations, why don’t they just get a job?

Excellent question. Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple.

First of all, many people who access food banks do have a job. The working poor make up a significant number of food bank clients. Toronto is the most expensive place in Ontario to live, but minimum wage is $10.25 across the province. A single parent working 40 hours a week will have less than $1500 a month after taxes from which to pay for rent (in Toronto, two bedroom apartments start at $850 but most are well over $1200 and that would be nowhere near the downtown), transportation, utilities, clothing and food. Assuming transportation costs are $100, that only leaves $200 for everything else. I spent $68 on groceries for this week’s challenge. This did not include buying formula, which isn’t cheap! So, even eating like crap, minimum wage is not enough to cover the costs of both a place to live and food. If number crunching is your thing, you can read all kinds of snazzy statistics about hunger in the GTA on the Daily Bread Foodbank’swebsite.

But numbers aside, after eating nothing but canned and processed food for a week, I can personally attest to just how difficult it is to feel motivated when you’re malnourished, even maginally. I honestly think I did dishes twice in seven days. I let a bunch of things slide that I really should have done. I just couldn’t make myself get off the couch. Even keeping this blog was difficult. There were times when I didn’t even want to play with Isaiah…and he’s The Most Awesome Baby in the World! I wanted to be in bed. My general crushing, slumpy, foggy, gunky, demoralizing haze was all consuming. And this was after only eating a food bank diet for a few days. Towards the end of the week, I was choosing not to eat rather than eat from the food that was in my cupboard. I think I’ve come closer to understanding how difficult it could be for somebody in this situation to feel motivated towards change (and this is even without getting into all the ways The System works to keep the cycle of poverty moving along, but that’s a whole other topic altogether).

Don’t you feel awkward/bad/guilty about taking food away from somebody else who needs it?

Not really, because we didn’t. We purchased our groceries based on a list provided by The Stop which was meant to replicate what might be in a food bank hamper.

As for the meal programmes, we will be making donations to the drop-in centres we visited that will more than cover the cost of our meals.

We hope the wonderful volunteers at these meal programmes will understand what we were trying to do: raise awareness about the human experience of families who rely on food banks and meal drop-ins, and hopefully motivate people to support Put Food in the Budget’s campaign to add $100 to social assistance payments for the purchase of healthy food. Of course, this does not directly help the working poor (see above) but it is a start.

What was the hardest thing for you to eat?

No Name pork and beans with molasses. It tasted like vomit.

You only ate from the food bank list for one week. How can you say that your experience even comes close to somebody who has no choice but to eat like this week in and week out?

I can’t and I’m not trying to. I’ve been aware throughout this challenge that as difficult and demoralizing it was for me, it was likely nothing compared with those who suffer this malnutrition every day and without choice. All I wanted to do was share my own experience as I lived it. It was my story. It is not my intent to force that upon anybody else.

I eat Kraft Dinner all the time and I’m not poor.

That’s totally fine, if it’s your choice (although I would suggest eating Kraft Dinner every day might not be the most efficient way to meet your nutritional needs). However, not having the option of providing anything more nutritious for your family is part of what this week was meant to highlight. People need to the agency and means to be able to make healthy choices. Access to healthy food should be made available to everybody.

Ok, so you’ve done the Food Bank Diet Challenge. What’s the point? What have you accomplished?

For this, I’d like to borrow some thoughts from our friend and minister Doug Norris:

The entire project of this week, members of the congregation eating in ways that are unfamiliar to most of us, is about nothing but understanding and awareness. No more. It does not move us any further along.

But if we remain unaware, we will never move to the next step which is a lament that understands our complicity, and our connectedness in the web of people. Everything we do affects the neighbour, and every neighbour who is brought low diminishes us, diminishes our humanity.

Change is a process. Our project this week was simply about raising awareness (within others and ourselves), hopefully encouraging those interested in our story to reflect on their own beliefs and actions in relation to food security.

What are your next steps?

I’m glad you asked. That will all be covered in my “epilogue” blog post this week.

You son is just the cutest baby I’ve ever seen in my whole entire life. I mean, I just want to pick him up, squeeze him, kiss his nose and nibble his chubby little cheeks. Nom. Nom. Nom.

Thank you. I think he’s pretty awesome too.

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Final food diary:

Breakfast

1 packet of instant oatmeal
1 hot dog wiener

Lunch

none

Supper

Pasta with vile delicious red tomato sauce

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