For the past seven nights, MP Jenny Kwan went to bed hungry. She woke up the same way.

As part of a weeklong Welfare Food Challenge, the Canadian NDP politician had a meagre $3 to spend each day for food – just $21 for the entire week.

That’s the amount B.C. welfare recipients have left each week for groceries after paying for rent, a bus pass and phone, according to Raise the Rates, the group behind the awareness-raising event. The standard monthly rate in British Columbia is $610, which critics say is not enough to make ends meet.

At a press conference Tuesday, participants reflected on the struggles they faced during their week of living on a welfare budget.

Kwan, who took the challenge to experience what life is like for the impoverished people in her East Vancouver riding, said the budget wasn’t enough to keep her well-fed – and that took a mental and emotional toll.

“I obsess about food constantly. And I can’t wait to eat my ration, and when I do eat my ration I am left feeling dissatisfied because it is not enough,” she told reporters.

Kwan spent part of the challenge week in Ottawa, where she met new NDP colleagues. She said being at receptions where people were merrily eating and drinking was “very hard” and she had difficulty concentrating on her work tasks.

Kwan normally answers constituents’ emails at the end of her work day, but said she felt dizzy and lightheaded and even trying to concentrate on the simplest tasks proved difficult.

“The only way for me to stop feeling hungry, to stop the hunger pains, to stop the low-grade headache… is to simply go to sleep, to shut out the world, so you don’t feel it anymore,” she said.

Very hungry

Singer Bif Naked, who did the challenge last year as well, ran out of food before the challenge ended.

“I starved the last three days,” she said.

“I was, predictably, very hungry. I lost energy easily.”

The vegan said her dietary requirements made it more difficult, and many welfare recipients are forced to rely on bread, crackers and packaged noodles just to get the calories they require.

“I eat four bananas a day. It’s a cheap easy food. On welfare, I’m lucky to have one,” she said.

The welfare rates in B.C. have not been increased in eight years.

Bif Naked and Kwan are calling on the province to raise welfare rates to $1,500 per month, which they say would allow people to live a much higher quality of life.

But that’s not going to happen, at least in the short term.

In an email to CTV Vancouver, the social development minister said: “In terms of raising rates, it’s something we continue to look at and would like to do in the long term. Right now we are not in a financial position to do so.”

Kwan says the only way she was able to make it through her week was knowing that it would end, and she could go back to living a “normal life.”

“But for thousands of people, they do not see the end,” she said. “There is a solution. We can end poverty in B.C.”

Bif Naked agrees.

“We all deserve the same things in life – to be happy and healthy and to enjoy living here in British Columbia,” she said.