Food is such a personal thing. We all have our preferences and our favourites. It’s instinctual, a natural human need that most days, we don’t even think about. It’s a given. Many of us don’t worry about where our next meal will come from. In Canada, food is available just about everywhere and in mass variety. We do our groceries, we make our lunches, and we head out to dinner with friends. It’s part of our daily routine. What isn’t part of that routine is stopping to think about how lucky we are, and the fact that not everyone leads such a privileged life.
I’ll be the first to admit it. I am one of these people, I live this privileged life. Most days I don’t stop to consider how fortunate I am to be able to afford a hearty lunch, to be able to go and open my fridge to find countless options for a healthy (or not so healthy) snack. Most days I don’t remember to be grateful for this simple fact. I don’t stop to appreciate the happiness that comes in the form of a full stomach.
Many of us are so busy on a daily basis that we eat passively, maybe while we drive, or as we’re on our way to work. Often, it’s not something we pay much attention to. We scarf down our food simply because we need the fuel to carry on with the rest of our day. We never consider what would happen if, all of a sudden, it wasn’t quite so easy to meet this basic need. What would happen if due to unforeseen circumstances, you found yourself thinking about where your next meal may come from? Seriously, take a moment to play this scenario out in your mind.
The Statistics & The Stigma
This is exactly how hunger happens. It’s one of those things where you think “oh that’s terrible, but it probably won’t happen to me”. But it is happening to someone around you, perhaps a friend of a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbour or stranger. Someone loses their job and suddenly they’re struggling to make ends meet. Perhaps a spouse or partner passes away, and life abruptly becomes more difficult to afford on one income instead of two. Suddenly it’s not so easy to stock that refrigerator. This is how hunger happens for many Canadians, very suddenly.
In fact, over 800,000 Canadians turn to their local food bank to feed themselves and their families each month. If you think deeply about this, if you take a moment to truly put yourself in the shoes of another, you begin to realize the immense difficulty that comes along with seeking help of this nature. It goes beyond the money, beyond the dollars. It has an impact on a deeply personal and psychological level.
How does one set aside their pride and ask for help? To be honest, I would certainly have difficulty with this. I would feel saddened and shamed. Truthfully, I would probably try to hide it, keep it a secret. Why? Well, a lot of these feelings would stem from our collective view of the local food bank and the way we characterize the people that depend on these resources.
As a society, somewhere along the way we decided that there is a type of shame associated with relying on the local food bank. We don’t know everyone’s personal story, yet there is a stigma that surrounds this act. Those who have fallen upon hard times, or live in perpetual poverty are often referred to the people who have no choice but to resort to using the food bank. We use negative language. We make assumptions and judgments that are hurtful, and in all likelihood, entirely inaccurate. Instead we should be questioning how we can better support that friend of a friend, acquaintance, neighbour or stranger. Instead, let’s ask “what can we do as a population to change our collective attitude?”
An Appreciative Attitude
I have been very lucky throughout my life in that I personally have never used a food bank. However, my perspective is informed by two things. Firstly, on a daily basis I work in community services. Every day I see people who are disenfranchised, who are struggling, and who come to our office seeking assistance. How are they treated by society? Often they’re looked down upon, viewed as less valuable. But how can someone build themselves back up, how can someone work to get back on their feet when they are confronted with this kind of mindset? It only makes that upward climb that much steeper.
Secondly, I was primarily raised by a single immigrant mother. When my family first came to Canada money wasn’t easy to come by, but my mother worked very hard to always make sure we had food on the table. My family is from Poland, and my mother along with some other family members fled communist Poland in the 1980’s. Back then food was scarce in Poland; stores were barren, at times with nothing but a bottle of vinegar on the shelf. My mother would stand in line for 6 hours at the butcher, waiting for her allocated amount of meat. Every individual would receive only a certain amount, and nothing more. My mother was granted 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of meat, which had to last the entire month. Once the wait was over, she would start all over again waiting for her portion of sour cream, or toilet paper. People’s conversations on the street consisted of “where did you get that? Which store has some?” as they hurried over to get their cut before it was gone. Certain foods, such as cheese, were only granted to families with children. Fruits, such as bananas were something my mom could only dream of. At Christmas, oranges would be imported from Cuba and would be regarded as a thrill, the best present one could ask for. Imagine, getting that excited over a single orange.
Food is scarce in many parts of the world, and in many countries thousands of people still live this way. In Canada, we are surrounded by an abundance of food, but we forget that not everyone is able to easily obtain it. My mother tells me that sometimes even she has to remind herself. She takes a moment to remember what her life was like 30 years ago. She remembers how she waited in those lines in an effort to be appreciative of the fact that she can now buy meat in bulk, and stock a whole freezer with it should she choose to. We all need to have these reminders and need to stop and check ourselves, myself included. I am lucky, I am fortunate, I am not hungry. I have a healthy lunch, a full stomach, and therefore, a grateful heart. What can I do as someone who is in this position to help those around me?
You can donate, you can volunteer your time, money, or food of course to your local food bank. Add it to your grocery list; buy a few things for the local food bank next time you’re out shopping. They depend on your donations. Campbell Canada is working to raise awareness to alleviate hunger in Canada through its Help Hunger Disappear® program, which is awesome. Why should you help? Because we all deserve access to real, wholesome food. By participating in Campbell Canada’s Help Hunger Disappear® program, Campbell Canada will donate money to food banks to give access to fresh produce to those in need. We tell ourselves “it will never happen to me”, and I don’t mean to be negative, but it certainly could. Hunger can suddenly happen to anyone. Too often we don’t care about our fellow human being until we find ourselves being the ones who need help.
Sometimes one single orange is enough to make someone’s day.
Shirt dress including belt (worn unbottoned) and layered necklace from Forever 21. Find similar here and here.
Cotton navy dress by One Clothing Los Angeles and purchased at Winners.
Lace up shoes by Esprit, find similar here.
Vintage rings, bracelets and purse.
Interested in finding out how you can take action? Check out this video and links below:
If you live in Canada, here’s a list of provincial food bank partners:
The Ontario Association of Food Banks
Food Banks British Columbia
Food Banks Alberta
Food Banks of Saskatchewan Corporation
Manitoba Association of Food Banks
Food Banks of Quebec
New Brunswick Association of Food Banks
Feed Nova Scotia
Community Food Sharing Association of Newfoundland and Labrador
If you live in Kingston, Canada (like me):
If you live in the USA:
If you live in Europe:
European Federation of Food Banks
The Global Food Bank Community
Disclosure: Featured photography by Kaley of Kaley Noel Photography, creative contributions and additional photography by Ashlee of Red Lemon Art and Photography. All opinions and comments are my own of course.