Where do we go from here? Reflections on the Welfare Food Challenge

By Marjorie MacDonald

I have not been blogging for the past three days because I have been so busy with work deadlines and preparations for the PHABC Conference, rapidly approaching. Although I have not been blogging, during that time, I thought continuously about the food challenge, what it means for me, and where I go from here. Even the fact that I was too busy to blog was an indicator of my privileged position with a well paying job. I might complain about how busy I am, but the opportunity to be busy with work that I enjoy, that provides me with satisfaction, a sense of accomplishment and a conviction that I am making a contribution to society is a privilege that comes from a fortunate configuration of circumstances that so many do not have access to. 

Over the past three days, I found myself wondering – has this been a useful thing for me to do? And where do I take it from here? Clearly, the entire thing has been an artificial exercise. Poverty and food security are not issues I will have to deal with and now that the food challenge is over, I can go right back to eating what I want to eat without worry about the cost, the nutritional value, or the availability of food. So did this do anyone any good at all? Can I sustain the sensitivity I have developed this week to food security issues in a way that I can contribute to finding a solution? Will my efforts and those of the other participants in the challenge result in government “raising the rates?” Sadly, I am not optimistic. So much more needs to be done.

Many of my colleagues tell me that even though they did not participate in the challenge themselves, their conversations with me about it raised their consciousness about food security, poverty, their own relationship to food, and to a recognition of their own privilege.  All well and good, and it is a start, but it isn’t enough.   Some tell me they are prompted to contribute more to charity. Many seem to think that this might be part of the solution. But how useful is one person’s charity and what can it accomplish? Frankly, not much.  A charity response to the huge food security issues we have in this province will be a drop in the bucket that does nothing for the entire population of those affected and it does not solve the problem.  So what can we do to address the crisis of poverty in the province?

As public health professionals, we know that making significant change requires a broader, structural response. We need to change the social, environmental, and political structures that promote and sustain poverty in BC. It seems a tall order in a province that refuses to join all (but one) of the other Canadian provinces in developing a poverty reduction plan. We do have a voice and we understand the importance of advocacy. Many of us have connections in high places.  We can use our voices and our connections. We just need to get ourselves up from our comfortable living and working situations and do something, anything. However, a coordinated, collective response is likely to be more powerful than a response from one of us working alone.  Join a group that is working toward poverty reduction or food security. Talk to your MLAs.  Once again, I encourage all of you to do this.

As PHABC goes through a process to revise and update its strategic plan, we have the opportunity to do something concrete, visible, and productive to address these important issues.  Let us know what else you think we can do as an organization. Post a response to this blog, or contact us directly. We want to hear your ideas about what we, as individuals, and as an organization can do.  In many ways, we are the converted. How do we move beyond the “usual suspects”? That is where I sometimes struggle, so your ideas on that are welcome.

Marjorie MacDonald is the President of the Public Health Association of British Columbia

1 thought on “Where do we go from here? Reflections on the Welfare Food Challenge

  1. Kudos to Dr. MacDonald for her honest self-scrutiny and call to action. Readers may be cheered to know that an extensive outcomes mapping project was conducted with 47 stakeholders on the topic of food security, and is posted on the Capital Region and Food and Agricultural Initiative website section of http://www.communitycouncil.ca. It shows the complexity of the issue, who is doing what in the Capital region as our first case study, and acts as a template for others to model. A provincial symposium with funders, government and social change network heads is planned for early 2014. Stay tuned to the BC PHA for further details. They are at the table!

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