Public Health Association of BC Public Health Association of BC

Marjorie’s Welfare Food Challenge – Day 1

By Marjorie MacDonald

Because I had forgotten to sign up for the challenge in advance I did not do any real preparation. This was a huge mistake.  I had not looked to see whether there were any guidelines for participants before starting. Thus, I struggled through the first day trying to figure out what I was allowed to do. I had a lot of questions like:

  1. Could I eat the food I already had in the house? I thought – probably not, but what else was I going to do since I was not prepared?   However, I was pretty sure my organic steel cut oats might be a bit too expensive.  Some cheaper no-name oats out of the bulk bin would likely be a safer choice. Put that on the shopping list.
  2. Was I allowed to put food I had purchased (e.g. stale bagels I bought on sale) into the freezer to keep them from getting any staler? Someone living on welfare in a SRO would not likely have a freezer.  Hmmm. Check with Ted on that one.
  3. Could I eat food that I had been given? For breakfast I did toast a stale bagel, no butter. I used some homemade jam that someone gave me. I had a vague feeling that was probably not OK, but hey, it was free wasn’t it? Note to self – find out if someone has written any guidelines for this.  I felt Ok about using my toaster (versus the freezer) because my husband bought it for $2.00 at a thrift store about 10 years ago. I had considered putting a skiff of cream cheese on the bagel (surely that small amount wouldn’t cost much?). I discovered, however, a bit of mold on the cream cheese.  Big dilemma. Should I just scrape off the mold and keep using it because I couldn’t afford to throw it out, or use my public health knowledge about food safety and get rid of it. I’m pretty sure that if I was living on welfare I knew what the answer would be – scrape it off! I got rid of it.
  4. How the heck was I going to manage without my coffee? I knew for sure that my gourmet beans freshly ground in my coffee grinder would be a bit out of my price range this week. But, there was no way I could face a day on $3.50 cents worth of food without my caffeine. I had one cup. Guilt trip – cheating already on my first meal of the day!

These were just some of the many questions that I obsessed about all day.  It took me quite awhile in the morning to calculate the cost of everything for my lunch, which consisted of a hardboiled egg (about 40 cents), some carrot sticks (about 10 cents – bag of carrots $2.99, with 30 carrots, so one carrot about 10 cents), cucumber slices (10 cents), and an apple (about $1.00).  That is pretty healthy I thought!  Oh oh, probably costs too much and I’ll be going over my limit. Dinner was pasta (purchased at Costco – yikes, that is probably not ok – I wouldn’t have a membership if I was on welfare) with a bit of canned tomatoes on top and lots of pepper. Note to self – protein is going to be an issue. I definitely need to find the rules for this venture and do a proper shopping trip.

Postscript. I did look for the guidelines last night and discovered that I had broken most of the rules on the first day. No charity. No food already in your house.  Ok, I guess that means a trip to the grocery store this morning – to start fresh today on Day 2.  I promise myself I won’t cheat today.