Day 2: Welfare Food Challenge – Charity or Justice?

Did you know that the Downtown Eastside far outstrips the rest of Vancouver in its rates of volunteerism and that BC is the most generous province in terms of how much we give to charitable organizations? It is clear that all of our communities have gifts to offer.

By Deanna Ogle, Campaign Organizer

soup can that reads charity or justiceYesterday was our first day of the challenge but not our first day of work in preparing food. We bought dried black beans as part of our staples to help provide a bit of protein. We soaked the beans and put them in a slow cooker overnight together with a few slivers of onion, garlic, dried chilies and a portion of our canned tomatoes.  We went to sleep confident that we were totally on top of the food situation.

I woke up early to review my notes for a presentation only to realize that, horrors, the beans weren’t done. Without cooked beans I wouldn’t have lunch. Panic set in! I transferred the beans to a pot to boil and made breakfast and a backup snack of a boiled egg each. I can assure you that a watched pot boils.

Earyn and I are already worrying whether or not we will have enough food. We are watching portions and checking in with each other about how much beans we expect to go through in a day. We have no extra. This stresses me out. My stepfather and younger siblings are Lakota and I was raised in an Aboriginal household. I always consider sharing food with friends as part of my food purchases and menu planning. I am considering how poverty and scarcity stress relationships of sharing. I will still offer food to guests but will anyone be excited to accept my rice and beans? Poverty can mean that the gifts that we have to give are not necessarily the gifts that our mainstream culture considers worth receiving.

This is the thought that I am sitting with today: how poverty combines with social exclusion to form shame.

This is precisely why we need to move beyond a model of charity to justice. Charity is a model where individuals in poverty are expected to receive without actively participating in determining the nature of the gift. What is actually needed and do we listen when people in poverty voice their real needs? Justice is a model where we each recognize our inherent humanity and agree that we each have a role to play in our communities.

Did you know that the Downtown Eastside far outstrips the rest of Vancouver in its rates of volunteerism and that BC is the most generous province in terms of how much we give to charitable organizations? It is clear that all of our communities have gifts to offer.

The challenge we face as a society in moving towards a model of justice is to work to ensure that all of our gifts are received and shared in a way that allows all voices to participate in determining what we need. This will require the participation of our provincial government. We are the last province in Canada without a poverty reduction strategy. 

We need a plan!

Check out the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition’s educational materials for schools on Rethinking Giving for tools to combine Justice with any Food Bank Drives you or your company might be organizing this winter:bcpovertyreduction.ca/campaigns/rethinkgiving

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