Voting for food security: what is a basic income floor?

From listening to numerous debates and discussions on living wages and from creating budgets based on various incomes, I can absolutely appreciate how difficult it would be to survive on a minimum wage income. Especially as a parent with dependents.

Typically, it isn’t just that you make minimum wage. You may not get enough hours to meet full-time requirements with one employer, so you need to work a few jobs to make enough money. You probably work more hours than you would if you had one full-time job. You may not be able to spend much time at home because you’re working. You have difficulty making ends meet because there are so many costs in life: shelter, clothing, food, your kids’ needs, aging parent’s needs, internet, phone, transportation. Life is complicated and complex, and having to struggle and constantly worry about meeting absolutely basic needs just makes everything more challenging.

As part of Food Secure Canada’s EatThinkVote campaign (Canada’s next federal election is October 19, 2015), they are pushing for a Canada with zero hunger. Their policy proposal to achieve this is to establish a national basic income. In short, this means that anyone falling below a certain income (designated poverty line) would be topped up to the basic income. The idea is that this would positively impact the mental and physical health of those who would have otherwise fallen below the poverty line.

I had never heard of the concept of the basic income floor before and was even more surprised to read that an experiment with a guaranteed annual income had been done from 1974-1979 in Dauphin, Manitoba. That’s almost 40 years ago! It was called MINCOME (a smash-up of “minimum income”). Everyone in the small town was eligible to participate in the experiment; benefits were dependent on factors such as family size and whether there were other income sources. Unfortunately, there was no report produced at the end of this field experiment. There have been subsequent analyses by universities and others that try to assess the costs and benefits of this experiment. The greatest benefit seemed to be for those who were low income but did not qualify for other established social security schemes and for those who were self-employed with no guarantee of income from year to year (agricultural base).

I think this is such an interesting concept but there would be lots of details to be worked out, like what exactly would the designated poverty line be? Would it be indexed to the cost of living in different areas of the country? What would be the most effective way of rolling out this type of policy?

Voting for food security: giving kids access to healthy nutritious food

Looking back on my life so far, I can point to a few pivotal moments that have really affected how my life has turned out. As the Canadian federal election really gets going (towards an election date of October 19, 2015), I am reminded of the importance of food security…and the year I started to really explore the concept of food security is one of those pivotal moments of my life.

Rewind to that pivotal week

I became involved with a community service learning program at my university, where we learned about and discussed issues that impact a specific community while volunteering with an organization within that community. During Reading Week in my second year of university, 30 students came together from across many academic disciplines to volunteer in spaces like an elementary school, a women’s transition house and an HIV/AIDS health program. Each morning, all of the university students would come together and have an incredibly thought-provoking discussion led by a community leader or faculty member. I don’t think remember specifically discussing food security during those 4 days together, but we talked a lot about issues that impact marginalized communities.

My participation in that 4.5 day project has really shaped my view of the world. It was the first time that I really remember being pushed to think in a different way. I almost feel like most of the learning that I had ever done in school up until that point was very passive; you go to school, you learn about set topics, you hang out with friends (usually people somewhat like you socioeconomically speaking) and you regurgitate content (tests, exams, projects, assignments). That week, I was exposed to a number of issues that I had known about in a cursory manner but had never discussed in such depth:

  • what does it mean to be marginalized (I actually don’t know if I even knew that word existed prior to)?
  • what do marginalized women face and how can a community support them?
  • what special issues do children who grow up in marginalized communities face?

Going through that project, I don’t think I even understood how much of an impact it would have on me. Only now, looking back, can I see the trajectory that it pushed me on. Anyways, my continued involvement with the community service learning program over a few years really educated me on appreciating each person’s life experience. You never really know what another person is going through or has gone through and how that impacts their interaction with the world. Which brings me to food security.

Fast forward to voting for food security

Food security is having access to a sufficient amount of safe and nutritious food.

A basic element that every child needs to survive is food. Without food, they cannot meet their potential. Imagine having a growling stomach all day long, every day. Your stomach could be growling for many reasons; maybe your caregivers can’t afford much food or maybe you don’t have regular access to nutritious food. I bet you’d feel tired and your main focus would be on finding something to eat. Imagine going to school in that state, every single day. Being told to sit in your seat, finish your assignment, write that test, run a few laps, don’t fall asleep…all while your stomach growls. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Every child should have access to enough safe and nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and growing and playing instead of on their empty stomach.

Nobody can deny that children are the future. Just biologically, this is a fact. Children will grow to be the adults of tomorrow and the adults of today will eventually die. Investing in the children of today is incredibly important. And it is truly the biggest and best investment that we can make. How these children feel, think, perceive the world will impact what our world will look like in 10, 20, 40 years. This is why we need a universal healthy national school food program for children.

How would a national school food program impact our today and our future?

Show that we, as Canada, truly value and recognize the important that food plays in our communities and in our future as a country. Encourage the adoption of a food policy that gives kids healthy and nutritious food at school. A national school food program would shape our future in a few ways:

  • immediate impact: children would have access safe nutritious food so that they can focus on learning and playing.
  • intermediate impact: children would explore what ‘healthy eating’ truly means, understand the role that food plays in their own culture as well as in society by growing a school garden, learning about food systems locally and globally, discussing issues related to food security and learning to prepare delicious culturally appropriate meals.
  • long-term impact: children would grow into adults who think critically about the world around them and can support and sustain themselves (better able to focus at school may mean more likely to succeed in society, know how to grow and cook healthy foods, understand the relationship between themselves, food and the environment). They may also be healthier, reducing negative impacts on our health care system.

You can read more about this on Food Secure Canada’s page on a national healthy school food program. This year, ask your local candidates what they think about giving kids access to healthy food and EatThinkVote.

A garlic harvest of our own

Last weekend, we celebrated our very first garlic harvest! After eating the little scapes from our garlic last month, we were excited to see what the bulbs looked like beneath the soil. I think we harvested them a little bit later than we maybe should’ve (1 week earlier would’ve been good) but sure enough, we found fully formed bulbs! They were rather small but I’d still say we were fairly successful for a first ever garlic planting. These were from cloves that we picked up at last year’s Carp Garlic Festival. We’ll be going back to the festival this year to buy a few more bulbs for eating and for planting.

Fresh out of the soil Ready to be hung

In other news, our tomatoes are still green but there are a good number of them growing larger by the day. We also have a healthy number of flowers that will become tomatoes very soon (fingers crossed!). The peas are doing fabulously but like last year, the plant is large and unruly. I really need to work on how to grow a nicely contained pea plant. Our purple beans are beautiful as ever and the plant looks like it is doing well. The chard and kale are producing good yields, and unlike last year with a mold issue, this year’s cucumbers are looking great! We’ve got a lot of flowers and a few cucumbers already growing.

Ripen, babies, ripen Future tomatos Part of the haul Peas IMG_4481

I love seeing our vegetables doing well. It is so satisfying! But I also cannot believe that it is August!?

Nothing says summer like….

Nothing says summer like...

We took our toddler strawberry picking for the first time at the end of June. For the first time that I’ve gone, it wasn’t hot, humid and sticky but rather pleasant. Sunny blue skies with no humidity! Definitely a welcome change as there is absolutely zero shade in a strawberry patch. Makes me appreciate commercial strawberry pickers even more.

Of course, preceding this trip to the strawberry patch was the introduction of strawberries to our toddler to make sure he wasn’t allergic to them. I had wanted to wait to test strawberries until we could give him fresh ones (not ones that had been trucked hundreds of kilometres) so the timing is limited. I missed last June/July so this year it was! And he was fine – phew.

I’m guessing like most of the other kids, he stood in the patch eating berry after berry while we tried to pick as many to take home as we could. Then came the mass processing – washing, cutting the greens off and freezing. I also tried canning a no pectin strawberry jam, which turned out marvellously. Got to use our candy thermometer for the first time! I’ve learned that greener strawberries naturally contain more pectin so next year, note to self, I need to bring home a few part-green ones for jamming.

Next up: raspberry picking. We had wanted to go blueberry picking but the farms closest to us seem to have all lost their crop during our tough winter!

Food allergies in emergencies

I’ve been thinking about this quite often lately. What do people with multiple food allergies do in an emergency? Obviously, there are many magnitudes of “emergency” (the natural disasters, being stranded somewhere, otherwise unexpected events) but no matter how small or great, they present a particular challenge for those with allergies. Dealing with multiple allergens, particularly ubiquitous ingredients such as dairy, egg and wheat, it’s not like you can just pop into a store or a gas station and expect to find any safe food. And then imagine if it’s a mass emergency that impacts lots of people…the shelves at stores would likely already be slim pickings….

Now more than ever, we have tried to have a decent amount of dry goods in our pantry for those just-in-case moments. Canned fish, rice cakes, Tetrapak hemp milk, sunbutter, some safe snacks that we’ve found. My personality already sets me up to do worst-case scenario analyses and honestly, the natural disaster-type scenario makes me extra anxious from the food perspective.

Setting aside those “emergency” scenarios that we typically think of, I started to think of those life changes that can impact food availability. Things like loss of income, ill turn in health, other situations of poverty. I read about the Food Equality Initiative just by chance through a social networking site. This is an organization based in Kansas that runs a gluten-free and allergy-friendly food pantry. Wow, what an amazing concept. I contacted the Ottawa Food Bank to ask how they work with clients who have allergies. They informed me that their community partners – the organizations who actually hand out the food items – work with clients to determine what foods they can or cannot eat. They also told me that some partners may keep allergy-friendly foods stored separately for clients who self-identify as requiring them. I think about what a challenge it can be walking through the grocery store to find safe foods so I wonder what the experience is actually like, trying to get safe foods from a more limited selection (like that available from the food bank).

Homemade birthday cake! (aka Japanese strawberry shortcake)

When I was last in Toronto, I visited a Chinese bakery. We actually do so every time we’re in Toronto, usually to pick up some buns for the road trip back home. This past visit, I saw the typical Chinese birthday cake in the display case: the chiffon cake with whipped cream filling and topping and a variety of fruit. It was around $20 for an 8″ cake and I swear, I was *this* close to buying it and driving it back to Ottawa because I love these cakes and there is no proper Chinese bakery in this city that sells a good cake. So ever since I saw that cake in the display case and didn’t get to eat it, I’ve been craving it. And that is how I came to search the internet for a recipe to make it myself.

I used this recipe as it was the only one that I could find that had normal measurements of ingredients. I figured that the key to this cake would be to make the meringue properly, beating the egg whites until truly stiff peaks formed, so I took 20 minutes to get stiff peaks and tried not to deflate the meringue by over mixing when it is added to the rest of the cake mixture.

The cake actually turned out pretty well. Because I only had a 10″ springform pan (instead of the 8″ the recipe calls for), I was worried that the cake would turn out too shallow…but it actually turned out just perfect. The wider diameter did make it more challenging to do the lateral slice to fill the cake with whipped cream and strawberries but once the whole thing is assembled and the outside is smothered in whipped cream, you can hardly tell that my lateral slice was lopsided. I’ll definitely have to work on getting a nice smooth spread of whipped cream on the outside of the cake; as my friend pointed out, the reasons why the bakeries have a smooth outside spread is because they use a lazy susan and an inch of whipped cream!

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Sliced cake

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So I’m still happy to pay $15-$20 to buy this cake pre-made at a good Chinese bakery, but I can actually make it myself now too! It probably took about 3 hours total (including baking time and assembly time), with 20 minutes going to whipping the meringue and another 15 minutes going to whipping the cream. A stand mixer would make things more efficient…as would buying whipped topping instead of 35%MF heavy whipping cream!

Stimulating Saturdays: What is ethical eating?

To you, what does it mean to eat ethically? Off the top of my head, ethical eating would mean consuming food that has been ethically raised and obtained. Of course, that interpretation alone in and of itself is open to much interpretation. What it means to one person to be “ethically raised” might not be ethical enough for the next person. However, I saw this trailer for a book (yes…I wondered to myself what a ‘book trailer’ is) that made me rethink ethical eating.

The trailer is for the book, Behind the Kitchen Door, by Saru Jayaraman. I haven’t read it yet but it raises a very crucial point: the food that you are eating at a restaurant may meet your definition of ethical eating, but are the people behind the scenes of your food being treated ethically? And if not, can eating at that restaurant still be ethical?

I am not too familiar with the minimum wage situation in the United States but was shocked to see that for tipped workers, the minimum wage is just over $2 per hour. There have also been numerous attempts to have the minimum wage raised, including a campaign by the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

The minimum wage in Canada for all workers is higher than $2 per hour but is still under the poverty line and has been in the media spotlight again recently. In Canada, each of the provinces and territories set their own minimum wage. In the province of Ontario where I live, the provincial government just announced that it will be raising the minimum wage to $11, effective June 1, 2014, ending the freeze that has been in effect since 2010. Decisions on when and by how much to raise the minimum wage have been haphazard in the past. To address this, the provincial government also promised to introduce legislation enabling annual increases to the minimum wage, linked to the rate of inflation, that would be announced each year on April 1 and becoming effective on October 1 of the same year. Critics continue to argue that these announcements by the government are not enough to address the fact that the minimum wage is still below the poverty line (for a person working full time year-round). I can’t imagine only earning $2 per hour at any job. I can’t imagine having to support a family at $11 per hour.

So again, I ask, what does it mean to eat ethically?

Apples!

This fall, I’ve had a stronger-than-usual hankering for pears and apples. When a friend offered to pick apples for us from a local orchard, I said “Yes please!” right away. Along came 10lb of MacIntosh apples…so what do we do but cook up and can our first ever batch of homemade applesauce. The apples were sweet enough that no additional sugar was needed. We decided not to add any spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, etc) either, so this is a pretty plain jane batch of applesauce.

Beautiful Macs
Beautiful Macs
Quartered apples, ready for reduction
Quartered apples, ready for reduction
Immersion blended
Immersion blended
Canned applesauce!
Canned applesauce!

Looking forward to eating this stuff in March, when winter just doesn’t feel like it’s ending anytime soon….

Blueberries!

While I was in Kelowna, BC several weeks ago, I went apricot picking for the very first time in my life! I have to say, it is so much easier picking apricots than strawberries. For one, apricots grow on trees, which means they are more easily accessible from a standing position and the trees provide shade. Strawberries, as delicious as they are, grow very low to the ground in large open fields with little shade. As a side note, in high school, I worked picking strawberries for one damp morning and since then, have a huge appreciation for berry pickers. Oh yes. And apricots are much larger than strawberries…we picked over 20lb of apricots in 10 minutes! To eat tree-ripened apricots…heaven.

Unfortunately, I missed cherry picking (arriving too late in the afternoon to be allowed into the orchards) and couldn’t go blueberry picking while in BC (because BC blueberries are huge and the best of the best). However, I did eat loads of Okanagan cherries during my vacation and decided that I would try blueberry picking in Ottawa once I was back in town.

Blueberries!
Blueberries!

It doesn’t seem like there are many blueberry U-Pick farms around Ottawa but we made a trip out to the one that I did find: Canaan Blueberries. It’s about a 20 minute drive east on the highway from downtown Ottawa, beyond suburban Orleans and into the countryside. The drive is nice and takes you along the Ottawa River, and before you know it, you’ll have arrived at the farm.

I found that blueberry picking in Ottawa was more tedious than picking in Vancouver, mostly because the berries here seem to be smaller. Obviously this depends on the variety, of which Canaan has a few, but it took me about 2 hours to fill a 4 litre basket ($2.75 per lb). Nonetheless, it was a beautiful summer day to be out amongst the blueberry bushes!

Blueberry bushes
Blueberry bushes

It’s easy to make pizza!

I often wonder why people buy frozen pizzas at the supermarket. I’ve tried many a brand – we either ate Pizza Hut pizza or frozen pizzas growing up – and have yet to find one that I really enjoy. I love going out for a good wood-fired thin crust pizza with simple toppings but what to do at home?

Years ago, my friends invited me over to their place and told me that we were going to make pizza. From scratch! I thought, how crazy!? I imagined it would be an arduous process making the dough…where I would arrive at 6pm and we wouldn’t be able to eat until 10pm. I was imagining a very cranky self. However, much to my surprise, the dough was delicious and it was super easy to make. The recipe uses yeast so the rise time can be quite short. In fact, the time that it takes to prepare your toppings is just enough for the dough to rise. I like to use a standard cookie sheet to spread the dough out on, so that I get somewhat of a thinner crust. It freezes great, so often we’ll make a pizza and have a few slices to freeze for a quick lunch another day.

Pizza with German and hot Genoa salami, spinach, snow peas, beans, and St-Albert cheese
Pizza with German and hot Genoa salami, spinach, snow peas, beans, and St-Albert cheese

Pizza dough recipe:

  • 1 cup warm water (about 45 degrees Celsius)
  • 1T sugar
  • 2.25t yeast
  • 3T olive oil
  • 1t salt
  • 2.5 cups flour (can use all-purpose or multigrain)
  • 1T italian seasoning
  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Stir water, sugar, and yeast together until dissolved. Add italian seasoning. Tip: Mix everything together in a 2 cup measuring cup (measure and mix in one vessel).
  3. Add in oil and salt. Place in a mixing bowl.
  4. Stir in the flour and blend well.
  5. Cover with a warm wrung tea towel and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Tip: Perfect time to prep all of your pizza toppings while the dough rests.
  6. Stretch dough out to desired shape. Fold the crust back over itself at the edges if you have excess dough.
  7. Dress the dough with toppings.
  8. Bake pizza until crust browns and pulls away from the edge of the pan (about 10-20 minutes).
  9. Enjoy! Tip: Cut the pizza with scissors. It’s so much easier than using a pizza cutter.