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.

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.



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:


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.


Final food diary:


1 packet of instant oatmeal
1 hot dog wiener




Pasta with vile delicious red tomato sauce

Day 5: Tears, Guilt and Gratitude

Today was without a doubt the most difficult part of this challenge so far.

Jason, Isaiah and I went to a meal-drop in as a family. I selected it because it was in an area of town where I thought the guests would not necessarily be homeless, but simply needing food to get them through the week. If it was just Jason and I going to eat I wouldn’t have done this. But babies are sensitive creatures, and I didn’t want to expose Isaiah to the negative energy that often accompanies those who are experiencing such profound suffering. I became affected by it last year while coordinating a meal programme and would often come home teary and worn and drained. Yes, I’m predisposed to crying at the best of times (Jason calls me a delicate flower). This week has only augmented that trait.

I was wrong about the location though. Very wrong.

We took the bus as a family. It was difficult to find the correct entrance to the building. The security guard was a little annoyed with us. We tried three different doors before we found the correct entrance to the dinner. As soon as we walked in, the volunteer greeter looked at us and looked at Isaiah and said, “We don’t take babies here. We can’t accommodate a baby.” We simply said ok and were ready to leave but she said, “Let me see what I can do.”

Another volunteer eventually came over and told us that they don’t normally allow babies, but they just couldn’t let us leave without eating – it was far too cold (it was one the coldest nights of the year in Toronto). He was going to try and find us a corner to sit alone. We tried to say it was okay, but they insisted.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. Our intention was not to cause extra work. It wasn’t to cause a fuss. Guests who were eating nearby started yelling, “LET ‘EM EAT!”.

The social worker came over and asked to speak with Jason alone. The volunteer came back and asked if we had a home to go to. They couldn’t find a place for us to sit, but they would make a take out package for us. I became more and more ashamed and more and more embarrassed. I could feel the volunteers staring at us and was sure they were thinking, “Why on earth would you have a baby if you’re not able to feed him?” I’ve heard volunteers say these things before. I have no idea if that’s really what the volunteers last night were really thinking. Imagining was enough. I felt very judged.

But on the other hand there were volunteers who were trying to do everything they could to help us. Their caring was astounding. The social worker asked Jason if we had a home (I suspect CAS would have been called immediately if they suspected we were without housing) and Jason assured him we did.  The social worker then asked Jason if he had lost his job.

We decided that if were were asked about why we were eating at a drop-in we wouldn’t lie. But we also didn’t want to say, “We’re here because we’re completing The Stop’s Do the Math programme to create awareness for the need to add additional funds to social assistance payments so people can afford to eat properly.”

Jason’s response to the social worker regarding whether he lost his job was “It’s personal.”

The social worker handed Jason his card and told him to call.

The volunteers came back with a box of food for us. We thanked them and took it home. It had four clementines, meatloaf, vegetables and roasted potatoes, soup and rye bread. I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t speak. I wasn’t even hungry anymore. I went and got Isaiah’s bath ready while he and Jason ate.

After Isaiah and I went to bed, Jason and I debriefed about the experience. “What if we really had to do that?” I said.

I felt shame enough doing this for the week voluntarily. I couldn’t imagine the shame I’d be feeling if I didn’t have the resources to adequately feed and take care of my child.

Jason assured me that the only people who were possibly harmed tonight were me and him. As I mentioned in previous posts, we’ll be making donations to cover our food coats. Isaiah was fine, the guests were fine, and we know from our own experiences that people like to help others. It feels good.

I’m still not convinced what I did was okay tonight. It’s going to take more than a little while to process this experience.

One thing is for sure though – Jason and I don’t ever want to do this again. For real, or “pretend”.

Day 4: Half Way!

I’ve been in my pyjamas all day. They have Christmas ornaments all over them. This is particularly embarrassing because everybody knows it’s Epiphany.

I was trying to figure out a way to blame being in the same pair of jammies since 6pm yesterday on my dietary challenges, but I can’t. I’m simply a lazy layabout in poorly themed PJs.

I just got off the phone with my amazing aunt. She’s super smart and she’s a nutritionist. I asked her if Jason and I could really be as affected as we’re feeling after only a few days of eating crappy food. I’ve been concerned I’m feeling awful because I expect to feel awful. Surely my physical and emotional state can’t be compromised this much after only three full days of eating simple carbs and refined sugar. I actually went to bed crying last night.  She assured me that it is absolutely possible and expected. And since I’m still breastfeeding Isaiah, my nutritional stores are becoming even more depleted because baby always comes first.

Isaiah is like a parasite.  A parasite whom I love. When I was pregnant, I spent the first four and a half months hunched over a toilet. I’ve sometimes thought about creating a coffee table book about all the places I’ve puked: garbage cans in the TTC, the Calgary International Airport, the Pacific Ocean, the sidewalk in front of the McDonald’s at Queen and Church, City Hall, the forest at Maple Lake during Jason’s baptism, etc. I felt worse than something my cat dragged in.  I felt like something my cat dragged in, ate, barfed up and then ate again.  I became so dehydrated that I had to go to the hospital multiple times. I lost weight.  I joked to my midwife that had I known having a baby was such a successful method for weight loss, I would have gotten pregnant ages ago. She didn’t get the joke.

imageBut I was concerned. I was concerned that the tiny person, whom I loved even during the period when he more closely resembled a cocktail shrimp than a human, wasn’t receiving everything he needed to thrive because I couldn’t consume anything except the occasional soda cracker and tiny bowl of cottage cheese.  My midwife told me not to worry and that although I was feeling awful, the fetus(!) was taking everything it(!) needed from my nutrient stores and was fine.  Just like a parasite.

And then Isaiah was born and we entered into a new phase of our nutrient dependent relationship: breast feeding.  Breast milk is a really remarkable thing.  Breasts and babies have this James Bond like secret code.  A mother is able to produce milk that has the specific nutrients, antibodies and caloric content her baby needs.  It changes over time.  It is a dynamic, living fluid.  And just like when I was pregnant, Isaiah’s nutritional needs come first.  If I am not getting all of the vitamins I need to keep Isaiah healthy in my diet, my body starts pulling from my nutrient stores so Isaiah will always have enough.  Amazing.  Exhausting.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today about how parenting and breastfeeding connect with Do the Math and our Food Bank Diet Challenge.  I’ve read a lot of studies about breastfeeding, and all of them talk about how mothers with more education and from higher socioeconomic classes are more likely to breastfeed their babies.  Women with little education and who struggle to make ends meet are more likely to use formula (which, in my observation, is readily available from food banks and social service organizations – Nestle is more than happy to get as many babies hooked on formula as possible).  This discrepancy is usually explained with the assumption that women with more education are more likely to know about all the awesome benefits of breastfeeding.

However, may I humbly suggest that it would be almost impossible to effectively parent while suffering through the nutritional starvation that would inevitably come about as a result of eating nothing but the food I’ve been consuming this week?   Add to that the nutritional drain of breastfeeding an infant (and the emotional stress of financial instability) and it all becomes absurd.  I eat relatively well, take my vitamins and drink my VegeGreens everyday.  Still, by the time Isaiah goes to bed, I’m beat.  I mean, I’m a messy puddle of mud on the couch.  Sometimes, I just sit and stare around my apartment for half an hour wondering if it’s bad enough for the City to come and remove us a la Hoarders because of all the clutter.  This week…let’s just say I haven’t invited anybody over for tea (besides, I don’t have any tea to spare anyway!).

Speaking of tea, we found some coffee beans hiding in our cupboard that we had completely forgotten about.  I have no idea how old they are – certainly more than a year – but coffee beans don’t really go bad, do they?  More coffee means Jason won’t go through withdrawal which means I felt safe in brewing a cup of tea for myself this morning.  English Breakfast.  Not usually my favourite, but today it tasted divine.  I sat there drinking it while I watched Isaiah pull all the books of the bookshelf.  They are still sitting on the floor where they fell.

Coffee Table

We had some leftover pasta from Monday night’s dinner sitting in our fridge.  It was really awful the first time and I didn’t have high hopes for a second round.  But when I looked in the cupboard, I realized I had to eat it.  We only have so many meals left in our cupboard.  I tried to pawn it off on our kitty, Coffee Table, but he wanted nothing to do with it.  So I ate it.  It was awful.  I was hungry again within 45 minutes.  I made more pasta – the only food item we seem to have an abundance of.  I couldn’t believe I was making myself more pasta.  I put in half a can of tuna and gave the other half to Isaiah.  I felt pretty sluggish and gross for the rest of the afternoon.


While making dinner (macaroni and cheese with hot dogs), I became curious as to whether cooking the hot dogs first would enhance their flavour.  It was a disappointing experiment.


After eating no fresh vegetables for four days, this tomato was AMAZING!  Jason and I each had half a fruit. Isaiah is allergic to tomatoes, which is the only reason we’re getting the these at all.


Since I had some tea this morning, I was willing to share my lime with Jason.  Drinking water out of our wine glasses only added to the experience.

Here’s the food report for today:


1 packet of instant oatmeal


Pasta with tomato sauce and canned vegetables (originally there were kidney beans in there, but Isaiah needed some protein at lunch so I sucked rinsed the tomato sauce off the beans and gave them to him)

Second Lunch

Pasta with tuna


Macaroni and Cheese with hotdogs and half a tomato
Water with a slice of lime

Nutritional breakdown:


Ok…I’m off to bed.  Something happened to the interwebs and I ended up having to write most of this blog twice.  I thought Tumblr had autosave.  Oops.  I assure you what I had written before was better. 😉

In case you were wondering, I’m still in the same pajamas.

Day 3: Community

Tonight will probably be a very, very short update because I am absolutely exhausted. We’ve had no child care this week, so my work has been piled on to the end of the day after Isaiah goes to sleep. However, what I’d really like to be doing is sleeping. I feel like my brain is in a fog and my body is wading through water. I’ve reread that last sentence seven times. I hope it makes sense.

Isaiah and I went for lunch today at The Stop Community Food Centre. This is where the Do the Math Challenge began. I was shocked at the quality of the meal: rice with beans, homemade coleslaw, a most delicious meal loaf and olive bread. I’m sure the olive bread was amazing, but I never got the chance to try it. Isaiah downed the whole piece before I could even get a bite. Isaiah ate my veggies, coleslaw (which had apples in it!) and some of my rice. He was a very, very happy camper.

The atmosphere at The Stop today was very different than at St. Peter’s. Although the food was good, I felt pretty awkward the entire time. It’s a very busy place, and instead of having a table to myself, Isaiah and I shared a table with 5 other men I didn’t know. My primary concern was making sure Isaiah was okay. There was food in front of him. He was fine. The volunteers were very, very busy. The room was very loud. There were no donuts. But I could tell there was a community there – a community of people who come together to laugh and share meals frequently. On one level I was glad to see it. On another, I was acutely aware that I am not part of this community, and everybody around me knew that I didn’t belong. I’m a stranger. The complexity of the feelings I have about all this is greater than my ability to articulate right now. I just can’t think, yo.

Isaiah was simply excited about the bread and apples.

A few people have questioned me about going to food programmes to eat when my family has the means to purchase enough food for ourselves. Our intention is not to take resources away from anybody who needs them. At the end of The Challenge we will be making a donation to each organization we have received hospitality from. The donation will more than cover the cost of the food we have eaten.

Speaking of food, here is what I ate today.


3 flatbreads with peanut butter


Granola bar


Rice with Beans and Lentils
Homemade coleslaw


Alphabet pasta with hotdog wieners (a bit of a let down after the meatloaf)
Chocolate bar (Bounty…my favourite!)


Here is today’s nutritional break down. It was helped significantly by lunch at The Stop.


Absolutely no Vitamin D today. I must look up how quickly vitamins are depleted from the body. Especially if one is breastfeeding.


Alarmed by my lack of vitamin D, I drank a glass of milk.  Here is the updated nutritional information.


Day 2: Fuzzy Wuzzy was my Brain

Day 2 is in the bag.  I’m hungry in a snacky sort of way, but I’m trying to stay out of the kitchen because I don’t think we can afford to be frivolous with our food supply.  When I first lugged all our food home and set it up on the table, it seemed like a lot.  I figured the issue was going to be simply the quality of the food, not the quantity. Turns out it’s both. I was prepared to feel crappy.  Grumpy even.  I wasn’t really prepared to be hungry.  Our diet for the past two days has been composed almost entirely of simple carbs.  So although the food is filling us up quickly at meal times, we’re finding we’re hungry again within the hour. And looking at how much food we have left after only two days, I’m worried we won’t have enough to get us through to Saturday night.

Isaiah has it pretty good.  Today he got an egg, sweet potato from a jar, soda crackers, pablum, mama juice and freshly steamed carrots.  We get four carrots to last the week.  Jason and I decided Isaiah gets all of them.  Thing is, Isaiah is not so much a fan of carrots, unless they are in their “baby” form.  What he wants more than anything is something I can’t give him. This kid wants an apple.

Here’s a photo to give you an idea of how much my son loves apples:

Isaiah eating an apple

Jason has just walked into the living room now.

“I think you should write about our olive oil controversy.”

He makes it sound like like western democracy is at risk.  The Great Olive Oil Controversy of 2013.

Here’s the deal:

In our instructions for this challenge, as supplied by The Stop Community Food Centre, we have a list of food items to purchase that replicate what a family might expect to receive in a food bank hamper.  In addition to this, we are allowed five pantry items;  things like coffee, tea, salt, pepper, mayonnaise, flour, margarine/butter, ketchup, mustard, cooking oil, spices, vinegar, etc.  We chose coffee, tea, flour, cooking oil and margarine/butter.  The rule is that they had to already be in our pantry, and we weren’t allowed to go out and buy more once we received our instructions.  We had what we had.  What I DIDN’T realize until yesterday when I was making our flat bread was that we don’t have that much olive oil left.  I made another batch of bread tonight.  I could do another half batch, but that’s pretty much it for the oil.  No big deal.  We have a huge bottle of vegetable oil in our cupboard.  Except that bottle isn’t oil at all.  It’s apple cider vinegar.  Oops.

So Jason thinks we should just go out and get more oil, because it’s on our pantry list, and we wouldn’t have chosen it as one of our items had we known we were almost out.

I’ve asked Jason to dictate what else I should say about his position.  I want to make sure I’m representing his point of view adequately.

He’s declined. “You just go ahead,” he says.

Asking your fiancée to explain a controversy you are a part of is like dating Taylor Swift and thinking the song she writes about your breakup is going to be fair and objective.

Oh wait!  Here’s what he has to say:  “I was just really looking forward to those potatoes.”

Yes, it’s kind of sucky.  Jason, the son of a potato farmer, really does know how to make a delicious potato. He was counting on olive oil to aid in the roasting process.  It was likely going to be our big treat in the middle of the week.  Salmon from a can, and a roasted potato drizzled with olive oil and salt – salt that he nicked from the local hamburger joint, thereby preventing us from needing to count it as one of our pantry items. I asked him if he can use butter.  I know I can use butter to make the flat bread.

“It’s not the same.”

[As a side note, I had to search to see if we had butter in our fridge before the challenge began.  We did, but I didn’t (and still don’t) have any idea how long it’s been in there.  I used it in making Kraft Dinner last night.  I first had to cut off the discoloured (rancid?) bit on the outside.  Everything seemed okay, but it is possible any strange flavour from the butter was masked by the “real cheddar taste” of the florescent orange powder.  Don’t tell Jason.]

Here’s what I think about our “controversy”:

So what?

So we don’t have oil for the rest of the week. Sunday afternoon we can go out and get more olive oil and have a roasted potato for dinner.  I’m okay with going sans oil because I belive it’s realistic to think people who regularly rely on food banks could run out of oil and not be able to immediately replenish it.  I don’t want to make things easier, or look for loop holes.  I want this to be as authentic as possible.  I want to be reminded of what it’s like to not have what you want, when you want it, how you want it, etc.

Jason said something at the beginning of our preparations that I really like:

This challenge is really an act of compassion and love.  There is love present in suffering with others.

At least I think that’s what he said.  I’ve just asked him to repeat it but he can’t.  His brain is too fuzzy from simple carbs and a lack of caffeine.

I’d be a bit of a drama llama if I called what we’re doing this week suffering, but I keep coming back to Jason’s words.  Even though we are having some disagreements on how this week is going, I know that deep, deep down, we are on the same page.

Jason has now gone back to studying.

Here is what he had to get through the day:


1 Single serving “fruit at the bottom” yoghurt
1 packet of instant oatmeal


Left over macaroni and cheese (yum…)
2 hard boiled eggs
1 granola bar
4 pieces of flat bread


Pasta with a can of tomato sauce, kidney beans and canned mixed vegetables (I think the canned vegetables might have contained Berti Bott’s Every Flavour Beans because the wax beans really did taste like wax!)
1 donut
1 roll

Here’s what I had to eat:


1 Single serving “fruit at the bottom” yoghurt
1 packet of instant oatmeal


1 can of pork and beans with molasses  (okay, maybe that was close to suffering…)
1 hard boiled egg


Butternut squash soup
Shepherd’s Pie
2 Donuts (woo hoo!!!)

My dinner didn’t come out of our food rations.  Tonight I had dinner by myself at a meal programme in my neighbourhood.  In the instructions for this week, we’re encouraged to eat at least one or two meals at a drop-in centre.  I decided I wanted to go once by myself, once with Isaiah and once as an entire family.  The idea is we’re supposed to go to a programme where we don’t know anybody, and that we haven’t volunteered at before.  We’re simply supposed to show up and eat, just like any other guest would.

I coordinated an Out of the Cold lunch last year, so not only have I met a lot of volunteers and staff at various meal programmes, I know a lot of the guests too.  It means I can’t go to any lunches or dinners in the downtown core.  I was fairly certain I wouldn’t run into anybody I know at the dinner I went to this evening at St. Peter’s Church.

I felt completely awkward when I walked in.  I realized I didn’t want to be there.  I was exhausted from looking after Isaiah all day and not having any energy. I didn’t really want to interact with anybody.  I was grumpy.  I was hungry.  I felt out of place.  I wasn’t sure if I could just sit down, if somebody would tell me where to sit, if I was supposed to line up, etc.

This only lasted a few seconds, because almost immediately a duo of teenaged girls swooped towards me with bright, cheerful smiles and asked if I was there to eat.  I said yes, I was, and they told me I could sit sit anywhere I liked.  It was soon very clear I had only just made it to the end of the dinner.  I sat at a table by myself.  One of the girls asked if I would like some soup and quickly brought some over.  A boy came over and asked if I would like some juice.  I bet I had at least five high school kids waiting on me.  They brought me bread, juice, water, soup, butter and finally…a donut!  I don’t know why this was so exciting.  It’s not as if I’ve been lacking is refined white starch and sugar the past two days.  But this donut was DELICIOUS! I asked if there were any leftovers I might be able to take to my husband. “My husband” seemed easier than “my soon to be husband”, “my fiancé”, “my common law husband”, “baby daddy” or “the man I’ve been living in sin with for the past two years”.  There wasn’t any leftovers, but they told me I could take as many donuts as I liked.  I took two, plus another roll, and brought them home for Jason.

We sat on the couch together eating our donuts and I told him about the kids who served me dinner.  They totally made my night.  I felt awkward and out of place, and they made me feel…normal.  And welcome.  They made me feel like I was supposed to be there and that they were happy to see me.

And honestly, it was exactly what I needed in that moment.

Here is my daily nutritional analysis:

I hope I don’t need my blood to clot this week (Vitamin K).  It looks like scurvy is on my horizon (Vitamin C) and that I’m not going to get any restful sleep (magnesium).

Or maybe I’m just being sad and pessimistic because I’m just don’t have enough Vitamin D in my life…

Day 1: Negotiations

Tonight marks the end of Day 1 of our Food Bank Diet challenge.

Here is what Jason and I each ate:


1 packet of instant oatmeal
4 saltine crackers with peanut butter


½ can each of Beefaroni
~3 saltine crackers with peanut butter


Macaroni & Cheese from a box
2 hot dogs
Flat bread*

*We didn’t actually get any bread in our food bank hamper list, so I made some out of flour, oil (the recipe actually calls for ghee, but I ran out of that last week) and water.  Recipe courtesy of our friend Heather, who is also doing the challenge.

The recipe was only supposed to make 12 pieces of bread, but I managed to stretch it to 16.

Peach Jam? Yes! Homemade peach jam from my Aunt Laine no less! Sadly, I can’t eat it this week.  However, it did come in very handy when I realized I have no idea where my rolling pin is.

The whole process to make 16 pieces of flat bread took about an hour and a half – kind of extravagant for a meal of Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, no?

Today has been marked by negotiation.  I’m concerned that Jason won’t have enough coffee to get him through the week, so I’ve offered to save my tea in order to stave off the symptoms of withdrawal.  In return, I asked to have full access to our one lemon, so that I might at least have hot water and lemon to sip on.  That didn’t quite work for Jason, who had visions of it being used with our can of salmon and a baked potato.  So instead, I get the lime.  I haven’t tried it yet.

The biggest negotiation came when Jason asked how many chocolate pudding cups we have for the week.  The fact that we even have chocolate pudding cups in our house is foreign to us.  We have four.
“And how many chocolate bars?” (Yes, we have chocolate bars as part of our food hamper)
“Hm. Can we make a deal?”
He asked to lay claim to all four pudding cups.  I could have all four chocolate bars.  I countered with him having three pudding cups and one chocolate bar so that I could have one of the pudding cups.  I was curious to see if I was missing anything since the last time I had one in grade 8.  He agreed, on condition he could choose which chocolate bar he got. He chose the Snickers.

And so it goes.

We don’t normally need to have these negotiations.  If Jason wants pudding cups and I want pudding cups (we’re speaking hypothetically here), I’ll just go out and buy more pudding cups.  It’s not really about the pudding cups.  It’s about the allotment of finite resources.  This is it.  This is all we have for the week.  Once it’s gone it’s gone.  Any other week, once our fridge is empty, I just go to the market and buy more food…and pudding cups aren’t ever on my list.  There is nothing finite about our usual food situation.  I think if we were doing this more than one week, negotiating the little food we have could possibly affect our relationship.  Because then it wouldn’t be about pudding.  It would be about who receives our even more limited supply of fresh protein and vegetables.  It’s about getting enough food to feel full (and not cranky).

In other news…

I just looked at my nutrient intake for the day.


I already feel bloated from all the sodium.  The Vitamin C count means I’m bound to get a nasty cold.  The B vitamins are so low that I’m not sure how I’ll have the energy to do anything this week.

And this has only been one day.  And I’m only doing this for one week.  And there are people who have no choice but to eat Beefaroni and Kraft Dinner all the time, with no end in sight.

Not having the option of purchasing healthy, nutritious food is exactly whatPut Food in the Budget is trying to address.  They are asking the Ontario Government to add $100 to social assistance payments for people to have the option of buying healthier food.

Please check out their website.

Agency and choice are absolutely essential to human dignity.

And, I suppose, the ability to buy more pudding cups if you want them.