Put Food In The Budget

17 Aug

Happy Wednesday.
Continuing on with our food theme we thought we’d include a post from an old friend living in Toronto who participated in a ‘food bank diet trial’ back in November 2010…

Put Food in the Budget

by Nico on Mar 18, 2011 • 4:22 pm

In November 2010, I took part in the Do the Math campaign in Toronto – basically eating on a Food Bank diet for one week encouraging folks to Put Food in the (Provincial/Federal)Budget. Friend and life from scratch innovator Elizabeth Frasier sent out the invite and requested participants to write their reflections online – and I thought I would record it. The video captures my visit to Fort York Food Bank, cooking with my given food, touring The Stop Community Food Centre , and a discussion with the main organizer Mike Balkwill.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmVDIpV_q1c

As the video shows – I came to realise that the funds offered to those living on social assistance in Toronto were clearly not enough. According to the policy Food Banks in Toronto follow, someone living on social assistance with a rent of $400 (which is barely possible living in Toronto), could go to a Food Bank 3 times a month. But with each food hamper supposed to last 3 to 4 days, the rest of the week is spent looking for other official and unofficial food banks or soup kitchens around the city. As expected, the donations acquired by the Food Banks are made up of the foods many people do not want – almost expired foods and pre packaged canned starches were most common. I pointed out a innovative organization called The Stop Community Food Centre that hopes to address many of the challenges that face those dependent on social assistance in Toronto.
There were some moments that were not captured by the video:
  • Being diabetic, keeping to the food bank diet of starches was very difficult. A daily regimen of peanut butter and kraft diner spiked my sugars and I found myself preparing to quit many times throughout challenge .
  • I visited a soup kitchen on St.Clair, but chose not to record the participants. I spoke to many of those served and found a range of challenges and solutions:
    • The quantity of food was plentiful: soup and bread appetizer, coffee and a full plate of food – even some greens.
    • A creative writing class was planned for later that evening in conjunction with an evening meal
    • Everyone seemed to know of “the best” soup kitchens around town on any given day – as food banks are ony open certain days and hours. This added to the Food Bank Pub Crawl mentality I mention in the video.
    • Some members do not feel safe in the meal halls – with some drunk, drugged up and passed out. However, the majority of clients kept to themselves – I found most women were sitting together.
    • I also met a woman being served who was vegetarian. This raised some interesting questions related to how a social food service could be as inclusive as possible – or on the other side of the debate, should vegetarism be considered a right?
  • Many friends who tried the challenge eventually quit before the week’s end. The quotes from people feeling bad from the poor food were only a sample of longer conversations of those coming home from crying and in pain  from not having enough food that day.

The solution is a conversation worth having.

As Mike Balkwill explains, $100 is just the beginning. Food is linked to every social challenge we see – and from my experience, it is a worth while entry point into larger issues such as housing, education and health care.

There are still plenty of questions that lingered following the campaign: Would food stamps be a more effective solution? Who regulates the food bank infrastructure? Where can I put pressure? For the moment, I am keeping my ears and heart turned to local food advocacy groups in Toronto, especially Put Food in the Budget, The Stop, Local Food Plus and Push Food Forward – making sure that I keep my obligations towards an honest food support system moving.

-Nico

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