Day 7: Last Day & Wrap Up Thoughts

My day seven was rather ordinary. I was merely looking forward to the Welfare Food Challenge being over so I could enjoy food again.

The highlights from this day:

  • Discovering I had extra beans left over. (Yay?)
  • Seeing and handling food (with a fork), but not being able to eat it.
  • Realizing I didn’t need to spend the extra $2 that I had saved up for emergency situations.
  • Experiencing the symptoms of a cold — coughing, sneezing, drowsiness, phlegm, stuffy nose, and congestion.

It was nice that I had leftover food and money. I didn’t chronicle this earlier, but I had spent roughly $4 on food from Shopper’s Drug Mart, and the rest — I bought from a local Chinese grocery store. I was blown away by how inexpensive the food I had originally brought out to the check out counter was, and had to awkwardly excuse myself from the cashier to buy even more items. Of course, I didn’t know if the food was locally grown or if it was organic. And truthfully, I wouldn’t have cared anyway. I just (1) didn’t want to go hungry and (2) wanted to consume the most nutritionally dense foods.

Final Thoughts

The Welfare Food Challenge was a personal and mental challenge for me, I wanted to do my best with all the knowledge and resources I had. This meant ensuring my food was nutritionally adequate, and that I would be able to find, prepare and cook the meals. Still, even my best was not good enough. I was hungry regularly, and I had caught a cold on the last day of challenge.

The lamest part of the challenge was realizing I had extra beans left over, and that I was needlessly hungry. I really only had enough beans for one meal, but still — I would have wanted to consume that when my stomach grumbled.

Now that the Welfare Food Challenge is over, what are my next steps? I will…

  • Routinely consume less food as a deliberate practice of solidarity with the poor
  • Learn more about the food services in the Downtown Eastside, as my colleague and friend would advise.
  • Get more of my friends and colleagues to be involved with the Welfare Food Challenge next year.

Our welfare system isn’t perfect, but we can make it better. Let’s continue to petition the government to provide better care for the least among us. $19 is not enough.

Alright. It’s almost midnight, and I have a cold. Ciao.


Day 5 & 6: The Combo Post

I upgraded my OS from Yosemite to High Sierra, and it took way too long, so I didn’t bother to write yesterday. Nonetheless…

Day 5

There weren’t too many highlights from my day, but there were two things:

  • The frozen bananas were so yummy that I probably will just eat them as complete replacements to ice cream in the future.
  • I had skipped out on an important lunch with friends that were significant to me in a church community that I loved. 😦

Day 6

I didn’t feel too hungry at all today, and had even left my banana snack at work, out in the open, letting it waste. Food waste isn’t great, I know, and I’m feeling pretty bad about this already.

My co-workers from EMBERS told me that my friend used to send people around the DTES lining up for free food to see how long it would take. I think I may ask her about that experience after this experience and try it (though my toes might freeze outside. See? Privilege.)

Tomorrow is my last day on the Welfare Food Challenge, and I am super excited about it. My mom wants to have dinner with me tomorrow, but I am staying strong until the end — nothing outside of the $19 budget, right?


Day 4: Eggs, Mushrooms, and Bananas

I didn’t write about the Welfare Food Challenge yesterday because I was too busy playing video games, working on a website, and socializing with friends and strangers online. It was also Saturday, and I needed to relax. It’s busy where I work and I need ‘me time’.

Nonetheless, here are some highlights from my day:

  • I stuck with my meal plan and had the same boring meals as the past three days.
  • I discovered that I had extra eggs left, because I deliberately didn’t include them in my original calendar to surprise and reward myself.
  • I peeled and cut up the four or five spotted bananas and stuck them into the freezer. They were browning and I needed to preserve them.
  • I realized I had lost six pounds in the past three days, so two pounds in one day, which was probably too fast and unhealthy.
  • I didn’t find myself complaining about the hunger anymore.
  • I discovered that if I saran-wrapped my salad and heated it for 2 minutes, my mushrooms would become cooked. Cooked mushrooms are 10x better than raw mushrooms.

I mean, yes, I’m privileged in that I have access to a freezer to prolong bananas and have access to a microwave to cook mushrooms. I’m also privileged because I can choose to take place in this Welfare Food Challenge. But for many people, welfare isn’t a choice. Hunger isn’t a choice.

It’s actually probably pretty embarrassing to tell people that you’re on income assistance. And going to get free food from the food bank isn’t something you’re going to want to post on social media about. When you are on welfare, you’re subject to people thinking you’re lazy, or you weren’t a great planner, or you made some bad decisions in your life — but in reality, there are many factors that may have led you to apply for welfare.

I really wish that there wasn’t so much inequality in the city I live in, but unfortunately, inequality is a reality. This Food Challenge exercise so far, has allowed me to be quite mindful of people who have less than me. Hopefully, I will find other creative ways to remain in solidarity with the poor after this experiment is over.

Vancouver’s Housing Crisis and Hong Kong

I used to joke that Vancouver has “nowhere to go but up” because of our constrained space. It’s the same in Hong Kong, and to many, it’s their home that they don’t want to leave. When I talk with my friends in HK, I tend to feel a sense of despair and hopelessness because of the housing crisis, and it reminds me of housing conversations in Vancouver.

Personally, I think the social issues (esp. housing) are too similar between Vancouver and HK that we shouldn’t ignore HK but pay more attention to it.

The wealthy investors from the mainland have been a similar source of concern to both Vancouver and HK, unfortunately, so racism isn’t much of a concern as compared to inequality, politics, and social change. For those who don’t know, HK was under British rule for 100 years and was handed back to China in 1997, when HK already had housing issues. The gov’t created more supply — and many were snatched up by mainlanders who either wanted to invest in HK or move there. Many mainlanders are attracted to HK’s healthcare, education, clean air, freedom, and more, and because of this, there’s also been an issue of birth tourism in HK. New parents from the mainland desperately (and understandably) want a better life for themselves and their families.

This competition for resources has understandably caused a lot of headache for many Hongkongers. And as a result, ‘localism’ — a political movement that aims to preserve the city’s autonomy and local culture — has grown. It’s a diverse movement, but everyone involved wants to prevent the mainland from controlling their political, economic, and social affairs. They’re up against anyone who’s pro-Beijing, who I feel — tend to care more about themselves than the people whose lives are negatively impacted by China’s control over HK.

Does this all sound somewhat familiar to the situation in Vancouver?

Through my observations, I’ve come to conclude that:

(1) We need to push for more human rights in China, as well as support their clean energy initiatives (and anything else that’s good), so people in China find incentive to stay home and develop their own communities as something to be proud of rather than fleeing to give hope to their children.

(2) We are underestimating the ambition and power of China to tinker in our own society and politics when we don’t carefully think through what we allow them to purchase. If China treats their own citizens poorly, yet we want their cash, will we have the courage say no to them?

(3) Just as HK needs to take care of its own, we need to prioritize giving adequate, affordable shelter to people who live and work here (It’s disgusting when developers push for more supply, market new properties to overseas investors, and line their wallets with cash while doing barely anything for those struggling in their own backyards).

(4) Yes, we’ll continue talking about racism, but we need to continually refocus the conversation to inequality — and Canada’s sovereignty.

(5) Greed is universal and disgusting. (Everyone here must know of at least one local that owns multiple properties.) We can’t mandate compassion and generosity, but we can create better policies that work to control greed and give everyone a fair chance in society.

Anyway, thank you for reading this! Hopefully that’s convinced you we need to pay a bit more attention to HK 🙂

Day 3: Lazy Notes… Happy Friday!

It’s Friday, and I don’t feel like writing. I’ve done a lot of writing at work already, so here are my lazy notes:

  • My colleagues at work asked how I was doing, which was very kind. 🙂
  • I’m hoping I don’t get sick. I may not be getting enough vitamins and minerals, which scares me. I used to have low blood pressure and was never sure if I had enough iron to be at normal blood pressure. Even though I ate more leafy greens and consumed more beans / tofu, I still took a multivitamin a day just to be on the safe side to prevent myself from fainting. I haven’t had a cold in a over a year, but if there’s a time when I’m at risk, it’s this week. Being healthy? It seems like a privilege to me.
  • I still experienced hunger today, and again, it’s not a welcomed feeling.
  • I was supposed to head to Abbotsford this weekend to visit my cousin and his wife, but that trip is cancelled now. Now that I’m stuck in the city, I don’t even want to hang out with friends tomorrow because they or myself will want to eat. And if a meal or drink is only $5-$10, I usually won’t hesitate to say yes at the opportunity to chat with a friend.

$19 for food is not enough for someone to live well. It’s not good for the body and it’s not good for the social life. I’m glad that there are charities in the DTES and elsewhere that help feed the body, spirit, and mind. Still — I would probably have more self-respect and confidence if I could earn my own income, buy my own food, and pay my own rent — while having extra money to spare. We really need to raise the welfare rate if we really care about the least among us. $710 is not enough.

Day 2: Hello, Routine

When I was in grade 8, I participated in my high school dragon boat team. As dragon boaters, we needed to build up our arm strength, and one of our training activities was to hold out our arms without dropping them. We were trying to see how long we could last under the slowly intensifying pain. It was easy for the first few minutes, but as the time passed, it was clear that this this simple activity was a struggle to keep ‘up’. It really hurt.

This Welfare Food Challenge reminds me of that. The first few days are probably easy. Maybe even manageable. But with more time, it’s going to get rough. Others may quit. I may too. The difference between this challenge and my dragon boat exercise is that we’re trying to relate to people living on welfare, and for people who are living on welfare — they’re not building physical strength while enduring the hunger.

As for today, I had the same boring meals as yesterday, except I had half a banana as a snack in the afternoon and I had another boiled egg just now, after dinner.

I really wanted to buy the chips that were on sale at Nesters today (they’re on sale until late November, so save them for me!), but remembered that I had no money.  I also wanted to shop for good food deals at London Drugs (maybe dark chocolate was on sale?). There was no point in looking for deals — and deal-hunting is something I rather enjoy doing too.

This made me think: Are financial management courses or workshops available and accessible to people of low income? How about nutrition classes? Knowing a thing or two about food and money should help someone better plan ahead. Hmm.

Last note: I am getting irritated at this feeling of hunger, and it’s only day 2.

Day 1: It Begins

Day number one of the Welfare Food Challenge is almost complete, and here was my meal plan of the day:

  • Breakfast: Half a banana.
  • Lunch: ‘Salad’ of julienned carrots, sliced cucumbers and mushrooms, black-eyed peas, kale, boiled eggs, and soy sauce.
  • Snack: Nothing.
  • Dinner: Soup made of red peas, kale, sliced carrots, red beans, broccoli, and soy sauce.
  • Dessert / Snack: Half a banana.

Thoughts So Far

Today wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I’m pretty proud of myself for creating healthy-ish meals.

I really miss taking my daily vitamins though (they count as food!) and was slightly worried whether my low blood pressure will come back again. I mean, I think I have enough iron? How about those struggling with poverty? Are they getting enough of their daily recommended intake of vitamins and minerals? Is it even a priority to get multivitamins? Most likely not. (Check out ‘where the welfare money goes‘.)

The hunger pangs also made today memorable. I was hungry multiple times today and really wanted to grab one of those burritos from the company freezer… Or consume those dark chocolates in my desk… Or gobble up one of the chocolate-covered cookies that was being passed around during our staff meeting. There’s always so much yummy junk food in the office. My hunger made me wonder: How many people living on income assistance struggle with hunger? Hmm.

Support from Colleagues

I told several co-workers that I would be doing the challenge, and they were all quite excited for me. This was encouraging. One of them had lived on welfare for a few years and said she would cheer me on. Another suggested that I should try buying bulk everything (not practical, considering this is only for one week). I was even advised by another colleague to shop in the Chinese grocery stores to get the best value on foods!

My most memorable conversation though, was with one of the senior leaders at EMBERS who had worked in the DTES for years. He said that this challenge was nice — but that this challenge isn’t reality. If I really wanted to experience a taste of homelessness and poverty, he said that I needed to stay in a shelter and line up for free food. I also wouldn’t be spending $19 on food, he said, because there would always be enough food if I knew where to look. I found his perspective interesting and hope to somehow check off these experiential learning trips in the future (though I would stand out like a sore thumb being an Asian female).

Finding Work While On Welfare Is Not Easy

At EMBERS Staffing Solutions, we make over a hundred job placements a day and pay over 200 individuals a week. Many of these folks (or ‘workers’) are on welfare and really want to transition into meaningful, steady employment. Some people struggle to get to full-time hours, and it may take several years to get to full-time hours. When they finally work a normal, full work week, they’re so proud of their progress (and we’re proud of them!).

What makes it difficult for people to transition into regular work? Well, my colleague (the one who worked in the DTES for years) told me that people who work while on welfare tend to get punished for working. This is cruel, he says, and that big changes need to happen to better encourage folks to become financially self-sufficient. I’m not sure what this means, but I hope to learn more about this in the next few days.

Alright. I’m tired… The second half of that banana calls!