Local politicians and business people got a taste of what it would be like to use a food bank during a Hunger Awareness Challenge last month.
From Monday, September 18, to Friday, September 22, the House of Lazarus in Mountain and Community Food Share in Winchester challenged local leaders to follow a five-day dietary challenge that emulated what it is like for someone facing food insecurity and uses the food bank.
Each participant, which included members of municipal councils from North Dundas, South Dundas, Merrickville-Wolford, and North Grenville, as well as a few prominent business people, paid $25 and got a five-day supply of food from the food bank at House of Lazarus. Their allotment (and $10 that was allowed for extras), was all they could use to make their meals for the entire work-week. Although difficult for most of the participants, this is a normal challenge for the average food bank user, who often has to make this supply of food last much longer.
Many of the participants felt that the week made them realize the importance of the food they take for granted in their daily lives. Mayor of North Dundas, Eric Duncan, said that, as someone who doesn’t cook a lot at home, he struggled with planning out his meals and sometimes forgot to bring food with him, which meant he went all that day without eating. “I was starving by the time I got home,” he said.
Many of the participants also commented on how scarce fresh food can be at the food bank. Some who came earlier in the day were lucky and got to choose some meat and produce. Others, who came later, were not so lucky and ended up with a lot of canned goods. “As food bank providers, we are trying to up the amount of fresh produce,” says House of Lazarus Executive Director, Cathy Ashby. “We are trying to get it up to 25 per cent of what people take home.”
Not only did many feel they suffered nutritionally throughout the week, there was also a social impact to food insecurity which surprised many participants. “I found I was eating in solitude a lot,” said Tony Fraser, a councillor in North Dundas. His saving grace was attending the Dinner on the House program that House of Lazarus runs every Thursday. “I really enjoyed the social aspect.”
Tony also admitted that he spent a lot more of his day thinking and worrying about his next meal. “It was a real eye opener,” he says. “I really came to the realization of how much some people have to ration [their food].”
Mayor of Merrickville-Wolford, David Nash, admitted that, while he did enjoy his simple fare of Kraft dinner and wieners and beans, he missed treats and the selection of meats that he would normally include in his diet. While the food bank does supply some meat, it is usually in ground form, as it is more versatile. “It’s something we would like to change,” Cathy says.
All the participants felt that the challenge opened their eyes to the complexities of food insecurity. It has serious impacts, not only nutritionally, but socially and psychologically as well. For more information about the House of Lazarus and Community Food Share visit their websites: www.houseoflazarus.com and www.communityfoodshare.ca.