Thursday, August 21, 2014

Food banks, nutrition, Kraft Dinner and the social safety net

I've been seeing a few posts going around about an Ottawa area food bank, the Parkdale Food Centre, and their recent policy change wherein they are refusing certain items of food they deem unhealthy... Namely that Canadian lunch staple, Kraft Dinner.

I have a few thoughts on this:

- KD is, yes, pretty much chemical glop.  Delicious, delicious chemical glop. Mmmm.

- KD has the capability of being mixed with meats and veggies to create a more filling and nutritious meal.  It is also easy to cook and easy to store, which is important for people who lack cooking facilities or safe places to store food.

- With the exception of around Christmas and Thanksgiving, food banks in Ontario are generally understocked and screaming for donations.

- Some people who donate food are assholes and will use food drives as an opportunity to unload their expired and or plain nasty stuff.

- Food banks do need to be able to offer more healthy options such as fresh fruits and vegetables, milk.  Money donations help them do this by offering grocery vouchers that can be redeemed at local grocery stores, or by allowing the food bank to stock these items daily.

I think a big point is being missed in a lot of the debate about this policy.  From my perspective, it is reasonable to encourage the donation of healthier options, but it is kind of arrogant and patronizing to refuse items (barring items that are expired or opened).  Healthy food is needed, but so is comfort food.  So is the occasional treat.  

But the thing nobody commenting on this story seems to be touching on is that food banks are supposed to be an emergency measure, a stop-gap.  If we have people relying on food banks to the point where it is becoming nutritionally detrimental, then that is a BIG problem and in most cases not the fault of the people having to rely on the food banks.   It's a symptom of a system that is not doing what it can to look out for its more vulnerable members.. the elderly, the disabled, families having to work at minimum wage, both single-parent and two-parent. 

If these people who rely on ODSP or CPP or a fair minimum wage do not have enough to even feed themselves on a regular basis, then that's a sign of a much bigger problem than a few boxes of Kraft Dinner.