Trish Garner almost gave up the first day she participated in the Welfare Food Challenge.
A community organizer for the B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition, she suffered a bad migraine and hunger.
But she continued, surviving on $26 for food for a week, forgoing the steak, crab, garlic bread and salad served at her partner's birthday party and dining instead on plain mashed potatoes and chickpeas with carrot sauce. The five-foot nine-inch tall woman who started the week at approximately 140 pounds dropped seven pounds in a week.
"It was hard to concentrate," she said. "I was a cranky parent. My hips were really sore."
Garner couldn't believe the amount of time, space and kitchenware involved in eating on the cheap. She stored leftovers in the fridge.
"These are luxuries that most people on welfare don't have. They're lucky if they have a hot plate in their room," she wrote on the Welfare Food Challenge blog. "So, they'd be forced to eat more expensive, prepared food, which doesn't stretch through the week leaving them going hungry!"
Gerry Kasten, a registered dietician of 20 years and a former cook, reported his diet fell short of Canada's Food Guide recommendations by 17 servings of fruits and vegetables, 17 servings of dairy and one serving of meats and alternatives.
"I was short on iron, on calcium on zinc, on B vitamins, vitamin C, a wide variety of nutrients," Kasten said. "We know such things as a shortage of iron in early childhood leads to irreparable cognitive delays."
Raise the Rates says one in five children in B.C. lives in poverty.
Challenge participant Ted Bruce, executive director of Population Health with Vancouver Coastal Health, was surprised by the amount of anxiety he felt about running out of food.
"The research has told us that the pathway to chronic disease for people living in poverty has a lot to do with the stress and lack of control that they had in their lives and that's what I experienced as well, is that I lost all kind of control over one of the most basic things that we all take for granted and this is getting enough to eat," he said.
Raise the Rates organizer Bill Hopwood noted the 177,000 people on welfare and the more than 500,000 people who live in poverty in B.C. face an ongoing struggle to maintain their health on a poverty diet.
Raise the Rates wants the provincial Liberal government to immediately increase income assistance rates to the federal and provincial government's Market Basket Measure of $1,300 a month for a single person in Vancouver living on welfare and to index this rate to inflation.
It also wants the provincial government to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour and index it to inflation.