Instead of advocating for a tax on sugar that would disproportionately impact low-income Canadians, here is a handy list of things that anyone can do to actually help low-income people gain access to fresh food and an active lifestyle, as well as recognize that health is a deeply personal and complicated concept.
1. Self-educate about the Canadian food system and question why produce is so much more expensive than refined foods whose production costs are higher.
2. Recognize that 13 million Canadians are food insecure right now. Fight for them.
3. Recognize that in some Northern communities, a single head of cabbage costs upwards of $30. Fresh produce is not always available or affordable.
4. Advocate for paid parental leave and free childcare so that low-income parents can have the option to cook more. Frozen and processed foods are an easy solution for busy families.
5. Advocate for a basic universal income so that frozen pizzas and Kraft Dinner won’t be the only options that some families can afford.
6. Donate money to a food bank so that they can purchase fresh food.
7. If you’re worried about the cost of the health-care system, let your MP know that you expect our government to fairly tax agribusinesses and corporate food manufacturers.
8. Never stigmatize welfare and EI recipients in everyday conversations or in class discussions.
9. Advocate for universal pharmacare so that Canadians won’t have to make the choice between prescriptions and healthy food.
10. Recognize that there are fat people who are healthy and there are skinny people who are not. Size is not an indicator of health or worth.
11. Volunteer at a community garden.
12. Look at the school system in your own community. Are they educating children about nutrition? If not, ask how you can help.
13. Volunteer with minor sports leagues that subsidize costs for children from low-income families.
14. Read this fun fact and learn from it: BMI (body mass index) is still used widely in Canada as an indicator of health. Those who created the arbitrary system decided that BMIs of 25 and above were overweight only because it was a round number, not because of any concrete scientific data related to weight and health.
15. Recognize that health is a deeply personal, complex concept with no universal meaning. If a poor person’s often exhausting life will be made temporarily better by a bag of chips and a Coke, don’t shame them for it.
16. Recognize that gym memberships and exercise classes are unaffordable for millions of Canadians. Support public parks, arenas and community centres.
17. Consider that stigmatizing a food item like sugar may be insensitive towards those who are recovering from disordered eating and those who have complicated relationships with food.
18. Consider that even if a sugar tax was imposed, the Canadian government would likely not use it to subsidize healthy food without widespread lobbying from the people. Food is a basic human right that is not being met in Canada, a wealthy country, let alone in most of the world.
19. Educate yourself about poverty in Canada and recognize that poverty is inevitable under capitalism. Food choices are not the problem, poverty is.
20. Recognize that classism in Canada and beyond is alive and well in 2018. Don’t let your friends, peers, family or professors get away with being classist, as it has actual material consequences for poor and working-class people.
Disclaimer: Jill MacIntyre is The Argosy’s business manager.