2016 Welfare Food Challenge

October 16 is World Food Day. A day of action against hunger, and a global declaration of commitment to achieve ‘Zero Hunger’ by 2030. It was first created in Quebec, Canada in 1945 by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and since has been observed in almost every country.

“Climate is Changing. Food and agriculture must too.”

This year, the FAO attempts to raise awareness about the changing climate and its effects on food security, to recognize a need for adaptive agriculture, reducing food waste and resources, producing more with less, building smallholder resilience and cultivating a sustainable food system.

To understand hunger, we need to first understand the term “food security”: when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

Food is a basic human right.

“One third (approximately 1.3 billion tons) of the food produced for human consumption are wasted each year.”(1)

In today’s world of plenty, 805 million people (that’s one in nine) live with chronic hunger(2). That being said, we have the capacity to feed every person on the planet; challenges are food waste, physical access, availability, cost and safety – the pillars of food security. No doubt we have made some progress since 2000 when our world leaders committed to achieve eight Millenium Development Goals by 2015 (#1 on the list was to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger). Since then, we’ve cut extreme poverty rates by half since 1990 (3), forty countries have achieved halving the proportion of people who suffer from hunger (4), and the likelihood of a child dying before fifth year of age due to malnutrition has been cut by nearly half over the past 20 years (5). But the goal of ‘Zero Hunger’ continues to be a significant challenge.

Global seems kind of big to tackle though… at the end of the day, it’s about what we, as individuals, can do to contribute right? According to statistics Canada, 8% of adults, and 5% of children experienced food insecurity, in other words, nearly 1.1 million Canadian households(6). Provincially, food insecurity rates vary from 36.7% in Nunavut to 7.6% in Newfoundland and Labrador. Beautiful British Columbia? We sit at about 8.2%.

Now, imagine this: you’re a healthy individual with less than ideal circumstances currently looking for work. The BC government provides $610 a month in welfare. Keeping in mind you have to pay rent, and since you’re looking for work, you’ll probably need a phone plan… and not to forget, basic essentials for hygiene products, transportation, health costs, etc. How much do you usually spend on these things? And how much would be left on the budget for food?

Here’s a breakdown: (Keeping in mind Total Welfare $610/month)

Rent for a small room in Downtown Eastside comes with 120 square feet, no kitchen and a shared bathroom – $479/month + $20 damage deposit.
Phone plan – $25/month.
Personal hygiene / laundry – $10/month
Assuming the decision to walk everywhere in attempt to cut expenses, that leaves about $76/month for food. That’s equivalent to $2.50/day or $17.50/week. Rounding up, we’ll say $18 for a week’s worth of groceries – nil left for clothes, coffee, haircuts, or treats.

This is the calculations behind the Welfare Food Challenge. It’s been nearly six years since I’ve been back home to Vancouver, and I’ve already found the price of … well, everything to be much higher than I remembered. I cannot fathom how those surviving on welfare are coping given this $610 value has been the same since April 2007. My first year hearing about this challenge, and I invite you to join me in this year’s Welfare Food Challenge in petitioning for Raising the Rates.

1. FAO. (2016) Food Loss and Food Waste. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/food-loss-and-food-waste/en/

2. FAO. (2014) The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2014. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

3. United Nations. (Accessed July 2014) We can end poverty. New York, NY: United Nations

4. FAO. (Accessed July 2014) The Post-2015 Development Agenda and the Millennium Development Goals. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

5. United Nations. (2014) The Millennium Development Goals Report. New York, NY: United Nations. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/post-2015-mdg/news/detail-news/en/c/238394/

6. Statistics Canada. (2015) Health at a Glance: Food Insecurity in Canada . Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2015001/article/14138-eng.pdf