Rita Sethi

Rita Sethi, Director of Community Health and Wellness at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health

Rita Sethi, Director of Community Health and Wellness at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health

Occupation: Director of Community Health and Wellness at Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health
Favorite food: Paste and Thai
Guiltiest food pleasure: Nutella / Banana Crepe
Family size: 4 – 2 adults and 2 teenage boys
Estimate of how much you and your family spend on food per week: About $200 to $250
Why you are participating in this project: To experience the challenges a large portion of our population go through monthly and to help shed a light on the importance of access to healthy food and food security for everyone – not just those who can afford it.
Why this issue is important to you: In my work and personal life I witness the challenges people experience who live close to or below the poverty line; challenges like appropriate and consistent access to healthy food. Examples include the child who goes to school without breakfast so they can have a lunch to eat in front of their peers; the mom who sacrifices food for a day so her children can eat or eating low cost, low nutritional value foods because that is what the person gets donated or what the person can afford. These behaviours and choices have significant implications for a person’s energy, learning, functioning and general well-being. All too often the general population is blind to these challenges and I believe it is time for us to stop and take a long hard look at what is happening in our community. It is no longer “those” people who are living with these challenges. “Those’ people are our neighbours, our friends, our colleagues, our family and most importantly, children- our future. I believe if we all had a better understanding of some of the individual and family struggles occurring around us collectively we can make decisions to ensure that at a minimum everyone can have access to healthy food all the time.

Day 1

What are you missing the most?
Fresh fruit and vegetables
What are your challenges with cooking?
I didn’t have any real challenges cooking today as everything I ate was microwaveable. The real challenge was enjoying the food I was provided. The cookies and cream oatmeal was particularly hard to eat 1st thing in the morning. I found all the canned and processed food made me feel lethargic and tired all day. I wonder how I will feel as this challenge continues
Your thoughts on taking the challenge vs. the reality for people facing economic hardship and limited access to food.
As stated above I already felt the effects of eating processed food. I will manage this as I know when it will end and I know I can stop any time I wish. For individuals and families who are experiencing economic hardships I can’t imagine how they feel physically from having limited access to fresh and nutritiously sound food but also, more importantly, mentally and emotionally, when dealing with the daily stress of determining how to most appropriately spend their limited funds. Choice they make directly impact their health and wellbeing.
The number one thing you want to share with family and friends.
I think it is important to stress the need for our government to reflect on social support services offered in Ontario and consider ways to increase access to healthy and fresh food for everyone all the time.
The next thing I want to share is that those of us who work with people facing hardships need to reflect on our practice to ensure we are doing everything we can to maintain the dignity of the clients we work with.
Did you learn anything new? Other comments?
I do want to praise the people I met last night at the food bank who work diligently to help the most vulnerable in our community and for shedding a light on this very important topic.

Day 2

What are you missing the most?
I am really missing fresh fruits and veggies. Also, snack items would be nice, like popcorn.
What are your challenges with cooking?
Like yesterday everything was microwaveable so the cooking challenge wasn’t there. My real struggle was my hyper focus on food today. I was hungry all day, even though I had enough food, quantity wise, it wasn’t satisfying for me.
Tomorrow comes the can of chicken meat which I have been avoiding. I am not sure I will like it and food for me needs to be tasty. I will let you know how I do tomorrow.
Your thoughts on taking the challenge vs. the reality for people facing economic hardship and limited access to food.
Again the challenge was how focussed I was on food today. I was hungry, noticed a lot of food that was around me, food I wouldn’t normally look at or consider. Today I though about how lucky I was to have access to the food I need but also want and desire. I don’t appreciate the idea that I need food to live as many in my community do.
I would think people with food access issues are hyperfocussed on food each day, more so on when they will eat again and less of what they will eat and if they will like it.
We live in a very privileged society and I am ashamed of how take for granted the food we have access to and expect it available when we want it.
The number one thing you want to share with family and friends.
Today, I would like family and friends to consider carefully the donations they make to the food bank. Provide nutritious and flavourful food that everyone should have access to.
Did you learn anything new? Other comments?
Today I had the opportunity to cheat and have fresh fruit and cheese served at my workplace. It was tempting and I was frustrated as I really wanted the melon being served. I can’t imagine living life daily with these desired items in reach but no able to have it. I have new empathy for the individuals who experience this struggle. I didn’t cheat but I sure wanted to. The picture below is from my lunch today.

Beans on toast for lunch.

Beans on toast for lunch.

Day 3

What are you missing the most?
Really, really missing fruits and vegetables that are fresh. Also I miss the variety that is my normal diet.
What are your challenges with cooking?
I am not one to eat the same food day after day. I had the same meal for the most part for the last 3 days. Tomorrow will be different as I have to be creative when I have to use the food (canned chicken) that I have never used before and incorporate it into my diet. I think I will make a casserole.
Your thoughts on taking the challenge vs. the reality for people facing economic hardship and limited access to food.
I am really finding the high carb, high sodium diet making me feel yucky and dragging each day. I have had a nap each evening and I have not been as focussed at work. I know I could not eat this diet long term and not gain weight. Also, my productivity would continue to decrease.
I am also grumpy as I am very hungry all the time and focussed on all the food around me.
The number one thing you want to share with family and friends.
We need to be selective on the donations we make to the food bank in the short term. Everyone deserves healthy food to eat. In the long run we need to ensure everyone has access the healthy food in a dignified and respectful way.
Did you learn anything new? Other comments?
In the long run we need to ensure everyone has access the healthy food in a dignified and respectful way. Food access is a basic human right and the concept of emergency food access should be foreign. We are too wealthy as a nation to have people hungry.
This is the topic of the Milan Expo 2015 which opened this week. They are having discussions on how to encourage sustainable agronomic practices, promote fairness in the supply chain, and fight food waste and malnutrition. We need to jump on this band wagon.