When the middle class becomes unable to afford to eat

The sharp rise in food prices is creating a new social class of vulnerable people in Quebec: employees who simply can no longer afford basic products.

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Djamila Graichi sees this every day in her work. “Before, we only took care of low-income people. This year, we have several participants who work and make middle-class salaries,” observes the coordinator of Bouffe-Action de Rosemont.

For 15 years, she has been helping mothers and mothers-to-be to eat well in order to have a healthy baby and avoid low birth weight.

Bouffe-Action de Rosemont offers easy, economical and nutritious recipe workshops to encourage women to cook. Baby food workshops are also offered.

“For two years, we have also been asked a lot for food aid. If there are more people than usual, it’s because people can’t make ends meet,” laments the community worker.

She now sees secretaries, health care workers and other such professionals arriving who need to change their priorities. Inflation has taken on proportions that no longer allow them to have the same way of life.

“It’s a game-changer when you can’t access basics,” she says.

Heavy psychological effects

Economically, of course, but also mentally, because it’s not easy for an employee to bring himself to ask for food aid.

“People are starting to feel weak. We even see couples who break up because of that, ”says Mme Graichi, who worries about seeing workers feel bad about themselves due to financial worries.

The mother of three is also affected by rising food prices in her private life. “I have to reorganize myself, run the specials more, buy more when I can find them at a good price and therefore cook more, too, to preserve the food,” she confides.

She laughs a little yellow saying that she could participate in her own workshops.

The state must act

On Monday, a group of 60 organizations asked the Legault government to regulate the price of certain staple foods to reduce the scale of the current crisis.

“It would allow people to have food in quantity, quality and variety. It’s also a way of encouraging our own industry,” thinks Jean-Philippe Laperrière, director at Concertation en sécuritéalimentaire in Saint-Léonard.

If we are able to offer $500 plane tickets to Quebecers to travel in the regions, we are also able to offer them local products at a good price, thinks the one who also teaches contemporary food issues at UQAM. .

Instead, requests for food aid are allowed to skyrocket, which lowers the quality of the baskets donated, he says. And consuming food aid, “is to feel like a sub-person because you eat the waste of the system”.

Possible, feed on $10 a day?

At a minimum, without distinguishing between children and adults, we must calculate $9.50 per day per person for food.

“But it’s not true that with $10 a day, we manage to eat in a rewarding way, it’s really the minimum of survival”, nuance Jean-Philippe Laperrière, who teaches contemporary food issues at the University of Quebec in Montreal and who runs a community food security organization.

The figure comes from the Institute for Socioeconomic Research and Information (IRIS), which based itself on 2021 prices.

On average, a family of two adults and two children must pay $13,694 a year to provide all the calories needed.

No meat for many

But that’s by not buying any prepared food, cooking everything yourself and never going to a restaurant.

“It’s not ideal, it takes a lot, a lot of work and you have to spend your life chasing the sales,” sums up the food teacher.

With his colleague at Concertation in food security in Saint-Léonard, they are in the process of surveying around fifty “low middle class” people in order to take the pulse of the field.

They found that a family of four spends an average of $300 a week on food. And that she would rather spend $450 on it, or $16 a day per person.

“People don’t want to put caviar on their toast in the morning, they just want to eat like the average person,” he says.

60% of respondents currently deprive themselves, especially of meat and protein. People are disappointed not to eat meat, fish, seafood, cheese.

“When you know how much food is an identity, how important it is to feel good, there is reason to worry,” summarizes Mr. Laperrière.

It’s a matter of dignity and self-esteem, he says. He wonders why less affluent people are forced to eat poorly.

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