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.

Roots and Shoots CSA share – 3rd week of July

I cannot believe how quickly time seems to pass by. I used to think time passed quickly but now, with a toddler, I feel like it whizzes by! This week’s share included one of my least favourite veggies: fennel. I just cannot tolerate the licorice scent or taste! However, in looking for fennel recipes, I found fried fennel. Maybe we’ll give that a whirl this weekend….

It looks like we got a mound of zucchini but half of them are from my trade this week (I traded in my cilantro for more zucchini). Scapes are still looking great! The garlic that is growing in our garden is long past the scape stage, with its greens almost completely brown and dried. Almost time to harvest?

CSA share 3rd week of July

From left to right, we have a bag of mixed beans, lettuce, beautiful beets, kale, carrots, onion, zucchini, fennel (ugh), scapes and cucumber.

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).

On becoming sustenance

It is a humbling and challenging experience becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. That’s right. You as food. An experience unparalleled thus far in my life and possibly one of the most difficult. That is not to say that it is without its rewards (which I’m not going to discuss as these are widely preached already) but wow, it is tough.

I’m talking about breastfeeding. I think a lot about food and issues surrounding it and this is right up that alley…except that I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.

Throughout pregnancy, I was anxious about labour and delivery. To be exact, I was wary about the pain. Loads of people shared their own labour stories with me in the days and months leading up to my due date. However, my labour and delivery was thankfully pretty straightforward and frankly, not something that I would call “painful” in hindsight. Turns out I should’ve been anxious about becoming someone else’s sustenance.

Having attended prenatal classes and a breastfeeding information class, I am disappointed that not once did they mention what women commonly experience during the first few weeks of nursing. Pain. Soreness. Challenges. They talk about latching and signs of good feeds and show you pamphlets and brochures laden with pictures that portray nothing but blissful parents with their babes. All of that is important but what about cracked, bleeding nipples or otherwise sore nipples that don’t get enough of a break because you need to feed your baby every two hours? What about other issues that you may run into, like inverted nipples, over- or under supply of milk, or tongue tie?

Seeing your baby, red-faced, frantic, and crying hard, waiting to be fed and knowing that while you are its sole source of food (of its growth and well-being), you want nothing more than to hide your extremely sore nipples…but not being able to…and the toe-curling pain of an hour nursing session that ensues…it is more than enough to test your perseverance and the strength of your spirit. While you are already vulnerable from your lack of continuous sleep and chaos of trying to understand a baby, you need to figure out what to do to alleviate pain or address other nursing issues. Why had nobody mentioned that breastfeeding just might not be that easy and that it just might be painful? I felt ill-prepared. It’s difficult enough trying to ascertain whether or not your baby is latching well or not; after all, one can watch many videos and read sheets of instructions/diagrams but it’s only with time-after-time experience that one can really understand success and failure in this regard. When you have compounded issues on top of the ‘basic’ mechanics of latch and suck, nursing sessions can start to feel like a nightmare…a psychological hurdle followed by a physical hurdle.

Whenever a mom-to-be asks me for advice, I’ll talk about breastfeeding. That it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling and to feel confused from all of the differing (and sometimes contradictory) advice that you’ll get from those around you (doctors, lactation consultants, loved ones and friends). Many a time I felt like a failure for being scared to nurse and trying to put it off for just 5 more minutes…and it’s important to know that other moms have gone through similar pain and the same feeling of failure or wanting to give up.

It can be tough and it can be rough becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. We should talk about it, worrying less about ‘scaring people off of breastfeeding’ and more about supporting mothers-to-be in the reality of what they may face in the days and weeks

Courtesy Seats

At the front of the public buses here in Ottawa and in many cities, there is an area of seating designated as courtesy, co-operative, or priority seating. The idea is that if someone who cannot stand in a moving vehicle boards the bus, they have a place near the door to take a seat. Typically, the area is marked with decals on the windows above the designated seats and the decals have illustrations that vary, city-to-city, but can represent wheelchairs, pregnant women, people with strollers, and people with mobility aids.

I’ve always avoided sitting in this area because I’m able-bodied and can easily move towards the back of the bus, even while the vehicle is moving. However, I’ve made an observation that really irks me…and apparently it irks a lot of other people too!

Now, I’m not one to judge whether someone is able-bodied or not. There are invisible issues that some people face and I’m very cognizant of this. For this reason, I won’t ask anyone in particular to move out of their seat. I expect that etiquette will take care of this. BUT I have noticed so many people acting oblivious to the older gentleman who boards the bus with his walker or the toddler who comes on with their guardian. I’ve seen people sitting in the designated area who are engrossed by their phone and never look up, people who all of a sudden become super occupied by their phone once they notice someone who should occupy a designated seat board the bus, and people who just don’t get up to offer their seat. Sometimes people don’t even move for a wheelchair. Until the bus driver requests that space be made for a wheelchair, at which point, sometimes it becomes a staring contest between the people occupying the two bench seating areas, one across from the other, that can be converted to a wheelchair seating area: Who will move first!

Perhaps some people are utterly oblivious…but some people just don’t seem to care! Siiiiiiigh.

Maiden Names

I wanted to share a lunchtime conversation that I had with some colleagues a few days ago. It started with a discussion on selecting a name for a baby and ended on an interesting question: do you know your grandmothers’ maiden names?

Most people know their mother’s maiden name and often their partner’s mother’s maiden name. However, knowledge of the lineage beyond that commonly gets fuzzy. I’ve always had interest in putting together a family tree but (a) my extended family on both sides is spread over a number of countries and (b) my extended family is HUGE!

After that lunchtime discussion, I really think I should start working on the family tree because I have no idea what my grandmothers’ maiden names were! I’m not even sure I know the names of all of my cousins, let alone their partners and children.

Now to search for ideas on putting together a family tree for a large and complex extended family….

Happy Canada Day!

Mixed berry tart (graham wafer crust and custard)
Mixed berry tart (graham wafer crust and custard)

Today is Canada Day. In Ottawa, Canada’s capital city, there are a lot of festivities happening around Parliament Hill. Fireworks at night, concerts during the day, loads of buskers here and there, and a huge crowd to celebrate with.

I was reading an article in the Metro newspaper about Canadians living abroad celebrating Canada Day and it reminded me of the year that I was in Japan for July 1. I had moved there for an internship in June and was planning to live there for almost a year. That Canada Day, I went to a bbq in a park in Tokyo with a handful of other interns and met some other expats. There was a cake iced with the Canadian flag, some flag memorabilia, face paints, and just a nice sense of community. Ironically, to the other people I passed by that day, touting a maple leaf face painted on my cheek and a paper Canadian flag in my ponytail, I probably looked more like a Japanese gal taking part in a foreign party…but to me, all of this was a small reminder of home. I think your connection to your home is magnified when you’re not anywhere near home.

What does this have to do with a mixed berry tart? Not much of anything. But isn’t it a beauty nonetheless!?

Fringe-ing in Ottawa

Last year’s train trip (the Canada portion was from Vancouver to Ottawa) had me stopping in Winnipeg for a handful of days in late July. It was my first visit to this city in the Prairies – also the middle of Canada – and luck would have it that I dropped by right in the middle of the Winnipeg Fringe Festival. You may think that this Fringe Fest is small but it actually held the North American record for tickets sold for a few years until another city outsold them in 2011. Pretty impressive!

I was a Fringe virgin but, lucky me, I had a fabulous Frequent Fringer and devoted volunteer acting as my Fringe guide. She took me to see a variety of shows (comedy, drama, musical, improve, opera) and exposed me to Fringe Central downtown, including free shows on the mainstage. The weather was beautiful, the arts were creative, and I walked away with nothing but fond memories.

How do you walk away from such an experience without wanting to be drawn back into it this year! Lo and behold, I’ll be volunteering at the Ottawa Fringe Festival, running in and around the Byward Market area from June 20-30, 2013…and hopefully checking out a number of shows as well. As with the Winnipeg Fringe, the Ottawa Fringe is unjuried so I would expect an eclectic mix of theatre with a range of quality (subjective, of course).

To attend the Ottawa Fringe, each person needs a $3 Fringe pin. The pin is to be worn at any show you are seeing, is purchased separately from a show ticket, and is a one-time $3 donation to the Fringe Festival itself. This allows all of the ticket sale money to go directly to the performing artists. With 50+ productions over 10 days, you’re bound to find something that piques your curiosity. There is also the Fringe Courtyard where you can hang out, buy some food (Stone Soup Foodworks food truck is the vendor), and enjoy some entertainment.

I’m the type of person who likes to buy tickets in advance. However, for the Ottawa Fringe, I am switching it up by buying my ticket at the door. Something like 50% of the tickets are held for door sales, with the other 50% allocated to advance sales, so I presume there’s a good chance of getting a ticket to a desired show at the door.

Check out the productions and come Fringe! And if you are in town on Canada Day, the Courtyard will remain open on July 1 with some free improv and entertainment!

Stimulating Saturdays: Food Waste

I remember going to an outdoor school in grade 4. We were incredibly fortunate at my school to have access to such a facility. We would all pile into school buses with sleeping bags and outside clothes for a 3 day stay at outdoor school, where we – city kids – would learn about nature (like what the inside of a fish feels like!). At meals, we were assigned chores. Some of us would be responsible for putting together the day’s weather forecast (so that everyone would know how to dress after breakfast), some of us would help prepare and set tables for meals, some of us would clear the table…and that included collecting all of the leftover food to feed the resident pigs. Now, as a 10 year old, I recall seeing the slop of food that we took in metal pails to the pigs and thinking how disgusting it looked, but I also remember the pigs really loving the fare!

Food waste is a complex issue because it arises in so many different facets. Supermarkets getting rid of food because it is no longer saleable, households overbuying food at the supermarket and throwing it out in the garbage, producers losing food because they can’t process it efficiently (just as an example).