For many students, the biggest daily dilemma is deciding what food to order for lunch. With a variety of meal-time options available in university campuses it is harder to educate students on the lack of food options available to the general public.
But for one week, a group of McMaster students will be eating and surviving in the same way as thousands of Hamiltonians, scraping by on the meager amount of food provided by a food bank.
From Oct. 12-19, five students from each faculty will be participating in the “Do the Math” challenge hosted by the McMaster Poverty Initiative (MPI). MPI’s main focus is to link the McMaster community with poverty issues and promote long-term advocacy.
The Do the Math Challenge seeks to raise student awareness about the issues of hunger and food security in Hamilton. Do the Math requires each student to eat only the contents of a single food bank bag for an entire week, attend a tour of a local food bank, and complete a daily reflection blog on the challenge.
According to Hamilton Food Share, an average of 18,600 individuals each month rely on food from their local food bank in order to sustain their dietary needs. While food security and hunger are core community issues, they often remain concealed from high-income groups and students who are unlikely to personally experience or know of those who may experience chronic hunger issues.
The student participants are also required to choose one way of publicizing the issue of low social assistance rates. This can be done through acts such as writing a letter to an MPP or volunteering in a community agency.
Jeff Wingard, MPI Coordinator and organizer for the Do the Math challenge, shared his thoughts on what the event hopes to achieve.
“One of our main goals is to show people how inadequate the food supply really is and bring awareness to social assistance traits,” he said. Welfare rates keep up with the cost of living. Everybody should be given the right to go to the grocery store and afford to live.”
Wingard also discussed how difficult it is to mimic the effects of poverty. However the Do the Math challenge is the most realistic and hands-on way for students to sink their teeth into issues surrounding food security.
He recognized that McMaster students who participated in the challenge in previous years enjoyed it as a whole, demonstrated a greater respect towards those who utilize food banks, and that they each gained a new perspective on social assistance in Ontario.
While food banks and food security may seem removed from the average student’s thoughts, Do the Math strives to counter notions of widespread prosperity and an abundance of food in Hamilton.
The event is part of the province-wide Do the Math Campaign which seeks to mobilize Ontarians to protest the gaps in the current social assistance system. Figures such as activist Naomi Klein, Toronto Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown and singer Damian Abraham have become involved in the movement.