Spam is one of the first items that came to mind when I asked patrons about canned meat while they were waiting for a hamper. Most patrons believe canned meat such as spam is a mystery meat product, so they don’t often buy it. Subsequently after talking to a few people, I learned that I needed to expand the title of this staple food to canned meat AND FISH, which helped me learn how significant this food is to patrons accessing emergency food programs. This post on staple food is the fourth in a series on topics such as pasta, potatoes, rice and peanut butter.
“It makes me cry…it’s sad…but I appreciate having this program so I don’t have bare cupboards or a bare fridge.” – Single mom, 40s
Approximately half a can of meat or fish equals one serving of meats and alternatives based on Canada’s Food Guide recommendations. Canned meat and fish are one of the meat products our program is able to distribute in emergency food hampers because of donations that come to us from the Food Bank and from direct donations. Some other meat and alternative products that we frequently distribute in our food hampers are canned beans, peanut butter, and frozen meats. Canned beans, peanut butter and canned meat or fish are currently in the top four items most needed in food bank donations . Therefore supplies of these items are frequently very limited in the quotas for our hampers, if the food items are available at all.
“It’s hard when there’s not much food at home…I often just end up doing without.” – Single male, 40s
“Tuna is a fairly inexpensive staple. So it’s frustrating when I can’t afford it; especially when I have my kids! It’s demoralizing not to have a simple food like this.” – Father with 2 part-time children, late 30s
What happens when you lack the money to buy the foods you need or want at home and don’t get these foods at an emergency food program? Well, the most common response to this question by patrons is that they would be forced to live without it, which I think is heartbreaking. Canned meat and fish tends to be a cheaper alternative than fresh or frozen meat. Therefore this likely means that their diet would lack protein and other nutrients that meats often provide since hardly anyone I talked to could think of an alternative or substitute for canned meat.
”As a parent it’s really hard because you feel like you’re not providing well. Even if they won’t eat or don’t like it, you feel better when there’s something in the fridge or cupboards” – Single mother of two children, 30s
“It’s easy to have Kraft dinner and pork and beans at home but yuk! You really get sick of it. Even adding canned meat makes things better.” – Female, 40s
People who need to frequently visit any emergency food programs are often provided with the same general foods each visit such as pasta and Kraft Dinner, canned beans, soup, and rice. Eating the same types of food can get boring fast! Several patrons solve this issue by adding canned meat or fish to other staple foods that are available at home. By opening a can of meat or fish they find that it gives a regular dish a whole new taste. But the value of canned meat and fish is about more than taste. Including meat in almost every meal is very important to many patrons. Most said it didn’t even have to be an expensive cut of meat; they enjoyed having anything from a sausage to a can of beans to a chicken breast to a peanut butter sandwich. Having canned meat and fish at home helps patrons find a cost-efficient way to meet nutrition requirements when there is a limited amount of food available.
“Tuna and fish is such a good source of protein and it fills you up.” – Single female, 50s
“It’s hard not to have a lot of food. But I make sure I know my priorities: number one is that my rent is paid. Number two is that my son has a nutritious lunch.” – Mother, 40s
Many patrons appreciate receiving canned meat and fish in emergency food hampers as it’s a non-perishable type of meat that provides a similar degree of nutrition to fresh meat. Canned meat and fish typically lasts longer than fresh meat. Hence patrons have a bit more of choice as to when they use canned meat and fish to make a simple sandwich to send with their children to school or use in a dish to fill a dinner plate with. Therefore a lot of people try to stock up on canned meats when they have a little extra money or there is a sale. Canned meat and fish can be used creatively in dishes for a source of protein that will help the rest of their food stretch out until the end of the week or month when more money will be available.
“Not having canned meat or fish makes me feel like, not embarrassed, but I just wonder why I’m always struggling! It’s degrading to not be able to always get what I want.” – Single female, 50s
“To be honest I don’t buy (canned meat or fish) because I simply can’t afford it…sometimes I think about taking a bridge because it feels terrible…It’s tough to live on nothing – imagine living on $22 a month for food.” – Single male, 50s