Tag Archives: Welfare Food Challenge

Emily’s Reflections from the Welfare Food Challenge

Building on Chris’s recap, I wanted to share my reflections from the Welfare Food Challenge. Organized by Raise the Rates, the challenge is to live off a food budget of $21 per person for 7 days – what the average single person on welfare has after housing and transportation costs. And we did it! Our food was boring, we lacked certain nutrients, and we put off a number of social activities, but we survived for one week doing part of what many do for a lifetime.

Welfare Food Challenge
We spent a lot time planning and cooking. Prior to the start of the week, we scouted out the cheapest items at the cheapest stores. We meticulously wrote down the cost by weight and made a spreadsheet when we got home. (Details of our shopping trip here.) Since most meals involved dried beans, we had to plan at least 24 hours in advance to soak and then cook the beans before making the meal. We’d often come home from work, make dinner, eat, and then make lunch for the next day. This was particularly difficult when we had things to do in the evening.

In some ways we had a very different diet than most people on welfare. I think this is mostly attributes to the differences in our lives. I live in a nice two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen. I have a day job and middle class friends. I enjoy food and planning meals. All of this means I’m willing to take the time to plan out how to stretch $21 over a week. If I was forced to eat one meal out, even if it was fast food, I would have blown my budget. Or if I had given in to stress and, say, had a drink or ate some chocolate, no eating for 2 days.

Making Chapatis
I definitely felt low energy and grumpy at times. After did Chris the nutritional breakdown, we realized how low our fat and calcium intake was. We were probably also missing vitamins like B12 which doesn’t effect us right away, but can cause permanent damage in the long term. Nutrition and mood are so closely linked. And our mood effects what we’re able to do in a day.

Mostly I found that this challenge changed my relationship with food. I spent a lot of my time thinking about or preparing food, and yet it brought me no enjoyment, it was a chore, it caused me stress, I ate so that I wasn’t hungry. We usually cook a fair bit, but also enjoy eating out. We like having friends over and showing how good vegan food can be. The one think that didn’t bother me, but seemed to come up for others, was social isolation. Maybe I’m just used to eating different food than everybody else. I found it a good excuse to talk about welfare rates (as opposed to my usual, why being vegan is awesome).

Welfare Food Challenge – Surviving but not Thriving

Sushi and BSG
We’re halfway done the Welfare Food Challenge and it is no longer smooth sailing. Our fresh produce is going bad but we can’t afford to replace it; I’m bored of rice and beans and oatmeal; and both Emily and I are feeling tired and sluggish, so there’s likely a nutritional deficiency in our diet.

The hardest part of the challenge has been socializing with friends and not being able to eat the food they offer. Last night I had to resist snacks and sushi while battling cylons. It was a good conversation starter about welfare rates in BC, but it was difficult feeling content with carrots and bread when everyone else was snacking on strawberries and olives.

Mouldy Tomatoes Fresh Salsa Homemade Tomato Sauce
Our tomatoes have started to go mouldy. We turned the good ones into fresh salsa (the 8 cent jalapeno was my best purchase!). I chopped off the mouldy bits of the others and turned them into tomato sauce. That should buy us some time. Our kale is also starting to go bad, so we’ll have to eat it soon or freeze it.

When we did our initial grocery shopping, I was confident we had enough nutritious food to last us the week. However, it’s becoming increasingly evident that something is lacking. Could it be low iron or not enough protein? I created a spreadsheet of all the food I’ve eaten in the first 3 days and the nutritional content of everything.

Ideal Average (Day 1-3)
Calories 2300 2074
Fat (g) 70 21
Carbohydrates (g) 330 408
Protein (g) 80 84
Vitamin A 100% 1521%
Vitamin C 100% 173%
Calcium 100% 51%
Iron 100% 157%

Most of the numbers are good – lots of protein, carbohydrates, Vitamin C, and Iron, and we’re getting a ridiculous amount of Vitamin A (thank you carrots). Our calorie consumption is a bit low, but we have leftovers after almost every meal. It’s possible the boringness of the meals is causing us to eat less.

I’m only slightly worried about our calcium levels – half of what they should be – but I don’t think it’s causing short term health problems. We’re missing many of our best sources of calcium like almonds (25% of daily calcium in 100 g), broccoli, and oranges. We get some calcium from the beans, but the best source we bought this week is kale and we’ve been saving it.

The really worrying number is fat – 30% of ideal level – this is likely the cause of our malaise. The biggest things missing from our diet this week are nuts and fresh vegetables. A cup of cashews or almonds would have 45 g of fat. A single avocado would have 30 g. The only significant fat source we bought this week is the canola oil. We have $6 left in our food budget, so I’m going to find a cheap source of healthy fat to supplement our diet for the remaining 4 days.

Pictures of some of our meals on Day 2 and Day 3:
Welfare Food Challenge - Day 2 Lunch Welfare Food Challenge - Day 3 Lunch Welfare Food Challenge - Day 3 Dinner Lots of Rice

Welfare Food Challenge – Day 1

We survived Day 1 of the Welfare Food Challenge. There are lots of interesting people blogging and tweeting about their experiences. I’ve been surprised to see a number of people buying cans of beans. Obviously more convenient, but a lot more expensive than dried beans.

After Day 1, I feel well fed but gassy. I guess eating a lot of beans will do that.

Welfare Food Challenge - Breakfast 1
Breakfast was a simple but filling meal of oatmeal, half a banana, and a spoonful of sugar.

Lentil Lunch
Lunch was rice, lentils, tomatoes, and a few carrots. We made way too much and now have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

Bean, Potato, and Carrot Soup
For dinner I made a simple soup with potatoes, carrots, white beans, garlic, and broth. Nothing fancy, but satisfying.

I also made bread (one loaf tonight and one ready to bake tomorrow). Here is the recipe I followed. It took a few hours (most of it waiting for it to rise), so it wasn’t ready in time for dinner. It just came out of the oven and is the ugliest looking loaf of bread I’ve ever seen (kind of slug like), but it smells delicious and tastes pretty good. Although I wish I had honey or jam to spread on it.
Baking Bread Fresh Bread Homemade Bread

Welfare Food Challenge – Shopping Trip

Welfare Food Challenge
Tonight we did a big shopping trip in preparation for the Welfare Food Challenge. Amazingly we managed to buy what we think is a week’s worth of groceries for only $36.60, well within our $42 budget. There isn’t a lot of fresh vegetables, but what we bought is reasonably nutritious. We scouted out our neighbourhood grocery stores on Saturday and found the cheapest prices at Buy-Low and Kia.

Kia Discount Fruit and VegetablesThe bulk of our diet for the next week will be beans ($10), rice ($4), flour ($3.50), and oatmeal ($2.17). Our best find was a 10 lb bag of carrots for $4 at Kia. We got lucky with lots of items on sale at Buy-Low and discounted vegetables at Kia.

Here’s what we managed to buy with a rough calorie count. If we ate everything, we’d have almost 3000 calories each per day, more than the daily requirement. Although that doesn’t take into account vitamins and other nutrients, and a large portion of those calories come from the flour and oil.

Item Weight (g) Price Calories
Green Lentils 450 $1.50 1475
Red Lentils 450 $1.50 1475
Pinto Beans 450 $1.50 1475
White Beans 450 $1.50 1522
Black Beans 408 $1.64 1384
Chickpeas 617 $2.48 2245
Rice, Long Grain Brown 1814 $4.00 6853
Macaroni 454 $1.25 1602
Flour, Whole Wheat 2500 $3.49 9167
Canola Oil 473 ml $2.19 3784
Yeast, Active Baking 23 $0.36 160
Soup Stock, powder 50 $0.39 117
Oats, Quick 1000 $2.17 3750
Sugar, White 240 $0.96 930
Potatoes, White (5 lb bag) 2268 $1.99 1841
Carrots (10 lb bag) 4536 $3.99 2041
Tomatoes (9, discount) 828 $1.00 99
Kale (discount) 400 $1.00 402
Apples, Granny Smith (3) 700 $1.53 364
Bananas (3) 560 $0.84 364
Onion, Yellow (1) 155 $0.24 348
Garlic (40 cloves) 120 $1.00 160
Jalapeno Pepper (1) 15 $0.08 4
Total 18.963 kg $36.60 41,470

I’m optimistic now that we can survive the week. With the garlic, onion, broth, and jalapeno our food will be reasonably flavourful. The trade-off is time. We’ve spent hours planning our meals and grocery shopping. Making our meals from raw ingredients and dry beans will mean many more hours spent cooking this week than we normally do.

Taking the Welfare Food Challenge

Welfare rates are ridiculously low in BC and haven’t increased in 7 years, even though the cost of living continues to rise. To help raise awareness, Emily and I have decided to participate in the Welfare Food Challenge. For 7 days, our food budget will be the same as two people on welfare – $42 ($21 each).

I expect this to be a difficult challenge. I’m generally a cheap person, but food is one area where I’m willing to spend more for quality. I like buying local, organic food and shopping at the farmers market. I also enjoy eating out. On average, we spend $120 on groceries each week plus another $150 on restaurants. Cutting that down to $42 is not going to be easy. It might be impossible.

If Soylent was cheaper, I might consider experimenting with it, but it costs $10/day. Our plan is to buy the cheapest, most nutritionally dense foods we can afford. That means we’ll be eating a lot of oatmeal, rice, and beans with only a few vegetables and maybe some fruit (and we won’t be shopping at Urban Fare or Whole Foods). Homemade bread, essentially just flour, yeast, and water, will also help stretch our food budget.