Update: Check our my friend Erin’s reaction to our Do the Math Challenge. You should also read the rest of her blog as well.  She’s pretty awesome.


These are spinach banana muffins made with whole wheat and flax.  I whip these up for Isaiah so I can be sneaky with his vegetables.  We missed them during our 7 days eating nothing except what might be found in a food bank hamper.

It’s been more than a week since my family and I finished our Do the Math Challenge.  This will likely be my final post about our experience.

I promised I would get into next steps. But first, here are some more questions that have come up since my last post:

How much did it cost for you to buy the groceries for the simulated food bank hamper?

About $68. This was to feed Jason, myself and baby Isaiah for the whole week.  It was more food than a typical food bank hamper would have because those are only meant to last 2-3 days.

What was the most surprising thing you noticed throughout the week?

I have a few.

1.  I was surprised by the degree to which I felt physically and emotionally awful, and how quickly those feelings set in.  By Day 2and Day 3 I was absolutely unable to think clearly.  By the end of the week I was choosing not to eat rather than eat the food that was in my cupboard.

2. We were very socially isolated.  I didn’t want to invite anybody over because I had nothing decent to serve them.  I couldn’t go out to meet friends because I couldn’t order anything from a restaurant…not even a tea!  The one outing we did take was to a friends house, but we couldn’t accept any food or drink.  She served fruit salad to the others.  I could smell it throughout the entire room and it seemed likely that it was the most delicious fruit salad in history and we were missing out on it.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not clear about why we were instructed not to accept offers of food or drink from others.  Perhaps it’s because if we were never able to reciprocate it’s unlikely we’d be spending time with friends serving delicious fruit salad.  Or perhaps it was to really get a feel for what it’s like not to have an out.  Regardless, we stuck to the rules.

Fruit salad. That was my biggest temptation for the week.  Thanks, Sonia.


3.  I had absolutely zero connection to my food, and I missed it.  The closest I came to cooking (other than fishcakes and flatbread) was opening a bunch of cans and mixing the contents together.  I wasn’t making anything, and when I thought about it, I really had no idea how any of it was made. I’m not trying to give the impression that Jason and I are foodie purists who only eat raw, local, vegan and organic food.  I have a weakness for refined sugar, we both like our Starbucks lattes, and the guys who own our local Indian roti joint know what I want when they see my number on call display.  But we do the best we can.  It was the consistency of white starch, simple carbs and food from a package that was overwhelming.  It was unclear to me at what point the florescent orange powder with “real cheddar cheese taste” was something living, growing or breathing.

So what should we be donating to the food bank?  We’ve been told they only want non-perishables, canned foods and peanut butter.

Food banks offer a band-aid solution to a greater problem.  The issue isn’t so much what food banks are offering their clients, but a tragically flawed system that creates the need for food banks in the first place.

Healthy food grows and then dies.  It is a living thing.  If food doesn’t go bad, there’s a reason for it.  (fun fact: the only natural food that does not spoil is honey!) In my experience, most food banks distribute only once a week.  That’s a long time for produce and baked goods to be sitting around.  The little produce that’s distributed is often purchased from cash donations.

But the real problem is the lack of access our most vulnerable neighbours have to healthy and nutritious food.  That is why Put Food in the Budget is asking (demanding? pleading?) the provincial government to add $100 to monthly social assistance payments so that even those who are struggling financially have the means to provide some measure of health and dignity to their families.  The maximum amount a single person relying on OW receives is $604.  That’s $604 to pay for rent, transportation and food.  It’s simply not enough.

That’s what I think, anyway.  I don’t want to get too preachy.  Sometimes that’s not the best way to move people.  I know I don’t like being preached at.


As I’ve mentioned before, my family undertook the Do the Math Challenge along with five other families from our church congregation.  Last Sunday, I spoke about what the week was like during our worship service.
It was a very emotional experience and I was not feeling at all well from the lack of real food.  I can’t stress enough how much this exercise affected my physical, emotional and spiritual state.  Everything was sitting in a very raw and open space.

Three members from the PFitB team came to the service and stayed for lunch afterwards.  It was wonderful to have them and it was nice to know that the greater campaign was interested in our small gesture and experience.  But when I went down to the lunch, one of the PFitB members came over immediately and started asking about our next steps while handing me a bunch of papers about a new campaign, telling me I should be getting our committee mobilized to email the premier and bombarding me with statistics about how the freeze on social assistance is actually a cut (this is true and PFitB explains how on their website).  I didn’t know what to do except take her papers, letting her know I would make them available to the congregation.

I made my way around the tables, talking to congregants who had  more questions aboutThe Challenge.  I was then finally able to join my family for the simple soup lunch we share as a group once a month.  I was soon joined at the table by the PFitB members.  I was asked again about next steps and where we would go. I explained that our mandate for this year is education with a look towards being able to eventually speak out against suffering and injustice as a unified group.  I was assured this made sense.  But then the other members started once again suggesting (very strongly) I get people to write the new premier.  There were other actions and more statistics, but I don’t remember them.  My brain shut off.  It wasn’t that I didn’t care. I really do care.  I think the work these folks are doing is awesome.  But in that moment, I felt like I was being preached at in a way I don’t like.  I was being told what to do and really, I wasn’t in the right head space for it.  It felt like the cause was overriding the very human experience some of us had just shared (knowing it was only a small gesture of solidarity with those who rely on food banks every week).  I was weepy and weary.  I needed time before I could even think about being a feisty crusader.  Time.  I needed time.

But I’ve had a bit of time now, and I think I’ve managed to scrounge up a bit of feist.

If you’d like to contact the premier to advocate for the $100 addition to OW and ODSP, you can do so here.

Post Script

Wednesday morning at 6:55am, my Grocery Gateway order showed up at my door.  I wish I could say they woke me up, but my days of sleeping in until 7:00am vanished almost a year ago.  When I brought the box upstairs and started to put everything, I was expecting to find vegetables and flour.  Instead, I found instant rice, condensed chicken noodle soup, and (holy wtf!) macaroni and cheese in a box! Jason walked in the room and stopped dead in his tracks. 

“What. The. Hell. Is. That?”

It seems I didn’t clear the cache in my shopping cart history from when I was doing initial research on what crappy food costs.  Now, I have more crappy food in my house.  None of us want to touch it.  Not that we’re against crappy food (I admit really liked the Rice-a-Roni when I figured out how to cook it properly) but the thought of trying to scarf down another bowl of Kraft Dinner any time this decade makes my body ache in protest.

I’m so very, very grateful and fortunate that I have a choice.


This is Isaiah eating a carrot.


Thank you to the ~500 of you who have been following this blog.   If you’d like to see more of what I do when I’m more properly nourished, you can find me at www.bri-anneswan.com

Peace and health to all of you.

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