15 October, 2008

Blog Action Day: Who's poor and hungry?


Percent of food bank clients who are children: 38.7 %

Percent of households containing at least one child: 50.6 %

Years since the federal government promised to eliminate child poverty: 18

Change in the number of hungry children since then (1989): + 127,729

- From The Association of Canadian Food Banks, 2007 Hunger Count Report ( .pdf file).

Canada's one of the rich countries. Immigrants come here from all over the world for the opportunities. We have free education up to university age and universal health care. We have a re-elected government who says that there's no problem with the economy, we just have to sit tight and not panic.

There are food banks in every province of Canada. Many food banks. Food banks have sprung up on most college campuses, since many students can't afford to pay tuition and eat too. There's one on my old college campus.

In Nova Scotia alone, there are at least 28 food banks and societies that cover the whole province. I remember when there were just a few, mostly centered in Halifax or one or two other cities. In Halifax there are at least 29 breakfast programs and food banks run by associations and churches and many, many more drop-in centres, shelters and groups supporting and interacting with them. It's a little unsettling.

Attacks on welfare programs in the 90's by governments of all political stripes cut benefits and made it harder to qualify for programs. They also promoted versions of "workfair" which made people take any kind of low-paid work whose minimum wages couldn't cover the cost of rent, bills, and leave enough for people to feed themselves and their families. These were the provincial governments who in 1989 pledged to end child poverty by 2000.

Yeah, eh?

In the intervening years there's not only an alarming proliferation of food banks as government has divested itself of taking responsibility for the food security of its citizens, but food bank use has increased by 91%.

Yup, that's almost double the amount of Canadian people forced to visit the banks just to survive, or about 720, 000 people in the month of March 2007 when the last count was taken. Not to mention the 2,344,462 free meals served in addition to that.

Sorry if my bold button seems to be getting a workout, but I find these figures staggering. There are now 673 actual food banks in Canada, and that doesn't include the several thousand associated agencies and volunteer groups. I think it's time to panic.

Yet government apparently has the money to hand tax breaks to corporations. And around here, just before the election, there were paving activities suddenly springing up all over Halifax and Dartmouth. Just think of all those instant jobs. And all the time we have left before the roads break up in the winter, maybe as much as two or three months. Value for money.

I don't have the solutions for hunger in Canada, but the Association of Food Banks has some good ideas, including raising the minimum wage to $10.00 an hour. That would be a start. And because of the severity of the problem, I want to say to them all, the volunteers and the organizers and the people who donate every month, a heartfelt thank-you for your fine work. I wish we didn't need you but it's obvious we do, and I'm sure that the thought that you're there helps the hungry not to panic in times of stress.

The government's sure not panicking.


Inspired by some reading of other more positive outlooks on blogs, I'm adding some groups working toward the resolution of hunger. One I particularly like is the free rice site. See the green banner at the top left ? Just click it and you not only get to directly donate rice but as you watch your rice bowl fill up, you expand your vocabulary. And, shhh, it's fun. I like that I can do it frequently and it doesn't depend on the size of my pocketbook, so it's great for the out-of-work and students.

Feed Nova Scotia, the umbrella organization for food banks in the area has a bunch of good ways to help, including Drive Away Hunger an event where local farmers drive their tractors around collecting food for the food banks, walks, collecting used cell phones and more.

The Canadian Association of Food Banks collects food or money donations; you can even Grow-a Row of fresh food during the season to donate. Too late now, but a great idea for next year.

And on the global scene, one of the best ways to raise people from poverty is to get them started in a business through a small loan. Kiva can set you up.

If you have any more sites to suggest, please leave them in a comment.


Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
Right on my friend! Are we back to the good ol' Trickle Down theory of the Reagan days, when things were "good"? Except corporate greed and share holder profit are one thing. While will it have to be that until people in predominately western white countries start starving that the world will finally notice, and perhaps finally change. Kia kaha VJ.

vegetablej said...


Since I started off as a food and resources site, whenever I tackle dificult issues people tend to go silent. I get that it's more fun to focus on the positive side of food and recipes but sometimes I just don't feel like I can write that way. So I _really_ appreciate your comment.

Unfortunately people in North America have been hungry for a long time; it's just that the media don't like talking about it as much as Paris Hilton's million dollar wardrobe or whatever.

I do blame the media and the wealthy and comortable for ignoring the people in their community that need help. It seems that the stress of life has made us cynical and myopic. While we live in our little bubbles, people down the street are struggling just to eat. Depending on the government does no good, because the government seems to have the interests of the corporations uppermost in their minds. I know many of us are struggling to get by, but expecting more equitable sharing of resources, and an end to hunger here in relatively weathy countries desn't seem to be asking the impossible.

It's great that food banks are filling the gap, but why do people have to resort to these when income assistance should be filling that need?

We need to ask our governments why there are all these food banks in our midst.

I'm certainly not ignoring the people in other countries who need help, but chose to focus on the problem at home because I think it is so shocking we can't even feed our own people, and the problem is largely ignored except by those working in the field.

My daughter was there in person to see Brian Mulrooney, the prime minister in 1989, when he promised to end child povery in Canada. His was a Conservative government and that was over 18 years ago. We have another Conservative government now. I want Stephen Harper to honor his predecessor's promise.

Ruahines said...

Kia ora VJ,
Yes, I know well the sound of the deafening silence when we post things outside the comfort zone as it were. I wish I could just write about my time in the mountains but when the outside world starts to impact on them I have to act. I am glad you feel the same way about issues that are important to you, and to us.
There is a post at http://bobmckerrow.blogspot.com which is also linked on my blog. I encourage you to read his latest post, The Poor getting Poorer, it fits in perfectly with your own post.
VJ thank you for your place here, it is both a favourite place for me to learn about food and cooking, but also about the world and humanity. Kia kaha!

vegetablej said...

Thanks, Robb. I'll check it out.