the hunger axioms

The unspoken rules of poverty in Canada

  1. Hunger in Canada, and the systemic poverty alleged to cause it, are myths.
  2. Hunger and poverty, resulting from disability, age, isolation and/or systemic disadvantage, are fabrications, created by seditious elements within Canadian society.
  3. If the myths of hunger and poverty in Canada were realities, its response, as a wealthy, just and compassionate nation, would be immediate, addressing hunger and all other poverty related issues with efficiency and empathy, by providing the adequate financial assistance and gateways to education and accommodating employment necessary to establish and maintain the dignity and comfort of those effected, while striving to eliminate poverty itself.
  4. If the myths of hunger and poverty in Canada were realities, a robust and unprejudiced charity model would quickly evolve, generously funded by spontaneous and unsolicited public and private gifts and contributions, to seamlessly and more than adequately address the problem in an equal and dignified fashion.
  5. The redistribution of wealth through a basic livable guaranteed income is unnecessary and unrealistic. Its suggestion is subversive, and Canada as a nation of good and informed citizens adhere to this unproven truth without question.
  6. Those who spread myths of hunger and poverty in Canada are disloyal, lack the motivation to prosper and lack the gratitude consistent within the nation as a whole.
  7. Canada, as a nation, finds these axioms irrefutable, and the questioning of them, or disagreement with them, is a betrayal of the Nation and its people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Charity Model, a Weak Reaction to Hunger in Canada

Charity: kindness and pity in one tidy act of giving, inadequately addressing needs that shouldn’t exist in our wealthy nation, and providing the giver with a warm and satisfying feeling.

Sadly, the much coveted charity model, and a sorry system of government welfare, appear to be as close as we’ll allow ourselves to get to an equitable redistribution of wealth. It also provides the charitable license to cast mild, if unconscious, shame upon recipients while preserving expectations of cheerful and unqualified gratitude. The giver gets this, and a tax deduction along with bragging rights. Maybe even a place in Heaven.

The emphasis of this brief article is limited to food insecurity in Canada, the harsh income disparities that cause it, and how we might mitigate their impact on those effected by hunger—people facing barriers to employment, the underemployed, seniors, many people with disabilities and others. And don’t forget child poverty. They live with hunger and malnutrition every day, and our nation’s inadequate reaction is absolutely necessary to the maintenance of a charity model that fails to effectively address this injustice.

If you’re a fan of the charity model, however, no worries. Food insecurity isn’t likely to end in Canada anytime soon. Nor are the profound feelings of isolation, humiliation and physical pain it causes. Indeed, it’s likely that charity will remain one of our most robust reactions to the manufactured social and financial gaps that cause such severe hardship.

Good hearted folks will continue to put change into coin boxes, food into grocery store foodbank boxes and make year-end donations. Meanwhile, the self-congratulatory cult of the corporate executive will continue to create vast charitable facades, costing them nearly nothing, and supported primarily by their customers (think McDonalds[1] and Donald Trump[2]). For big business, charity will continue to be a thrifty form of brand enhancement, and their need for cheap branding remains never ending.

If we wanted to, though, could we eliminate poverty and hunger in Canada by stepping away from our reliance on charity? Perhaps we just need to rethink reacting with sympathy, and instead provide those in need with opportunities, gateways into employment that pays a living wage, safe housing and guaranteed minimum incomes that differ from welfare in that they come in livable amounts, and are made universally available so that pity and shaming, in this regard, are rendered obsolete.

But if all of this happened tomorrow, and charity was no longer necessary, would those who support the model feel cheated? Would they want back that special feeling they get when they deliver packages or write a cheque? If so, one might wonder if this need to commodify poverty is burned into our DNA, and if that is true, couldn’t we consciously endeavour to evolve beyond it? Can we ever advance beyond a charity model in which the net benefit goes to the charitable rather than those living in hunger?

[1]http://www.eatdrinkpolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/Clowning_Around_Charity_Report_Full.pdf

[2]https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-used-258000-from-his-charity-to-settle-legal-problems/2016/09/20/adc88f9c-7d11-11e6-ac8e-cf8e0dd91dc7_story.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welfare Food Challenge, is it enough?

Oh man, here we go again. It’s November, and in these parts that means it’s time for the Welfare Food Challenge, where perfectly sane, and some of them prosperous, individuals will, for a week, eat only the food they can buy with $26. It’s an action to draw attention to the criminally low amount of income provided to recipients of welfare in BC, through BC Employment and Assistance (ironically named due to its lack of gateways to employment).

For purposes of the Challenge, someone has calculated that $26 per week is the amount left over for food for a person receiving a monthly $610 welfare cheque in BC. I can promise you that it’s less than $26, but you can see their arithmetic at http://welfarefoodchallenge.org/. There, you’ll also see the earnest faces of those participating in the Challenge, and read their stories of absolute dedication, principle and hope.

To those of you participating in the Challenge, I say that you are good and caring people. And the organisers deserve an enormous amount of credit and recognition. Raise the Rates is an awesome organization. But having written and worked on issues of local food insecurity, and having lived with hunger in this wealthy province, I wonder if it’s enough.

So, having said this, you’re probably wondering if I’m just some jerk who doesn’t get it, but I do. I’m a person with a disability, and I have lived on welfare in BC, as a result. Now I live on BC Persons with Disabilities Assistance, administered by the same Ministry as welfare. BCPDA pays more than welfare, and it comes with some welcome add-ons that people on welfare don’t get, like some dental coverage, but it’s still less than $1000 a month.

In spite of the higher amount, the second half of the month is a very hungry one. And before some troll tells me to go back to where I came from, if I don’t like it, you should know that I was conceived, born and raised in Vancouver. I also worked and paid taxes here, all of my life, until my disability made working impossible.

The thing about the Challenge is that I don’t want anyone to spend a week going hungry, not one person. I want all people to live in comfort and safety. And I’d prefer to see the energy, confidence and sense of inclusion commensurate with the right to food, fulfilled, used to kick some government ass, year round, every day. I want us all together to make government fear the people again.

After a week on a poverty diet, you’ll be slimmer, and after a remedial meal or two, you’ll probably feel shiny and new. But the Challenge itself can never inform a person of the profound humiliation, insult, isolation and hopelessness that comes along with the legislated poverty thrust upon so many in this province.

Poverty, hunger and disenfranchisement are systemic in BC. We have a government for whom foodbanks are a primary part of their business plan. That’s why I’d rather that participants in the Challenge save their strength and do things like vote, show up en masse at the BC Legislature, and the offices of Michelle Stilwell and Christy Clark, and make demands. Flood their offices daily with letters, petitions and emails. (But keep records. The emails will probably be deleted.) And cc the opposition. Tell them that the poor are not a complicated problem, they are people. And tell them that poverty need not continue simply because it has always been with us.

Many of you have already taken some of these measures, and I humbly thank you. And if you choose to go through with the Challenge, may I recommend Sunrise Market at 300 Powell Street in Vancouver as an excellent place to shop on a budget.

Just don’t Call Me Banana Boy

pre-edit for publication in Right to Food Zine

It’s 5:30 a.m. on the last Wednesday of the month, and my alarm clock is screaming. In a flash, I’m up and making coffee. And I’m thinking that it’s a horrible thing, having to get up this early in the morning. After all, I’m an artist, man. My paths normally lead to later awakenings. But this is the morning I’m dispatched on behalf of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House on what we call the Banana Beat, and I have to get to the NH by 7:30.

By 6:30, I’m out the door and on my way. I live close to Lost Lagoon, near StanleyPark. It’s a fifty minute walk to the Neighbourhood House. So, I’ve got to move.

As I walk, I’m struck by contrasts. Up the hill from the park and along the Robson Street strip mall, with its unrestrained retail ballyhoo. Then through the downtown financial district, where traders have been at work for hours driving the economy into the toilet. And finally into the Downtown Eastside where the free-enterprise binners’ mall, out front of United We Can, is in full operation and generating actual wealth.

But there’s already a line-up at Pigeon Park Savings.

It’s the hungriest morning of the month in the hungriest neighbourhood in the city. And there are line-ups everywhere. Folks are patiently waiting at local offices of the BC Ministry of Social Development for their income assistance and disability cheques. Later, they’ll wait in line to cash them. I know their stomachs are growling as they queue. It’s been a month since their last cheque. That’s sort of where the Banana Beat Team comes in.

Yesterday, Cate, my Banana Beat co-worker, and I spent the afternoon with a dedicated group of volunteers. We separated several hundred bananas and re-boxed them. (Placing them back in their boxes, wrapped in plastic, helps them to ripen to perfection over night.) This morning, we’re taking those bananas out of the boxes again and putting them into our signature yellow shopping carts.

Shortly after 8:00 a.m., we’re out on two different routes, one down Hastings Street and one down Powell Street, with a gaggle of staff and volunteers distributing bananas to people in the above mentioned line-ups, and to anyone else on the street who wants one. That could mean you.

Banana Beat is one of the founding programs of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House. It began in 2007. The organic, fair-trade bananas come our way via Whole Foods, twelve cases in all each month. Eight of those boxes are generously donated by Whole Foods, and the Neighbourhood House purchases the remainder. Since 2007, the DTES NH has distributed approximately 77,200 bananas, one at a time, on the mornings of cheque issue, to hungry people in the DTES neighbourhood.

No one has to line up for a Banana Beat banana. People are invited to help themselves, and take one for a friend. And with each piece of the pasty fruit comes an invitation to visit and participate in inclusive and participatory programs at the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House.

So just think of that when you see me next month at Hastings and Main, handing out bananas. But think twice before you call me Banana Boy!

why I eat sugar right out of the bag

written for a local magazine 

I have type 1 diabetes. It’s necessary for me to inject insulin multiple times a day, and closely monitor my blood glucose levels. I’m also on what the BC government calls BC Employment and Assistance for People with Disabilities, which means I receive a small amount of money every month to pay all of my expenses. Type 1 diabetes is not the cause of my disability, but a complicating factor.

The money’s usually all gone after a week, maybe two. I buy groceries, of course. But there is never enough, and I inevitably go hungry during the last week of each month.

The insulin injections, however, cannot stop. I can reduce the amount I inject by trying to guess ahead of time how many carbohydrates I will or won’t be consuming. And for the most part, I can get it right. But sometimes, more times than I like to admit, I don’t get it right. I get it terribly wrong. The result is a condition referred to as hypoglycemia, often sever hypoglycaemia.

Hypoglycemia is low blood glucose, the fuel the body and brain need to function. It results from taking too much insulin in relation to carbohydrate intake. It becomes severe when there is no treatment. Situations where no treatment occurs arise when the individual is unaware that he or she is experiencing hypoglycaemia, the brain needs glucose to function don’t forget, and/or there is no means by which to treat it.

The Canadian Diabetes Association defines severe hypoglycemia in the following way:
Severe hypoglycemia, a major concern in the treatment of
type 1 diabetes, is generally defined as a plasma glucose level
<4.0 mmol/L with neurogenic and neuroglycopenic clinical
manifestations sufficiently disabling to require outside assistance
(1,2). The proportion of patients affected and event
rates for severe hypoglycemia are high, with an accompanying
array of transient and sometimes permanent physical and
psychological disabilities. Death rates range from 2 to 4% in
adults to 8% in children (1).

In other words, the outcomes of severe hypoglycemia are serious. One can even die. The Fire Department in my neighbourhood knows me by sight and by name. That’s how often they’ve had to revive me from unconsciousness or intervene as I entered into seizures. The simple treatment is food. Some quick sugar, glucose tablets are best but unaffordable, followed by something more substantial, like a peanut butter sandwich. But if I’m going hypoglycemic due to a lack of available food, how do I treat it with food?

Regarding people of lower socioeconomic status, the Canadian Diabetes Association has said this:
Lower socioeconomic status is also associated with food
insecurity: according to results of the Canadian Community
Health Survey (4), 48% of Canadians in the lowest income
adequacy category were found to have food insecurity, and
60% of individuals on social assistance had moderate or
severe food insecurity. Food insecurity includes compromised
quantity and quality of foods consumed, and disruptive
eating patterns that could influence the onset, treatment
and recurrence of severe hypoglycemia.

Well, that’s me in a nutshell. With little or no food in my apartment, or in my near future, I still have to inject insulin. My eyes, heart, kidneys, fingers, toes, limbs and peripheral nervous system depend on my maintaining healthy blood glucose levels. And yes, blood glucose, in the absence of adequate insulin, can rise even if one doesn’t eat.

That’s why I always have a bag of sugar in the cupboard. It’s cheap and easy to store.

This morning, I injected a comparatively small amount of insulin because I had very little food for breakfast – tomorrow is cheque day. By 1:00 pm – I don’t eat lunch, I can’t afford it – my blood glucose level was at 2.1 mmol/L. A healthy fasting level is between 4.0 and 7.0. I felt seizures coming on. And because I had nothing else, I knew it was time to get the bag of sugar from above the fridge. Three to four tablespoons usually works for me, gets my blood glucose level above 4.0. Today, I consumed four tablespoons, each tablespoon swallowed whole followed by a gulp of water. Yes, it’s bloody hideous!

And that’s why I eat sugar right out of the bag, because that’s what you do if you’re poor and insulin dependant in Canada. Oh, Canada!