The Welfare Food Challenge

By Marjorie MacDonald

Last year about this time, I was at a research team meeting in Richmond that included several academic researchers from various BC universities and representatives from each of the six health authorities. We were discussing the future of our Core Public Health Functions Research Initiative and how we were going to ‘re-vision and re-brand’ it. We also talked about the need to develop a new five year research agenda to build on the cross cutting themes of our current research agenda. One of those themes is “health equity.” Over our discussions, we were enjoying breakfast, coffee with fruit and muffins, and a delicious lunch – all funded by CIHR research grants – that is, by the taxpayers of Canada. I noticed that Ted Bruce was not really eating or drinking the coffee and then at lunch I asked him why he wasn’t eating. He told me that he was doing the welfare food challenge that only allowed him to spend $26 dollars a week on food. I was impressed with his fortitude in the face of such abundance. I wasn’t sure I would be able to resist eating when the food was laid out so beautifully in front of me. It did inspire me, however, and I contemplated doing the same thing the next time the challenge came around. Fortunately, it seemed ages away!

This year, I got the notice about the food challenge when I was reading Stats Canada’s recently released report on the income of Canadians and was surprised to find that I was actually in the top 10% of Canadians in terms of income. Who knew? I never considered myself rich, although I am well aware of my privilege! At least I didn’t make it into the top 1%. Having been raised Catholic, I’m pretty good at guilt, so this realization prompted me out of my cocoon and I resolved to do more than I had been to address the issue of poverty.

The food challenge seemed a good place to start but I was so busy writing another CIHR grant that I forgot to sign up right away.  Ironically, in the proposal, I was citing the poverty statistics in BC – for example, that BC has the highest poverty rate in Canada and that BC’s child poverty rate is tied with Manitoba for being the worst. To add to my discomfort, I know that poverty is a major contributor to the health inequities that I am researching. As President of PHABC, which is a member of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (co-chaired by Ted Bruce, past president of PHABC and blogger extrordinaire), I knew that it was time to ‘put my money where my mouth is’ (excuse the pun) and sign up for the challenge. I encourage all PHABC members to do the same. Here is the link – it is not too late – the challenge starts today.

I will be blogging about my experiences in Health Voices so stay tuned!

Marjorie MacDonald is the President, Public Health Association of BC