Food Insecurity- What does Optimal Health mean on a global scale? Thoughts around poverty.

So I am aware that my blog is titled Optimal Health Coaching, and you have come here to find resources about fitness, nutrition, motivation, and inspiration.  I wanted to take a step back for a second and think globally about “Optimal Health”.  As a subscriber to my blog, you are most likely a North American interested in losing weight, getting fit, or preventing disease, as this is my ‘target market’.  I’d like to take a moment and think about those people in our world who don’t have the time, money or capacity to be thinking about losing a few pounds, building muscle, or running a faster 10 k race.
I am not asking you to feel guilty or trivial about your fitness and health goals, but instead am looking for you to think globally about Optimal Health for a second.
For many of us (my regular readers) Optimal Health means eating the best organic food for our body, doing the right exercises, meditating, and visiting our Naturopath.  In most of the world I think Optimal Health would look more like eating food 3 meals a day, having a safe sheltered bed to sleep in, and not being afraid of catching an infectious disease.
In an effort to think globally about Optimal Health, I thought today I would write about food and nutrition, specifically the topic of food insecurity.

Food Insecurity is defined as ” consistent access to adequate food, limited by a lack of money and other resources at times during the year.  Food insecurity means people going hungry.  Food insecurity means people running out of wages, and government funding by the end of the month to feed their family.  Food insecurity means kids and adults having to go to school hungry, yet still having to focus, achieve, and be productive at school and work.

It is hard to define poverty, and in fact there is no one single definition used worldwide to classify people as poor.  Currently I am reading a ‘kids’ book written by Chelsea Clinton about challenges that the USA and the world faces.  It’s called “It’s your world.  Get informed, gent inspired & get going”.  In her book one of the first topics she tackles is poverty and food insecurity.  Her writing is detailed, simple, full of facts and resources and lists of “what can you do next”.  It has really got me thinking about how grateful I am for my own circumstances, and given my circumstances what else could I be doing to support those less fortunate.
Let me tell you a story from my day.  This morning I had to fast for a blood test.  This meant not eating for 4 hours after I woke up.  By the time I went to get the blood drawn I was freezing cold, tired, grumpy, and had a horrible stomach ache.  I was embarrassed that with just four hours of not eating after waking my body was reacting so much.    I couldn’t imagine being a child or adult who had to endure mornings, day’s, or weeks like that regularly.  I also remember the days when I chose to restrict my calories to an extreme level and how foggy and tired I felt.  I had no focus, and it’s almost as if I have no clear memories from that time of my life.  This must be how kids and adults all over the world are feeling when they can’t get proper nutrition access.  I see the valuable role that healthy, nutritious food plays into my life and supports me to have energy, drive, and a good state of mind to pursue my dreams, goals and passions.  I want that for all children and adults!  In Chelsea’s book she makes a great comment to the point of, what if JUST ONE of those children in a developing country without enough food was supported by a healthy diet, home, and education.  Could they be the one to find a cure for cancer, solve our climate change issues, or play a role in finding a solution for global poverty?
In Chelsea’s book she states that in 2011, 1 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day, and another billion are living on less than $2 a day.  Approximately 30 % of our population are surviving on a daily budget less that I spend to ride the bus downtown in the morning.  I spend more money bussing to work and grabbing a coffee on the way than 30 % of our global population do to survive the entire day.  Yes, it’s important to factor in that in different countries different products and services are much cheaper, but $1.25 a day is not enough to have all necessities of life on a regular basis in any country.  How are these people who don’t have enough nutrients, energy, or cash flow going to get an education, take care of themselves and their families, and stay healthy?
It’s one thing to be aware and support eliminating extreme poverty globally, and at the same time staying educated and supporting change around poverty locally (in North America).
In the USA there are 45.3 million people living in poverty (this is considered $32.5 a day for a family of 4).  45.3 million people living in poverty in the USA is approximately 10 million more people than the Canadian population!   In my research it appears as though Canada has a poverty rate somewhere around 9 % of our population, this equates to approximately 32 000 people.  One of the major issues with countries is in fact defining poverty.  In Canada the definition of poverty used is simply the % of the population that are the “poorest of the poor”.  So although 32 000 people are considered ‘substantial worse off than the average’, does that mean the average is not living in poverty?
The average minimum wage in the US is $7 an hour, and in Canada is $10-11 an hour.  If you worked 40 hours a week X10.25 an hour= $410 a week X4 weeks= $1645 a month = $19 200 a year.  Considering rent where I live in Vancouver for a one bedroom apartment is on average $1345 a month (similar to Toronto), it would be physically impossible to live solo as a single person in a larger city and make minimum wage.  Rent would cost $16 140 a year alone!!!  I can’t imagine it would be any easier to support a family with two parents making minimum wage.  It has been suggested that a family of 4 in Vancouver would require an individual hourly income greater than $20 an hour to support a family of 4 with two parents.  This equates to approximately $38 400 each parent a year.  In one of my first jobs in Vancouver I made about $18 an hour, and let me tell you I struggled to pay loans, pay rent, buy food and necessities, and have any kind of a social life or savings vehicles.  I have no idea how with a partner at that time I would have ever been able to support a family.  Sure there would have been sacrifices to make, but considering I was budgeting each dollar I made every month into an envelope to be spent appropriately, I remember there weren’t that many corners to cut.  There is poverty globally, including North America. (Please note, that poverty numbers in North America are decreasing, so positive things are being done, but it is obviously still an issue that affects millions of people).
In 2012, 49 million Americans lived with food insecurity that year.  4 out of every 10 of those people have an education level beyond post secondary, and millions of those numbers are people who in fact work full and part time, yet can’t make ends meet by the end of the month.  It’s scary that so many educated working people are still relying on charitable and government support to support themselves.  Is the solution education?  Is the solution raising minimum wage?  Is the solution actually teaching about budgeting, finances etc. in a school program?  Are the short term solutions food banks, food donations, soup kitchens, or food stamps?  There are 100’s of solutions and 100’s of books written on this topic and it is a topic I am looking to explore.
Sometimes I imagine, what if every person that makes over the poverty level used their money to support our country, economy, or globe.  I don’t mean cut corners and sacrifice fun and entertainment, but let’s say $50 000 a year as an income for a solo person provides you with a shelter, food, medical needs, vacations, clothes and shoes, savings, etc. in North America.  I can attest to the fact that $50 000 is plenty of income to have MORE than all of your needs met.   What if all money beyond that point was donated or put to a good cause?  It’s a crazy thought, right?  What would happen?  Are financial donations to programs focussing on eradicating poverty the answer?  Or would your education, expertise, and time be better spent supporting the issue?
There is in fact a philosopher from the States that I have come to listen to named William Mcaskill who supports, and organizes people to pledge to give a certain amount of their income annually to the most effective charities (I believe he donates anything he makes more than $35 000).  You can read more about his charity, concepts, and idease here:
It’s a hard topic to wrestle with.  We work hard, earn our money and want to use it to enjoy the lifestyle we have created for ourselves.  I am looking to explore this topic more with a more global forward thinking mindset.
So What do we do about this beyond just thinking & talking about it?
If you know me well, or read my blog often, you know that I am super proactive. Naturally I need to end this chapter with “What can we do”.  A few things I am looking at are:
–  Starting to volunteer on a weekly basis at our local soup kitchen.  I may not have a lot of money to donate to charity, but with my work schedule I have plenty of hours in a day to be volunteering my time and effort.
–  Staying more educated about topics such as food insecurity, how they affect our country and our globe, and what kind of change is needed.
–  Having my voice heared by local politicians around issues I feel strongly about.  Read about historical trends of these issues, and what kind of philosophies are there out there to change some of them.
–  Looking into whether Vancouver (and Canada in general) has a program where restaurants and grocery stores can donate leftover/going bad food to shelters and the homeless.
–  Thinking more about what I purchase.  Do I really need a new sweater or can that old one be sewn up?
–  Refrain from judging people who are not as lucky and as fortunate to have my set of circumstances, and instead stay curious about their story, and what kind of support they need.
–  Look at organizing a regular event to feed our homeless community in Vancouver.
–  Remind myself that one person can create change on Earth.  If I reach one person with my message and thoughts, with enough drive and passion who knows what they might create.
–  Provide this book “it’s your world” by Chelsea Clinton to more young people, to empower them to get educated and passionate about making our world a better place.

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