“I’m starting my Welfare Food Challenge tomorrow, so I can’t eat or bring anything to eat.”  This was what my friend Sally told a group of us as we planned our “Watch The Second American Presidential Debate While Crafting” party that took place last evening.  Yes, we do make plans like that (and you thought Oktoberfest was crazy) but more importantly, Sally is doing a Welfare Food Challenge.

They chose yesterday’s World Food Day as the start date, and dozens of people across the lower mainland are participating, including Richmond resident Ted Bruce (the Executive Director of Population Health with Vancouver Coastal Health).  The challenge?  Feed yourself for an entire week on just $26, the approximate amount leftover for food each week after rent and other costs are deducted from the monthly welfare allowance of $610.  And why do it?  The campaign is all about raising awareness about the difficulties that people with little or no incomes face.  When I first read about it, I thought “Oh!  Maybe I should…” then remembered, mid-thought, that that might be the worst idea I’ve ever had.  Richmond has some very affordable food, but I think $3.70 a day would be pushing it.

Something I found interesting about last evening (besides the crafting and debate, of course) was how odd it felt to be at a gathering with no food.  The rest of us could have snacked, of course, but we’d have felt like a bunch of jerks eating cookies while Sally helped herself to another bowl of oatmeal.  Out of solidarity, we all decided to eat ahead of time and stick to drinking tea for the rest of the night.  The opportunity to share food within social settings, rather just eat it for survival, is a luxury I don’t value enough.  I had to remind myself about ten times not to bake something or pick up a bottle of wine, and probably would have spent $26 in that one visit to the store anyways.

So what does any of this have to do with Richmond?  Well, people everywhere in BC struggle to get enough food on the table, and I found it really influenced my meal choice yesterday.  $26 over seven days hardly allots for the purchase of meat, so I was especially aware of how I could make my meal a vegetarian one.   After working out at The Oval I was starving, but wanted something light, so I went to Fukuroku Sushi Express for Japanese food.

Like HK BBQ Master, this restaurant is located directly under Superstore, which means you can grab a meal and get your shopping done in one trip.  The interior was nicer than I expected (this place isn’t raved about online), though there were signs everywhere advertising cheap daily specials.  I got the Veggie Box combo for $7.50, and the lady behind the counter was pretty stern – not the place to come for smiles.

The meal included a cucumber roll, inari sushi, agedashi tofu on rice, veggie tempura, green salad, and yakisoba noodles.  You know what?  It was simple, and surprisingly good.  Perhaps it’s always best to start with low expectations.

The salad was mainly iceberg lettuce, but the nutty, gingery dressing made me wish I had a whole plate of it.  Instead of soy sauce, I dipped the cucumber rolls in the leftover dressing – so good!

The inari sushi (on the same plate as the cucumber roll), was sweetened bean curd wrapped around white rice.  The rice wasn’t very remarkable, but the combination of it with the bean curd is addictive.  Like I said – simple, but satisfying.

Agedashi tofu is tofu that’s coated in cornstarch and deep-fried tofu.  In this case, two pieces of tofu came on white rice with sweet teriyaki sauce.  The tofu was soft, custard-like, and covered in a delicate layer of white, crunchy batter.  It almost looked frosted.

The two pieces of tempura – one carrot and one zucchini – were decent, however the yakisoba was a complete waste of time.  The soba noodles and shredded vegetables had been stir-fried in soy sauce, but tasted bland.  They were overwhelmingly un-flavourful.

Overall however, my lunch was quite filling and very affordable, and while I can’t say for certain, I think much of it was also vegan.  Fukoruku seemed popular for takeout, though I’d stick to the basics – don’t order anything fancy.  The veggie box is a good, inexpensive meat-less option for lunch or dinner.

I wish Sally, Ted, and the other Welfare Food Challenge participants all the best this week, and you can follow their ups and downs on the challenge’s website.  With only $26 to get them through seven days, even cheap sushi will be an unaffordable luxury.  I’m grateful to be reminded of my good fortune in life.

As for the debate, we thought Obama was more composed.  And as for crafting, we accomplished a lot.  Even without snacks.


Fukuroku Sushi Express

4651 No. 3 Road, Richmond BC


Cash and cards accepted

Many vegetarian options available