‘Tis the season for choice … unless you’re living in poverty

We underestimate the value of choice. Choice empowers individuals and gives every person a sense of independence and dignity. The ability to choose is an important part of physical and mental health.

Healthy eating and physical activity have traditionally been considered an individual lifestyle choice. Unfortunately, for those living on low income, choice doesn’t exist. When living in poverty, after paying for housing and transportation, there’s very little money left in the budget to buy food. This isn’t because of poor budgeting or lack of skills to prepare meals at home. It’s simply that people cannot afford the cost of living on minimum wage jobs, precarious employment or inadequate social assistance, and it doesn’t matter how many jobs one has or how hard they work. 

That’s when most of us assume food charity fills the gap and stops hunger in our communities. Food charity is an emergency response, giving people a meal or a few days’ worth of food. While food charity is vital and crucial in our communities, providing a necessary immediate response, what you need to know is food charity will never eliminate or end hunger. Food charity, such as food banks, can only be accessed once a month, and typically provide three days worth of food. People who use food banks and community meals are often still missing meals and going full days without eating because lack of food is a constant reality.

Without adequate food access, physical and mental health is compromised. We need to give people the power of choice over what goes into their baskets and bellies. In the absence of policies that guarantee incomes that meet basic needs, we need to understand that our donations of food or money for food charity will never be enough. They are just a Band-Aid on a cut that is deep and in need of stitches. Let’s choose political action to make systems changes that will bring about real prosperity and communities where everyone can thrive.

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