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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.

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

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

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 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 http://bit.ly/dyG2W4 and read all other media coverage here http://dothemath.thestop.org/media.php

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

Whats_left_on_saturday_afterno

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!

 

Mihevc family pushes on, visits a drop-in

I am starting to receive many emails on the diet. It is provoking a good conversation and storytelling. People are focused on: the need for jobs that pay reasonably, the terrible fallout that will result when the special diet money gets cut, on their disability. One mentioned how she knows women who are resorting to illegal activities to get food for themselves. No one as yet has expressed negative feelings towards the poor; in fact virtually everyone so far has commented that they feel for the plight of those who are hungry. This is a hopeful sign, perhaps indicating that the war against the poor might be subsiding (here’s hoping!).

Rosalee and I went to the Drop In lunch at St Michael’s and All Angels. We were embarrassed to go in. We were very hungry but did not want to take food from others. A fight almost broke out and the police were called in. Someone had come in very drunk and was being disruptive. The volunteers at places like St Michael’s, Wychwood Open Doors and The Stop, as well as all the Out of the Cold volunteers are such good folk. They have a strong sense of compassion, are non-judgmental, and figure out how to make things work. The city would be a different place without them. I cannot remember city hall ever hosting an event to thank volunteers who help feed the poor and who advocate on their behalf. Note to self: we have to find a way to thanks these volunteers before the end of this term of Council. The other great thing about these meals is that it is good food with some real meat, and more often than not, folks are able to take home a doggie bag.

I bumped into a lot of people on the way home from the Drop In. A lot of people wanted to chat about the diet and so it took me a long while to make it home. It intrigues people. They often have a story to tell themselves either personal or some friend or family member. I guess that this was the purpose of the exercise and it is working. My hope is that these kinds of conversations lead to a political will that pushes governments to increase social assistance rates and reform. The stories must lead to a different politics.

We need to find a way to go big on this “Eat the Math”. So many people have either been on social assistance, or know of relatives, etc. Their compassion and solidarity is strong and real. Yet it is not organized into an effective political voice. There has to be a next steps here to broaden the conversation, build a movement of solidarity with those that struggle with hunger in our city.

Read the full entry here http://bit.ly/dcw6Nd

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Photo credit: Magda Olszanowski http://www.raisecain.net/

Dr. McKeown: desperation leads to caving in on Sunday

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Saturday:

My weight is down again this morning for a total loss of five pounds in five days.  For dinner today I throw most of my remaining food, including my few remaining vegetables,  into a pot to make a sort of stew, which I hope is enough to last me for a couple of days.  Because I’ve been rationing my food I still have a can of soup and a few eggs, but I’m probably going to have to visit another drop in for a meal before the end of the week.  Still feeling low on energy.

Sunday:

Just before lunch today I unexpectedly had to take an elderly family member to a hospital emergency room for urgent care. The visit lasts until late afternoon.  Unable to plan ahead for meals away from home, I find myself without food for most of the day.  Desperate, I buy a muffin at the hospital coffee shop to tide me over until supper.  Clearly this diet requires careful planning and does not allow for the unexpected – if I had not had money to buy food, I would have gone without.

Anand: reflections at the end of the “diet” and what we can do

If you have been interested in this campaign and want to make a difference, I feel that there are many things you can do:

Pressure the government to raise the rates for those in the unfortunate situation of having to rely on Social Assistance and Food Banks.

Pressure the government for greater subsidies for organic local farms and penalties for companies that create unhealthy food so it is no longer profitable for them to stay in business.

Buy local organic food as much as possible directly from farmers at farmers markets. Or check out the many companies, like my friend, Tony’s (www.wheelbarrowfarm.com) that deliver farm fresh products directly from the farm to community shared spaces for a number of months during the growing season.

Shop in small local stores, including bookshops, coffee shops and the like, instead of chain stores that take money out of communities and give nothing back. Pressure school boards to eliminate all processed and sugary food in vending machines and cafeterias.

Insist all advertisers who promote unhealthy food pay high taxes to help pay for the increased burden on the healthcare system to help those affected with diet-related illness.

And take the Do the Math challenge yourself.

Assume you have $100, no more, to spend on food for a month and go through the exercise of simply trying to survive. It will not be the same as someone on Social Assistance, but it will make you that much more aware of the challenges of drastically limited choice.

I debated when to stop this challenge. We were asked to go as long as we could with the hamper, intended for three days, but stretched by some on Social Assistance to last longer.

In the end, I ended the challenge with my mother’s food. I had imagined finishing with a meal prepared by my mother in a community setting to reinforce how much we all may already do that for each other and how we can work together to extend our notions of family and community to include everyone.

I didn’t stop for any of these reasons, though. I stopped because I was hungry and dizzy and malnourished. It was privilege that gave me fanciful thoughts of some poignant ending that I could choose for dramatic emphasis. But, the reality of hunger is not romantic or poetic.

Rose on living as an artist, political work and caving in

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Photo: Rose of LAL, Jason, The Stop's Communication Coordinator and Nic of LAL

it's been 4 days, and i am struggling

the last meal we made, made me feel ill, so much for peanut butter, yesterday's rice and cream of mushroom soup with a fried egg
i've been deeply affected by the food I am taking into my body. Have fought with food addiction issues and Bulimia (something that runs in my family), i've worked hard to eat better and take care of myself much more, sacrificing other niceties for better food choices.

This experience brings me back our earlier years as artists. With not having a lot of money and eating food that was not healthy but cheap. It was very hard to keep going, keep the relationship going and also to continue to pursue music. But we both committed to not letting our financial situation break us apart.

My whole body seems to be out of it. My mind is not steady and suffering from mild depression (on and off over my life), I feel very much affected by not eating well. Not having the choice to eat healthy food is also a hard thing, since i've worked so hard to try to eat better, to feel better.

We had lunch today the the Stop, and the food again was amazing.  Nic and I sat and ate together, and talked about how we were being affected. I was less upset then I was the first time attended but it's still a reality that I am processing. Everyday this world becomes more and more visible. I  am determined to do more regarding issues of poverty in Toronto. I come from Bangladesh, and I have witnessed intense poverty, going back and forth to Toronto, Kolkata and Dhaka, more and more I realize my privilege and access around not just food but everything.

I am thinking of all the political work that ties into lack of support around health and food. Lack of affordable housing, free education, inability of non – status communities  to access some of these programs, violence against women and children, youth incarceration, the destruction of environment and farms in Ontario etc…. If we could find a way to at least feed and house folks (no questions asked) then maybe it would be a start in mending some of the issues that intersect.

the lack of healthy food, a basic essential, affects your entire system. It can cause much more stress then we realize.

I was raised to cherish what I have, particularly the food I was provided with. I was lucky, not of all us are.

But with that said, there's nothing wrong with being poor, just something wrong with not being able to survive with dignity. We live in a society that demonizes poverty, it's not the people that have the problems, it's the system that is the problem.

For all those who believe that programs like these are not worth it or that it's a free ride, you should try not having for a week, or not being able to choose what you eat and where you live for some time. It's not even about that, it's just about making sure people are ok. It doesn't matter what the reasons are, people should be able to be at least ok.

After the 4th day, i caved in. I had popeyes. unhealthy food makes you crave even more unhealthy food. I have very little self control, this has made me realize that when you have little choice, especially if you have a family, you sometimes  have to have a lot of self control. But to keep it up day after day must prove difficult, impossible sometimes. I wish sometimes I was the 'celebrity' that had access, so that I had money and influence to create more change. But honestly I don't think that's the answer. All of us are just as important then the next person, regardless of where society places us on the ladder of success.  I just need to keep on doing what I do, working for social change and hope that things will get better.

I have much work to do to get back into my daily routine, but this time i am much more aware of the conditions that exist for many Torontonians. I have always been sensitive to these issues, and have dedicated my life to speaking to issues like these, through art. Now i have to figure out how to use my voice to do more, to unite with my community in the battle that lies ahead.