Archive for the ‘Food Security’ Category

Planting A Seed: Starting A Conversation About Food Security And A Basic Income

September 16, 2015

Today we are happy to share some insight from Jen H, a local Food System’s Roundtable member and Public Health dietician.  This post is the start of a three part series on the significance of a Guaranteed Basic Income and connects it to discussions of hunger in Canada, and locally, here in Waterloo Region.

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A while back I attended a webinar about food security – or the lack thereof – in Canada. It was hosted by a well-known researcher on the subject, Valerie Tarasuk. I serve on the Food System’s Roundtable Food Access working group and thought the information presented in the webinar made some interesting points about accessing food in Canada, which may help form conversations around how to address the issue of food insecurity in Waterloo Region.

Food security is a complicated concept that touches on, and is affected by every aspect of the food system, human health and beyond. Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Many factors can affect one’s food security negatively or positively. (more…)

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How To Take Two Trips For The Price Of One

June 19, 2015

Museums like the ROM, different cities, camps and more are all great places to go on a school trip. Photo via Flickr user Grant MacDonald

One of the nice things about being a parent is the opportunity to accompany your child or children on a school trip: you get some insight into class room dynamics, spend some time with your child, and learn a bit about the environment in which they spend so much of their time.

At the end of the year, many classes organize school trips.  I remember these as great experiences to go outside of the community I grew up in, visit new places with my friends and have a lot of fun.

For the first part of this week, my co-worker at the Emergency Food Hamper Program, Raymond, was absent as he accompanied one of his children on an end of year trip.  As a result I stepped into his role a little more than I usually do, and coordinated the challenging and interesting job of receiving, organizing, inventorying and distributing the many food donations we receive.  This week was a little more challenging than others. (more…)

What Chickens And Bowling Balls Can Teach You About Food Drives

June 4, 2015

So you want to support your local food bank?

Great! We need your help. But first, a story.

Saturday Night Special

My grandfather was a preacher, usually at small rural churches in South Western Ontario. His “salary” was unpredictable, paid out of every fourth week’s offering–more like a stand-up comic’s than the wise and venerable shepherd of his flock. My grandparents were poor, and in obvious ways dependent on their congregation.

One Saturday night, as my grandma was finishing bathing her five children, a congregant arrived bearing gifts. More specifically, five old laying hens, no longer producing eggs but still, this congregant assured my grandmother, “good eating.” The hens were alive, and so my grandma had to kill them, unburden them of head and feathers, clean them, and bag them for the freezer.

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Shut Up and Take My Money, part three! (Or, why cash transfers aren’t a silver bullet for food banks)

May 13, 2015

I spent the first two parts of this series with a bit of existential navel-gazing about food banks: should we close them down and give people money instead? Wouldn’t that be more efficient, and less paternalistic? So far, my answer is an emphatic maybe. On the one hand, people can make their own food choices with cash, and a complicated and intrusive bureaucracy would disappear.  On the other hand, that same infrastructure allows us to turn small donations into large amounts of food assistance.

In Debt to China

Cash rules everything around us

This post is part three of three, and that being so, it is time to reveal my bold answers to previously intractable problems.

It is wrongheaded to hold up cash transfers as the solution. Celebrating wealth because it gives us more choice and appears to increase our freedom has only ever worked for a few, at a great cost to many; and, ultimately, makes it more difficult to imagine new ways of living together and caring for each other.

Give a woman a fish, and she eats for a day. Teach a woman to fish, we are told, and she can feed herself forever. Give a man a can of tuna, and he eats for a day. Give a man some cash, and he decides.

I’ve so far been considering which is better, but why must these be the only options? What if her boat has a hole in it? What if her ancestors polluted and overfished all the rivers? Why are all these people fishing by themselves, for themselves? The questions we ask, and how we ask them, limits the range of possible answers and how we imagine alternatives–or not. (more…)

Shut Up and Take My Money, part two! (Or, why cash transfers aren’t a silver bullet for food banks)

May 6, 2015

Should we scrap food banks and instead give people money? In the first part of this series I outlined–with the help of a couple recent articles–why we should just give money. Food banks are disrespectful, and paternalistic. At the very least, people should be able to choose what they put in their own bodies, right? Food banks are also inefficient, requiring so many trucks and warehouses and volunteers. Giving money instead of food is a good idea, but, Debbie Downer here, I think it’s still more complicated, and that we can still do better. In what follows I complicate the two criticisms of food banking: paternalism and inefficiency.

Food banks and charities are paternalistic?

First off, what’s wrong with paternalism? Paternalism means I substitute my judgement for yours, because I claim to know better. In some cases, we accept or welcome other people’s authority in this way. When I’m sick, I choose to go to the doctor, and I happily give up my decision making to her.

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However, part of what makes my life worth living is the feeling that I have more or less determined it for myself, or at least had a major say in most major decisions that affect me. Part of what it means to respect another human is to respect their ability to make decisions for themselves, and part of what it means to grow up is to ‘be allowed’ to make those decisions for yourself. This is true despite the fact that true ‘self-determination’ is a myth: we are social animals born into environments not of our choosing, constrained by the circumstances and histories that produced us. (more…)

Hunger Count 2015: A Local Preview

April 14, 2015

There, but for the grace of God, go I

Much to my mother’s chagrin, I can never remember how to ‘properly’ set a table and where to place forks and knives and all the assorted meal consumption equipment.

from elegantwoman.org

This, from elegantwoman.org is still no help

Now that I am older, I have a number of toddling children to coordinate and shepherd to the table, and as a result everything gets placed on the table in a largely haphazard manner.  Being young children, much of everything on their plates, including the plates themselves, ends up on the floor. I clean up the mess while my partner gives them a bath and attempts to persuade them not to give a repeat performance with the bath water.

That’s one cheery picture of family meal time, but many different scenarios play out every day around tables in every community great and small in Canada.  Often, not so cheery.

How do you set a table for 5500?

For a long time now, March is the month when Food Banks carry out the Hunger Count and share their service numbers with their respective provincial bodies, who in turn share them with the national network, headed up by Food Banks Canada.  This March was no different, and later in the year, both bodies will publish a formal report highlighting the state of food insecurity in this country based on this reporting.

What does this have to do with table etiquette?

Well, this March we gave out 2561 food hampers to around 2294 households, or 5515 people, including 757 children five years or younger.

So while many of us were passing the butter or the milk or whatever else was needed at the other side of the dinner table, every day in our community about 250 people were fretting about how to split a box of free food.  Some did not have enough to go around and skipped meals, some restricted access to different foods or compromised with cheaper items, others limited portion sizes, or used a variety of other coping strategies.  (See the dietitians of Canada for a more comprehensive discussion on pages six and seven.)

Yes, we were able to share food with a lot of people, but March is a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of programs like ours.

Not enough free food, is still not enough food

So, take two people that we served last month, I’ll call them Raul and Cody for the simple reason that those are not their names and they want to remain anonymous.

Raul and his wife came in and filled out the food list we have. They also spent a couple minutes whispering between themselves, trying to figure out how to spell ‘thank you,’ in their second language, along with some of the other needs they had that day.

Next is Cody, who has some serious food restrictions because of medical conditions, which is another way of saying, because of how his body works.  Human biology is pretty complex, and while it usually gets along fine, lots of people get pretty uncomfortable when they eat the wrong things. Cody has a combination of food sensitivities and health issues.  His choices are therefore massively constrained.

So how well were we able to meet the needs of these two different families?

Our program allocates food that people require for their survival.  It would be nice if it was otherwise, but today it is not, and this introduces many difficult negotiations into our daily work.

Annotated food slips

Annotated food slips

To figure out who gets what, we use a quota system. This is our attempt at fairness, and it’s not perfect. Essentially, it helps us manage what we have so we don’t totally run out half way through a day, or week and shut our doors to the public.

We start each day with a more or less known quantity of food, but we do not know the number of people we will serve.  We have a rough idea, but cannot tailor our supply to everyone, or even those who need it the most because we don’t know they’re coming, or in what number.  We may run out of different things, we may need to restrict access based on family size, and we may not have the items you really need if you have a restrictive diet.

March was difficult because, while we did have some nice things (whole coconuts, plantains, pluots, apples, mangos and papaya) we didn’t have them the entire month. Some days we had no fresh vegetables and/or fruit and had to restrict quantities vigorously most of the time because demand outstripped supply.

Did I say something wrong?

So, you may have come in March and wondered if some sort of mistake happened once you got your box home and started trying to figure out what to do with the items.  Most of the weeks, we did not have a lot to fill the boxes.  Looking back on previous experiences here, you may have wondered why today you only received a quarter of what had been there in a previous visit.

So, we were able to share something with Cody and Raul, with help from volunteers, a generous community and a lot of planning and effort, but ultimately, they left our warehouse with many of their requests unmet, for the simple reason that we just didn’t have the items they were looking for.

Real solutions

There will be a good deal of virtual and real ink spilled once the final “Hunger Count Report” is issued later this year, but the solutions can be summarized simply in this way:

Make housing affordable for people on a fixed income, rebuild our social safety net so that no one must choose between staying warm and eating real food, support children and their families (because children aren’t poor, families are) and support job retraining and skills development for those who have the biggest barriers to entering the workforce.

The next time you set a place at your dinner table, consider this last March and families like Raul’s and Cody’s.  It’ll give you something to talk about while you pass the mashed potatoes.

Who Represents Hunger, Part 3

April 1, 2015
Who represents the most food insecure households in kitchener waterloo?

Which local politicians represent the most food insecure households?

If you have been elected to political office, you have a big job.  You have to listen to your constituents, provide leadership, help a lot of people and try and invest in the neighbourhoods and businesses that make up your district.  All the while, you are also working with your political neighbours, reacting to events both big and small and trying to do the “right thing” by different constituencies, some of which, have conflicting views of the world.

People who struggle with poverty and live on a low income are one of these interests, and traditionally, they do not have a respected place in public discussions.  There are groups that advocate for and with them, but in talking about the issues, there are not always good numbers to use to describe the scale or impact of certain social problems.

Take hunger or food insecurity for example.  As I discussed in my previous post in this series, the number of people using food banks is hard to pin down.  It may be getting a little easier in Ontario, as I discussed in a recent post about Link 2 Feed, but if we want to talk to elected representatives locally about the number of people they represent that currently struggle to get food on their tables, it has been difficult, because those numbers haven’t really existed.

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Who Represents Hunger? Part 1

March 18, 2015

For many people this door is their first experience with the House of Friendship Emergency Food Hamper ProgramToday it is snowing and you are waiting outside of a warehouse.

There are a number of other people beside you, shifting from one foot to the other, trying to stay warm.  A few people are chatting quietly, plumes of white billowing out in the cold morning air, but mostly everyone is pretty quiet. You feel a bit tense, and sense the same in those around you.  At 11 a.m. the door opens and you shuffle into a lobby with everyone else and begin to form two lines.  You’re eyes have to adjust for a few seconds, and you have to wipe the fog off your glasses.  You get into the line with the people who have not phoned prior to coming. You’re going to have to wait a little bit longer now.  You feel in your pocket for your wallet, wondering what kind of ID you are going to need to show.

You are at a food bank, you’re warming up a bit, but who are you exactly? (more…)

Link2Feed And The Technology of Food Assistance

February 25, 2015
Photo via Flickr

Photo via Flickr

Imagine you are sitting in a boat, going down a river. It’s a fairly wide river, it’s a nice day, you’re enjoying yourself.

Suddenly, there is a loud thump under your feet. The boat shakes and you land in the bottom of the boat. You weren’t paying attention to what was happening, you were lost in a daydream, enjoying the moment. But now, you’re confused and covered in water, because all of a sudden there is a hole in the bottom of the boat and you are taking on water. A lot of water.

What do you do? (more…)

Charity, Solidarity, and the Holiday Season, part one

January 30, 2015

Today’s post is the first of three reflections on giving, the holidays, and the work that we do at House of Friendship. In this post I discuss how generous folks can support us doing our work today while also supporting our longer term vision of a community where all can belong and thrive: a community where nobody needs to use food banks. Part two in this series is a guest post, a meditation on being caught in the middle of donors and patrons. 

House of Friendship’s 12 Days for Good campaign is over and our annual Potato Blitz is well under way. Our 12 local “Do-Gooders” have shared their stories, and we hope you have been inspired by their hard work to ‘do good’ in 2015—so far 457 folks have signed on to do good this year. In a way, then, 12 Days for Good is still going.

I know that many people, especially during the holiday season, want to “do good.” But how? If they’re anything like me, this is when things get complicated, when wondering about the ‘how’ turns into basic existential worrying that becomes, sometimes, paralyzing.

Walking in solidarity

At House of Friendship we talk regularly about “walking with” members of our community so that all can “belong and thrive.” This idea excites me because it implies solidarity. “Solidarity is not the same as support,” says feminist writer bell hooks. “To experience solidarity, we must have a community of interests, shared beliefs and goals around which to unite, to build Sisterhood.” On the other hand, “Support can be occasional. It can be given and just as easily withdrawn. Solidarity requires sustained, ongoing commitment.” (more…)