Don’t Call Me Resilient

Dear politicians: To solve our food bank crisis, curb corporate greed and implement basic income

Episode Summary

With food insecurity at an all-time high and food banks buckling under high demand as we head into this holiday season, Prof. Elaine Power of Queen's University says we need to instead focus on long-term solutions that tackle the issue at its root.

Episode Notes

You may have noticed that food bank lines have grown exponentially this year.  In Toronto alone, the number of people who use food banks has doubled since last year and nationwide, the numbers using food banks have jumped by 32 percent from last year and 78 per cent since 2019.  And those who are lining up for food defy the stereotypes: many, for example, are employed full-time. In other words, we are in the middle of a major food insecurity crisis.  And as we head into this holiday season - traditionally a time for giving and sharing and gathering around food - there is no better time to talk about this and help us understand what we as individuals can do to help. According to the latest Statistics Canada data, almost one in five households experiences food insecurity. Single-mother households are especially affected, as are some racialized homes. Black and Indigenous people face the highest rates of food insecurity, with over 46 per cent of Black children and 40 per cent of Indigenous children living in households that don’t have a reliable source of food.

But for years, advocates have been saying that more food banks is not the answer.  So what is?  In today's episode, Vinita sits down with Elaine Power, a Professor in Health Studies at Queen’s University whose research focuses on issues related to poverty, class, food and health.  She is also the coauthor of  "The Case for Basic Income: Freedom, Security, Justice." Prof. Power says reducing food insecurity requires our political and business leaders to address the root causes – including the ability of household incomes to meet basic needs.  Some of those solutions won't happen overnight, so she also has tips for individuals looking to make a difference now.

Episode Transcription



Vinita Srivastava: [00:00:00] Hey everyone, before we get started today, I just wanted to remind you about our listener survey. It's to find out a bit more about you, what you like about this podcast and what you want to see more of. It only takes 10 minutes to fill out and it'll really help us shape this podcast with you in mind.

You can find the survey at DontCallMeResilient. com.

Vinita Srivastava: From the conversation, this is Don't Call Me Resilient. I'm Vinita Srivastava.


Elaine Power: I think what the pandemic did was gave 7 million Canadians It's a taste of a basic income through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. It also showed us that when there's political will, things can happen really fast. 


Vinita Srivastava: You know, I've really started to notice the lineup for the food bank in my Toronto neighbourhood.

I see all kinds of people there. The lineup starts early and it snakes down the [00:01:00] sidewalk in a way I've never seen before. Well, a new report explains that in Toronto, one in ten people now rely on food banks. In fact, the number of people using food banks in my city has doubled since last year. And there's no one type of person who relies on food banks.

Many of them have full time jobs, for example. In other words, we are in the middle of a food insecurity crisis. And as we head into this holiday season Traditionally, a time for giving and sharing and gathering around food. There's no better time to talk about this and help us understand what we as individuals can do to help.

According to the latest Stats Canada data, almost 1 in 5 households experiences food insecurity. Single mother households are especially affected. As are some racialized homes. Black and Indigenous people face the highest [00:02:00] rate of food insecurity, with over 46 percent of Black children, and 40 percent of Indigenous children, living in households that don't have a reliable source of food.

For years, advocates have been saying that more food banks is not the answer. Our guest today is Elaine Power, and she has spent years working on this issue. She says reducing food insecurity requires our political and business leaders to address the root causes, including the ability of household incomes to meet basic needs.

Elaine is a professor in health studies at Queen's University, whose research focuses on issues related to poverty, class, and gender. food and health. She is the co author of the case for basic income, freedom, security, justice.

Welcome, Elaine. Thank you so much for being here.


Elaine Power:  It's my great pleasure and honor. 

Vinita Srivastava: Thank you. Let's paint a picture [00:03:00] for everybody if we can. And let's talk a little bit about what's currently happening across Canadian cities, especially. We really want to talk about the urban centers and who's impacted.

So let's start with that

Elaine Power:. If we look across the country, I think we're seeing unprecedented demand for the services of food banks, especially in urban centers, record numbers of people accessing food banks. I think one of the things that's really surprised the operators of food banks is that there are so many new people coming who are working, and so they've had to adjust their hours, in fact, to take account of people who have full time jobs.

And one of the things that's so frightening for me is that we know that food bank use is just the tip of the iceberg, that for every person who goes to the food bank, there are three or four or five more in the country who are food insecure, but not going to the food banks. I think we can see the use of food banks as the red light, as a warning [00:04:00] sign.

We're in a crisis like we've never seen before in this country. 

Vinita Srivastava: When you said thatthere are some people that they don't go to the food banks, who are those people that don't go? 

Elaine Power: Well, there's lots of reasons why people don't go to the food bank. Some of it has to do with the stigma of accessing a food bank.

For many people, going to the food bank is a sign that you're hitting the bottom, you're scraping the barrel. About a third of food bank users are kids, so these are parents who go to the food bank. Because they don't want their kids to be hungry, of course, if you're a low income person, you're more likely to have a health condition.

The food at the food bank might not meet your requirements. You might have religious or cultural reasons why the food at the food bank isn't appropriate. With food bank demand so high, people, they say, they give you food, but there's not really anything I can make a meal with. Food banks are running out of food or their donations are down because of the economic crisis and they're [00:05:00] finding it harder to purchase food because the cost of food has gone up.

So what they're able to give people often is not really what you'd use to make a meal. You might have to wait in a long lineup on the sidewalk to actually get some food, and then when you get it, there's not really anything there that you can use. So, you might go once and never go back. People have told me that they've gone once, and they look around and they think, oh, there are so many people who are worse off than I am, and so I'll leave it for those people.

Food banks might not be in a location that's suitable, especially if you have kids, if you have to go on the bus. So there's a whole host of reasons why people don't go. 

Vinita Srivastava: In my neighborhood, the lineup for the food bank, I've just watched it grow over the, I would say, couple of years. It's just growing. And I know this is because maybe I'm a mom, but when I see kids in the lineup, it really bothers me.

When I see that, I think that's because [00:06:00] you have no choice. This morning we published an article in The Conversation about all the stereotypes that go along with people who use food banks, and I think what you're saying is Wipe those out of your head because we don't know necessarily who's using it, but it's probably not who you think.

Like you're, you're saying people who work full time might be. 

Elaine Power: Exactly. The housing crisis in particular, the tremendous increase in the cost of housing, whether that's mortgages or rents has pushed a lot of people to access services that they've never used before, including food banks. 

Vinita Srivastava: Yeah, I guess, I mean, if your rent is so high, then you use all your money for rent, then what's left over for a good, healthy meals can get less and less.

Elaine Power: Exactly. And housing, whether it was rent or mortgage, is the fixed cost in a household budget. It's almost always the biggest cost, and so you can't not pay your rent or your mortgage for very long without risking being unhoused. And so you pay that first, and then you're looking around to [00:07:00] see where can I cut.

Food is one of the first things. It's where people, first they start cutting the quality of the food. So you might ditch whole categories of food, like fruits and vegetables or dairy or meat. And then, and you're looking for the kinds of foods that are going to be filling, which are often the less healthy foods, bread, starches, and things that will keep you from being hungry.

Vinita Srivastava: I'm wondering what brought us to this moment. You talked about housing, we talked about the price of food, of course, is going up as we've all been talking about. But did COVID have some impact on these numbers that the food banks? 

Elaine Power: The impact of COVID was really variable, I think, across the country. So in smaller centers Particularly in Atlantic Canada, the demand for food banks dropped off because people were accessing CERB, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Yes, right. And for many households, that was an increase in their household income. So 2, 000 a [00:08:00] month if you're living in a small town, and the Maritimes maybe goes a lot farther than 2, 000 a month in Toronto. There's been an analysis in the last year showing that poverty actually dropped considerably, especially child poverty during the time that people were accessing the COVID benefits.

Vinita Srivastava: Last week we were talking, I was talking to educators in schools and they said COVID pointed to so many possible solutions for us, so many paths forward. And then we just went right back to whatever normal is for people. And we forgot to take all of the lessons that we learned in this crisis. 

Elaine Power: Absolutely. Yeah. As you know, I'm an advocate for basic income, a guaranteed livable basic income. And I think there was a sense of hope early in the pandemic that there were so many things, as your previous guests noted, that we could see so clearly, and then we were going to take those lessons. And yeah. make a better world.

And we were so hopeful that the Canada Emergency Response [00:09:00] Benefit, CERB, would be one of those lessons to show that, yes, we can support people and give them a sense of security and dignity in the form of basic income. 

Vinita Srivastava: Let's talk about definitions a little bit. You're talking about something called basic income, and I'm not sure if everybody understands what that means.

What is that basic income solution that you're talking about? What does that mean? Everybody gets enough money? Like, what is that? That sounds like a utopian kind of ideal. So let's just break it down a tiny bit and then actually break down a couple of other definitions as well. But let's start with that one.

Elaine Power: Sure. I've been doing basic income advocacy for about 10 years and if I were starting over again, I would call it a guaranteed livable basic income as opposed to just basic income because I think that's more descriptive in terms of what the Canadian basic income movement wants. It's uh, an unconditional.

Income floor below which no one can fall, and it would be [00:10:00] adequate to meet basic needs. So it's a guaranteed it's livable. It would be like the Canada emergency response benefit in the sense that it would be deposited in your bank accounts, probably through the tax system, and no one would tell you how you.

The only criteria would be that you'd have to meet a certain low income cutoff. If you had no income, you'd get the full benefit and then as you had earned income, it would gradually taper off.

Vinita Srivastava: Okay, I'm going to challenge you on that a little bit more too. Sure. But before we get to that, let's get to a couple of other definitions because we're talking about the use of food banks.

Okay. I believe sometimes we talk about hunger when we talk about food banks, and I think this different language that we maybe should be using around that. Yes. You know, especially at this time of year, we're here in December and we hear about people quote going hungry. So can you tell me why that is maybe not the appropriate language [00:11:00] to be using for this conversation?

Elaine Power: You're absolutely right that hunger isn't exactly what we're talking about here and the technical term, which is a bit jargony but is more specific is food insecurity and food insecurity is an experience of not having enough money to meet Your needs, and there's different levels of food insecurities.

The mildest, the least severe, it's categorized as marginal food insecurity, which means you're really worried about how you're gonna pay all the bills and put food on the table. And that at the moderate level of food insecurity, you start changing what you eat and how much you eat. You start substituting the less expensive things for the more expensive, or you start cutting up whole categories of food.

And then at the most severe, that's when people are skipping meals. Especially women who have children, they normalize skipping meals. [00:12:00] Or they normalize having food that's different from their kids. Like maybe they have a half a sandwich or a supper instead of the food that they're serving to the rest of the family.

Even within the household, there might be different experiences of food insecurities. Mothers, in particular, will do almost anything to protect their kids from being hungry. You mentioned seeing kids in the lineup for food banks, and some mothers won't tell their kids that the food in the cupboard is from the food bank because they don't want their kids to be stigmatized.

In a country this wealthy, there are at least 7 million people who are food insecure and some of them are going hungry for a day or more at a time because they don't have enough money. 

Vinita Srivastava: Right. There's someone that you work with last week on Ideas on CBC, Paul Taylor, he's the former head of FoodShare. He draws this direct line between food insecurity and white supremacy.

Can you explain how [00:13:00] those two things are connected?

Elaine Power:  We can directly connect food insecurity with white supremacy, with colonialism, and with patriarchy. We see the outcome of that in who's impacted by food insecurity. So we know households headed by any racialized group are much more likely to be food insecure.

We also know, in particular, that single mothers have one of the highest rates of food insecurity in the country. 

Vinita Srivastava: One of the things that you said in your book was there is a racialized component, but researchers say is that it's also class. Maybe we can just break that down even further to talk about.

You said single mothers, but there's so many intersections that you're talking about.

Elaine Power:  The thing that we see with rates of food insecurity is that it's the same groups of people who are more likely to be poor. 

Vinita Srivastava: One of the other things you said is that mothers will do almost anything to get their kids fed. As a mom,[00:14:00] I personally would have no problems going into the store and shoplifting. It's possible that I end up getting arrested. This is probably a reality for some people. You're then putting your, your security on the line. So it's not just that you're food insecure, but your whole life becomes tenuous. 

Elaine Power: When I was doing research for the book on basic income, one of the people we interviewed was the now retired chief of police in Lindsay.

And it was exactly that case that turned his. Mind towards basic income of, of a mom who is stealing bread, was caught shoplifting bread from a corner store. And in his mind, this was the chief of police. He just thought it was unconscionable that a mother would be prosecuted for trying to feed their kid.

We put parents, women in particular, in these impossible situations by forcing them to live on assistance rates that put them in deep poverty and [00:15:00] this double bind of not having the money to feed their kids. So, I mean, it's devastating. 

Vinita Srivastava: The other definition I wanted you to help me unpack was this food injustice.

And I think just in having this conversation, like that's the word that comes to mind, right? It's this idea of injustice. It's just, you said, even the police chief said it. 

Elaine Power: I like Paul Taylor's idea of food injustice because it intersects with social injustice and economic injustice. For example, at FoodShare, they started paying people a living wage so that the people who worked there could actually afford to buy their food.

So they really took that message of injustice into the organization and thought about the ways that they could work to lessen that injustice. They started paying people for doing interviews at FoodShare. They would give people an honorarium of 75 if they came for an interview. You mean the job interview?

A [00:16:00] job interview. Yeah. Cause it costs money, right? Yes. Yeah. You might need transportation. You might need to pay for childcare. You might need to get a new outfit. And so they started paying people if they were selected for an interview. This is what an organization committed to food justice, that they had to walk their talk.

And we have corporations like Loblaws running food drives, but are they paying their employees a living wage? Remember we paid them hero wages for a few months during the pandemic. I actually had the experience of being in a Loblaw store early on in the pandemic, very early, when all the shelves were empty of toilet paper and cleaners.

I don't remember what I was looking for, but there was one spot in the cleaning rack that had a, maybe a dozen or two dozen cans of some kind of antiseptic that you sprayed on surfaces to kill viruses. And I thought, there's nothing else here. I guess [00:17:00] I'll buy that. And I took it to the cash register and the cashier who was It's probably in her 50s.

She was having chemotherapy at that point. She was a cashier at Loblaws. It was before there were masks, before there were any kind of physical barriers. And she is working in, at the cash, exposed to everybody like me who's in that store on chemotherapy. What kind of society is this, where we have people exposing themselves because they're forced to work to put food on the table?

Vinita Srivastava: I think you brought up two things there. One is that, okay, what kind of a society do we live in? One, which I think is a very good question. And also, two, this idea of the food drives and food banks. So, you wrote an op ed in the Globe and Mail a while back, but you said that you thought food banks should be closed.

Why are you advocating that food banks be closed, but [00:18:00] also, what kind of reaction did you get from people? 

Elaine Power: People thought I was nuts, quite literally. I had people say that to me. It was meant to be deliberately provocative. And yet at the same time, I mean, in my ideal world, we would enable everyone to have the income that they need to.

Go to the grocery store and the food banks could just close when they started in the 80s. They thought it was temporary. It was meant to be an emergency response to an emergency situation. Yeah. I have a document from 1991 from food banks meeting in the greater Toronto area where they were still talking about closing.

They don't talk about that anymore. It was really meant to be provocative, the idea that they should just close.

Vinita Srivastava: I guess what you're saying is you want them closed because you want us to not have a need for them. 

Elaine Power: Exactly. But the reality is, I think it would be hard for any food bank to put a lock on the door, but they're actually having to do that [00:19:00] right now because the need is so high that they're having to close early or they're having to turn people away, or you imagine waiting on the sidewalk for however long, hours and hours in this weather when it's cold and maybe rainy and miserable, and then to get to the top of the line to realize that they're out of food.

I think the fact that food banks are here creates an illusion that the problem's being looked after. So instead of insisting Demanding from our governments that we ensure everybody has the income that they need. There's a barrel at every grocery store and sports game at this time of year, you know, I don't know every corner.

And I think people have the idea that somebody is looking after it and no one's quote unquote, going hungry. So we don't have to think about. what's going on here and what the real problem is and what the real solutions might be. So it's really providing kind of a [00:20:00] smokescreen hiding the reality and what it does is allow the system that creates this, it locks it into place, it allows it to stay in place.

Vinita Srivastava: The food banks do, the idea that we're taking care of things because, as you say, we have a barrel or we're dropping a box of crackers in there before we leave the grocery store. So, basic income, as you've defined it earlier for us, keeps coming up as a solution. There was a pilot in Manitoba in the seventies, and there was a recent pilot in Ontario, and I remember reading about this in about 2018.

And it was a contract between government of Ontario and a group of people in a small town in Ontario. And then a new government came in, our current government, and the current government killed that program. Yes. And the thing that I was reading was how unethical it was that they killed that program.

What I'm wondering about is, what are the big takeaways from those pilots? Like, there's one [00:21:00] from the 70s and a more current one. What did we learn from those programs? 

Elaine Power: We have the two pilots, the MINCOM experiment from the 70s. We had the Ontario basic income pilot that was set up under Kathleen Wynne's reign as premier.

There have been other basic income experiments around the world. What we saw from the MINCOM experiment, thanks to economist Evelyn Forgé at the University of Manitoba, she went back in the early 2000s and She found 1, 800 bankers boxes of data from the MINCOM experiment that had never been analyzed, and she found an eight and a half percent reduction in hospitalizations over four years.

A huge drop in rate of hospitalization. That's just one indicator of the potential health impacts. We could think of this as an investment in people, as opposed to an expense that would pay for itself over time. So, hospital admissions dropped a lot because of mental [00:22:00] health and injuries in particular. A couple of the other things she found was that people are always concerned no one's going to want to work.

Yes, right. That's one of the main objections. The two main objections are that, you know, it's too expensive, we can't afford it. And the second one is that people won't want to work. Well, there were two groups that decreased participation in the workforce. Yeah. One was adolescent boys who decided to stay in school instead of dropping out to making money to help support their families.

That's a good thing that they stayed in high school. Yeah. The other was new moms who decided because we didn't have the kind of parental leave that we have now. So the new moms decided they would stay home with their newborns for longer rather than rushing back to work. Yeah, we know that's a good thing too.

Vinita Srivastava: Yeah. That just gave me kind of goosebumps. Those are two obvious categories that actually will show up in benefits later on. 

Elaine Power: Exactly. Right now there's Dozens of small pilots [00:23:00] happening in the United States. They're different from the kind of basic income that we've proposed in Canada because they're small amounts.

They're like three or 400 a month up to maybe a thousand. But as someone who is interested in this, it gets boring after a while because the results are always so positive. Basically people take that money and they use it in ways that make sense in their lives. to improve the, their own lives and the lives of their children and their prospects for the future.

Unfortunately, the basic income pilot in Ontario was supposed to run for three years. It had a very rigorous evaluation plan in place. There were data collected at the beginning, but we don't have any of the data from the halfway or the end of the pilot because it was canceled before that data could be collected, which.

in and of itself just seems like such a tragedy, but I'm sure was part of the reason why it got cancelled. But we know [00:24:00] anecdotally that it had hugely positive effects on people's health, on their ability to find better work, to go back to school. People talked about, you know, not waking up in the middle of the night in a panic attack, wondering how they were going to pay the bills, not going to the doctor so often, people were able to stop taking medication that they'd taken for years.

People actually stop smoking and they drink less because those are part of their coping mechanisms. One of the women who was on the pilot in Hamilton, I heard her speak, she's in her early 60s and had been on Ontario Disability for many years and she was, she was so happy to be on the pilot. And the first thing she did was to buy a new pair of glasses.

Because she could choose whatever frame she wanted. She wasn't bound by the restrictions of the social assistance program. She bought a new, one of those walkers, the wheelie walkers with the brakes and the [00:25:00] seat where you can sit and she had a shiny new one. She was so happy. And then the third thing was She said she gave a donation to a community organization that had supported her for many years through Thick and Thin, and she was so proud to be able to give back to them.

And one of the things we saw with the pilot was people engaging more socially, being involved in community activities, visiting family members that they hadn't seen for a long time, even because they couldn't afford to travel, buying a new winter coat for the first time in their lives, trying new fruits and vegetables, not going to the food bank, getting dental work done.

So people use that money in ways that benefit them. 

Vinita Srivastava: It sounds like they benefit them, then they benefit their community. It's got this rippling kind of effect. And I'm just wondering, going back to your other question, which is what kind of a society are we living in? But what is [00:26:00] stopping What's stopping our governments from embracing basic income if it obviously has all of these benefits?

Like you said, a reduction of the hospital visits. These are economic benefits in the end. So what's, what's stopping our governments from embracing this idea? 

Elaine Power: As an academic, I used to believe in this idea that evidence informed policy. That's why we do research. We, we generate evidence that informs policy.

And the evidence on basic income is so clear. Just the economics alone makes so much sense. It's always seemed like such a quote unquote no brainer to me. Yeah. This, in terms of thinking about it from social determinants of health, the impact on diet, on housing, on stress. One of the things that people forget is that we actually pay a lot of money for poverty.

One study from the Ontario Association of Food Banks, from a while ago, showed that around 6. 8 percent of Ontario's GDP goes directly to poverty. [00:27:00] We know in the healthcare system, there's some estimates that about 20 percent of healthcare costs are directly related to poverty. We can think of a, an investment in people, as opposed to the cost of this, it would pay for itself over time, probably wouldn't pay for itself in an electoral cycle, which is one, one of the problems.

Yeah. I had a, one of those COVID clarifying moments. It was 2021. We're in maybe the third wave of the pandemic and public health was advocating for paid sick days. Right. Which, and again, in the context of a global pandemic seems like a bit of a no brainer, but there was a lot of pushback on that. We got two paid sick days temporarily.

And what I came to realize is that if workers in unsafe, low paid, undignified jobs had a basic income so they could leave those jobs and still keep a roof over their head and put food on the table. [00:28:00] They'd have paid sick days. They'd have higher wages. They'd have benefits. They would have more dignified working conditions.

And that's why we don't have basic income. I think it's too threatening. 

Vinita Srivastava: Too threatening because are you suggesting that we as a society need those people in those jobs? Is that what it is? 

Elaine Power: Well, I think the, the Amazons and the McDonald's and the Tim Hortons all rely on low wage workers who are desperate for a job that will help them keep a roof over their head.

I think there is a large section of our economy that does rely on low wage, low skilled, low wage jobs, and basic income would give people a choice. It would give them options, and we don't seem to value that when it comes to people who are living on low incomes. Understandably, and unfortunately, people who live in poverty don't tend to vote because they don't see that any government makes any difference in their lives.

Yeah. So they don't vote, [00:29:00] and that seems to be what motivates politicians. 

Vinita Srivastava: You really hope as a researcher that your research informs policy, which this last decade you've been advocating for basic income, and it seems like the arguments are all there. I read an article this morning that said Newfoundland and Labrador embraced basic income for elderly folks, and so that's happening there, and there seems to be more and more push across Canada that this is something that people are seriously looking at.

Absolutely, yeah. 

Elaine Power: There's also actually just Just last month, a report released outlining proposal for a basic income demonstration project for the whole of Prince Edward Island. So just as Saskatchewan was the birthplace of Medicare, we're hoping PEI will be the birthplace of basic income, that we could try it out in a small province.

Where we could figure out the glitches and what other kinds of [00:30:00] things need to be put in place. This group of economists, civil servants, politicians, and advocates worked really hard for about two years and had lots of very challenging and difficult conversations. And they've put together a proposal that has lots of compromises, but has received pretty broad support, even from some unlikely quarters.

Basically, they're waiting for funding from the federal government. We know that there's lots of support in the liberal party generally. There's lots of support among MPs, even in the cabinet, but it hasn't 

Vinita Srivastava: And plus, if we have a different government, I think that's partly what I'm wondering about like, how do you make this an attractive proposal for somebody who may not be politically aligned in this area?

What are the financial arguments? I feel like you've made those 

Elaine Power: though. I highly recommend Astra Taylor's ideas, Massey lectures, [00:31:00] because, you know, it's the age of insecurity and, and the financial insecurity in particular is giving rise to a lot of dysfunction, especially on the far right, xenophobic, racist, transphobia.

That general sense of insecurity is pushing people. To fascism, Astra Taylor's Massey lecture makes that argument and that basic income would be one of the ways to tampen down some of that insecurity. But one of her main points is that capitalism thrives on that insecurity. And that's really what we're dealing with, I think, is the kind of capitalist logic.

It's depressing and very dysfunctional and hard to imagine how it will change. 

Vinita Srivastava: I think just even in the food bank world, we heard the story about international students being turned away at the food bank. And that's a form, I think, of that whole divide and what you're saying. It's the fear, it's the insecurity.

No, you don't belong here. [00:32:00] These people belong here. 

Elaine Power: And that sense of scarcity. Mm. There's only these scarce resources. That's absurd. When you, we have people, it's so much wealth and that's, but it's all concentrated at the top. There's so much abundance here. Yeah. And I think that's part of why food banks exist because there's that sense that, but there's all this food.

We're throwing food away. We throw food away every day. There's all this food going into the landfill. So there's all this abundance. So there's this quote unquote common sense idea that we just have to take the food and match it up with the people who are food insecure. But it does, that doesn't address the underlying issues.

Vinita Srivastava:How hopeful are you that we will get there? So we will get to this idea of a guaranteed basic income. 

Elaine Power: I think that depends which side of the bed I wake up on every morning. 

Vinita Srivastava: Fair enough. That's fair. That's fair.

Elaine Power: I [00:33:00] thought when I started 10 years ago doing this advocacy work that it was such a no brainer that we'd have a basic income in no time.

I mean, I was quite naive. On the one hand, I want to say there's like this sense of inevitability that of course we'll have a basic income at some point. Yeah. With all the crises that we're facing, that pervasive sense of insecurity, and yet at the same time we could, I think we could just as easily tip into some kind of fascism, right?

We could go either way. The struggle for basic income, it's clear to me now that it's a political struggle, and it's going to take a lot of political organizing, and it's going to take a lot more struggle than I ever imagined that it would, based on the evidence, because the evidence suggests it's a no brainer.

Yeah. I think what the pandemic did was gave 7 million Canadians a taste of basic, of a basic income. Yeah, right. Through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. It also showed us that when there's political [00:34:00] will, things can happen really fast. 

Vinita Srivastava: To do the kind of work I think that you're doing and that you're talking about doing, it does require a kind of optimism.

You say it depends on what kind of, what day you get out of bed. I hope that you continue to get out on the optimist side, because we need the evidence. 

Elaine Power: One of the great joys of this work, the thing that pulls me along on the days when I'm feeling not so optimistic, and I have lots of days when I don't feel very optimistic, but what pulls me along and what's been so Beautiful.

In, in doing this work is, uh, the other people that I'm, I'm not doing this alone. I'm in a coalition that keeps growing. Everybody has something to offer. Even when we might disagree on something, there's enough common purpose, common spirit that we, I think we keep each other going. That's been an amazing experience to be working in a social [00:35:00] movement that's trying to make Canada a better place.

Vinita Srivastava: Thinking about my community or my neighbors, you know, I'd feel more like we're in a more equal kind of society then, and you don't feel as stressed or worried about like the children around you, the children that are in school with my children. Do they have the right winter clothes? Are they eating well?

I believe that we all think about, especially this time of year, which is December in Canada, and it's a holiday season for a lot of people. And a lot of people at this time are thinking about their neighbors and about others and about wanting to give. Do food banks still need donations? And if they do, what kind of donations are good?

Elaine Power: Even though I'm on public record as saying that they need to close, I still give, I still donate. There's something so satisfying about the idea that you could give something that would alleviate some stress in people's [00:36:00] lives. I think that's why it's so appealing. It's much more concrete than doing advocacy for basic income, which is elusive and ephemeral.

Many of us enjoy feeding people, like the idea that you could give someone food that would nourish them, I think is, there's something very deeply satisfying and primal about that. 

Vinita Srivastava: Yeah, it's very, it's a human thing. I think it makes perfect sense. 

Elaine Power: Over the years in doing research on community food programs that include food banks, I have actually come to be more appreciative of community meal programs, what we might call soup kitchens.

Yeah, right. Because for volunteers, they offer opportunities to actually engage with the clients. So that one of the problems I think with food banks is that it's quite remote and distant. So we put our, our box of crackers in the bin at the grocery store. We have no idea who gets that. We don't get that opportunity to actually have a [00:37:00] conversation with people.

I know that hot meal programs are often inundated with the volunteers at Christmas time, and then they disappear. But back to your question about what kind of donations. I think food banks If you give them money, they can buy what they most need and they often get, can get a discount. It's not as satisfying potentially as putting the can of soup or the crackers in the bin, but it's actually more useful.


Vinita Srivastava: Money is more useful than the, the old can of cranberry sauce, maybe, but

The idea of cooking the community meals, my kid who was 10 at the time joined a program and they joined a gigantic group of people cooking a thousand meals. And I said to my kid, what did you do? And they said, I peeled carrots, I cut whatever. So I think sometimes this idea of feeling like you can't contribute, I'm just saying my 10 year old was able to get in there and help cook a thousand meals that day.[00:38:00]

I think it is possible. We all can jump in from time to time. And they did it in May. As you say, those places need help all year round. Last question, I promise, besides the food banks and the donation of cash, what can an individual do if they're like, yeah, I'm for this, I agree, this basic income sounds like a great idea.

Elaine Power: If people are interested in learning more about basic income, there's the Basic Income Canada Network. There is an organization called Coalition Canada Basic Income. There is the Ontario Basic Income Network. There is a Basic Income Canada Youth Network. Oh wow, wow. The basic income movement right now is really excited about that Prince Edward Island basic income report.

There's a website for that. You could ask your MP to put pressure on the Prime Minister to fund. It seems to me that any political party that made basic income central plank would [00:39:00] actually get people out to vote who don't normally vote because they don't see any difference in the political parties. If people actually believe them, I guess that's the other problem with politicians.

The Green Party is the only political party that has actually made this a central plank. They've done that for years. But basically, I would say to your listeners, find out a little bit more and then talk to your elected officials and let them know that this is something you really care about and that you want to see and it's for our neighbours, it's for our children to help create a new kind of security.

That enables people to flourish and to, to offer their gifts to the world, whatever those might be, without worrying about whether they're going to be able to afford to eat. 

Vinita Srivastava: Thanks for all of your time. Thank 

Elaine Power: you. I love talking about this.[00:40:00]


Vinita Srivastava: Thank you for listening to this episode of Don't Call Me Resilient. If you're like me, you'll want to hear more of Elaine's ideas. Well, she shared some resources and I've dropped them in the show notes. You can find them on our website, the You can reach me at, and if you haven't already, give us a follow on Instagram at Don't Call Me Resilient Podcast.

Don't call me Resilient is a production of the Conversation Canada. It was made possible by a grant for journalism innovation from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The series is produced and hosted by me, Vinita Srivastava. Our associate producer is Atika Khaki. Our consulting producer is Jennifer Moroz.

Rema Tulesheik does our sound design and mixing. Kikachi Memeh is our student producer. And Scott White is the CEO of The Conversation [00:41:00] Canada. And if you're wondering who wrote and performed the music we use on the podcast, that's Zaki Ibrahim. The track is called Something in the Water. Maybe there's something in the water.

MUSIC: Maybe there's something out there. Maybe there's something in the water.