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Archive for the ‘do the math’ Category

When people asked me about the challenge this time last week, I said things like “It won’t be easy, but I’m sure I’ll make it” or “It’s not the quantity I’m worried about, it’s the quality.” Truth be told, deep down I didn’t think I’d have that much trouble making my food last.

In fact, there were parts that I was secretly looking forward to. I used to beg by mom for Kraft Dinner at lunchtime. One summer, I ate PB sandwiches almost everyday. And instant oatmeal? I kinda like it.

But when I think back to my childhood, every KD meal had a salad beside it. Each PB sandwich had an apple. Even instant oatmeal was nutrient-ed up with sliced fruit and nuts. And that, I now realize, makes all the difference.

So rewind to Thursday evening at dinnertime. I was in Stratford after a day of travel and meetings that had been plagued with a lack of focus and a grumbling stomach. I’d gone from constipation one day to diarrhea the next — my stomach’s way of thanking me for the carb-only diet I’d been providing. And when I sat down to a tupperware dinner of KD, it was all I could do to stop myself from both crying and vomiting on the spot.

The point had been driven home. This simply is not the kind of food that anyone should have to live off of. And so I quit.

I’ve learned a lot through this experience — about trying to get enough vitamins and nutrients; about the isolation that comes from not being able to share food with others; about the myriad of physical issues that can arise from just a few days without fresh veggies. But Thursday’s dinner surfaced one more important issue.

When I told my host, the wonderful Ruth Klahsen from Monforte Dairy, that I needed “real food” she knew just where to take me. A quick look at the menu for Down The Street Restaurant put me at ease. Within minutes I was biting into an organic arugula-walnut-beet-feta salad (the feta was made by Ruth herself!) with roasted red pepper soup to come. As the nutrients hit my blood stream, I started thinking about cost. This meal alone cost more than the week’s hamper that I had bought on Sunday. This seemed completely outrageous. But then I thought back to the conversations I’d had all day — about the economic reality of the farmers that provided most of the food on my plate. Many of them are living in poverty too, as industrial agriculture soars and the price of food falls.

This week has reinforced the complexity of these issues. It’s reminded me that poverty exists in our fields as well as our cities. It has helped me crack open my eyes – if just a bit – to the realities of hunger and mal-nourishment. It has filled my mind with a flurry of thoughts about the broken nature of our food system.

But more than all that, it has instilled in me the need to not let this campaign end here. And I hope you feel the same way too.

This week I’ll be back to the usual 52 Projects posts … stay tuned to hear about a weekend of soap making! And thanks for all the thoughts, comments and support about the Do The Math campaign!

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a thought before bed

Alongside feeling hunger this week, I’m learning about it.

To be fair, this is part of my job and happens constantly. But these past few days, the learning has been particularly poignant.

I was visited today by a group from Shawanaga First Nations, near Parry Sound, Ontario. Food insecurity is vast in their area, with the nearest affordable food outlet being a $40 cab ride away — each way! As one woman explained, their hope is to return their community back to how it used to operate – self-sufficiently.

The conversation was truly inspiring. Their healing centre ran a program this fall that brought youth into the woods where they learned to hunt. Other nearby communities have had successes in buying tracts of land and turning them into sources of food and revenues. And certainly, their excitement around the idea of Community Food Centers was incredible.

Despite all this, I left the conversation troubled.

Excitement like both theirs and mine is both wonderful and vital, and I certainly don’t want to underscore its importance. But it’s born out of a great need. A need created from generations of inequity across the map. And I can’t help but feel that these issues — of hunger, poverty, etc. — shouldn’t just be the responsibility of a small group of concerned individuals. It should be our collective responsibility. And moreso, it needs to be the responsibility of our governments.

So as I go to bed tonight, tummy still rumbling but soul full of a fiery desire for change, I think about this: how do we tackle these issues collectively, and how do we insist that the government join in too?

(As a total aside, I was humbled and excited to see a little write up that appeared in a Toronto Star blog today about 52 Projects! Check it out here, and follow along with Emily’s adventures of learning about survivalism in the city. Thanks Emily!)

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Day 1 – 7:30pm, en route back from Windsor

 

Number of kilometers traveled: 700

Unemployment Rate in Windsor: 15.9%

Number of hours spent in meetings: 5

% increase in food bank usage in Windsor from 2006-2009: 242%

Total calories consumed: 1200

Number of glasses of water drunk while others ate food at restaurant-based meeting: 3

 

I’m hungry. I’m cranky. And all I can think about is food.

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No Frills.

I got up early this morning and went to No Frills.

Now, I have a little confession here: I live a 3-block walk from this giant store, which dons the slogan “lower food prices”, but this is the first time I’ve ever shopped there. My weekly food routine usually involves bulk food stores, farmers markets, food co-ops, collective dinners, butchers, bakeries, health food stores… the list goes on. Very rarely do I step into a one-stop-shopping grocery store. This is but one of many realizations that I’ve had in the last 24 hours about the extent of my privilege around food.

I should also confess that grocery shopping is one of my all-time favourite activities. I love meandering through produce aisles seeing what’s ripe; I love chatting to food experts about how to best use these ingredients to create tasty dinners; I love picking up things I’ve never cooked with and experimenting…

Today, though, I hated it.

My food for the week.

As I walked through the long, neon-lit aisles of “food”, I felt awful. My usual choices of whether to buy local or organic were replaced by questions of what cost the least. Every decision — from buying a dozen non-free-range eggs to a package of instant, non-fair-trade coffee — challenged my personal food philosophies. Soon I found my cart weighed down with pounds of packaging and preservatives instead of nutrients and vitamins.

I felt ashamed when I got to the cash, my inner voice wanting to explain to the cashier why I was buying tinned vegetables instead of fresh ones. And then I felt ashamed for feeling ashamed. As a food activist, I advocate for healthy food for all, but today I realized just how far there is to go to achieve this lofty ideal.

I felt small. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like crap.

And the week hasn’t even started.

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In preparation…

Saturday morning.

I wake early to a city enveloped in fog. Through my own foggy mind, I go through familiar motions – grind the coffee beans, boil the water, blend the smoothie.Today’s morning sustenance consists of organic yogurt, local pears and over ripe bananas. Through my morning daze, I realize that none of these ingredients will be on my grocery list for the coming week.

Once the caffeine jolts me awake, it’s off to start the day. Stop #1 – The Wychwood Barns Farmers Market.

As I pedal up Christie Street, I feel energetic and alive. My legs pump me up the hill, the air is crisp in my lungs, and I relish in the fact that I’m zipping by cars stuck in traffic. At the top I meet Danielle, and we head inside.

It’s not until we stop to talk to a vendor that I remember that in 48 hours, we’ll both be eating from our food bank hampers only. The long lines of crisp produce — all locally and organically grown — aren’t for us this week. This one realization makes the whole interaction – centered around buying food for the week — fruitless.

Eventually, we decide to order something from The Stop Cafe. Alex makes us his famous fritata sandwiches, and for a moment, my tastebuds are in heaven. As we chew, Danielle and I talk about the coming week — how difficult we expect this challenge to be, not just from a physical perspective, but socially. We both have a week filled with professional and social interactions, most of which will revolve around food. At least it will be a good platform for conversing about the challenge, we decide.

Eventually it’s time to leave and I bike off — legs strong, belly full, ready to zip over to the other end of town.

Stop #2: Holy Oak Cafe.

I’m meeting Mike here today – an old university friend who I haven’t seen in years. I had originally hoped to meet up with him this coming week, but then remembered Do The Math. Every social interaction I could think of for “catching up” with him involved either food or drink. So instead we meet today, over apple-beet-ginger juice and a hot pot of toasted almond tea.

As I tell him about the challenge, he asks about hosting.

“If you have people over, will you serve them tuna and kraft dinner?”

In my head, I think to myself, “Share? There’s hardly enough food for me in this hamper. As if I’d be sharing.” And with this comes realization #2. My life revolves not only around food-based social interactions, but also hosting. Whether it’s group brunches or meetings, tea with friends or big dinner parties, one of my favourite acts is having people over and sharing food with them. Not only do I not want to do this next week, I won’t be able to in order to have enough food for myself.

The rest of my day continues like this, with two more social occasions based around food planned.  And in reality, the rest of my weekend, year and life will be the same. I will likely never go hungry. I will continue to socialize around food. I will grow, consume, cook, and serve food, every day of every year that I live.

For the coming week, though, I won’t. And instead will meditate on what it means to have this privilege, and live in a world where so many don’t have these luxeries.

As for now, I’m running late for afternoon tea.

Read more about the Do The Math Challenge on our website, and follow others experiences on our blog.

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Doing the Math

Friends! Hello. It’s Elizabeth here.

Ah it’s good to be back. And hard to believe a month has just flown by. I’ve so enjoying reading Chris’s posts (isn’t my sister awesome?), and after a wee break am so pumped to be back blogging again.

I should say though, as much as I was hoping to take a month “off”, there hasn’t been a shortage of DIY-ing in my life. Three weeks ago, my friend Darrell spent an evening with a group of us, learning to spin wool and make lib balm (so fun! posts to come!!) while making a radio piece about 52 Projects, to air soon on Radio Netherlands! Two visioning sessions took place with folks from The Otesha Project to start a wonderful collective quilting project. And the knitting machine (ie my hands) have been at it, producing a pair of leg warmers and arm warmers and 2 winter hats!

Needless to say, there will be lots of great posts coming up. But before I get back into the How Tos, I wanted to take a moment to talk about something a little different.

I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I’m now working for an incredible organization called The Stop Community Food Centre. The Stop started 30 years ago as one of North America’s first food banks. Over the past 10-15 years, it has transformed into much more than that. We’ve worked to enhance the quality of our emergency food services, while offering a host of other food-related programs – from community gardens and kitchens, to after school programs for youth, from low-income and farmer-driven markets to peri-natal nutrition programs.

There’s also an amazing piece of work that happens around civic engagement and community advocacy. Included in this is the “Do The Math” challenge, and next week I’m taking part in a unique way.

Before I get into the challenge, though, let’s just hear the facts:

Right now in Ontario, a single person on social assistance gets $585/month to live.

$585! Take a minute to think about that. I personally could barely cover my rent — a small basement in a house in Toronto’s west-end — with that money, let alone pay for food, phone/internet, transportation, etc.

The point of the Do The Math challenge  (which is part of a provincial campaign, “Put Food In The Budget“) is to highlight the inadequacies of social assistance in Ontario, especially related to food.

Food is a flexible budget item — one that isn’t fixed each month, and where decisions to eat cheaper food, or even skip meals, are often made. This is why places like food banks opened up in the 70s and 80s. But here the thing: they weren’t  supposed last. They were created as a temporary measure in the midst of a recession. 30 years later, there are hundreds across Canada, and in Ontario, they serve up to 374,000 people each month (40% of whom are children)!

This, in my mind and the minds of the thousands who have taken part in this challenge, has to change.

Starting on Monday, as part of this challenge, 100 youth in Toronto are living for a week off of a typical food bank hamper (which is meant to provide 3 days worth of food – but many end up stretching it out for a week out of necessity), to raise awareness about these issues and pressure the Ontario government to raise social assistance rates by $100.

So along with posts about spinning wool, quilting and knitting up a storm, I’ll be sharing my thoughts here.

Want to know more? Check out the Put Food In the Budget website, read our collective blog posts, come to our rally, and follow us on twitter.

And for those who are curious what a single person’s food bank hamper typically consists of, here’s the list:

Single person

  • 2 boxes Kraft Dinner (or substitute extra rice if gluten-intolerant)
  • 3 juice boxes
  • 3 single-serving-size scoops dry rice
  • 2 small cans soup
  • box of dry cereal or 3 packages instant oatmeal
  • any TWO of: 175 g tin of tuna, chicken or turkey; small jar peanut butter; 3 eggs
  • 2 small cans of tinned vegetables, or 1 tin vegetables and 1 fruit
  • 1 potato
  • 1 onion
  • 1 can plain beans or chickpeas, or 1 can pork and beans
  • 3 granola bars or 3 fruit chews
  • 1 quart milk
  • 1 loaf bread (or substitute extra rice)

In solidarity,

Elizabeth

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