By Marjorie MacDonald
Keen to stay on track today, I started the day with a shopping trip – choosing the grocery store that I know is generally cheaper (but the vegetables are not as nice) than the others. I bought some mixed beans and oxo cubes to make soup, a small bag of black beans, a small bag of brown rice, a bag of mottled apples on the discount shelf, two onions, a bunch of spinach, a small bag of skim milk powder, a loaf of whole wheat bread (the cheap kind), a dozen eggs (not free range, free run, or Omega 3) and the most inexpensive small bag of ground coffee I could find. I wistfully passed over the fair trade coffee beans I might otherwise purchase. As I walked to the checkout, I saw a bunch of bananas on sale and got very excited that I had just enough money left to buy them.
If I had children to feed I would likely not have purchased coffee at all – it would be an unjustifiable expense. The sacrifices necessary of parents on welfare are a stark reality when there is only $26.00 in your pocket. It also immediately became clear to me that people on welfare do not have the opportunity to take advantage of the benefits of bulk purchasing to get the better prices. Small bags of beans and rice cost more per unit than large bags that will feed more mouths and last longer, but buying the large bag uses up too much of the food allowance. I can see this becoming a vicious cycle and never allowing one to get even just a wee bit ahead. You have to have money to save money!
Yesterday, I was consumed with sorting out the details of how I was going to engage in this challenge, so I did not have much time to confront and consider the meaning of this experience or why I was actually doing this. Today, with the details taken care of, I had time to think about all of this and to confront some of the emotions that were just below the surface yesterday. I was reminded of something I had not thought about in many years – my own childhood growing up in a family of 8 children. We did not often go hungry, but the cost of food was an issue for my parents, at least when I was quite young (later their financial situation improved greatly). But then, we drank powdered milk, ate primarily hamburger for meat (or fish sticks on Friday), sometimes had a “bologna roast,” and rarely had fresh vegetables.
There was almost never enough for seconds, but when there was, the first one to finish got the seconds, so I learned to eat fast and that unhealthy habit remains with me today. My mother had to intervene to make sure that everyone had a turn for seconds over the course of a week. What dawned on me suddenly yesterday was something I had never realized or considered as a child. You will probably wonder about my intelligence level that I didn’t realize what was going on, but my mother sometimes said – when we told her to sit down and eat was – “No, you go ahead, I’m not hungry. I ate something awhile ago.” And we would jump in and eat her share. She was sacrificing her food so that we would have more and I was completely oblivious to this. Of course, I forgot all about it when I got older and we became more financially secure. She never discussed this with us even as adults.
But I know that this is a common experience for those living in poverty. No one should have to sacrifice their own food and health to feed their children. Please do your part and lobby your MLA to “Raise the Rates”. While you are lobbying your MLA, also encourage them to support a poverty reduction plan. To get started, visit the Poverty Reduction Coalition’s ‘Meet your MLA and Ask Them’ online resource.