Day 7 – Gratitude and Rage

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Someone asked me the other day “What’s the main emotion you’re feeling through the challenge?”… and all I could come up with was rage. It’s not a fuming from the ears kind of rage, but rather a more subdued but ever-present rage. A pit of the stomach rage against systemic oppression.. yeah, that’s probably it.

It enrages me that we have a system of social “support” that buries people in the never ending stresses of scarcity. It enrages me that it’s not a societal norm to care for one another (and I know I fall into this apathy often as well). It enrages me that as a society, we value wealth and economic growth over health and social well being. The concept of trickle down economics is bullshit, and I’m raging over our collective inability to face this reality.

This week has also stirred up a lot of curiosity and bewilderment. How do we move people to care about supporting the most marginalized in our society? How are we so disconnected from human suffering? How can we move the needle through conversations and dialogue? How do we best affect the systems change that’s needed?

My experience through this week has been steeped in great privilege. All around me I have security – housing, employment, social supports, savings. Throughout the week I had caring people in my community cheering me on, giving me kudos and offering to help. I am incredibly grateful for everyone’s interest, participation and support. A co-worker’s email struck me as particularly apt – “I was going to say what an amazing thing for your to do and then I thought about the many people for whom this is a reality every day”. I had reservations about participating in the challenge as a very privileged person. I still worry about how to make my participation not about me, but to focus it on the change that’s needed. My co-workers response gave me some hope that the Welfare Food Challenge does bring the intended awareness to a broad audience through personal relationships and conversations.

As another friend said “There is always guilt and outrage when you hear the numbers, but to have it happen to one you care about takes it to another level.”

I think this is the work. Well, some of the work. I believe that the work of progressive social change needs to happen through many actions, with different skills sets and approaches. The piece I’m committed to is the work of better connecting with each other, so we can see our shared humanity and the responsibility we have to care for one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 6 – Nearly there

Today, with the end of the challenge in sight, I know that I will complete the challenge. But completing it isn’t really “winning” . It’s been a terrible experience. It feels like the welfare challenge has moved in and cast a shadow on the week… like things have been darker, foggier. I feel more removed from the person who I am – I feel distracted, drained and depleted.

Today I’ve shifted to a more reflective mode. I’m thinking about the beginning of the week where I felt great fear about hunger and skipped a couple of meals. I hoarded the vegetables, the flavourful items for fear that I wouldn’t make it through, that more desperate times were ahead. There’s a very real impact of scarcity at play, and it started immediately. My scarcity-driven behaviour can ease up now that I’m approaching the end of the challenge.. but for folks on welfare there’s no “end” of the challenge. Our welfare rates trap people in a cycle of poverty where escaping is incredibly difficult.

It’s beyond time to raise the rates, and invest in a comprehensive poverty reduction plan.

Please write your MLA here.

Day 5 – the day hope came in the form of canned tomatoes

I woke up this morning and I wasn’t sure I could make it through to the end of the challenge. The thought of more beans with margarine and rice made me feel queasy, and my stomach pains from yesterday had left their mark. I could feel my body trying desperately to catch up with the sharp curveball I’ve thrown it. Things were feeling pretty dismal.

Then I saw the can of tomatoes that I had yet to open, and things seemed more hopeful. I am so desperate for veggies…. for flavour, for nutrition.

I made the most delicious thing I’ve made yet on this challenge.

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4 whole ingredients, flavour from the onions, salt from the can of tomatoes. I gobbled up a watered down bowl with much excitement.

I will be trying to extend this meal through the next few days to keep me going. It’s been a tiny reminder of the pleasures of food – something that’s been nearly absent through the challenge. I have started to see food as an obstacle, as an item on the task list. I’m excited to get back to the pleasures of food. I’m also deeply saddened that our welfare rates deprive people of so much, including the simple pleasure of food.

Take action and write our Premier and Minister of Social Development and Poverty reduction. A template letter, and instructions can be found here.

 

Day 4 – My body hates me

I have had recurring sharp pains in my stomach from last night to this evening. My body is not pleased. I thought opting for higher cal, processed foods would be what I would want and need. I feared going hungry. I didn’t realize the different kind of hunger and pain that comes from putting lower-quality food in your stomach. So much starch, so little nutrition.

I feel like garbage. I’ve been constantly distracted by the sharp needle-like pains in my stomach which has taken away from what was otherwise a lovely social day. I went to the movies with a few co-workers, one of whom is also on the Welfare Food Challenge and I recognized the comfort of camaraderie through this kind of an experience. I felt stronger with her presence, and appreciated the opportunity to commiserate, share successes and challenges.

It was 3:30 when the movie finished, I had rushed out of the house earlier without thinking about bringing food for lunch. The headache of hunger descended and it felt like it took all my remaining energy to make it through the social interactions after the movie. Once I made it home and got two bowls of noodles/rice and beans in me, the fog and pain subsided and I was able to be a social being again.

I have cheated/treated myself to hot tea once, and a couple alcoholic drinks. The warmth of the tea had a much needed soothing effect…. as did the alcohol.

The absurdity of our social support system is being highlighted and underlined again and again through this experience. It’s absurd to think this is an ok way for us to support the most marginalized of our community. It’s absurd to think that anyone can think beyond survival given this meagre sum every month. It’s a terrible trap of poverty, and there’s a simple solution. We need to raise the rates.

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I’m grateful for, but oh so sick of beans and rice.

 

Day 3 – it doesn’t add up

 

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smushy carbs

Today I’m reflecting about nutrition. There are literally zero green things in my diet this week. On one of my many lists earlier in the week, I had hoped to be able to buy a bunch of kale for a bit of nutrition, but calorically it didn’t make sense. I’m even second guessing the $2 cabbage I bought.. though I am really looking forward to the sauerkraut I made!

My body is really craving veggies… and fruit. This week has been a sharp turn from my usual diet of heaps of veggies, lots of interesting flavours and delicious carbs. My welfare diet has featured no veggies or flavour, and increasingly unappetizing smushy carbs. Comparing my current diet to the one suggested by Canada’s Food Guide (big problems with that food guide aside):

Category                                      Food Guide                                    Welfare Diet

Fruits &Veggies                                  8-10                                                      1

Grains                                                     8                                                         6

Milk & Alternatives                             2                                                         0

Proteins                                                 3                                                         2

 

.. So that’s 9/23.

39% – an abysmal test score.

I just can’t imagine what this adds up to for folks living this reality for much longer than a week. Or I guess I can – it looks like chronic illness, malnutrition and healthcare costs that we all pay for. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest in the health of our society in a preventative way? Say, by increasing the welfare rates to a liveable level?

An interesting video on the cost of poverty versus poverty reduction by the CCPA.

Even when I’ve finished a full bowl of beans and rice, I have a lingering empty feeling.. I’m hungry for a nutritious and balanced meal.

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What dreams are made of…

Day 2 – scarcity and abundance

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Today was a bit of a doozy. I had a headache starting shortly after I woke up which lasted most of today. And I don’t get headaches.. they’re very rare for me.  I was woozy and light headed, and felt like I was moving through the world in a bit of a hazy daze. I’m feeling the impacts of hunger sooner than I thought.

I did not plan my food well today or yesterday, and experienced the repercussions. I didn’t have time to cook the beans last night, or make the rice, so I planned on having a small serving of KD for lunch…. but I forgot it at home. A silly mistake where regularly I would just buy our community lunch meal at work and think nothing of it. Instead I ate the extra piece of bread from breakfast, with the half a banana I was saving for a snack, and a scoop from my jar of peanut butter which I am starting to cling to like an emergency flotation device. By the end of the day my productivity was waning and all I could think of was getting home to a rice and beans dinner.

Being hungry through the day made me recognize that food is everywhere! I caught myself glancing covetously at co-workers’ food, and at strangers walking by with a pizza box in their hands.

I attended a meeting this morning with some delicious looking pastries and fruit. I usually gobble these up even when I’ve already had breakfast, because I am a baked goods fiend. I resisted, and later thought about how very important it is to have a substantial food offering at events and meetings, especially when working with marginalized folks. I’d say we do a pretty good job of that in my work, but the importance has been underlined and I’ll be keeping it in mind as I make our budget for next year.

The day was buoyed by celebrating my dear colleague’s birthday. I made a bubble tea shaped cake, and we “showered her with love” with an off-the-cuff quasi installation art piece above her desk. I love baking for people.. it’s one of my forms of creative expression. If I were truly sticking to a welfare budget, this act of giving wouldn’t be available to me, or it would come at a great cost. Our welfare rate erodes not only our capacity to nourish ourselves, but also our ability to nourish our social bonds.

Much to learn through this experience.

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Day 1 – impossible choices

For the last few days, my mind has wandered worriedly to this challenge. What should I buy? How will I make it through? Will I be hungry? How can I stretch my $19 for the week? Should I value protein? Carbs? Flavour? It was an exhausting mental loop that I thought might subside once the purchases had been made, but no. Now I’ve moved on to.. how will I make this meagre amount of food last until next Wednesday!?

Today I started the Welfare Food Challenge, an awareness campaign aimed at building pressure for a long-overdue substantial increase in BC’s welfare rates. Currently, people living on welfare receive $710 to live on per month. I’m just going to give you a minute to let that one sink in…….. think about rent (period), then utilities, food, transit, clothes, cell phone, laundry, household supplies.. for a month. 

$710/month is shameful and absurd, no matter how you slice it.

Today at the Welfare Food Challenge launch I heard someone use the term “legislated poverty”, and I think the term is apt. We’ve got a social “safety” net that does not keep those caught in it safe. Rather, it exposes the most marginalized in our communities to inhumane living conditions and impossible choices. Our welfare, disability and minimum wage rates keep people in poverty.

My choices today at the grocery store were challenging (see above for my selection), and I am expecting this week to be unpleasant and tough. But the end of the week I get to go back to eating good nutritious food, and living a comfortable, privileged life. Whereas folks living on welfare live this reality day in, day out.

This challenge isn’t a challenge to be won. It’s more of an examination of what failure looks like. I’m most interested in using this challenge as a spark for dialogue within my community – at work, with friends and with family. I am hopeful with our new government we will get the comprehensive poverty reduction plan that this province desperately needs. But until then, we’ve got to keep the pressure on.

Take action with Raise the Rates.