"You know that you are poor when you need to wait to give your child his asthma medicine because you can't afford the aero-chamber."
The Do The Math Challenge

How did the Do The Math Challenge work?

On April 6, 2010, ten high-profile Torontonians picked up a standard food bank hamper at The Stop. These hampers—which included an array of non-perishable food, as well as a little bit of fresh produce—typically last a person three or four days, though many folks stretch this to a week or ten days. Our participants lived exclusively off the contents of the hamper for as long as they could. They did not eat out or accept free food or drink (though they were encouraged to eat at least two meals at a drop-in). They were be allowed to use up to five standard pantry ingredients, such as oil, flour, salt, coffee, etc., but were asked to keep track of the quantity of these items used.

Participants made donations to help cover the cost of the food bank hamper so that supplies could be replenished for community members who regularly access the food bank.


Click on a participant's picture for more information!

City Councillor, Ward 21
Toronto Medical Officer of Health
Co-founder and Chair of Samara
Manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council
Executive Director of The Stop
Singer of the Polaris Music Prize-Winning Band, Fucked Up
of the band, LAL

Joe Mihevic & Family

Occupation: City Councillor, Ward 21

Favourite Food: Spaghetti; Wiener Schnitzel

Guiltiest Food Pleasure: Potato Chips

Family size: 6 (Myself, partner Rosalee Bender, son Justin and his partner Lisa, and daughters Krista and Catherine. For the purpose of the Do the Math Challenge it will be Rosalee, Krista, Catherine and I that will participate.

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: Impossible to calculate...it can vary depending on how busy the family is away from home. Groceries can be $150 a week.

Why you are participating in this project: My youngest daughter reports that she is interested in learning about how other people, especially children, are forced to live. She sees it as a learning experience. For Rosalee it is an opportunity to understand the experience of hunger that she confronts every day in her work with the Toronto Foundation for Student Success.

Why this issue is important to you: I believe that hunger in our city needs much more public attention. Far too many people live hungry in a city of plenty. We need to draw public attention to this reality in order to overcome it. The sad reality right now is that the public at large do not know the extent of this hunger. I am particularly concerned that children go to school hungry which of course affects their behaviour and ability to learn.

Dr. David McKeown

Name: Dr. David McKeown

Given or preferred nickname: None

Occupation: Medical Officer of Health

Favourite food: Too many to list!

Guiltiest food pleasure: Milk and cookies

Family size: 4

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: around $200

Why you are participating in this project: To better understand the experience of low-income Torontonians.

Why this issue is important to you: Poverty and food insecurity are major threats to health

Anand Rajaram

Name: Anand Rajaram

Occupation: Actor

Favorite food: Vegan Pho

Guiltiest food pleasure: None!

Family size: None of my own

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: Varies from $100 - $200

Why I am participating in this project: I would like to bring awareness to the challenges faced by people marginalized in society.

Why this issue is important to you: There is nothing more important than nutrition and nothing more sacred to preserve than healthful food and water resources for everyone. With the affluence of our society, it's shameful that this should even be an issue.

Michael MacMillan

Name: Michael MacMillan

Preferred name: Michael

Favourite Food: Many favourites. One would be lamb shanks with couscous served with grilled peppers, zucchini and asparagus

Guiltiest Food Pleasure: I never feel guilty eating food. Just lucky.

Family size: Five (Me, my wife and three children).

Amount spent per week on food: $400-450 (this does not include alcohol or meals at restaurants)

I'm doing this because I love to cook and eat and share food with others. It is a huge source of personal pleasure. And I realize how fortunate I am to be able to eat what I want when I want.

I believe that access to sufficient, healthy food is a human right. Right up there with air and water. Food is much more than simply a commodity to be bought and sold and we need to see it that way.

Wayne Roberts & Family

Name: Wayne Roberts

Occupation: Manager of the Toronto Food Policy Council

Favorite food: penne arrabiata

Guiltiest food pleasure: chronic coffee addict

Family size: My wife, Lori, my younger daughter, Anika, and I are participating.

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: Our food costs are in the stratosphere because we subsidize our food activism by catching a lot of meals at restaurants, which is kind of weird. We also spend more on food that many people because we would rather economize on cars, house size and furnishings than food. We probably average about $250 a week on food, and an additional $30 on take-out coffee and tea.

Why your family is participating in this project: All three of us see food, social justice and environmental protection as a unified threesome of issues, something like a trinity, and we like to do what we can to promote this understanding

Why this issue is important to you: The Toronto I grew up in had many problems, but it had one thing going for it: it was assumed that everyone had a right to basic food and shelter and that governments had a duty to honour this. We have lost this fundamental sense of belonging and togetherness, and I am grateful to Stop for providing the opportunity to recall Torontonians to their heritage

Nicholas Saul & Andrea Curtis

Nicknames: Nick & Andi

Occupations: Community worker (Nick) & Writer (Andrea)

Favourite food: My mom's lamb curry (Nick) & Coffee (Andrea)

Guiltiest food pleasure: Ice cream (Nick) & Chocolate (Andrea)

Family size: 4

How much you spend on food a week: 250

Why you are participating in this project?

Nick: To help to expose the woeful inadequacy of social assistance rates in Ontario

Andrea: Because in our home we talk a lot about the inadequacy of social assistance but have never (knock on wood) had to experience it firsthand.

Why this is important to you?

Nick: Access to good food is a basic human right - it would be nice to make this beautiful statement a reality in the not so distant future.

Andrea: Because it's important not just to individuals but the health and welfare of our society that our neighbours, our community members, our fellow citizens have access to nutritious food and the opportunity to live without fear of poor health, hungry children and diminished lives.

Naomi Klein

Given or preferred nickname: Naomi

Occupation: Author/journalist

Favorite food: BC wild salmon

Guiltiest food pleasure: Same as above, since stocks are depleting. But I also have a weakness for dim sum

Family size: Just the two of us.

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: When we are home in Toronto: $350 When we're on the road eating 3-meals a day in restaurants, more than that.

Why you are participating in this project: To support The Stop's groundbreaking work and to help bring attention to the fact that what we call "assistance" is forcing impossibly cruel choices on growing numbers of Torontonians. I'm also doing it because those of us with privilege have to find ways to get out of our bubbles and learn what's really going on around us. I do that a lot in my foreign reporting, but not nearly enough in my own city.

Why this issue is important to you: Because our society is wealthy enough to ensure that everyone can live a dignified healthy life. If social assistance doesn't provide enough to meet basic needs, then our government needs to do the math and raise the rates.

Avi Lewis

Given or preferred nickname: Avi

Occupation: Host of Fault Lines a bi-weekly documentary program on Al Jazeera English Television.

Favorite food: I have a weakness for absolutely anything that is really, truly spicy.

Guiltiest food pleasure: Red meat, cold pizza for breakfast, bad chinese food in airports.

Family size: 2

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: $350/wk, more when we're on the road.

Why you are participating in this project: I've been covering issues around poverty and inequality for 20 years and, frankly, I usually find it uncomfortable when journalists play tourist in the lives of poor people - being homeless for a night and then writing about it, for instance. In this case, we're doing this as private citizens, and incredibly privileged people, trying to get a glimpse of the lived reality (and the wrenching choices) that many in our community face every day.

Why this issue is important to you: For low income Canadians, the current hype about markets rebounding and the economy recovering is insulting. It really highlights that there are two Canadas, with an invisible but impenetrable wall between them. To me, the dignity of decent work and good local food is a fundamental issue of human rights. Our current system, capable of generating so much wealth and distributing it so unequally, is deeply unfair, unsustainable and environmentally out of control. We need alternatives to this broken system, and The Stop is a powerful local example of what can be done now, right here in our own city.

Damian Abraham

Name: Damian Abraham

Given or preferred nickname: Pink Eyes (but Damian is fine)

Occupation: Singer in a band

Favorite food: sushi

Guiltiest food pleasure: Cola

Family size: 3 (but one is a baby so he is sitting this one out)

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: about $200

Why you are participating in this project: We believe and support the issues surrounding this project.

Why this issue is important to you: It is so important that people forced to use the food bank are not treated as though they should be punished for needing aid. The need for a supplementary allowance for people to by healthy food is the only ethical thing to do.

Rosina Kazi & Nic Murray

Given or preferred nickname: murr / rose

Occupation: musicians

Favorite food: lasagna / mac'n' cheese (bajun styles)

Guiltiest food pleasure: fish'n'chips / pasta with ketchup, hot sauce and cheese

Family size: 2

Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: $150

Why they are participating in this project: It is part of the work we do as artists who work with issues of social justice. Food is something that is taken for granted for those who can afford healthy choices. Being aware of what's happening globally with communities around affording healthy food and tying it into what is happening here (locally) is important for us. Issues of food and access and health is a political issue that we feel is important to address, and learn about. This is an opportunity for us to learn more about how our local communities are affected. We were also asked by someone we trust and respect, her name is ASH.

Why this issue is important to you: see above

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