Vanderhoof dietitian Robyn Turner stuck to an $18 food budget last week to experience what living on welfare feels like.
From Oct. 16 to 22, Turner and over 200 other British Columbians joined the fifth annual Welfare Food Challenge, where participants eat only what can be purchased with the money a welfare recipient receives.
“New to the northern part of B.C., I’m exposed to the lifestyle that people live here, where resources are not as accessible as large city centres,” Turner said. “I was riled to raise the awareness and step up to the plate.”
Challenge participants are not allowed to access food banks, free meals from friends, or use food items that they have purchased in previous weeks.
Looking into local deals and coupons, Turner purchased four bananas, four cans of soups or lentils, canned mandarin oranges, orzo, bread, and peanut butter — which cost a total of $16.11.
“It is in fact a challenge, as I thought that the food I got was sufficient, with protein and various nutrients,” she said, adding that nothing is going to waste, as the juice of the mandarin orange is portioned off for later nourishment. “But it wasn’t.”
Throughout the week, she experienced various periods of brain fog and weakness; she forewent her regular workouts.
“I was still walking to work, but I have no energy left,” she said.
With the limited budget, fresh foods that she normally eats became unaffordable.
“You can’t buy the fresh stuff that we would suggest to people for the most nutrients,” Turner explained. “Even myself, I can spend more than $20 on fresh produce.
“It’s not the healthiest of a week, but a lot of learning for my work.”
In addition to physical health effects, the challenge also led to emotional stress.
“I can do the work during a work day, but just going to the cafeteria, sitting with people, hearing them talk about food,” Turner said. “When we eat that first bite of deliciousness, there’s probably many people who would love to do the same thing but cannot afford it.” The lack of variety meant that her palate became excited when she switched from vegetable to mushroom soup, and the high amount of sodium in processed food drove her to drink more water.
“My body is at a point where large amounts of food are not appetizing, as it is in starvation mode and would not be able to digest too much at once,” she said. “This is definitely not something recommended as a diet.
“It’s not sustainable, and would be a concern for people for a long period of time.”
Her first normal meal after the diet is a breakfast of eggs and toast.
“I have the end in sight, but for many others it doesn’t,” Turner said. “Anyone who’s interested needs to raise awareness — raising it to something compatible with the current prices would be great.” She has emailed the Premier regarding the cause.
“Otherwise it’ll get brushed under the rug, which is not good.”