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The Working Poor Diet

This Magazine Staff

Think you’re tough? Think you’re frugal? Think you could live on only $80 worth of food for an entire month? That’s what three Edmontonians are doing; spending a mere $80 on groceries throughout February as part of an experiment called the Working Poor Diet (the $80 figure was calculated using Alberta’s minimum wage rate of $8.40 and an assortment of cost-of-living studies and surveys, including this one).
Oh, and if you’re thinking you could do it, you’d just eat at your friends’ houses or survive on bulk candy, think again. Like any diet, this one comes with some rules, including no free food and perhaps the most challenging one, following the Canadian Food Guide’s daily recommendations as closely as possible.


The Working Poor Diet started as a way to draw attention to “the connection between poverty, nutrition and health” as well as raise funds for the Edmonton food bank. Over the past week, it’s proven to be a particularly relevant experiment given the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s recent annual report that revealed the high cost basic food items in some parts of this country and how these discrepancies are impacting our nation’s health.
According to that report, you might be paying six times more for basics such as apples, milk and lean ground beef than someone living in another part of the country. The report also found that 68 percent of those surveyed said that the price of an item was “extremely” or “very” important when choosing what product to buy, which only makes sense when you’re watching your pennies, as many people are these days. Unfortunately, cheap foods tend not to be healthy foods, the stuff we should all be eating more of. This is something that the Working Poor Diet participates have noticed first hand.
“In two days we will reach the halfway point of this project and I have about $15 to spend on fruits, vegetable and dairy,” participate Tracy Hyatt tells me over email, “Am I scared I’m not going to make it? You bet. I won’t starve but I won’t be eating a healthy diet in the remaining days.” I don’t believe she’s exaggerating one bit. A mere $15 wouldn’t even cover what I spend on milk every two weeks.
Her experience, along with that of follow participants Jeff Gonek and Jennifer Windsor, is currently being documented over in the Working Poor Diet blog, a great look at not only this experiment, but at our relationship with food in general.

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