CBC Early Edition Interview

Had a chance to share my experience this year, together with Megaphone Magazine’s most excellent Jessica Hannon, on CBC’s early edition with Rick Clough. Content starts just after 1:20.




Past Halfway

Kids enjoyed popcorn and sugar water at home last night while we were out, thankfully didn’t eat all the food, but we’re now grappling with how to allocate the $25 holdback we kept from our initial shopping trip.  Jen hit the dollar store this morning, found a multi-spice pkg  (whoo hoo!) , more jam, more pasta, and some Honey Nut Cheerios lobbied from the children – all for $6.25. I’ll head out for another 10lbs of apples, milk, margarine and eggs at the Buy Low to get us through the second half. Bit of a false exercise moving to multiple locations, but Dollar store is only a block away, and I’m visiting the grocery store en-route to another errand.

Midway top up shopping

Margarine 454 2.00
pasta macaroni 900 1.25
Cheerios 240 2.00
strawberry jam 375 1.50
assorted spices 82 1.50
Milk 4L 4.89
Apples 10lbs 5.00
Eggs 18 4.79
Total midway trip 22.93

Remaining Budget  – to be used for final trip (or emergencies??)  – $1.70

Sunday was, as usual, a set of busy activities with the kids, and our taking stock day (literally). Things look promising in terms of not completely running out of food, but we can move from comfort to panic pretty quickly.  You recall the “welfare blueberries” feast on the night before the challenge started, and yesterday I almost burned some food, and had to be very careful with the new spices we found so as not to overseason, as each could have created some dire consequences at this stage. We cringe when the kids make their own frybread, because they waste too much flour.  How precious a few lentils and vegetables can be when you have limited alternatives.

Heading into the homestretch, choice will start to become less available, and we don’t really have a lot of anything. Another interesting insight at the grocery store – a few of the things we went back to get – apples, eggs and some hashbrowns, were no longer on sale. It matters WHEN you shop – something I never thought about, to which Jen replied “ No  S#@! you didn’t“   All of a sudden our budget plan is shot, and we have to improvise / shift.  The $5 bag of apples was now $8, and there was no other reasonably large fruit choice we could fit in the budget.  Just as hope was lost, in the middle of the pile, Jen found a bag of apples that still had a physical pricing sticker for $5. We took it to the front, they rang it through for $8, at which time Jen pointed to the $5 sticker, and they gave it to us for the lower price. Never been so happy to get a deal!!! We left euphoric, and when we got home had a small family dance around the apples.  Afterward we also wonder how successful or comfortable a homeless person would be advocating for their price reduction at the till.

Kids moods fluctuate, likely more a function of adolescence than anything, but limited nutrition aggravates the situation, and both Jen and I have noticed being more tired, and just “not quite right” physically. I’ve lost about 5 lbs already.
Not healthy.

Another interesting insight about the kids which was fascinatingly transposed from deprivation to “depravity” by Jen. She’s noticed that they seem to have manifest an interesting transference to other areas of our lives. They seem to want to go without a whole bunch of other things, almost out of spite, or a sense that they’re being punished.  Very difficult to process the separation of food from other types of consumption for them.

Amelia, in a glucose shortened fit after soccer today, screams “Fine, I won’t have anything!” The other kids, when offered more, non-food compensation (motivated with some parental guilt about putting them through this exercise) at the Dollar store, were uncharacteristically refusing.

The best sound bite thus far, again from Amelia : “Welfare sucks!”   Amen, my child.

Kids savoured the boxed cereal we picked up on the weekend tonight, and we all seemed more comfortable with the extended process of preparation and the larger than normal allocation of carrots in our packed lunches this morning. I found myself really looking forward to the egg this morning as well.

We’re all starting to talk more about the end now, in terms of what we’ll eat, and how we’ll mark the occasion – which causes more reflection for those who don’t have this luxury, and the lightness of the exercise in some ways. Jen always contended this would be entirely do-able for the kids.  It’s a week. Like a camping trip for them. They can suck it up, because they know what we’re going back to.  The concept of forcing families to maintain this for months, or with no end in sight this is something we really need to work on as a society.

A final reflection on my / our privileged upper middle class lens on these issues, which is most certainly a skewed one, naïve, full of liberal guilt, and too often a bit of sanctimony or even completely missing the point at some times. Still,  I’m reflecting on the underlying purposes of this exercise. From my take, there’s no expectation that we’ll develop any type of “lived experience” here. It may be precisely the privileged middle class population who needs to be reached. The impetus to change public policy here will not likely come from the hardened activist or the elite power brokers, and maybe there’s a broader public education piece that’s not hitting the mark.

I’m struck by the lack of movement in poverty reduction, early childhood development support or even preventative healthcare given that the issues are actually fairly well understood and the business case is pretty clear.  We need more urgency. As a start, we need to raise the rates!

End of Day 3 –  Not enjoying a beer at a Sloan concert…

…seems a fairly modest sacrifice, and low on the list of tragedies befalling someone down on their luck, but I found myself actually more upset about this missed opportunity than many others during the challenge thus far.  Jen and I had tickets to see the band Sloan at the Commodore last night, something we had planned for a while, and not food, so we attended, still recognizing that this is not the sort of opportunity someone on income assistance would ever consider on the budget they face.  At the venue we were consistently “encouraged” to order ourselves a beverage, both by wait staff, likely dependent on the tips to meet anything like a living wage, and by our own internal voices, saying, wouldn’t it be nice to have a libation or snack to complement this night out – as we have at so many others.

“What do people on welfare do on dates?” Jen wonders aloud. “Like what if we wanted to have a good time? There are only so many strolls we could take, and besides we’d have to schedule when to soak beans.” We think about the indignity of expecting that poor people do not require entertainment or cultural experiences, let alone having enough to eat or a decent place to live. The show was tremendous, and I was particularly struck by the lyric from their song The Rest of my Life, where the entire crowd sings in unison “I know that I’ll be living it in Canada” – a proud anthem which not only rocks, but reinforces a sense of identity and pride in the national entity many of us consider one of the best places to live in the world. I felt the pride surging, but then reflected on some serious shame in how we treat the most vulnerable and marginalized.

I also further reflected on another public policy refrain from our brothers and sisters working, volunteering and supporting arts organizations, who are also consistently underfunded, and forced to hear the rhetoric of “tough choices” when told that we simply can’t afford to have resources allocated here. Investments in arts and culture are not recognized for the full value they create.   Nourishment takes many forms, and humanity extends well beyond our physical needs, as does citizenship. Raise the damn rates!

End of Day 2

Mood shifted to a much more positive one at tonight’s event, maybe feeling a bit self righteous, maybe listening to the wonderful David Beers from the Tyee as emcee for the Real Estate Foundation Land Awards Gala, or Peter Mansbridge as keynote.  I was struck by the number of folks I saw at the dinner last night being celebrated for achievements I see as celebration worthy.  Sean Dory from Sole Foods was all suited up, as was Ilana Labow from Fresh Roots , the hard working volunteers from Cowichan Green and Kettle Friendship society  being feted for getting organized to grow food AND build social housing on a vacant lot. Sitting next to my Board chair, Am Johal from SFU, who has done his share of hunger strikes and activism.  Breaking bread between the millionaire developers, community organizers, thoughtful academics and barrier busting bureaucrats.  Food is powerful and so important.

Even our own Vancity team, with Liz Lougheed Green and Kira Gerwing in their evening gowns and almost brought to tears from grateful thanks of the people we support in community.  There is definitely some value to these galas, when they’re done right.  It’s a different vibe when the primary objective is really celebration and promotion of collaboration rather than fundraising (they get their money, reasonably in my mind, by taking a skim off all the real estate transactions that happen in our region – many of which do not necessarily create any value otherwise). Didn’t feel weird for me or anyone else at my table when I passed on the meal. Actually genuine affirming smiles. In other crowds I’ve been met with guilty discomfort or dazed confusion about why anyone would do this.

Fresh bread when I got home last night, took off my tux, carbed up and had a good sleep. Will wake up looking forward to sharing fry bread and an egg with Gus in the morning. Will have an apple and head out for a walk in the park before the rains start this weekend.  Life is a sweet fruit.  There is still some joy and justice in an often otherwise messed up world.

End of Day 1

Just heading home on the skytrain now, after a community celebration, filled with food and drink, congratulating donors and awarding grants to organizations addressing homelessness in Surrey. Impressive spread of food and wine I tried to ignore after riding out here filling my belly with carrots and some frybread.

Met some fabulous people at the launch event this morning. Bill Hopwood is inspiring for speaking truth, Bif Naked in using her rockstar powers for good. She really is awesome!  I watched her engage so genuinely with everyone who approached her, and respond so well to all the questions thrown at her.  Jen commented later on Bif’s blog about when she was asked why she does all this advocacy work, she responded something like – because I’m a human being, why wouldn’t I?  Bill had some great comments effectively chastising the media for only paying attention to celebrity and reporting on the underlying issue by happenstance – solid commentary on our society and our priorities. The headlines only validate his analysis, and how much they were not listening to him. Some important messages still got through, and I want to thank Bif for this support.

Fraser sticks in my mind, sharing his stories with me afterward, about living on income assistance and the roller-coaster of diet when financial capacity fluctuates. His advice – watch your moods a few days into the exercise, that’s when you’ll start to notice it, and perhaps even more interesting, he warned of the week when we come off the challenge.  Your grocery bill will be higher than the week before you took the challenge he said. Black licorice is my weakness,  he shared. To paraphrase : “When I get some money now, I crave the stuff so much I buy and eat too much of it. I’ve always liked it, but since the income fluctuations started , I have a real problem. Lucky I don’t have the same issue with booze or drugs, but I know people who do.”   New insights (for me) on the effect of a system that propagates this uneven distribution of resources, and a good warning for things to come.

Just spoke with Jen by phone, screaming headache today (she didn’t avail of the free coffee), and the kids have ramped up their consumption of our food box giving her worry about whether we’ll make it. If we run out of food, I suggest, what an interesting message to share. Get your ass home, she retorts.

I’ll be out again tomorrow night at a ‎black tie gala where I’ll sit and watch others consume in the name of celebrating ourselves for helping those less fortunate and making the world a better place. Increased sanctimony could be an anticipated effect of this challenge on me.

I do need to get my self home, and expect the weekend to be one of overcompensating on the homefront for being away particularly when the stresses are amped up.  Need to better appreciate what an incredibly lucky man I am.  Maybe that’s a more positive personal outcome here. Maybe this is more therapy than advocacy.

‎Train will be to my station soon –  look forward to seeing my family, hearing their stories, hugs and then sleep. Good nourishment in absence of nutritious sustenance.

Notes for the Launch Event – DAY 1

Will start my speech with a brief personal introduction and talk about my reasons for participating individually, and for including my entire family in the challenge.  Participating with my own kids is particularly important to me, in that my hope is not only to build more public awareness and personal empathy, I want my children to better understand how privileged they are, and set a stage for them to be part of our solutions in the future. I also want to further recognize the incredible costs of child poverty.

Maybe a comment here about the complexity of this budgeting exercise and a recognition of the sophistication that is necessary (and is expected) of individuals and families on income assistance.  As someone who’s spent their entire career in the financial services sector, I’m impressed and a bit daunted by the acumen necessary here.  I’ll speak to the importance of financial literacy and planning skills  – those that already exist among individuals living in poverty, and the profound importance of these skills to the welfare of people living with little income and few assets.

I will then speak on behalf of the Vancity Community Foundation, and by extension, the Vancity membership, in that the Credit Union Board has formally endorsed the 7 point Poverty Reduction Plan developed by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, which we also support financially .

A key tenet in this plan is an increase to welfare rates in our province.  It also includes suggestions around things like access to childcare, affordable housing, community health care, education, minimum wage and fair, living wages, which are all connected to helping people out of poverty and making our communities better places to live.   I will encourage others  to check it out, and to endorse it as well. www.bcpovertyreduction.ca

I believe that reduced poverty is really good for our economy.

Speaking on behalf of a private sector employer (both as a cooperative credit union, and as a community foundation supported by many donors), we have made a commitment to paying a living wage, not just to employees, but contractors and for related services. This is commitment of which I am very proud, and we want to encourage other employers to make this commitment. It is entirely doable. And it creates multipliers we all benefit from .

We believe that lasting solutions will involve individuals and private sector actors, together with nonprofit partners and good public policy, all working in concert.  Cooperating.

I will share that this week is co-op week across Canada, and how proud I am to stand in solidarity with others here.

Approximately 1 in 5 children live in poverty in BC, where we have had one of the worst records in Canada here for more than a decade, and this is a statistic that has changed very little during this period.

For many years, Vancity has supported First Call, BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, to help provide a voice for those who do not have one. Namely children and youth.  I’m particularly proud that we have deepened our relationship with First Call and the Living Wage Campaign as of April of this year, and they are now housed with us at the Foundation.

This year’s Child Poverty Report Card, (which is profoundly under-resourced, and could really use more contributions), will be out in about a month, and I’m hopeful more people will pay attention to what it’s telling us. www.firstcallbc.org This year is the 25th anniversary of the federal commitment to end Child Poverty.

I will thank my colleagues who are participating with me from Vancity, Emily Beam from the Foundation, and Senior Vice President, Jay-Ann Gilfoy from the Credit Union’s Senior Executive Team. Having a member of the Senior Executive speaks to our commitment and the importance of this issue across our whole organization.

Vancity both funds and invests in a broad range of initiatives supporting poverty reduction, enhanced financial literacy, affordable housing, and strengthening the non-profit sector.  We are a community organization,  committed to supporting the development of healthy communities. We believe these communities are characterized by social justice and financial inclusion, sustainability, and where cooperative principles are thriving.

A thank you to Raise the Rates for organizing this challenge – providing an opportunity to increase awareness, and for your ongoing efforts.

A further shout out to those participating in the challenge, and a recognition of those that face this challenge (or a similar challenge) every week, in some cases over generations.  We need to change this.

Start of Day 1

Jen: We started the day early this morning, chopped apples, carrots and onions, put on porridge, checked the soaking beans and rising bread.  This is Day 1 of our week long food welfare challenge.   To make the most of our  $105 we’ve spent a great deal of time planning and prepping for this week.   I think planning and searching out food for one’s family could be a part time job.  Let alone the time necessary to prepare these less expensive options.

I could be accused of spending too much time thinking about food, but this week was a bit different.  In my downtime I will sometimes browse blogs, collect cookbooks, ‘pin’ recipes, frequent markets and ogle Whole Foods produce displays.  Food is inspiring, sitting together preparing and sharing a meal is the pinnacle.  We aren’t gourmands exactly, but we eat well and we appreciate food.  This week has turned things on its head.  Food wasn’t pleasure, but fuel.   We could hope for pleasure, but mostly it is about ‘getting by’. I know I’ve told the kids that when they are down in the dumps, to think of food as medicine.   So I still think about food all the time – when can I eat next, how to stretch it for lunch, is it enough, is it healthy enough for the kids?

Becoming so much more mindful now of our budget than any recipe ingredients, given that we quickly whittled a list of groceries. Can this be satisfying?  Hopefully we’ve developed a plan that is notionally nutritious (not really), but have been focused more on keeping things filling to avoid hunger and to last the entire week.  Derek and I both can more easily do without, we are most concerned for how this week will go for the kids.  We have the benefit of economies of scale with 5 of us, but the added stress of caring for dependents.  The meals were variations of ‘beans and rice’.  Meat was out, as was coffee, cheese, yogurt, spices, and packaged lunch treats for the kids.  Organics were sacrificed as well, we bought margarine instead of butter, opted out of buying peanut butter instead got cheez whiz (school friendly). Noticed limited local options (or really any concern, as it’s all about price at this point)

Can start to imagine the challenges without a car for transportation, or when the monotony of this diet is an on-going reality of life rather than merely a week-long challenge exercise.

Derek:  Porridge for 4 today, with apples. Gus opted to eat a couple of eggs with frybread, exercising his limited choice when he saw the pot on the stove. Put some lentil soup on early to make sure it was cooked in time to send for lunches. Enthusiasm only from Amelia – she usually likes to take an opposite position from her sibs, so we’ll see how the other meals play out.

No protein this morning, and hot water instead of coffee. Going to dig a bit for the right energy levels at a press event this morning, and will avail myself of free coffee at the office – my only rationalized “cheat” – free coffee not that hard to find?