Raise the Rates, a poverty advocacy group based in Vancouver, is challenging B.C. politicians and citizens to eat on $26 per week for one week in October.
The Welfare Food Challenge is aimed at raising awareness about inadequate welfare rates in the province. Last year, NDP MLA Jagrup Brar took on a Raise the Rates challenge to live on $610 for a whole month, and reportedly lost 26 pounds in the process. This year, the group is challenging more people to do just one week on the "welfare diet."
Organizers calculated the food budget based on the $610 that a single person on welfare receives, minus rent and the necessities required to look for a job.
After spending $425 on rent, $20 on a damage deposit, $21 on bus tickets, $25 on a basic cell phone service, and $10 on personal hygiene, a single person on welfare would have $109 per month, or roughly $26 per week (since some months are more than 28 days), to feed themselves.
The challenge starts on Oct. 16, World Food Day, and ends Oct. 23. This morning six people involved in food and social justice issues in the city announced their intention to take up the challenge.
Paul Taylor, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.
Constance Barnes, Vancouver Park Board Commissioner.
Colleen McGuire, registered dietician and author of The Cost of Eating in British Columbia report.
Brent Mansfield, co-chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council.
Trish Garner, community organizer with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.
Ted Bruce, executive director of population health with Vancouver Coastal Health.
As part of the challenge, they have been asked not to accept food from friends or neighbours, not to access food banks or other food charities, and not to use items that may already be in their pantries or freezers.
Each of the participants cited different reasons for taking the challenge, and what their particular concerns are. Barnes said her regular vitamin regime will be out the question, while Taylor said he will miss the social aspect of shared meals most.
"I've blocked out my social life for that week," said Mansfield.
Bruce noted that public health research overwhelming shows that people living in poverty have worse health, not just because of nutrient deficiencies, but because of the stress that comes with being food insecure.
"It's not just the individual we're worried about, it's the health care system," he said.
Raise the Rates spokesperson Jean Swanson said that letters are being sent out to MLAs today, but that they are encouraging everybody to take the challenge.
"We hope the challenge will help everyone understand about the damage of poverty and that the government should increase welfare," said Swanson.
Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.