Archive for Food Issues

Slow Cookers for the DTES

As a food blogger, I often work closely with PR agencies around the city. They invite me to events, to try new products and restaurants. It’s a great relationship, and it is beneficial for both of us.

I recently had an email from Rachel over at Dunn PR, alerting me to a new project that they are volunteering on. Let me tell you about it.


Last month, I wrote a post about food deserts, and how tough it is to eat healthy on a tiny budget. Many people who live in the DTES live on a budget of $25 or less a week for their food. As you can imagine, this is a big challenge, and they often can’t get through the week without the help of food banks, or soup kitchens.

Whole Way House is a charitable organization located in the DTES, and they service the residents of an SRO called The Avalon, located at Main and Pender. Whole Way House provides community services, like family dinners, games nights, haircuts, pet therapy, and a community garden.

One of the challenges of living in an SRO is that you have no kitchen. Many residents have a small fridge or maybe a toaster oven or a hot plate. But they don’t have a full, functioning kitchen. Cooking healthy food can be a real challenge.

Whole Way House is partnering up with Chef David Robertson, of The Dirty Apron cooking school, to do crock pot cooking classes for the residents of The Avalon. Slow cookers are the perfect tool for people who live an SRO. You can cook an entire meal in there, start to finish, and you make those meals healthy soups, stews and curries. In addition, they are incredibly safe, and the long cooking process makes most things you make in there quite flavourful and delicious.

Chef Robertson has been a supporter of Whole Way House for a while. He lives in the neighbourhood, and has a friend that works there. In the past, he’s hosted fundraisers for the charity, has offered his Dirty Apron kitchen so they can cook their Christmas turkeys, and and regularly donates leftovers from the cooking school.

“We all have a role to play in the community,” he says, when I interview him in the kitchen classroom at The Dirty Apron. “I see food as a medium to help in the community.”

Whole Way House’s mandate is combat lonliness in the DTES, and create that sense of community, so when they asked him if he would teach a slow cooker cooking class, he said yes.

He will teach the first class on February 29, and it will be a riff on the Boeuf Borgignon recipe in his recently published Dirty Apron Cookbook.

“Stew is perfect for slow cookers,” he says. “It’s rustic, and it doesn’t demand a lot of specialty tools. They basically just need a knife and cutting board.”

The recipe is inexpensive, and can easily feed a number of people. The class will include a shopping list, including how much each item costs.

I took Chef Robertson’s recipe to the Sunshine Market on the DTES and shopped for the ingredients. All together, it cost me under $12.71 to purchase the ingredients (with bacon left over). This recipe will feed 3-4, especially if you include a side dish, like pasta, potatoes or bread.

Here’s the Chef demoing the recipe on a recent episode of Breakfast Television:

How can you help?

UPDATE: the slow cooker cooking class was a big success! Thanks to everyone who donated.

Taking “The Welfare Challenge”

I’m starting a new series of posts here on the blog dedicated to issues around food. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about poverty, access to healthy, fresh food, obesity, and waste. These are all issues that we, whether we know it or not, face every single day. And I want to talk about them–they are discussions that need to be had, and possibly we can find some grass-roots solutions to them, as well.

I’m starting this series with an interview I did with Samuel Mickelson, who is currently the Community Initiatives Supervisor for Gordon Neighbourhood House (who, by the way, are trying to lead the way in the community when it comes to food and nutrition). Last year, he took The Welfare Challenge, where he lived on welfare rates for food for one week. Bif Naked is a celebrity who has recently also taken the challenge.

I’ll let him tell you about it, and how it affected him.

RC: What exactly is the Welfare Challenge? How much money for food did you have to live on per day and for the entire week?

SM: The Welfare Food Challenge is an initiative organized by the Raise the Rates Coalition with the aim of stimulating a deeper conversation on poverty, hunger, and the inadequacy of welfare rates in BC. My task was to live on $26 for a whole week. It’s worth noting, however, that challenge-takers this year were tasked with living on $21 (see the Welfare Food Challenge website for an explanation).

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.03.11 PM

I did my main grocery shop at Buy-Low on Main and Kingsway on the Wednesday that marked the beginning of the challenge. That afternoon, I went to No Frills in the West End to spend the rest of my budget on items which I had forgotten about earlier that day but which I knew would be key. These items included bread, eggs, and mint tea (a way to provide me with some comfort during the week). In hindsight, it might have made more sense to save some money for items that came up during the week. But with such a small budget for food, it was difficult to make the decision between spending it all on one grocery shop or dispersing it over the week.

RC: What were you able to buy with your $26 budget?

SM: Here is an overview of what I bought with my budget:

  • barley
  • white rice
  • black beans
  • pasta
  • can of tomatoes
  • onions
  • butternut squash
  • apples
  • bread
  • eggs
  • tea

RC: What did a typical day’s meals consist of?

SM: Breakfast – an egg and toast
Lunch – pasta or cooked barley
Dinner – same as lunch

A typical dinner on the Welfare Challenge

A typical dinner on the Welfare Challenge

RC: How did you feel eating that kind of food? Did it affect your work, relationships, productivity?

SM: It felt completely frustrating and deflating eating this type of food. There was no variety and very little flavour. At work it affected my mood, concentration, and productivity. In my personal life, being on the Challenge made me cancel plans with friends because I could only live on what I bought with $26 and could not accept charity of any kind (i.e. brunch or dinner at a friend’s).

RC: How difficult do you think it is to eat a healthy diet without relying on the food bank if you are on welfare?

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 12.02.57 PM

SM: It is very difficult, if not impossible. The stipend that someone on welfare receives is simply not enough to support all of their basic needs, including a healthy diet. In my opinion, while food banks are a helpful emergency food relief mechanism, they obfuscate the systemic issues of poverty and low welfare rates that drive hunger. That disconnect between emergency food relief via food banks and the need for systemic changes is what the Welfare Food Challenge aims to address.

RC: Thanks, Sam! For doing the challenge, and for sharing your experience with us.

If you want to know more about the Welfare Challenge, visit their website.

I’ll have a second, follow-up post to this one in the near future, which will go into more depth and detail about these issues.

Recent Entries »