Walk a week on a shoestring

When you’re on a tiny social assistance, what can you eat? Currently, the monthly food allowance under social assistance is $201 per person,…

When you’re on a tiny social assistance, what can you eat?

Currently, the monthly food allowance under social assistance is $201 per person, equal to $46.90 per week or $6.50 per day.

In one day, someone on a food allowance can buy three items off the McDonalds’ value menu.

Or a six-inch sub at Subway.

Or a box of Cheerios and a personal-sized milk carton.

Or four bags of dry spaghetti.

From October 5th to 11th, nutritionist Jennifer Eskes signed up a team of volunteers for The Food Challenge, an effort to “go social assistance” for an entire week. Steaks, pomegranates and oranges were sworn off, and six family groups, including Whitehorse councillor Dave Stockdale and CYFN vice-Chief Shirley Adamson, dove into the financial rigours of strict food budgetary.

Flavour was the first casualty.

“We ate a lot of oatmeal, rice, pasta, less expensive fruits and vegetables,” said Elizabeth Parker, a Whitehorse chiropractor and Food Challenge participant. Normally, her diet is a steady stream of fish and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Style was still possible — Parker said she whipped up a good chick pea curry.

But fancy spices and sauces were a thing of the past.

“Things were generally pretty plain, just pasta with tomato sauce,” said Parker.

And the spice of life? Variety? Forget about it.

The whole exercise was an effort at empathy generation, as well as a loose examination of nutritional difference between a “rich” and “poor” diet, said Eskes.

“I wanted people to not just think ‘Oh, you only have $6.50 a day to live on, that sucks,’” said Eskes.

“I wanted people to do it themselves, because there’s a real difference between knowing and experiencing,” she said.

Food challenge participants instantly saw their priorities skewed in a way that would have made Maslow proud.

Food suddenly leapt to the top of the worry pile.

“I definitely felt more stressed about food, because I’m used to going to the grocery store and buying what I want, and if you run out of something you can go get more,” said Parker.

“But on a fixed budget you don’t get that luxury,” she said.

Meal planning was essential, with participants treasuring every scrap of leftovers. Supermarket sales skyrocketed in importance, treats were made instead of bought and wild meat became an essential budget-reliever.

“Some participants had noted that they were bored of eating leftovers or eating the same foods each day,” said a report drafted at the end of the challenge.

“There were very few ‘convenience’ foods purchased, most meals were made from scratch,” it said.

The time and ingenuity needed by Canada’s poor gained newfound admiration from Food Challengers.

“You have to source out sales, you need to be thrifty, you need to cook and be creative,” said Eskes.

“It’s hard to be poor and it takes a lot of resources in the sense that you really need to be on it,” she said.

Health-wise, tight budgets are causing the poor to lag behind other Canadians, although not in the oft-conceived Dickensian image of the “skinny poor.” In the modern era, obesity is the greatest concern for those under the poverty line.

“There is a significant link between obesity and poor nutrition and lower income,” said Eskes.

“It’s a lower quality of food that people on a budget can afford to eat — more empty calories, like Kraft Dinner,” she said.

Overall, participants were able to eat at least one serving from each food group every day, but the fruit and vegetable and meat alternatives categories were often lacking, due to their higher cost over grain products, which can be bought in large quantities without spoiling.

Diet is not the only thing affected by a small food budget, said Eskes. With food being a cornerstone to so many leisure activities, a social life can be severely constrained by financial limitations.

“When you’re not on social assistance and you’ve got that $5 in your pocket, you don’t even think twice about going out for coffee,” said Eskes.

“What else are you going to do? That’s like the lowest cost social activity that you can do,” she said.

Eating out was extremely limited, if not impossible, reported the nutrition assessment.

“We just forget that those little things that break up the monotony of your life are important to everybody, whether you’re on social assistance or not,” she said.

Tweny-one per cent of Northerners reported being food insecure compared to 14.7 per cent of the rest of Canada, reported a national health survey in 2000/2001.

In 2007, Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut had a 19 per cent increase in food bank usage since the previous year. Two per cent of the Yukon population used a food bank in 2007

In 2005, Statistics Canada reported that 10.5 per cent of Canadians lived below the poverty line. A Canadian is deemed to be below the poverty line when they spend 20 percentage points more of their gross income on food, shelter and clothing than the average Canadian.

Whitehorse food bank services have themselves been running into budgetary constraints, said an official Food Challenge release.

Mary House, one of two Whitehorse food banks, has decreased food bank services from 3 days per week to 2 days per week due to lack of resources. In April, 2007 Mary House was often closed due to depleted food stores.

Just Posted

Lorraine Kuhn is seen with one of the many volleyball teams she coached. (Photo submitted by Sport Yukon)
The Yukon Sports Hall of Fame inducts the late Lorraine Kuhn

Lorraine Kuhn became the newest member of the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame for her work in growing volleyball amongst other sports

File Photo
A Yukon judge approved dangerous offender status for a man guilty of a string of assaults in 2020.
Yukon judge sentences dangerous offender to indefinite prison term

Herman Peter Thorn, 51, was given the sentence for 2020 assaults, history of violence

Crystal Schick/ Yukon News A former residential school in the Kaska Dena community of Lower Post will be demolished on June 21. Crystal Schick/ Yukon News
Lower Post residential school demolition postponed

On June 21, the old residential school in Lower Post will be demolished and new ground on a multi-cultural centre will be broken

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley announced 29 new COVID-19 cases on June 19 and community transmission among unvaccinated individuals. (Yukon News file)
Yukon logs record-high 29 new COVID-19 cases

F.H. Collins prom attendees and some Porter Creek Grade 9 students are instructed to self-isolate as community transmission sweeps through unvaccinated populations

Willow Brewster, a paramedic helping in the COVID-19 drive-thru testing centre, holds a swab used for the COVID-19 test moments before using it on Nov. 24. The Yukon government is reopening the drive-thru option on June 18. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Drive-up COVID-19 testing opening June 18 in Whitehorse

The drive-up testing will be open from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. everyday and increase testing capacity by 33 spots

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council at its June 14 meeting

Murray Arsenault sits in the drivers seat of his 1975 Bricklin SV1 in Whitehorse on June 16. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
Bringing the 1975 Bricklin north

Murray Arsenault remembers his dad’s Bricklin, while now driving his own

A presumptive COVID case was found at Seabridge Gold’s 3 Aces project. (file photo)
Presumptive COVID-19 case reported at mine in southeast Yukon

A rapid antigen rest found a presumptive COVID case on an incoming individual arriving at the 3Aces project

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

FORT SIMPSON—Residents of a flooded Northwest Territories village expected a helping hand… Continue reading

A woman was rescued from the Pioneer Ridge Trail in Alaska on June 16. (Photo courtesy/AllTrails)
Alaska hiker chased off trail by bears flags down help

ANCHORAGE (AP)—An Alaska hiker who reported needing help following bear encounters on… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

NDP MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq rises in the House of Commons, in Ottawa on May 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Unacceptable’ that Inuk MP felt unsafe in House of Commons, Miller says

OTTAWA—It’s a “sad reflection” on Canada that an Inuk MP feels she’s… Continue reading

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

Most Read