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Posts Tagged ‘poverty

Sugar free: inside food banks controversial no junk food policies

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Controversy erupted in August after Ottawa’s Parkdale Food Centre announced it would stop accepting junk food, such as Kraft Dinner and hot dogs, effective immediately. Some wholeheartedly agreed with the centre’s stand; others virulently opposed the new restriction. Those in favour felt, like Karen Secord, Parkdale’s co-ordinator, that food bank users’ health is worth as much as anyone’s, and Parkdale should strive to provide healthy food. Those opposed to the move, however, asked why the food bank felt it had the authority to restrict people’s diet choices. Some former food bank users shared the opinion hotdogs were better than nothing, while others pointed out they didn’t have refrigeration to store so-called healthier food. Yet, for or against, and whether the commentary was rooted in personal experience, politics or stereotypes, the public conversation revealed something essential: our own attitudes toward those using food banks.

Parkdale isn’t the first or only food bank to restrict food donations. Founded more than 30 years ago, Toronto’s The Stop Community Food Centre, has made it the centre’s policy to only accept healthy food—a policy created after the community members it serves told the organization they wanted it that way. “We started as a food bank in the traditional sense, and over time our community members told us the food that we were providing was not enough,” says Kathe Rogers, The Stop’s communications manager. “It was not healthy enough, it was not meeting their dietary needs. And so over time, we became a healthy food bank. Because that is what people really need when they’re struggling. When they’re out there on low incomes, or they’re living in poverty, these are the items that are beyond their means.”

“I often joke that the folks at the food bank in The Stop have, without question,  more organic food than my kids do,” adds executive director Rachel Gray. “And that’s one of the things we think is really important.” Her philosophy is people can’t get or be healthy without healthy food. Heavily processed food loaded with sugar, salt or fat is unhealthy no matter how you slice it, she adds. Gray says people can debate whether it’s nice to have a box of macaroni and cheese, but if that’s all a person has to eat it becomes problematic: there’s no choice; it may be culturally inappropriate or irrelevant; and it’s not a balanced diet. “It’s not the way to good health,” she adds. “And if we’re not supporting people to get healthy, what are we achieving?”

Ideas such as “any type of food helps”—which goes hand-in-hand with the assumption that low-income people should be grateful for whatever they get—can belie fundamental assumptions about people’s worth. Stigma that blames the economically disadvantaged for their situation is often included in conversations about food banks, as are the stereotypes “poor people don’t like to cook” and only like junk food. A report from Washington, DC-based organization Cooking Matters, found that while assumptions about the eating habits of low-income Americans were rampant, the reality is poor families most often cook dinner at home, mostly from scratch, and are highly interested in making healthy meals. The stumbling block for many families is the price. An article by Jesse Bauman entitled “Poor People Can’t Cook and Other Myths,” published on Food Secure Canada’s website, reflects similar data for Canadians. In a small survey that asked low-income people about their food skills, Bauman found those who have to carefully budget a meal plan simply can’t afford to eat out. Instead, he writes, people “have developed many of the skills necessary to make the best of their situation.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the food bank discussion will go away anytime soon. Every month, more than 830,000 Canadians access a food bank, according to HungerCount 2013, a report created by Food Banks Canada. Of these 37 percent are children. And, despite being once envisioned as a short-term solution to economic crisis in the ’80s, food bank usage is on the rise. “Within the food bank network,” HungerCount 2013 reports, “crisis has become the norm. Canadians continue to give generously, and food banks continue to stock, give, and re-stock.” While Gray would like to see food banks become obsolete—The Stop advocates for increases to social assistance and minimum wage that would put solid safety nets in place—she agrees they’re double-edged swords. “Food banks are still around because people are still hungry,” says Gray. “Our food bank is busy and thriving because food banks don’t work as a means of addressing poverty and hunger.”

First published in This Magazine, Nov/Dec 2014

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Transgender and Incarcerated: How do our jails treat some of the most vulnerable prisoners?

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http://issuu.com/outwords/docs/outwords_210_may-june_2014 – pages 8-10

Transgender prisoners – particularly women – often face harsh situations in Canada’s jails. Without documentation or not having medically transitioned, offenders may face difficult questions when entering the prison system, not the least of which is what their gender is. Those who are non-operative or pre-operative are, by standard practice, sent to the prison that matches their sexed genitalia, said a spokesperson for Manitoba Justice. This is done regardless of how long they have lived as their identified gender.

A famous 2001 Canadian case saw Synthia Kavanagh, a 41-year-old trans woman who had begun hormone therapy and lived as female since she was a teen, placed in a men’s prison and given restricted hormone therapy. This resulted in a reversal of the physical changes hormones had provided her. After her requests for gender-reassignment surgery (GRS) were repeatedly denied, Kavanagh attempted to slice off her genitalia out of desperation.

Kavanagh filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and eventually won her case in 2001. She received surgery at a cost of $14,000 and was then moved to a women’s prison. This followed several years in segregation after alleged sexual assault and harassment at the hands of male inmates. Kavanagh’s case illustrates all too well some of the hardships trans women face in Canada’s prison system.

“They’re mixed in with the general population, and they’re assigned based on whatever sex organs they still have.”

The case in Manitoba

In Manitoba, the Human Rights Code prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the provision of services. The Commission’s website states, “Systemic discrimination is a form of discrimination that is often not intended. It takes place when a policy or practice that seems neutral has a greater negative effect on some people based on their protected characteristic.”

Failure to reasonably accommodate a special need that is based on a protected characteristic is also prohibited in Manitoba. The Code has special status over all other laws in the Province of Manitoba.

Factors like self-identification, gender on official ID and any file history about past placements is taken into consideration before placing a transgendered prisoner, said the spokesperson for Manitoba Justice. “Placements also consider the individual’s health and safety and any security concerns that could result. As I understand it, a transgender inmate in a correctional facility would likely be placed in an area with either a smaller population of inmates (i.e. not a dorm-style arrangement), or in other areas better suited to protect his or her safety.”

The spokesperson said Manitoba Corrections has effectively managed trans offenders in the past and isn’t aware of any significant incidents. Of a total inmate population of around 2,600, they estimate that there may be four to six transgender inmates in the provincial system at any time. The spokesperson said trans inmates have access to hormones if they have been taking them before coming in. The official was unable to say whether any pre-operative/non-operative trans women have ever been placed in a women’s prison in Manitoba.

Manitoba Corrections does not have policies specific to transgender inmates.

The case for transgender inmates the same across Canada

In addition to provincial facilities, there are three federal penitentiaries in Manitoba. Correctional Service Canada’s regional communications manager for the Prairies, Jeff Campbell said in an e-mail interview, “Pre-operative male to female offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in men’s institutions and pre-operative female to male offenders with gender identity disorder shall be held in women’s institutions.” For all placement decisions, individual assessments are done to ensure those offenders diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID) have their needs for safety and privacy accommodated, Campbell said. This means that without genital surgery, an offender would be placed in a prison that corresponds with their physical sex, but possibly not with their emotional and psychological well-being.

In order for an inmate to be diagnosed with GID and access trans-specific medical care, they must see a psychiatrist who is a recognized expert in the area. This mirrors the process many trans people outside prison must follow to access healthcare. The process for inmates happens if and when such a psychiatrist is available, according to Correctional Service Canada policy. The policy states inmates with GID diagnosis are the ones who can initiate or continue hormone therapy.

The policy also says, “Sex reassignment surgery shall be considered during incarceration only when: a recognized gender identity specialist has confirmed that the offender has satisfied the real-life test.” The real-life test refers to living full-time as one’s identified gender for a year in order to qualify for surgery. For inmates, the real-life test must have been completed prior to incarceration. If they are eligible for surgery, Correctional Service Canada foots the bill. This policy amendment was enacted following Kavanagh’s human rights victory.

Dealing with misidentification

One source OutWords spoke to has seen some of the effects of these policies on the ground. In a telephone interview, an employee of federal corrections described some of the ways trans women are treated in male penitentiaries and how some of them cope. “They’re mixed in with the general population, and they’re assigned based on whatever sex organs they still have,” the source said. “Even if they’ve had breast augmentation and have been living fully as female and on hormones.” Others could care less if they’re in with the males, and “[those ones] only live as female part-time or by choice.”

“But there are a couple in particular who live fully as female and identify as female and we call them by their female names… Most of them are forced to work the streets when they’re out, and then they come in, and if they really want to affect change it’s pretty hard, because they’re kind of used as females within the prison,” said the source. “In some ways for some of them it gives them a lot of power in the prison, because they have something to barter with. But for others who are sincerely wanting to change, and [who] live their lives as females socially, it’s an added struggle for them. I think it’s kind of shameful.” The source described the situation as psychologically damaging and quite bad. “But I don’t know what the other solution is either.”

Prisonjustice.ca, an activist organization for trans prisoners, notes the connection between criminal activity, poverty and the isolation and stigmatization many trans people face. Incarceration rates within trans communities are disproportionate, and this is linked to the vulnerability of the trans population.

Moving forward

The federal employee said Manitoba Corrections is looking at work done by the Winnipeg police to help plan an expansion for its own diversity programs. “We’re also doing it [federally], because we work with a diversity committee, and we’re looking to bring in speakers and stuff from related organizations that have been successful in doing diversity training with their staff.”

A guide put together by Joshua Mira Goldberg for the Justice Institute of British Columbia aims to provide criminal justice personnel with the information necessary to respond appropriately to trans people in the criminal justice system. It suggests a case-by-case approach to placing trans prisoners. “In some cases, it may be appropriate to place a prisoner according to their identity (e.g., placing a trans woman in a women’s facility). In some locations, it may be possible for trans prisoners to be housed together in a special unit. In some instances, a trans prisoner may request placement in general population or protective custody… There needs to be a framework to guide the assessment.”

Australia’s model is a three-tiered policy that prioritizes prisoner safety. First, it is asked which facility would be safest for the prisoner. Then, the prisoner’s general appearance and what gender they live as are considered. The last consideration is physiology and genital status.

An international academic study that looked at transsexuals within prison systems in North America, Europe and Australia found that only 29 of 64 correctional institutions said they would maintain existing hormone therapy if it had been prescribed prior to imprisonment. Sixty-two of 64 facilities said all inmates must wear the clothing appropriate to the institution regardless of the inmate’s gender identity. And only 40 per cent of correctional services had policies addressing issues like hormone treatment.

Published in OutWords Magazine, May/June 2014

–Larkin Schmiedl is a freelance journalist living in Vancouver, B.C. He loves to write about social and environmental justice.

Reader ideas

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Quoted from feedback to this question:

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?
What do you think is important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • I want to talk about class and food more. About how poor people can’t afford to eat all the “Right Things.” And how to feed the world sustainably without making more class striation and cost prohibitive products.
  • Pork production! Pigs are intelligent like dogs and they are treated savagely.
  • Where does my food come from?  How does my food choice impact other folks economically, environmentally, socially, da da da?
  • The decline of food quality. Not only are we eating less nutritional foods but more interesting is how natural foods are becoming less nutritional. Modern agriculture is degrading the food quality of natural foods.
  • Race and food access, environmental racism, and racism in the alternative food movement!!!
  • I think about how if more people choose gluten free lifestyles the healthier they will be.
  • The disgusting things they put in food (modified ingredients, artificial flavours, fillers, sugar, sugar, sugar, etc!) including labels and the fact that the food policy doesn’t require items to be labelled as GMOs… food policy is kinda scary.
  • David Suzuki’s “The Nature of Things”, (22 Jan 2012) aired an episode in which Obesogens were discussed [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obesogen] and their effects on world obesity rates, contaminated seafood, bPH-A and bPH-S, food supply, etc. It was quite interesting: featured Canadian content in the way of Canadian food scientists.

What do you want to know about food? The food system? What sorts of issues concern you? Interest you?

  • How healthy is salsa? Is it a good substitute for other foods? Can you get salsa with protein?

What sorts of food issues do you think are important that you don’t see being covered in mainstream media?

  • Corn. Its frickin eveywhere.
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