Readers Speak Back – Anna Foat – Live Below The Line

In response to my Live Below The Line posts I got a series of email from Anna Foat about her own experiences which range from range from working on charity boards to choosing cigs and coffee over food. The point Anna really drives through is the serious disconnect between the Haves and the Have Nots.

With permission, I’m sharing her comments below. Thank you, Anna, for your candour and openness.

Live Below The Line - 5 days on a $1.75 food and drink budget.

It occurred to me to share with you the dimension of the challenge and the participants who are very skilled and knowledgeable on good, nutrition and not the least if which cooking.

I served on a charity board and worked with people on creating things like resumes but then we realized one of the biggest challenges was access to good and inexpensive food. (Many smaller cities and towns have no inexpensive options, those are all out in the suburbs.) And then the skills to cook good food.

I did cooking classes on things like how to make a good and inexpensive pasta sauce. Very basic. Not gourmet. But no one in many cases had ever shown them how to cook anything from scratch.

Our residents often had never lived anywhere with an oven and stove – only a hotplate. One kept setting the fire alarm off and I had to explain what the hood it was and why you’d turn it on, once we had determined there was a correlation between cooking bacon and the fire alarm 🙂 She was mortified but confessed she didn’t know what it was and she didn’t want to touch it.

I know it’s part of a wider conversation but it’s especially important for the working poor in Canada. I’m loving all the creative ways to make fabulous out of 1.75 but there has to be a better way to help people eat well on little.

I know many people on Charity boards (and I suspect many people generally) look down their noses at “poor people” grocery shopping at corner stores and eating shit fast food but the reality is often that it’s incredibly hard for them to do anything else.

I used to pick cigarettes (when I enjoyed that nasty habit) and coffee over food because it suppressed the appetite in my darkest days. The Marche dude at the  Rideau Center would give me a muffin sometimes from the 2-day old about to be tossed pile when I walked past on the way to class. The cigs were all about whether I perceived I didn’t have not enough to buy anything tangible from the store.
Made sense at the time.
I worked as a bartender to pay for university and “welfare day” was a source of so much anger but it would be the one day that they could be a “big dog.”  It would make my coworkers livid getting tipped with “their own money” and some said “thanks for the early income tax refund” but I kinda understood. If the next 29 days were going to suck whether you did the right thing or not, might as well have one blow out day.
One last thought. I spent a few years at housing charity working on the selection committee picking families and mentoring one. My family was a single mom younger than me who was tough as nails and proud. She worked in shipping and receiving and told me very matter of factly she dealt with hazardous materials because it paid an extra 2 bucks an hour. The only reason she knew about the charity was that when she was on Ontario Works during the Harris years her “job” was working at the ReStore while her infant was in daycare. Requirement to receive welfare. She applied but seriously thought “you had to know someone” to get picked. She was a hardworking honest person and the first in her family to ever live in a house. I cried at the dedication ceremony. She was dumbfounded that all she needed to do was sweat equity.
I think most very liberal people would be shocked to know we spent more time on outreach to get the actual people we were trying to help to apply and 99% came through churches. We never had more than an application or two a month.
The biggest disconnect I feel is the concept of working poor. People tend to think homeless or working but miss the whole “this person is working 40 hours a week and don’t make enough to eat properly”.
When I’d fund raise, I spent more time telling the stories of how people came to be our clients and that they worked!! Not bums. They worked just like everyone else sometimes more and usually harder. Most people really couldn’t fathom that. Or would say things like “they should get a better job” and I’d say “yeah, I will mention that – I’m sure that has never crossed their mind”
Or I will tell the single dad with 3 kids he should go back to school. How do you suggest he swings that?! I’m stumped but maybe you have an idea…
That people sometimes needed a space to move from working poor to stable because of the personal or health challenges they faced.
And it’s that I think that is at the root of the lack of compassion. Couples making 100k+ think they are “basically middle class” and “what’s wrong” with those who can’t make ends meet. Must be them.

I will get off my soapbox. But I know you get it and I think the piece people don’t get is the day-to-day and the reality of the disconnect between people who need help and those willing to provide it.

Anna’s experiences echo my own, so I’m honoured she would let me share this private correspondence with you.

I feel strongly about this disconnect and have been heard saying “it’s not them and us, it’s just us. Only us. Now can you help us?”

If you have thoughts on this and I know many of you do, I would love to hear them and share them publicly.   Please add them to the discussion in the comments below.

Thanks to Anna Foat for being so open and sharing her experiences! Anna’s comment has been shared from our email exchange with her permission so that her thoughts and experiences could be highlighted in a public forum.

Note: this post is part of my Live Below The Line series where I will be on a $1.75 food & drink budget from April 29th-May 3rd.
This is a game for me but a serious reality for 1.4 billion people in our world today.  Help support me by donating, or supporting Second Harvest and Daily Bread Food Bank.  

If you want to know more about what I’m involved in, you can read my disclosure statement here.

Alexa Clark

Alexa is a digital marketer and author with over 20 years in digital & interactive communications in the food and tech industries. Alexa's CheapEats Restaurant Guides, for both Toronto & Ottawa, were Canadian best sellers. She is a recognized authority on social media and has been named one of Canada's 20 Leading Women in Social Media.

4 thoughts on “Readers Speak Back – Anna Foat – Live Below The Line

  • May 2, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Anna Foat I wasn’t sure how to add photos to your very smart observations, so I used this infographic. Hope that’s okay.

  • May 2, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Totally agree. When I was in school (many years ago), I did a film about housing and was shocked at the kinds of places people lived for I think about $400 a month: disgusting washrooms, filthy “kitchens” consisting of maybe a two hotplate/two-element stove tops and a small fridge–all to serve about six men.I could go on a rant about food being a human right, but I wont. I will, however, challenge anyone who thinks they can travel to work two or more part-time minimum-wage jobs and shop and cook healthy food and clean and “keep up appearances” whilst trying “further” themselves.

  • May 2, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    Well said Carol! Thanks for weighing in.

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