Today is the last day of the Welfare Food Challenge. It has been an interesting week navigating the challenges of living on $18 for food for the week. I did my best to eat as well as I could, but for most of the week I have felt tired and cranky.
I have a scientific mind, so I wanted to quantify my experiences in this challenge, and I have been inputting my meals into eaTracker.ca so I could keep track of my calorie and nutrient intake over the week.
I simply did not meet the requirements for ANY nutrients. Some key things stand out…
Energy – I’m WAY below the caloric intake I need to maintain a healthy weight, about half what I need. If I kept this up for a longer period of time I’d drop too many pounds. In fact, I’ve lost 6 pounds since last Friday. (Some of that is from illness, I’ve had a cold through this whole challenge, and some must be water weight). I’m also sluggish and too tired to do the fun physical activities I normally would.
Iron – also needed for energy, my iron intake was on average 58% of what I need despite the high content in black beans. At least my body will have absorbed more to compensate for the decreased intake.
Calcium – my intake was way too low at 35%. I just couldn’t afford to buy dairy, the easiest source, or the high calcium alternatives that a vegan would eat. Someone who had to live on this grocery amount for a long period would have very poor bone health.
Vitamin C – I tried, especially because I’ve been sick since last Friday, but only averaged at 75%. My immune function has been impaired and I can’t shake my cold.
Sodium – reducing sodium is a goal for most north Americans… but too little and you don’t retain enough water. I’ve been drinking on average 10 cups of water a day, and yet dehydration is kicking in, with cracked lips and dizziness, and water weight loss.
I could go on, but I think you see the point: it is just NOT possible to eat a healthy diet on $18 a week, the current amount people on welfare have to spend on food. This leads to health deterioration and exhaustion. Trying to find employment or participate in social activities would be terribly challenging.
An interesting thing about eating the same food every day: when you eat good food your body releases dopamine, the hormone that makes you feel happy. But each time you eat the same thing in a row, a little less dopamine is released. So after a long time eating the same flavour over and over again, you’re not deriving pleasure from that food anymore.
This makes sense, your body needs you to eat a variety of foods so that you intake all the vitamins and minerals you need to thrive. Each time you don’t fulfill this need for variety, your brain takes away some of your reward. And when you give it a new flavour to enjoy, whoooo! Here’s some happy hormone!
Fats, sugar and salt are big for dopamine, and why junk food is so popular. I’m getting very little fat and salt this week, and no sugar. It’s day 6 of this challenge, and already I could use a hit of dopamine – my appetite is gone today.
I can’t imagine not being able to buy all the flavours and types of food I like to enjoy! No wonder people turn to fast food; no nutritional value, but that matters less when priorities are to find cheap, filling and tasty.
The current welfare rates do not allow for people to buy the variety and quality of foods they need to have a satisfying or healthy diet.
For more information on Raise the Rates, the Welfare Food Challenge and how you can make a difference, please visit welfarefoodchallenge.org
SVNH Homelessness Action Week (HAW) activities wrap up this week with a Community Dinner and Resource Night at Champlain Heights on Friday from 5:00-8:00pm. A delicious free vegan meal will be catered by Lupii Cafe.
The SVNH HAW Youth Advisory Council has been hard at work this week planning this event to celebrate and build community connections in Champlain Heights. If you are interested in learning about food security and food justice in South Vancouver, please call SVNH to register 604-324-6212.
Today when I saw the sun I really wanted to get outside and do something. Normally I’m a pretty active person, so I would go for a hike, a run, a bike ride… Something that would let me enjoy the sun after the past few rainy and windy days. But I just didn’t have the energy to do those activities today. So I went for a walk, a good alternative low impact activity to get outside but not burn too many calories. It was a great walk, the sky was blue and it was warm out. I was so tired afterward though. I just wanted to sit down on my couch.
I try to bike to work at least once a week – it’s about a 45-60 min ride each way so not to be taken lightly. There was NO way that was happening this week. If I can’t even go for a walk for an hour without getting exhausted, how could I bike commute at a fast pace
On the food side today…
I made a mistake I’ve been hoping to avoid this week – I prepped a big batch of food for today and tomorrow, and one of my dishes didn’t turn out, it tasted a bit weird. But I have to eat it; aside from always not liking to waste food I don’t have veggies to spare. These foods take so long to prepare it’s sad when it goes wrong!
My breakfast however, was spot on this morning, very delicious. But a half carton only has six eggs in it, and the challenge is seven days. Looks like I’ll have to be more creative with breakfast Saturday if I don’t want to eat the same meal three times.
It’s 8:00pm and I’m still at work, so I think when I get home my dinner will be a quick mix up of my available food in some kind of bland stir fry. Not really excited about it. But definitely feeling hungry!
This morning I was light headed again – about 1-2 hours after breakfast my body really misses that caffeine wake up call.
I spent my final amount today, which I’m excited to include in my cooking tomorrow to change things up a bit – frozen spinach and one apple 🙂 Yes, ONE apple. I’m going to treat myself with half tomorrow and half Friday. I’m REALLY excited for that apple…
I’m definitely not getting enough calories this week, and I’ve already lost weight. I’ve been tracking my nutrient intake on eatTracker, the results of which I will share on the final day. I planned my entire week based on ensuring I would get as many vitamins, minerals and protein as possible, but it’s just not enough. And the decrease in my appetite means that I’m not getting enough calories in, even though I do have enough rice & beans to bridge that gap if I could stomach it.
I got home today around 6pm but wasn’t feeling really hungry, even though I ate my lunch around 1:30. Maybe my appetite is shrink already from repetitiveness. Whatever the cause, I didn’t immediately start making dinner. And then I realized… I had gone through all the beans I had pre-cooked on Sunday and had to boil them! If you’ve cooked dried beans before, then you know this is an hour process. Thankfully I had some soaked or I would’ve been out of luck on my protein. But add an hour boiling time to making the meal, and suddenly I’m eating dinner at 8:45. Oops.
Luckily, the bean soup I made turned out alright – bland though, because seasoning is not in the budget. My palate is missing spicy food. And yes, dinner looks… well, brown. But I’m doing my best to trick myself into thinking different texture = different food, even when the daily ingredients are the same.
I spent the day in food programming today, and wow was it tough being around all that great smelling food and not being able to eat any of it! But for someone living on a very limited food budget every month, that’s the reality all the time. To be around so many great foods in Vancouver everyday, and see people enjoying them, and not being able to try any? To not have variety in the diet to maintain appetite and health? That’s not okay.
It’s Day 2 of the Raise the Rates 2016 Welfare Food Challenge, and there have been some ups and downs already…
The down parts: Not sure if it’s because I’m still sick or the lack of calories (both?), but I was feeling pretty woozy in between breakfast and lunch today. Also could be due to the lack of my morning caffeine (I miss you already coffee!). I also had a really bad headache last night that required ibuprofen.
I made some pretty great cabbage rolls for dinner! They were lacking in spicing and sauciness, because those things are definitely not affordable on $18 per week. But the flavours were good!
I also bought more food supplies today, a half carton of eggs and a big can of diced tomatoes. I thought very carefully before buying those tomatoes, but I have some plans for it that should make it last for a few days… Stay tuned for those.
So what IS my plan?
My meal planning is based mainly on getting the most nutrients as possible while trying to reduce hunger through the day. I’m including 3 meals per day: mostly beans and rice with veggies for vitamins. – My veggie choices were based on cost (of course), versatility and nutrient content. Because I only have to live off this low food allowance for one week I’m not worried about fat soluble vitamins – my body has stored those – so I wanted to ensure I had sources of Vitamin C and Bs in my veggies. I’m lucky here; for someone who is living on an $18 per week food budget for a long time, it would be impossible to avoid nutrient deficiencies because body stores would be depleted.
– Black beans are an excellent source of protein and iron, so no meat needed, going vegetarian this week!
– Egg gives me some B12 and more protein, and variety for breakfast.
– Rice… well it’s very filling and low cost for a large amount.
– Calcium is going to be sadly low this week, I’ll hit maybe 30% of what I should. But dairy products are just not attainable at this allowance.
For more information on the challenge and how to support Raise the Rates, please visit https://welfarefoodchallenge.org.