The Sting of Shame & New Ideas


In my last post I explained what happened with a classmate at Concordia who was basically silently starving on campus. I met several others who had similar stories, some who were student parents who had difficulty affording food and the cost of public transportation. Most of these people would not ask for help, they suffered and struggled in silence. That’s because there’s so much shame associated with poverty.

I remember all too well the sting of that shame.

I am the eldest of six children (a family of 8) and we lived in severe poverty my entire childhood. There is so much I have to share about those experiences but I’ll get to that another time. At the moment, my point is that I know what it’s like to go without, to eat poorly because it’s what you have. I also remember that not many people knew about our circumstances because we were so ashamed to ask for or accept anyone’s help.

When I started in Satoshi’s class in 2016, we delved deep into the food system in Canada and the global food economies. We also discussed social food economies and food insecurity. Satoshi gave us the option of starting a social food economy on campus for our final course project. I thought about the experience I had with my classmate and my own memories of shame. I wrote about them in my class reflections. If only there was a way that I could not only help people dealing with this now but enable those of us able and willing to help to support them.

I recalled an article I read back in 2013 or 2014 about “suspended coffee“. The movement never took off in Montreal but I’m pretty sure it was active in Toronto. I am an activist, organizer, and student leader on campus and I think about sustainability a lot, particularly social sustainability. I loved that suspended coffee was simple and easy, working on a pay-it-forward principle. The thing was we needed to share more than coffee and I thought up a similar model but for food and beverage sharing.

I hoped to build a community through food-sharing that would help in several ways:

a) students and community members facing food insecurity

b) provide a means for those of us able and willing to help to do so (solidarity)

c) foster a stronger sense of community by paying-it-forward or simply being kind

d) take some of the shame out of not being able to afford something as simple as a coffee or a meal

I had my mission and a model so I thought through the most sustainable way to implement the program that would appeal to businesses (no cost, easy to implement and manage, easy for folks to use).

When I had a plan put together, I had to decide which business to approach. The Hive was the best option, they were a solidarity co-op that I was a member of and I knew we shared these values. On my way I went to pitch this idea!

~ Wahéhshon