What if everyone on welfare had a Masters degree in human nutrition and ten years experience as a professional cook? Would they be able to buy and cook enough food for a nutritious diet?
The answer is no, according to Gerry Kasten a registered dietitian to took the Welfare Food Challenge that ended October
23rd. Kasten told a news conference at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House that, after buying $26 worth of food for a week, he was short 17 servings of fruits and veggies, and 17 servings of dairy. “It’s not a matter of budgeting, said Kasten. “ I was short on many nutrients including vitamins, zinc and iron. We know that iron shortages can damage children’s development for the rest of their lives.” One thing that would make a welfare diet more nutritious, said Kasten, is “more money.”
Kasten was one of over 100 people who aren’t on welfare who took part in the welfare challenge, a week of eating on $26 worth of food. The challenge was issued by Raise the Rates to show that people can’t have a healthy diet if they are on welfare. People who took the challenge weren’t allowed to eat anything in their cupboards or anything that anyone gave them, only what they could buy with $26.
Raise the Rates calculates that a single person on welfare would only have $26 a week left for food after paying for rent, security deposit, bus tickets, phone and personal hygiene out of the welfare amount of $610 a month.
Grandmother Victoria Bull told the news conference that her group, Parents and Grandparents in Poverty were trying to get a meeting with the Premier to tell her what should be done about low welfare rates. “I am a grandparent raising my grandchild on welfare. Food is a constant struggle and worry; I try to do my best but it is very hard on welfare. I have $178 a month for food, clothing and other expenses for the two of us, which is less than the people who took this Challenge. We need the government to take action.”
Fraser Stuart, a Raise the Rates volunteer told the news conference, “ I have to do this every week and it is a constant struggle; on welfare you are always looking for free food – even in dumpsters. I know it is damaging my health. No one chooses to live on welfare; people are on welfare because of personal tragedies.”
Ted Bruce who works at Vancouver Coastal Health also took up the Challenge. Bruce said he was surprised at the amount of stress he felt thinking that he was going to run out of food. He said the “path to disease is through stress and lack of control over our lives.” A poverty reduction plan would actually save money for taxpayers, he said, by reducing sickness.
For more information on the Welfare Food Challenge, go to welfarefoodchallenge.org