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An Interview with a Welfare Food Challenge Participant, Lindsay Bissett


Author(s): Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Publication (Outlet/Website): Medium (Personal)

Publication Date (yyyy/mm/dd): 2018/10/27

My name is Lindsay Bissett and I advocated, for the second time, in the Welfare Food Challenge. During the day I am a recruiter for an incredible company, Vancity, where I am fortunate to meet many amazing people. During my extracurricular time I am Vice Chair of Vancity’s Diversity and Inclusion Alliance, Board Member of a Surrey Not For Profit, Baobab Inclusive Empowerment Society, and a dog loving, suburb loving, avid Netflix watcher. I thought I was pretty in touch with social issues but experiencing this challenge has been incredibly eye opening…and eye watering. I will not stop advocating until the rates are raised, the current state is absolutely unacceptable. This quote sums it up for me, “I give because I know how it feels to want.” –Unknown.

How did you get involved in the Welfare Food Challenge?

I became involved in the challenge last year with some VanCity colleagues of mine. A dear friend of mine is a friend of Bif Naked, who has been advocating with the Welfare Food Challenge for several years. We were all inspired to give it a try.

We have a Diversity and Inclusion Alliance at VanCity and one of our focus areas is poverty reduction. We thought this Challenge aligned strongly; it opened our eyes to the realities of living in poverty.

What have you heard from others that have been a part of it?

A lot of similar experiences. It is, in general, terrible. The first year of the challenge, I was so organized. I prepped all of my meals. I shopped at two different stores. I really thought that I was prepared.

An advocate from Raise the Rates who currently lives on welfare and lives in an SRO said, “We have to choose between being healthy and being hungry.” When I talk to other folks, no matter the level of preparation, you have to make the choice.

Often, it feels better to have a full belly. This unacceptable “choice” has stayed with me throughout the challenge and my advocacy beyond it.

You are eating processed, cheap, and sometimes expired foods. This quickly leads to physical and mental deterioration. The fifth day, last year, was when I broke. My mental health suffered greatly. I cried eating Chef Boyardee from the Dollar Store, which is embarrassing to admit. The canned pasta disintegrated when cooked and was basically inedible. On the fifth day I was not only hungry and unhealthy but I was absolutely isolated and mentally broken.

In summary, many people have the same experiences. After a few days, your motivation and mood suffer. This is how some people live every day…for years.

What was your own experience in being able to or trying to function in taking part in this, being hungry all of the time?

It is brutal. It is hard because I entered the challenge wanting to advocate at the same time. This year, I quit early, the food portion. It is hard being hungry, even if you achieve a full stomach you are not satisfied. You do not have the right amount of nutrition.

It is hard to state intellectual and powerful things. You are not healthy at the time. For me, I am hard to be around. I am cranky, which is unusual for me. It is hard to be taken seriously. It is hard to have conversations while in a constant bad mood.

What were some of the precautions others and you took before taking part in this?

There’s a great support group, in and out of Vancity through Raise the Rates. It is a great organization. Many of us converse on Twitter and share through blogs. In terms of precautions, we support one another.

We make sure nobody feels bad and know they can stop the challenge. If you recognize the privilege, then that’s okay. We want to raise the rates. We want the government to realize the importance of this.

For example, for people with mental illnesses it is incredibly hard. Even with a balanced diet, if they are battling a chemical imbalance in their brain it only makes things harder. We kept a close eye on ourselves as friends and partners in the challenge. There is enough stigma surrounding both mental illness and poverty, we had to assure no bias if someone had to step out of the food portion of the challenge early.

You have to be ready to not beat it, to suffer. It is going to be awful. You cannot plan yourself into success with such a small amount of money.

What are some ways fellow citizens can give back through things such as food programs for nutritious meals to eat everyday?

That’s a really great question. I will give you a personal answer and I appreciate that many people may have a different opinion. For me, I struggle to support food banks. It is an immediate need now, I get it. However, it makes me sad and it isn’t a sustainable solution.

A program meant to run for one year has run for 20 years. The more we normalize food banks, the more we are saying it is okay that people on welfare have only $18 a week for food. We’re normalizing it. We’re telling the government that what they are doing is enough.

The government states this is enough. It is not. Food banks are doing work we need right now but I look forward to the day they are no longer needed in BC. I consider hot lunch programs in schools as something very important. There are many kids in school who are hungry, there is a lack of equality from the get-go. They need to be set up for success with proper food as a basic need and ingredient for success.

If someone asked me about becoming involved, I would tell them to become educated, send letters to people in government that matter, have brave conversations with friends, family and coworkers to create more advocates. An election is coming. Our government needs to know that current state is unacceptable.

That will make change. Advocacy is the way to do it.

This is an annual event. How can people become involved?

I sound like a broken record but people can get involved by advocating for change. I hope there is no event next year. I hope they raise the rates so we don’t have to do this again and people don’t have to live like this. Whenever people ask me, “What should I do to get prepared?” I give an unfortunate answer. You can’t win.

I say, “Be prepared to be hungry and angry.” I am usually an upbeat and positive person but there is no way to win. There is no success. You are going to be miserable. It incredibly eye opening to try for one week to live on welfare rates when some people of all ages are living like that without a choice. In this affluent province people in poverty are being kept there.

I hope that we do not do this again because we need to raise the rates. It sounds simple but as you can see through research it has been years since the welfare rates have been increased. To be prepared if there is a Welfare Food Challenge next year, you should find the closest Dollar Store and get ready to feel terrible.

Thank you for your time, Lindsay.


In-Sight Publishing by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at


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