Feeding Your Family For $1000 A Week

Today’s post is not one of my regular, irreverent, sarcastic posts. Just thought you should know that from the get go. If anything, this post is a giant, “Are you fucking kidding me?!?”

A few weeks ago I was browsing my beloved Buzzfeed (www.buzzfeed.com) and came across a slide show showing pictures of outrageously priced groceries:  $10.29 for a bag of Tostitos chips, $11.29 for one can of frozen orange juice, $22.99 for a bottle of fruit punch, a 4 lb head of cabbage for $28.54, apples for $6.69/kg, $65 for a bag of chicken, and $104.99 for a 24-pack of bottled water. My first thoughts were, “Surely this is a joke!” and “Somebody obviously made a mistake in pricing things at the store.” The more I read the more shocked I became. These prices weren’t a joke, and there was no error by a stocking clerk; those are real grocery prices in the Canadian territory of Nunavut.

Nunavut is the largest and newest federal territory in the country of Canada, separating from the Northwest Territories on April 1, 1999. Nunavut may be the largest territory in Canada in terms of size, but it also has the lowest population:  roughly 32,000  reside in this giant area, the majority of which are native Inuit. [source:  Wikipedia]

(photo from of athropolis.com)
Questions immediately began racing through my mind. Why are foods and other goods so expensive? How can families afford to eat? What is the average annual income in Nunavut? Are people going hungry? And, lastly, the thought that kept repeating itself:  what is being done to help the residents of Nunavut? I set out to answer these questions and learn how photos from Nunavut markets ended up on a mainstream pop-culture website.
Why are food and household necessities (diapers, paper towels, maxi pads, detergent, etc.) so expensive? For starters there is no agricultural industry that far north:  arctic permafrost obviously isn’t an environment conducive to growing crops and raising animals. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, goods have to be flown into Nunavut. There is no highway system in place for truck deliveries, and goods can be delivered by barges only during a short window in the Summer months when they can travel safely. The communities in Nunavut are fly-in communities and are only accessible by plane; this fact alone contributes greatly to the cost of materials. In addition to the transportation costs the stores, of course, mark-up the prices of goods to not only recoup the shipping costs but to turn a profit. Nearly all of the communities in Nunavut are served by only one or two grocery stores, and we learned in Economics For Dummies that when there is no competition prices will be higher because people have no choice where to shop. What is special in regards to Nunavut is that they pay significantly more for food and goods than the Yukon Territory and Northwest Territories, which are also part of Canada’s far north. In this table you’ll see that these souls also pay more for food than the people of Greenland:
(Table from “Feeding My Family” Facebook group)
In large cities and far-away rural communities you will find that salaries are often higher to compensate for increased costs of living. This is true in Nunavut as well; the minimum wage in Nunavut is $11.00/hr which is the highest in all of the Canadian provinces and territories. So folks in Nunavut command a higher wage! Why are they complaining about groceries then? Even though they make $1-2 more an hour than other Canadians on minimum wage they pay 300-500% more for electricity and heat than the rest of Canada, and all of their commodities have to be flown in. It is easy to see how desperate the situation is.
And just how desperate is the situation?
The situation is appalling. A Nunavut resident, Leesee Papatsie, started a Facebook group called “Feeding My Family” to draw attention to the cost of food in the territory and have folks talk about their situation. The photos that ended up on Buzzfeed? They came from this group which has grown to nearly 22,000 members (myself included). Organized, peaceful protests have taken place outside of stores throughout Nunavut as well as in Ottawa. The pricing situation and resulting food insecurity has garnered international attention as well; the United Nations has been investigating the food security situation in Canada. Why is this a big deal? Because the UN normally looks into these situations in third-world or developing nations—-not a first-world nation with an average income of nearly $40,000. UN special rapporteur for food Olivier De Schutter estimates there is a total of perhaps 2-3 million Canadians (not just those in Nunavut) who are not able to afford the nutritious diet they need.
It is easy enough to read statistics and news stories about grocery prices and food insecurity in Nunavut, but talking with residents on Facebook is completely different because now, instead of being an anonymous statistic, you are hearing their real tales of struggle and can see their profile pictures. In the “Feeding My Family” Facebook group I publicly asked this question:  How big is your family, and what do you spend on food?  I am keeping their names anonymous, but these are some of the answers:
  • $500-700 bi-weekly to feed a family of 7. This is the person’s entire check, and the food only lasts 6-8 days.
  • $600/wk for a family of 3
  • $500/wk for just one person. This person has given up most meats, dairy, and all processed foods to be able to eat healthy fruits, veggies, almond milk every day.
  • $1000/wk for a family of 5, but they spend more if other family members eat with them.
  • $250/wk for a family of 5, but they order meat and other things elsewhere and have it shipped in; they buy very little at local stores
  • $600 every 2 weeks to feed a family of 4, but the food never lasts 2 weeks
  • $1000/wk for a family of 2.
  • $300-400/wk for only 3-4 bags of groceries
  • recently spent $600 buying groceries for their family and the food lasted 3 days
  • $450 every 2 weeks, and that is before they pay any household bills, utilities, or rent
  • $1000 every 2 weeks for a family of 10, but they always run out of stuff before payday
  • $500/wk for a family of 8, and this person tries to stretch the food by serving one meal a day
  • $2000 a month for a family of 5
  • One woman told me she has lost 15 pounds over several years because she eats less to be able to feed her children more.

I read other people’s discussions on the “Feeding My Family” page. One family discusses their child having multiple food allergies so they have no choice but to buy certain foods—-no matter what the cost. Several people talk about how they can’t diaper their babies or afford formula for them. I look at my own chubby, growing 6-inch and can only imagine the heartbreak that mother feels at not being able to provide everything for her child. People have asked the Nunavut residents why they can’t go and hunt like their ancestors did. The reason? It’s too damn expensive! Bullets, gas for the snowmobile, food for the trip, and other expenditures put the cost at hundreds of dollars just for one hunting trip—and there is no guarantee, of course, that they will be able to kill anything. In the group I have also read about subsidies, food banks, etc. I don’t understand it all, but I understand enough to know that they are getting the shit end of the stick.

The price of groceries in Nunavut is also affecting the health of the residents. In addition to so many dealing with hunger, the rates of diabetes and obesity among the Inuit are quickly growing. This is largely due to not eating a healthy diet. Imagine looking in your wallet and finding that you have $25. You have two choices on how to spend that:  you can buy two bell peppers and a handful of apples, OR you can buy an entire box of frozen taquitos. It is a no brainer—you will obviously choose the food that is most filling and provides the most calories. Sadly enough, the most calorically dense foods are usually the ones that are the most nutritionally void—frozen TV dinners, frozen pizza, heavily processed convenience foods, chips, crackers, cookies, etc. These people deserve access to affordable healthy foods. What is going on Nunanut is not ok, and, in my opinion, is not ok for anyone. It is almost like these people are being penalized for where they live. The majority of Nunavut residents are native Inuit; the Canadian government is basically making a mockery of them. I’m not Canadian, mind you, but I am fucking mad.

I asked Leesee Papatsie what people could do to help. She said the best thing is to spread the word about this issue—you can join the “Feeding My Family” Facebook group and urge others to do so. She urges everyone, Canadian or not, to write their local representatives and sign online petitions. Another Facebook member, Sarah Cramer, has started the “Nunavut Adopt A Family” page; on this page you can “adopt” a family who needs help. J and I have adopted a family! The US postal service will send a 20 lb priority mail box to anywhere in Canada for $39.95. I am happy to do without two restaurant meals and two sets of fake nails a month to send a family a box stuffed full of peanut butter, rice, nuts, noodles, canned tuna, dried fruit, oatmeal, spaghetti sauce mixes, soup, and powdered milk. Until reading about the situation in Nunavut I didn’t think twice about how much I spent on groceries ($350 every two weeks, and that includes formula and stuff like TP, paper towels, cleaning stuff) and other stuff. For the last few days it is all I can think about. There are tons of news articles and statistics on the internet; if I referenced all of them I would never be able to finish this blog entry. The absolute best place to start is by joining the FB group or visiting www.feedingmyfamily.org. You can also direct people to my blog; I don’t get paid for writing my profanity-laced drivel, so I’m not turning a profit by getting clicks.

I leave you today with photos from the “Feeding My Family” Facebook group. I would post pictures of the people of Nunavut protesting and the wonderful signs they are carrying, but I can’t identify them to ask their permission so I will not post them. I will, however, post photos of food prices taken in markets throughout the territory:

For the above photo, the price is hard to see. That bag of frozen vegetables in the center is $9.32.


44 thoughts on “Feeding Your Family For $1000 A Week

  1. This is amazing – such an eye-opener. I live in Canada and had no idea. I've posted it to my Facebook so I hope you get some traffic from there. This is a message that needs to be heard. Thanks so much for taking the time to write it!The artist formerly known as J…

  2. Even doing that is quite expensive. I remember reading somewhere on the FB page that someone's family sent a big box full of stuff and it cost several hundred dollars to ship. In the US it is a flat $39.95 to ship to Canada or Mexico, but that is only for 20 lbs. Think about it: that is roughly 4 bags of rice, or 4 bags of flour, or 20 boxes of spaghetti. I tried looking into the Wal Mart page for Canada, but in order to buy from them you have to have a credit card with a Canadian billing address.

  3. Thanks, Jennifer. It is awful, isn't it? I read the news everyday, and I didn't know anything about this until I saw the photos on Buzzfeed. Can I ask: where in Canada are you, and how much are your groceries per week?

  4. Is there a way to get a list of what a particular family is in need of? If we were to adopt a family, would they make requests? I would be willing to help send non-perishables to a family.

  5. You can join the group on FB about adopting a family: http://www.facebook.com/groups/nunavutaaf/The list is in anonymous format; it will tell you how many household members (for example: 2 adults, 4 children) and what they are in need of (for example: any dry foodstuffs, baby formula, size 3 diapers, children's clothing, etc). If you decide to "adopt" a family send a message to Sarah (the page moderator) and tell her which family you want; she will then inbox you their name and address. I contacted our family on FB; not only am I happy to help, I am blessed to have made a new friend 🙂 Hope that helps!

  6. I forgot to mention, Amanda, that I asked my family if there was anything specific they would like or are allergic to. I also told them that I was hoping to be able and send a package once or twice a month.

  7. I live in south-eastern Ontario and it's just me – I probably pay about $50 a week for groceries. My parents live nearby so I'm there once or twice a week. I'm low-income and count every penny but we have good sales. This is just shocking.

  8. I am Canadian and this is disgusting. I'm not sure how many people know that this is going on. We always knew it was expensive to live there but this is robbery and for most people they can't afford it. I will share this will all my friends and hopefully we can all make a difference.Great post !!

  9. Thanks, Michelle! You are the second Canadian Michelle I have got to join the FB group today! Perhaps Canadian Michelles are my target audience? LOL

  10. Snort…I have applied to join their FB page and cannot wait to pick a family to adopt. THANK YOU for making me aware of this. I will pass it along to a few friends I know that could afford to adopt a family or two. My husband and I decided to go without mochas a few times a week and eat out less to help them. My God, those poor people…..I have tears running down my face, just thinking about how this is allowed to happen.

  11. Aw, Peg, I didn't mean to make you cry, but I am so glad that you are moved to help! The hubby and I looked at the budget and figured we could afford 1-2 packages a month for the $40 shipping offered by the USPS. I want to do so much more, but we just aren't able. I figure getting the word out is the next best thing. *hugs*

  12. Not the bedtime story I was expecting but so glad to have something to think about. I will be talking to my man tomorrow about adopting a family. Thank you Snort— I would never know about the issue without your blog!

  13. Sorry it wasn't the usual amusing, cuss-word laden post of norm 🙂 I'll do my best to give you something funny or irreverent soon. I'm glad I got you to thinking about things, and it is wonderful you want to help. G'night.

  14. My thought is…maybe people shouldn't be living in this part of the world if they can't sustain themselves. Some parts of this world just aren't meant for human habitation. No one HAS to live there, do they? Would we feel sorry about the price of groceries on the moon if someone decided they wanted to live there?

  15. I have been thinking about this post and all those families since I read it last night. I feel the need to do something and will have to see how much and when I can do it. Thank you so much for posting about this. I would have never heard about it otherwise.

  16. This region has been inhabited for thousands of years by the Inuit, and those that live there are very proud of their culture and heritage. Living in the middle of nowhere in the desert isn't exactly sustainable in terms of water, crops, and livestock, but people do it. Should we make all of the residents of central Australia, northern Africa, central Asia, and parts of the American Southwest move too?

  17. Damn if I didnt have the perfect response to this and then my computer burped and it disappeared… I think. So here it is, mostly.. I think.Good thing that you do not blog for money, like some people. If you did and your comments were down you would have to plan an unplanned serious (but not serious) hospital stay. You would have to retell fake stories you just made up, rack up large amounts of bills you never plan on paying, host contests where the rules do not matter and you or your fake friend will win. You will have to post about going to church to make sure that everyone knows that you do that and then you will have to post a picture of something your dog vomited up and declare it woodland creature food.Yeah, thank God that you dont blog for money. You just saved yourself a whole lot of time and effort!

  18. So there was this comedian Sam Kinison (sp? eh who cares it's 10:44p) and he has a fabulous skit about people moving to where the food is…appropriate eh not so much but it does make ya laugh. I do agree with one of your PP's though what changed that this is coming to light now? Just the fact that it's on social media? How have these peoples been surviving up until now? Is it the whole global warming affecting fishing type of thing? Kudos to you and others who adopt a family but what about that little boy and girl you see down the street that are going with out cuz Mom and Dad don't have a job or are hooked on some type of drug. I dunno maybe it's apples and oranges ya know? <—–Totally nonsnarky comment just conscious stream of thought.-justalurker

  19. Can yopu let us know how tha Canadian dollar compares to the US dollar? Because when you do, that minimum wage isn't all that high….

  20. Does everything have to be turned around and made about JHSM?? Obsess much? (and yes, I'm an avid reader and supporter of the MWOP blog, not a sheeple if that's going to be your witty reply).I appreciate the attention brought to this issue. I'm Canadian and had no idea about this.

  21. I've joined both FB groups. Now I guess it's getting matched up with a family. I plan to send one box per month. If I can supply spices, mixes and some of that kind of thing, maybe that can free up money for the stuff that they have to buy there.[SNORT], as usual, you are the awesome.

  22. Its crazy that you found all this info…my boyfriend just got back from working in Nunavut for about 6 months. He used to take pics all the time of the food prices. So crazy!!

  23. Strange that your mind went right to JHSM? Perhaps I meant some other blogger with all those habits.And to answer your question do I obsess much, the answer would be no. I read MWOP for a few minutes a day, and I rarely post. Sadly, it doesnt take much time to realize the habits of some bloggers.But as mentioned in the first post I wrote when I replied to this thread (without mentioning any bloggers, btw) I too appreciate the attention drawn to this issue.

  24. Snort–why not put ads on your page and use the proceeds to send food to as MANY families as it would? That would be a great use of ad $$. It's a shame for you not to make something for someone from the blog traffic. Think of all the good you could do!

  25. I appreciate the stream of consciousness, justalurker. I enjoy you on MWOP as well 🙂 I don't understand it down to the nitty-gritty, but one of the reasons the Nunavut thing has come to light is because their food delivery system has changed. There used to be a government program in place called Food Mail that would allow them to order food (including fruits/veggies/meats) and have it shipped via the Canadian postal service. Some of the products were also subsidized. The Food Mail program was scrapped a few years ago for the new Nutrition North program. This program has been widely criticized and the costs of many foods have increased. As far as global warming, I don't know its effect. I also don't know if there are government regulations in place regarding the number of seals, etc. they can kill per season. From reading in the FB group I have learned that the cost of hunting supplies is quite high. I believe in charitable giving at home in the US as well, but sending some food every few weeks makes me feel secure because I know it's going directly to people; it's not like sending money and not knowing how it is being spent. I appreciated the nonsnarky comment! I love being able to discuss things with folks even if we have differing opinions! And I love Sam Kinison.

  26. Good for you! I went shopping at Costco today and bought rice, oats, pasta, Velveeta, nuts, dried fruits, fruit & nut granola bars, Bisquick, canned chicken breast, canned tuna, canned roast beef, peanut butter, dried beans, and dehydrated potatoes. I've got enough for 3 or 4 boxes; we plan on sending one every 2 weeks if we can. Thanks for thinking I am awesome; I don't think so, but I'm glad you do.

  27. Interesting regarding the Food Mail service. Kinda like buying your groceries online. I could see the drawbacks though cost of fuel for whatever mode of transportation, change in the global climate, hell the global economy for that matter. All the services, etc that we in the US rely on have been getting cut left and right due to budget cut backs, etc. Probably not the most PC thing to say but it is interesting learning about other areas on the globe that aren't widely known and how they support themselves. Definitly enjoy you on the snark blog as well as on this blog. I miss my sweaty armpit state…lol. Give the desert a kiss for me would ya..it's 59 out right now. LOL-justalurker

  28. When I initially read your title, I thought I knew where this was going to go. Boy, did you go in the other direction. I can honestly say I'm glad you did. Thanks for trying to help in this situation. Reaching out to others can be scary, and there's always somebody who's going to complain about you not reaching out to who they would've reached out to. Just do your best, one person, one family at a time whether they're your neighbor or someone across the world. Each act of kindness helps.

  29. I'm curious….did you think I was going to go off on a rant about weird oils, exotic salts, grains, hemp hearts, and balls? Thanks for your encouragement about acts of kindness–I just want to help someone in a meaningful way. IMO, sending a box of food and knowing it is going to a family is better (and safer) than sending money to an organization and not knowing for certain how it is being spent.

  30. I did think that I'd see coconut oil, hemp, "protein balls," and other such nonsense. You're a ray of sunshine and I was delighted to read this post. I shared an article on facebook today, and many of my friends shared it. In turn, their friends are now sharing this. It would be awesome to see this go viral and get the attention it needs. And before anybody says anything, there are countless numbers of things that should go viral and get attention. I'm just one person trying to help. Helping one person anywhere is better than helping no one at all.

  31. Canadian here too. My dad is a social worker and my uncle a retired teacher and they've both given their time to work there. If you're into classical music at all, look what the Orchestre de Montreal did over there. There is a fabulous documentary on their wonderful effort in that part of the country. Kids there had never seen a real instrument and the core group of orchestra flew there for a neat exchange. It's a beautiful thing to watch! Glad you brought it up, Snort. -Mcksense

  32. I agree. We KNOW all the "fans" are peeking in here, some good might as well come from their devotion to their queen. At least good people would receive food from their being nosey on this sight. It's a shame that with your time/talen you share on here, some good doesn't come out of it.Farmer

  33. Thank you for this. Like Peg above, it made me teary-eyed. I will definitely be signing up to send a box. $40? Hell, I earned that much while reading archived blog posts in my cubicle today. It might as well go to something worthwhile.

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