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Aftermath: the work continues

Public interest and support for the Do the Math campaign has surpassed our wildest dreams.  The Stop Community Food Centre have been contacted by hundreds of business, community and faith leaders in our neighbourhood and across the province, as well as students and professions who are moved by the issues and want to get involved.

If you or your organization is interested in replicating Do the Math as a way to begin addressing issues of hunger and poverty in your community, please contact “civicengagment – at –”

If you or your organization would like to attend the Do the Math Wychwood Working Group meetings, or would like more information on the group, please contact “ash – at –”


Andrea Curtis: Hope

The Do the Math town hall meeting on Tuesday night was exciting. It was interesting to hear the other participants talk about their experience (remarkably similar to our own) but, for me, the really thrilling part was afterward when Nick asked the 300-strong crowd to divide up into breakout groups and come up with suggestions about how to move forward on this issue.

Frankly, I was skeptical that it would work—I thought that after an hour of talk most people would run for the hills—but three quarters or more of the crowd stuck around and spent 15 minutes talking in groups of 10 about how to change the world. Or at least how to bring attention to the inadequacies of social assistance in Ontario.

There were passionate retirees and articulate young people, people on social assistance and middle class types from the neighbourhood. They offered up ideas from creating community action groups to bringing social assistance recipients into classrooms to break down prejudice and preconceived notions about welfare to spreading the Do the Math campaign across the province. (There will be another, more hand’s-on meeting in 2 weeks to develop the ideas further—check this site for details.)

The level of engagement and passion people brought to the issue was inspiring and made me feel very hopeful that change is possible.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, food connects us all. It is an incredible tool to bring people together and, when used for this purpose, to break down inequalities.

Congratulations to the organizers for putting together such an excellent, well-thought-out campaign, and for creating such a hospitable space to engage with this important issue.

Town hall a huge success!

Thank you everyone who came out and packed barn 2 on Tuesday evening! It was exhilarating to be among all of you and to have these important conversations about how our communities are moving forward to fight poverty in Ontario. 

Thank you to all participants for your insightful comments, and to Nick Saul for moderating the discussion. Thank you Rose and Nic of LAL for opening up the evening with your music (see!  Thanks to all Stop staff and volunteers for your part in making the evening a beautiful success.

Please stay tuned for more photos and videos from the evening, as well as information about our next steps. 


Mihevc family’s last day on the Do the Math “diet”

Today’s breakfast was the last breakfast that we had following the exercise. We had practically no food left, except for a bit of oatmeal (enough for one person), and coffee for Rosalee and me. We thought of making flatbread again but felt that enough was enough (especially since the peanut butter ran out), and that we were close enough to lunch time, when we were breaking the diet.

The feeling in the home was frankly one of jubilation. We are so happy for two reasons: first, we made it to the end abiding by the rules of the exercise. We were hungry throughout the week but persisted. My daughters were proud that they made it, and we were proud of them for their determination and ability to stick with it. Secondly, we were happy because we could almost taste the fruit and vegetables that we planning to eat for lunch. Rosalee bought a lot of fruit yesterday and the girls stuffed their bags with it today. I’ve lost 6 lbs, which is a good thing.

At breakfast we talked about how sweet it was for us to enjoy the break, knowing though that for many this exercise is their life and they cannot get off the treadmill. 

There is a lot of thinking going on in my household on food, our family, who eats and doesn’t in our world, and social injustice. Our family will never look at the folk going into the drop-in for a meal the same again. This was a powerful exercise for us as a family, and frankly I am grateful that my daughters were a part of the challenge. It was a great learning experience for them, sensitizing them to the wider world and its inequalities. I for one want my children to be sensitized to pain of others in Toronto and not just its blessings.

There are a whole host of insights and thoughts I have around doing this on a broader scale. There is nothing like the experience of hunger, of walking in other’s shoes, even for a short time, to clarify and discipline the mind around what is important in our city. I want to work with others to broaden the experience for other families. I do believe that when middle class families like ours take up the challenge, that it will help to build the political and social momentum necessary to better our governments’ and society’s response.

Lastly, we are grateful to The Stop for opening our eyes, and more importantly for being there. Community organizations that work for and with the poor in our community, that advocate on their behalf are heroes in this story. How they do it every day and not burn out or get mega-angry at governments and the pace of societal change is remarkable.

Naomi’s final entry before the town hall

We made it to Sunday night, barely. Avi had nine meals of the stew. I had more trouble with its (lack of) edibility so moved onto a batch of hummus we made from the chickpeas. But we had the same problem as Anand: no tahini so it tasted like cement. And only a few carrots left to dip with.

What we kept finding is that it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are, we didn’t have the ingredients for a single recipe. By Friday I was really struggling to find foods I could eat with all my diet restrictions. I still had tomato sauce and tuna, so could make a pasta sauce — but I didn’t have any pasta because I had to turn down the wheat pasta at The Stop. So on Saturday I broke down and used a bag of my own brown rice pasta. Avi stuck with the stew. So the truth is I fell off before Sunday.

Avi just finished a mini-documentary for Al Jazeera English about the joblessness crisis in the U.S. and the theme of the piece is that, in an economy based on consumption (as opposed to manufacturing), not being able to consume makes you an exile in your own land (see One thing I found about trying to stay on the diet is that I really didn’t want to do much of anything out of the house, because I knew I’d get hungry and not be able to eat. So I opted to stay home much more than I usually do.

Yesterday I had a huge plate of green salad and it was kind of glorious. I appreciated it so much. I’m left feeling very grateful to The Stop community for allowing us to have this experience, which was both solitary and collective because we knew others were doing it as well, and we know that we are working towards a clear goal: social assistance levels that allow everyone in Ontario to live in health and dignity.

See you at the town hall tonight.

Town Hall tonight at Wychwood Barns at 7PM

Join us at a community town hall this evening at Wychwood Barns, 601 Christie St, just south of St. Clair at 7pm.  Come hear the participants’ experiences and strategize ways to continue to put pressure on the provincial government to address woefully inadequate social assistance rates.  Light snacks and refreshments will be provided.  We hope to see all of you there!

Map of the barns here  If taking the TTC, you can take the 512 St. Clair streetcar to either Christie or Artscape Wychwood Barns stop. The 126 Northbound bus from Christie subway station will drop you off right in front of the building.  Please note there is no onsite parking,supporting the environmental sustainability of the building’s LEED certification.  Please be advised parking in the general vicinity is very limited.  If you choose to drive, there are two Green P parking lots (see map below).  There is also meter parking on St. Clair Avenue.


Andrea Curtis: The big cave


With no milk, no eggs, no vegetables and a can of soup left, we caved on Saturday night and gave up on our welfare diet experiment. We went back and forth on it, wondering if we were throwing in the towel too early – we could have had a small bowl of soup for dinner, after all, and there were enough corn flake peanut butter balls for breakfast….

But after two days at the provincial basketball finals (Nick as coach, our eldest son playing and the rest of us cheering – loudly) we were headachey and hungry and too exhausted to discuss any more. I felt a bit ashamed – until, that is, I began to gorge on crackers and cheese. I was desperate to fill my maw as quickly as possible – to eat and eat and eat.  Just because I could. I have craved flavour, savouriness, real, chewy taste, and the delicious cheese, crunchy crackers, savoury baba ghanoush and hummus really hit the spot.

I had to force myself to stop, worried about feeling sick after eating  little this week.

But though I’m no longer hungry (and the headaches have subsided), I continue to feel ashamed. Being able to quit the experiment so easily is a startling reminder of the great privilege we have compared to those we are attempting to show solidarity with, and, as a result, a reminder of the terrible inequities in our society. People on social assistance can’t just pack it in because they’re tired and bored of the same old soup or had a really tough weekend. They have no choice.

And choice is the thing I keep coming back to. Losing the ability to make choices about how I live and eat, how I socialize, where and how I go where I go was by turns depressing, disheartening and isolating.

I don’t really mean the ability to make choices as a consumer (although that, of course, is the first thing lost by someone living in poverty), instead, this lack of choice goes much deeper. Partly, it’s because food isn’t like other consumer goods – you don’t absolutely need a TV or nail polish, whereas food is essential, a basic need, and not being able to have any say in what/how much you eat feels like being striped of something equally essential. It feels like losing freedom, it feels like losing yourself. It made me feel enervated, sad and trapped.

I’ve been careful all week when I talk to people not to overdramatize my experience Doing the Math. I know it’s an experiment and a stunt and it’s not some magic wand that gives me deep insight into what it’s like to live on social assistance week after week, month after month. But I do feel like I have a more emotional understanding of some of the challenges.

I also have an even greater respect and admiration for people on social assistance – like many of those in The Stop’s inspiring Bread and Bricks advocacy group – who manage to find deep reserves of strength and dignity, speaking up and fighting back, despite living in extremely difficult circumstances.

Finally, this experience has left me feeling even more profoundly (and, I think, constructively) angry about our inadequate response to poverty and hunger in this province. Over and over this week I found myself trying to explain to people that the food bank hamper isn’t just a supplement to an already stocked fridge, it is the only thing many people have to eat after paying rent – and despite the best efforts of non-governmental organizations like The Stop, it’s inadequate to boot.

It is not just wrong that social assistance fails to meet basic needs and leaves people hungry, isolated, depressed and unhealthy, it is immoral.

I hope this project and the ongoing work of the Do the Math team will also inspire others to reassess what they think they know about social assistance and to challenge our society and our government to provide adequate supports (based on real life costs) to those in need.

Dr. McKeown’s final entry

Monday: Went to a drop in center at a downtown church for a meal.  No sign of the event at the church – perhaps I have the time or location wrong, or perhaps it is a seasonal program.  Disappointing, since my last drop in meal was a big boost to both my diet and my spirits.  I have a couple of eggs left, so I go home to make an omelet for dinner.  Looking ahead to the last day, I have kept a banana from my last drop in meal which I can eat for breakfast, and just enough left over stew for lunch to make it to the dinner event which marks the end of the week.  Rationing my food has allowed me to eat daily for the week, but I have been hungry and low on energy most of the time, and have lost weight more quickly than is healthy.

I can live on this diet for a week, but it is clearly not healthy in the long run, particularly for growing children and people who need the stamina for work or searching for work.

Toronto Star: What’s it like to live on food bank fare?

Ten people asked to live on food-bank rations for one week



 Photo cred: David Cooper, Toronto Star

For the past week, 10 prominent Torontonians have been living on food bank rations from the Stop Community Food Centre to experience life on social assistance and to raise awareness about Ontario’s low welfare rates. (A single person on welfare gets a maximum of $585 per month.) The Stop wants Queen’s Park to introduce a $100 healthy food supplement for every adult on welfare. For more visit Stop’s “Do the Math” website .

The challenge ends Tuesday at 7 p.m. with a town hall meeting at the Wychwood Barns where participants will discuss their experiences.

Read the full article here and read all other media coverage here

Lori Stahlbrand (Wayne Roberts’ partner) on feeling anger and the family’s struggle with Do the Math


Well, it’s Saturday afternoon and we’re out of food. The only thing left is a few spoonfuls of peanut butter. Each of us missed at least one meal to make the food stretch a little longer. Our big luxury of the week was dinner last night when we used 3 potatoes and 3 onions with 2 cups of milk and a couple of teaspoons of flour to make scalloped potatoes, with one hotdog each and black tea. In order to have enough milk to make the scalloped potatoes, we drank our decaffeinated tea black all week. We used the milk sparingly on our instant oatmeal each morning. The pasta we made for dinner on the first night (with a bag of elbow macaroni, a can of tomato sauce and a can of tuna) was also what we had for lunch every day because we could put it in plastic containers and take it to work and school. Most of the food was pretty tasteless. The canned vegetables were the worst – hardly even recognizable as vegetables, overcooked and over-salted.

I had a choir practice on Wednesday night, where there is always a delicious snack brought by one of the choir members. This Wednesday was no exception, but I didn’t allow myself to have any. I felt anger welling up in me as I watched my friends eat, and thought about all the times in a day a person might walk by a restaurant window or an outdoor patio and see people laughing and eating, knowing she would never sit in their place. I also realized how not having money for food limits social interaction. At choir, it’s assumed that we can all afford to take our turn to bring a snack for everyone. Of course, the snack coordinator would be understanding if someone couldn’t afford it, but it would be awkward and embarrassing to have to ask for special treatment.

Anger is something I’ve been feeling a lot this week.  I work on food issues every day at Local Food Plus. I know that we have the lowest food prices in the world in Canada – so low that many of our farmers can’t make a decent living and are themselves in poverty – and yet people go hungry because they can’t afford to buy food. Lowering food prices isn’t the answer.  Our food prices should reflect the true cost of producing food in this country – including paying farm workers fair wages and using environmentally responsible production methods. But it’s an outrage that people go hungry in the midst of plenty. That’s why I support The Stop’s campaign to raise the food allowance for people on social assistance!