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Let Them Drink Shakes

In search of dietary supplements in the age of austerity

by Kendall Worth

Let Them Drink Shakes

K'JIPUKTUK (Halifax) - In my last article, I spoke about the systematic problems within the Employment Support and Income Assitance (ESIA) program, which is offered through the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, especially when it comes to enforcing section 6.3.3 of the ESIA policy. Section 6.3.3 addresses special dietary allowances and offers extra funding to persons on income assistance, if they are given medical clearance through a physician. A wide variety of illnesses are addressed, and monthly and weekly stipends are attached to each medical affliction.

I personally lost a Supreme Court of Nova Scotia case to have my own Section 6.3.3 funding reinstated, which amounted to $66 per month for a high-protein diet. My medical conditions, which include a risk of cardiac disease if I do not eat a high-protein diet, have not gone away. But my funding has.

So, considering that my personal allowance is only $255 per month, I'm now forced to supplement my diet through food banks and other non-profit organizations. Of course I'm not alone in this. The odd ESIA client may have supportive family members to help them out, however for many, if not most ESIA Clients, turning to family members is not an option.

To greater understand my situation and the situation of other ESIA recipients who have had their Section 6.3.3 funding cut, I interviewed some of the most popular options for free food and services in the HRM. I visited several food banks, as well as the head office of Feed Nova Scotia. Some of the food banks I visited throughout the metro Halifax/Dartmouth area turned me away because I was not living in the area where the food bank was located. Others mentioned that they recognized me as not being a regular. The ones who did listen to me generally felt sorry for my overall situation.

The food banks that did listen to me offered me Boost and Ensure, two high calorie meal supplements. They explained to me that it was all they had available in the high calorie/high protein food product line. My doctor has told me that even though Boost and Ensure are high calorie/high protein products, I should not be drinking these products regularly as a part of my diet.

He mentions that these are generally for people who have problems gaining weight and they are very high in calories. Loss of appetite due to chemotherapy, for example, is one example of a reason why people would regularly drink Boost and Ensure. But for my medical condition, I need the extra protein, not the calories. Back when I was still getting the $66 a month as part of my ESIA budget, I could spend it on fish, eggs, chicken, and ground beef and roast, for example.

So I went out searching for solutions to the new gap in my dietary needs. I figured that since the Department of Community Services changed their ESIA policy in 2011 – and started enforcing Section 6.3.3 in particular – I wouldn't be alone with this problem.

Here's what I found:

The Salvation Army Food Bank on Gottingen Street

They told me that they had noticed an increased number of people showing up at their food bank, not looking for the regular food orders which they distributed to their food bank users. I was told that a lot of the increased traffic approaching them has been looking for special diet items which they could not get approval for through their caseworkers because of Section 6.3.3 of the ESIA policy.

The Salvation Army Food Bank mentioned that their response is that they do not have the space to store all the special dietary items that these individuals' caseworkers should otherwise be funding them for. In other words, the food that Section 6.3.3 will not permit the caseworkers to fund their clients for is simply not available at the Salvation Army, a potential free option.

The Salvation Army noted that they try not turn anyone away, but that they can only distributed food that they receive from their suppliers, Feed Nova Scotia.

Feed Nova Scotia

I've visited their office several times telling them about my $66.00 high protein/high calorie diet allowance being slashed. Feed Nova Scotia does have a special client services department you can talk to about your special diet needs.  However since Section 6.3.3 of ESIA policy got enforced - and people started loosing their special diet allowances – they've also noted that their special client services had experienced an increase in the number of users.

Even though Feed Nova Scotia is the main supplier to food banks around Nova Scotia, they've been having problems supplying the Section 6.3.3 dietary needs. Most food banks do not have room for equipment such as deep freezes and multiple fridges, to keep high protein foods such as meat products cold and fresh. Furthermore, the food at Feed Nova Scotia comes from donations. They can only supply to the food banks from what they receive in donations.

I've found out that only high calorie/high protein diet product generally offered at the food banks is Boost and Ensure, two brands of supplement shakes. This is an example of something my doctor tells me I should be using every day in my diet.

Veith House

Veith House serves many families and individuals who are dependent on the ESIA program, in varying capacities. Even know they are not a food bank, they have a trustee program for low income people. Through their trustee program, the trustee works as a community client partner with ESIA clients. Section 6.3.3 of the ESIA policy has had an impact on their organization because when the trustee notices that an ESIA client is losing some of their funding from their budget, the trustee will try to help the client find other ways to afford those products within their limited budgets.

This is stressful on the trustee – and of course the client - because both have only have the client’s $255.00 personal monthly allowance to work with.  This personal allowance has to cover everything from personal hygiene products, to clothing, to food and bus tickets.

Dalhousie legal Aid

This organization runs a community legal clinic with lawyers, community legal workers and students studying law, training to be lawyers. Their work with ESIA clients includes representing ESIA clients at hearings at the Department of Community Services' ESIA appeal board level. They've been around for years, long before the 2011 changes to the ESIA funding.

In conversations I've had with them, when someone lost a dietary supplement before the changes to the ESIA policy took place in 2011 - and the strict enforcement of Section 6.3.3 - they found that helping clients out with appeals was a lot easier.

The Canadian Mental Health Association/Halifax Dartmouth branch

Marge Murray, at the Association, says that the organization understands the importance of people with mental health issues needing a healthy diet. This organization runs a mental health drop-in center called 'The Caring and Sharing Social Club'. Marge noted that they are advocating, along with the Community Advocates Network and other groups, on behalf of clients who have had their dietary allowances cut due Section 6.3.3.

Hopefully, like me, you see that social policy change is needed when it comes to special diets.

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Austerity that only applies to the poor!

You wrote, “I've found out that only high calorie/high protein diet product generally offered at the food banks is Boost and Ensure, two brands of supplement shakes. This is an example of something my doctor tells me I should be using every day in my diet.” Did you mean it’s an example of what you should not be using every day? Previously, you stated, “My doctor has told me that even though Boost and Ensure are high calorie/high protein products, I should not be drinking these products regularly as a part of my diet.”

That aside, my opinion is that these drinks were invented to make the companies rich. It costs almost nothing to produce as it’s basically sugar, water, and oil. A lot of refined white sugar is extremely unhealthy as it causes an imbalance in one’s insulin levels. If you can’t get ESIA to give you money for a high calorie/high protein diet, see if you can get them to pay for Polycose. It’s a glucose powder you mix in with liquids and liquid foods such as pasta sauce and soup.

You would be better off getting yourself a small blender for 15 bucks at Walmart and making a smoothie with a banana, 1/2 cup each of frozen blueberries and raspberries, and 1 cup of unsweetened fortified soy beverage. I drink that every day and have done so for 13 years.

How is it your basic amount is only $255? The lowest an ESIA cheque can be for an individual is $808, which includes the maximum of $535 for rent and utilities, and $273 for the basic amount.

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