Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Four Foods Feast

Today was such an amazing day.  It's a Wednesday.  Which during this time and place means that it is a day in which I have taken annual leave from my current employment to take classes to learn the Syilx language.   It is midterm day, but that doesn't bother me because I know that I can only do the best that I can do.  I also hear that today is the day of the Four Foods Feast and that it will be considered our class to attend.  How lucky am I?  I have been wishing for years to be able to make it to this important ceremony that allows us to say thank you to our parents, the animal and plants who feed us and give us life.  It is a time to be thankful for all of those people who fulfill their responsibility to gather, hunt and fish.

It was a beautiful ceremony that began with our most inspiring suxamaya?am Richard Armstrong explaining the meaning and reason for this feast.  The foods were brought out in order - roots and squash, berries, fish and then meats followed by a few extras like rice, corn and bread.  This of course was followed by a very intentional prayer, drumming and singing for all four representatives, Chief of Foods from the waters, the land, the sky and plants or Chief Skimhist (Black Bear), Chief Ntixtix (King Salmon), Chief Siya (Saskatoon Berry) and Chief Spitl'm (Bitter root).

After the elders were served and everyone else was eating for a while, they began to invite speakers to come up such as our hereditary chief  and elders from neighbouring communities.  When our hereditary chief spoke in the language, one of the words that I caught on to was the word for 'forgot'.  It was very humbling to hear him  explain in english that he was expressing words of thanks to Richard for sharing the teaching, because it was something that he had not been told for a very long time and was something that he had forgot.

It seemed very much like a full circle moment because I had started to hear the teachings of how the timix are our parents and this was further developed through the teachings of the feast.  The second song was so calming to the spirit, it deeply felt like prayer on a very different level.

The food, was amazing - I tried small amounts of many different things but in the end had somewhere between 80-90% Syilx food on my plate.  I didn't overeat by any means, but the food was so incredibly satiating without being uncomfortable, I was able to go many hours before feeling hungry again.    When you think about how hungry you can feel when you are eating highly processed food, it is amazing to think why you even do it.  A cookie with icing?  cupcakes with chocolate icing, potato chips ????

The day wrapped up with further connection to future work related to our indigenous foods.

kn limt, kn qamqamt, kn qay'am

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Farmbag Fundraiser Food Items

This year our school is participating in the Farmbag Fundraiser.  I have to say that I am very impressed with the selection of locally grown organic produce.  Many of our subscribers are taking a risk trying some food that they haven't tried before so the purpose of my next series of posts will be to share information about how to prepare some of the less familiar vegetables and fruits that will be in the Farmbag.  

This months bag included organic Delicata or acorn squash, golden apples, organic Anjou pears, organic Nantes carrots, organic Sieglind potatoes, organic bulls blood beets, organic sunchokes, organic leaks and green cabbage

Here are a couple of great links.

Great article on sun chokes.  The little white roots

How to prepare leeks video

Leek and potatoe soup recipe

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Day 7 - Reflecting on a week long Welfare Food Challenge

I decided to participate in the Welfare Food Challenge not only to highlight issues of food insecurity but to transform my level of understanding through a real experience.  I was to assume that I was starting from scratch and could eat only the food that I could purchase with $21 for the week.  This meant that I could not even touch the salt & pepper shakers in my cupboards.

I will admit that I was inspired by my coworker who is absolutely amazing at sharing his knowledge of being healthier through very tasty food.  Can a dietitian eat healthy on a welfare food budget?  I should hope so!  With a minimum of four years university and a full year of practical training, dietitians are equipped with the skills to determine how much food, in what combinations and how to get the best buy, among many other elements of food and health related knowledge. 

Of course, there are many others who are not so highly trained and if you consider the experience of many aboriginal people who have survived the legacy of colonization and who have been raised in boarding schools where often times the availability and quality of food was much worse than even welfare would allow for.  Consider how being removed from your own indigenous culture and left to fend for yourself at the age of dismissal from school with very limited food skills from either world, left you prepared in the life that faced you.  This would include passing the knowledge along to future generations.  I have many opportunities to discuss the issues of food insecurity in First Nation communities and the common theme is that when buying food from the store, the main goal is to fill your stomach.  Nutrition always comes secondary if even that high a priority.  So with that knowledge I pursued this challenge with the goal of filling my stomach, with the goal of making the food last.  Of course, I also wanted it to be tasty, which believe it or not is why I chose the noodles.  They have a handy little flavor pack in each portion that could be utilized if needed.  They also don’t require cooking because they are previously fried.  This lent an element of convenience when required.

I had purchased enough food to do my best to meet the minimum recommended servings from Canada’s Food Guide.  Here is a summary of the recommended number of servings from each food group according to Canada’s Food Guide, what I purchased, what I ate, along with the results of a provincial diet study of First Nations:

Food Group
Recommended # Servings CFG
What I Purchased
My Average Intake
Vegetables & Fruits
Grain Products
Milk & Alternatives
Meat & Alternatives

My daily calorie intake was on average, almost 1000 kcals lower than what was required to maintain my current body weight.   The math worked out accordingly and my body weight was 2lbs less at the end of the week.  Several micronutrient intakes had a high probability of being inadequate including:  calcium, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B12 and potassium.  This would definitely set me up for increased illness such as cold and flu as well as further reduced energy levels.  My sodium intake would most definitely have been excessive if I always consumed the soup base package from the noodle soup.   This could potentially affect individuals living with heart, liver and kidney conditions.  I was able to meet my requirements for fat, protein, fiber, iron, and B vitamins including folate.

Despite the hunger, tiredness, reduced thinking capacity and irritability described in previous blogs, I was always able to keep my humor and positive state of mind, a luxury given the knowledge that I would only follow this for a week.  Still I struggled to get out of bed in the morning, have my daughter ready for the school bus and get her ready for bed in the evening.  I didn’t go to town once during this whole week thus didn’t eat out and had to decline two meals that were offered at meetings that I attended.   I can imagine how quickly my mental wellness would decline should I need to continue with this inadequate level of food intake.

I also wasn’t able to share my food.  I had enough of it, in more ways than one.  That is I had planned for enough for everything except fruit and vegetables but as the days wore on, my fatigue and dissatisfaction for the food I had available increased and I found that physically I couldn’t eat as much.  I didn’t want it, and no one that I offered it to wanted it.

This is a photo of the food that was remaining after the completion of seven days.  (10 packages noodles, half cabbage, half jar peanut butter, half bag beans)

"Shallow understanding accompanies poor compassion; great understanding goes with great compassion."Tich Nhat Han
Through this experience, I have learned that I definitely eat for more reasons than physical hunger and could quite possibly get away with less.  I also learned that there is some truth to the frequently shared belief that it is too costly to eat healthy foods.  I was able to purchase chocolate milk (three additional teaspoons of sugar) from Walmart for less than the cost of white milk anywhere else.   Most importantly, I have learned how absolutely difficult it is to function at a level that offers any sort of productivity while eating on the $84 allowance that is allotted for single individuals living on income assistance. 

Eliminating poverty is the best medicine money can buy." ~ Dr. David McKeown, Toronto's Medical Officer of Health, in April 2008
Poverty costs the people of B.C. over $8 billion every year. Poverty cost the health system alone over $1.2 billion a year. The cost of a full anti-poverty program would be less than $4 billion—a savings of $4 billion in the money and huge savings in human well-being. So let’s stop this cycle because people living in poverty do not choose to be there.
Fighting poverty and social exclusion is a collective responsibility. Some things you can do to support this challenge is to have conversations with family and friends about food security initiatives and possible solutions. Contact your local MLA, volunteer your time and skills at an organization that supports poverty reduction, and sign the raise the rates petition.

Signing this petition may not do enough to change the situation for First Nations living on-reserve who are serviced through a federal responsibility.  Often the increases in provincial rates are not matched with adequate funding from federal sources leaving First Nation administrations struggling to manage the many special needs that arise with social assistance clients such as funeral expenses for family, housing repairs etc.  Become an ally by learning more about the real history of First Nations of BC, by supporting the exertion of First Nations rights in their traditional territories, by partnering in economic ventures is you are able and by supporting what could finally be an appropriate sharing of the resources of this province with its First Nations.

In a country well governed poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed wealth is something to be ashamed of. -Confucius

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Day 6 - Welfare Food Challenge

Well today was one of my worst days yet as far energy level and mental capacity goes.  It was probably my least productive days for work as I just didn't want to even think about thinking.  Seriously I feel really dumb and wonder how well I will articulate anything.  

With this in mind, let's consider that employable people living on income/social assistance should be trying to get a job, this is roughly 40% of recipients.  I am not to sure that I could have convinced anyone to hire me today.  Just so slow in my thought processing and a limited control on my level of irritation with others.  

The long term implications of poverty cost us much more than raising the rates to a Market Basket Level or increasing the minimum wage to a livable rate ever would.  UBC psychology professor, Alanaise Goodwill studies cycle of poverty, violence and gang life in Aboriginal communities and she has found that  many aboriginal youth viewed gang membership as way out of poverty (Li, Catherine, Ubyssey, October 19, 2014).  For the average Aboriginal youth, access to employment is a privilege given that necessities such as food and shelter is limited.  In fact it is reported that 50% of status First Nations children live below the poverty line.  This number grows even higher provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.  This report also confirms that children receiving services from a provincial responsibility fair better than their counter-parts under federal responsibility (i.e on reserves).

So I guess, we can raise the rates or have more organized crime.

Now, I would guess that some people would say, if you raise welfare rates you are only going to give people with addictions more to feed their addiction.  This is probably true.  Its also true that some people abuse the income assistance system in a significant way.  Should these marks be a reason not to provide the  best possible future for all of our children.  Should we not allow all children the opportunity to reach their full potential in whatever they wish to do and not have to see organized crime as a way out of their current misery?  It is not acceptable that any child lives in poverty let alone half of a population.  Perhaps there are some solutions that provide for the need while limiting the impact of the abuses.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Day 5- Welfare Food Challenge

So many things to write about today.  As I struggle with the boredom of food and the extreme lack of flavour and as I desperately try to make something taste good on this $21/week diet I can't help but think about the single mother of three who because of her high rate of rent actually had only 78 dollars per month to feed her family of four .  

At the same time, I am working at one of my part time jobs as a Healthy School Coordinator with which at one school, I am tasked with the job of seeking funding to replace the cuts to our existing meal programs.  (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada is cutting back funding for social programs on all First Nations reserves.)  So ....  Fundraising for school programs  .... $500 here and $500 there each time requiring a considerable effort.  The schools I work for are in communities with the highest number of people earning under $20,000 a year.  Food insecurity is a significant issue with approximately 35% of families facing it to some degree.  We don't have that many stay at home moms who have the luxury of volunteer during the day at school.

There are many things we need to do to begin to counteract the future effects of poverty.  Poverty often breeds poverty.  Children who come to school hungry and cannot be adequately fed, do not learn and do not gain the skills required to even have a chance of stepping out of the poverty circle.  If growing up on welfare is your 'normal' how do you know that you can aspire to something more?  Raise the Rates poses some good demands to our provincial government:  

Raise the Rates calls on the government to:
  • Increase income assistance to the Market Basket Measure
  • Remove the arbitrary barriers to receiving welfare
  • End the clawbacks of child support
  • Raise earnings exemptions
  • Increase the minimum wage to $15/hr
  • Build 10,000 social housing units a year
  • Provide high quality public childcare 
  • Reverse the tax cuts for the rich and corporations and increase tax on people earning over $250,000 a year
I would also call for a universal provincial school breakfast program that included First Nations Schools and a universal lunch program that provided the needed assistance to offer meals that comply with the Guidelines for School Food and Beverage Sales in BC, for all students regardless of ability to pay, including First Nations schools.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Day 4 Welfare Food Challenge

I ate another apple today, it was the bomb!  I still have a headache and my appetite is suppressed now.  It was not problem to go from eating two pieces of toast at 8:00 am until 12:30 before I snacked on an apple and then about 2:00 when I had some lunch.  I mixed the last of my beans mixed with tomatoes (I still have plain beans) with a packaged of the ramen noodles and was only able to eat half of the plate.  I normally could have eaten it all.  

I poured myself a glass of chocolate milk and my daughter asked for it, so I gave it to her.

I have been tracking my food take with the Dietitians of Canada tool and realized that if I actually use the flavour package in my noodles, I am getting two to three times the Daily recommended intake for sodium.  I have either been tossing the flavour out or using half a package so in actuality I am managing my sodium intake a little better.  

I have to say that I just don't have the energy that I should, a walk up the stairs in my two level home causes my muscles to burn for a few seconds.

So what I am noticing now is that what I really miss is the little things.  Like all of those little things that you add to food to make it taste good.  Having something that had taste was part of my rationale for choosing ramen noodles.  Salt is much cheaper than anything else that we might use to make food taste good such as herbs, spices, vinegars .....

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Day 3 Welfare Food Challenge - Why $21

Today I feel a little better than I have the first two days.  I still have a headache but its not as bad as it was yesterday.  My mind doesn't feel like its functioning quite right and my stomach is not particularly happy, let's just say that I am totally aware that it is there.  I was super happy to purchase four spartan apples with the remaining money (0.95) at the fruit stand in Trout Creek.  They had the best price per pound being a full 50 cents per pound cheaper than the grocery stores.

I came up with a novel recipe as well.  Cold/raw peanut butter cabbage rolls - spread peanut butter on cabbage and roll it up. - simple.   If you like peanut butter you can't go wrong with this one, its sweet and crunchy.  I tried to offer some to my partner though and he said he didn't want to put my $21 meal budget in jeopardy, so he passed.  I am still not convinced that it was the real reason.  The food highlight of the day was definitely the locally grown apple and today proves to be my highest fruit and vegetable intake yet with 4.5 Canada Food Guide Servings.

I also got creative with the ramen noodles again, this time as a stuffing along with the black beans in my cooked cabbage rolls.

So lets discuss the $21/week budget.  On-reserve social assistance rates are the same as income assistance rates for the rest of the province (on paper at least, but that is another story).  A single able-bodied person, who is expected to look for work, receives a total assistance of $610 per month.  This rate has not changed for the past 7 years, so when you factor in the loss due to inflation it is $76.  
Total Welfare = $610
Rent (realistic rent for single room occupancy) = $450
Room damage deposit = $20
Book 10 bus tickets to look for work = $21
Cell phone (to look for work) = $25
Personal Hygeine/Laundrey = $10
Total Non Food Expenses = $525 
What's left for food = $84

Can’t Afforded a Home or Food
The average rent for an SRO in the Downtown Eastside, just about the lowest rent in BC, is now $450. The government only allows a maximum of $375 out of the $610 for rent, so people have to spend their food money to get a bed – usually with little or no cooking facilities, a shared bathroom between 12 or more people, and often shared with various pests.
For a single parent with 2 children the lowest average rent in the Lower Mainland for a 2 bedroom (overcrowding!) is in Maple Ridge, $888 (most of Metro Vancouver is over $1,000). However, the province provides a maximum of $660 for rent for a single parent with 2 children whether the parent is able boded or on disability.

The Deititians of Canada state that for a basic healthy diet – no luxuries, no coffee, etc – a healthy adult women should spend around $200 a month while for an adult man it is around $250.

So I am working with only 42% of the required food budget for a no-frills healthy diet.