Finally the snow is gone. Dare I say it? Can it be spoken aloud? According to my burnt arms, the sun is blasting it’s rays and spring has planted her feet firmly in the ground. Folks are beginning to step outside their homes like bears awakening from hibernation. Despite our best efforts in the Fall, I am always met with surprises in the Spring as I venture around areas of my yard that I haven’t been able to see for months. “Huh. I wondered where that pillow went. Hey, I found Zoe’s leash!”
If folks don’t consciously celebrate it, it seems Beltane (Pagan celebration of fertility) is a common theme throughout. Folks are raking, tilling, tidying. French tips are replaced with the common and trendy shade of dirt. Grass is given a good dose of weed n’ feed and seeds are lovingly sewn in tiny pods on a windowsill or, for the braver and more optimistic folks, placed in the ground in the event that this is the rare year that Alberta won’t get snow on the May long weekend. Good luck with that.
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Each evening folks collapse into their beds with visions of fresh fruit and veggies. Or if you’re like me, you cover your burns with aloe vera gel, sooth your bug bites with Benadryl, and look forward to your neighbors showing up with extras from their gardens. After my second year of near anaphylactic reactions and a garden enjoyed solely by gophers, I conceded defeat. After the fourth neighbor showed up to share food that they couldn’t possibly eat as they had so much, I figured it was an omen. Gardening was not for me.
There are many, however, who have no such visions, and don’t enjoy the generosity of their neighbors. They don’t clean out the leftovers in their fridges weekly and dump food in the garbage. They don’t reward a good workout week with their favorite Häagen-Dazs. They are generally hungry.
May 7th – 12th is Hunger Awareness week in Canada. As I sat for half an hour reading through some horrifying stats I was left, completely unprepared, to attempt to write an article about it. According to Food Banks Canada, close to 900 000 people relied on food banks this year. 38% of those were under 18 years old. More than half of them were receiving Social Services assistance. Only 14% were receiving supports for a disability. And probably most disturbing is the fact that more than half of the food banks in our country had to cut back on the amount of food they were able to provide to each household.
Keep in mind, this is only speaking of the people who actually went to a food bank. There are estimated to be over 300 000 homeless people in Canada, most of whom never enter a food bank. Add that number to the 900 000 people who used a food bank and you would likely have the low end of the actual number of people who are deprived of an essential as basic as sustenance.
Food Banks Canada suggests that we go without food for a day so we have an appreciation of what folks go through. Well, I did that once. Not because I was raising awareness or trying to instill values in my children. Rather it was a result of poor planning and a failed attempt at conquering my son’s OCD. Honestly, it’ll make sense when I’m done.
We were on spring break on Vancouver Island. The Wessex in Cowichan Bay to be exact. Our favorite vacation spot. On previous visits we always had a fairly regimented schedule. After noticing that our son had become quite dependent on scheduling, we decided an unplanned, destination – who knows, kind of trip was in order. Really, it sounded good at the time. So we loaded up the kids, all four of them, and headed out. Perusing the map we agreed that Bamfield seemed like a reasonable destination. We’d stop there for lunch and see where the day took us. We gassed up, the kids grabbed some snacks and we were off. Now it is important to note, in Alberta, Saskatchewan and most of Manitoba, when you look at a map you can estimate the amount of time it will take to get from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. This doesn’t work so well in BC. What we estimated as about a two hour drive, seriously it was only 150 kms on the map, took us four hours. Upon arriving in Bamfield we were met with the most quaint little sea-side village I’d ever seen. Given that I was born in Newfoundland, that’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately, after touring the research center, ogling the landscape and marveling over the Coast Guard facility, our spontaneity was soon met with a very solid “I told you this was a bad idea” from our son. There were no open food venues. Not even a convenience store. One might think we would cut our losses and prepare for the four hour drive back. One would be wrong. One might think we would have prepared for such an event and packed extra food. One would be 0 for 2. One might think we would have at least brought water for four children. One would be failing the test. Like I said, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Convinced we must not have taken the right route, we attempted to look for a shortcut back to Cowichan Bay. Doesn’t every great story start with ‘we thought we’d try…’? I have yet to experience a more genuine look of shock and bewilderment then that of the logging crew, working diligently on the side of the mountain, expecting to see no one including their foreman, when here comes our mini-van up the side of the mountain. Yup, we were in logging country. No cell service. No food. No water. No SUV. A Pontiac Transport was tooling around the mountainside where only Skidders, Feller Bunchers and, according to popular commercials, Dodge Trucks should be found. All work came to a grinding halt as we pulled up beside a tractor and my husband got out to ask directions back to Cowichan Bay. One guy opened his mouth when he saw us but said nothing and just stared. He continued to stare, mouth gaping until we drove out of site. Another just kept laughing and shaking his head. One guy was able to get over his shock enough to relay a series of turns to get us back on the road, so to speak. Although I did notice he kept looking around; probably expecting a camera crew to pop out somewhere. It was mildly complicated by the fact that in Alberta directions are given by compass points. “So take that Range Road to the Barker’s farm then turn south. After heading south for two miles you’ll want to head east…” That doesn’t work so well in BC. It’s right or left. The roads wind so badly that I think one road hits all directions at one point or another. It was kind of like being in Newfoundland, except for the massive trees and jagged mountain tops.
So, with nothing but Fun Dip, sunflower seeds and a James Blunt CD (did I mention there was no radio?) we finally exited our shortcut route to Cowichan Bay a mere seven hours later. We were hungry. We were tired. We knew every word to every James Blunt song on the Back to Bedlam CD. We still do. Our son exited the van and staggered dramatically into the hotel, declaring something to the effect of “I will never travel with you people again!” I could be wrong, but I don’t think we helped his OCD.
We spent one day with uncertainty. One day without food. One day without water. One day not knowing what was to come. One day holding the lives of our children in a precarious balance of giving comfort and solace, while fearing the outcome. And the patch my husband did on the oil pan lasted for years!
We had jobs. We had a home. We knew we would eventually find our way back and we knew there was food there. We didn’t have to sleep in our van and the minute we could get to a restaurant, we had money to buy the food. With all those assurances in the backs of our minds, could we really even begin to grasp the concept of being hungry? Probably not. I had to spend one day telling a four-year-old we had no food. One day. Before I tucked her in bed that night, her belly was full. I can’t begin to imagine having the fear and pressure of having to endure it again the next day.
This week we will give to the food bank. We will try and teach our children compassion and generosity. We will educate and remind. And we will continue to eat, drink and plant potatoes because we don’t want to experience deprivation. And no one cares if you’re donating food to stroke some sense of aristocracy or an altruistic nature. They just care that you give. And maybe throw in a pack or two of Fun Dip and sunflower seeds. It’s a nice treat for kids, and you’d be amazed how that can sustain a family of six!
Jennifer Barry is a writer for The Spectator Tribune.
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