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CTV ran an article this week featuring an interview with Ottawa food center coordinator Karen Secord. The main message: don’t donate nutritionally vacant foods like KD and candy, we don’t want them.

It hadn’t been posted a half hour before the comments on facebook passed the 300 mark. I spent a good part of my morning throwing re-heated pancakes at my kids and delving into the post. (One of the best things to come out of the internet are the conversations that grow in the comments sections of articles).

The people who organize and run things like the food banks around our cities are concerned about the less than stellar diet being offered to those who come in needing help.

I use to work in the kitchen of a center that offered food and beds to transients. The menu was obliged to follow the Canada Food Guide and technically met the requirements.

Occasional salad aside, it was filled with endless refined carbs and processed crap. White pasta, rice and potatoes were the largest components of most meals. Dessert was frequently jello or powdered pudding complete with ‘whipped cream topping’.

The budget was limited, and to be honest, the palate of the clients dictated what would be eaten and what would go to waste. Veggies were frequently dumped at the end of the day. Didn’t help that they were usually of the bagged and boiled variety (the worse possible fate for any vegetable).

I can understand the frustration of those filling the hampers for clients at the food shelters. When you feel like you are sending them off with nothing more than junk of course you would aim to do better.

But is refusing donations the way to go about it?

A good amount of the comments on the article added up to ‘beggars can’t be choosers‘ and ‘I won’t be donating anymore‘.

What a slap in the face, to be told the kind of foods you feed your family aren’t good enough for you to donate for those in need!

Another frequent theme in the comments: ‘everyone needs a little treat occasionally’.  Many pointed out that when they were in need of assistance they really appreciated a bag of Swedish berries among the endless cans of beans. A few shared stories about hauling home hampers that were filled with nothing other than junk.

Many pointed out that those making use of the donations should have the right to decide what they eat, that it wasn’t the place of the organizers to dictate what they would or would not receive.

I want to know; by refusing donations of nutritionally deficient foods do the donations of ideal foods increase? I highly doubt it. Unless a food bank is operating at a surplus (does that ever happen?) it just results in less food (good or bad) to go around.

This morning CTV ran another article featuring an interview with the executive director of the Ontario Association of Food Banks. Bill Laidlaw labelled the decision to refuse donations of KD and hotdogs as ‘unrealistic’.

I believe everyone has the right to access good food. I think, as it stands now, there is a wide discrepancy on what some people would qualify as ‘good’ or even ‘good enough’. Drawing lines on what a food bank will or will not accept is not the way to go about improving our food system. It puts people on the defensive and casts a harsh judgment on voluntary food choices.

Judging from the comments on article, it’s more likely to decrease donations than anything else.

Should food banks dictate what can be accepted and given out in the hampers? Do they have the right to act as nutritionist? Or is their role meant to be a facilitator, concentrating on making sure the donations are distributed?

 

 

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