Financial literacy with a delicious twist

Photo courtesy of Hunger Action

Photo courtesy of Hunger Action

What do smoothies, lasagna and egg muffins have to do with personal finance? Quite a lot, as Hunger Actions, a SFU student group, demonstrates through month-long workshops on financial literacy and healthy cooking for low-income women in Metro Vancouver.

In March 2015, Hunger Actions became one of three winners in Enactus Canada’s Financial Education Challenge for Western Canada and will compete in the national Enactus Canada contest in Toronto on May 11–13. Enactus brings together students, corporations and academic leaders to foster social entrepreneurship. More than 1,700 universities in 36 countries have Enactus projects, including eight universities in B.C.

Hunger Actions began four years ago as the brainchild of Lynn Shinto, an SFU student raised by a single mother.

Program manager Rhythm Tang, a second-year business student, explains the impetus for the project.

“[Shinto] really liked the concept of being able to combine food and financial literacy, and she knew from past experience that single mothers, especially low income single mothers, have a really difficult time eating nutritiously because their budget doesn’t allow them to, and that’s how [Hunger Actions] was created,” she says.

Food as the medium

Each week of the workshop, the theme varies by national cuisine, such as Mexican, or meal of the day, e.g., dinner. But all workshops follow the same structure: an interactive cooking portion followed by education on budgeting, nutrition and shopping.

“We take a creative approach to teaching financial literacy because financial literacy is really boring; that’s why we mix it with food,” says Tang.

Tamara Kropp, a third-year business student and workshop coordinator, adds that changing mindsets is one of the workshops’ benefits.

“I think it’s really about letting people know what is available to them that they might not have realized they had,” says Kropp. “[There’s] a lot of food that we would bypass in grocery stores or recipes we would write off because we didn’t realize we could make them healthy.”

“A life changing experience”

Participants making a salmon dish. | Photo courtesy of Hunger Action

Participants making a salmon dish. | Photo courtesy of Hunger Action

Hunger Actions has helped 181 families in the Lower Mainland since 2012, growing from 20 participants to 81 so far in 2015 alone. Many participants are immigrants and some use the program to aid their integration.

“A lot of the parents that attend, a lot of them are newcomers to Canada, so they take these workshops to learn not only skills, but to help adapt to Canadian culture,” says Ginny Hsiang, another workshop coordinator and first-year business student.

Tang adds that these adaptation skills extend to participants’ children.

“When [parents] come here, they want to learn more about different nationalities’ foods so that their kids are able to bring [the food] to school and still be part of their friend groups,” she explains.

Another participant, Dawn Marie, 62, says the program made saving money a reality for her.

“The biggest thing for me was the budget planning, and I noticed savings came right after rent as a fixed expense,” she says. “That’s life changing – that tells me what my problem is. My way of looking at savings was like an optional thing.”

As for the egg muffin, smoothie and banana bread recipes Dawn Marie’s learned so far?

“The food we made? Hallelujah! I literally sang hallelujah,” she says. “You know when something just grabs you and you don’t know what you’re going to get out of it? And all of a sudden it’s like everything to you. I’m doing cartwheels on the inside.”

Hsiang feels the biggest impact is the savings, which vary by participant, but currently average $60 a month.

“It doesn’t seem like much to save, [for example] $70 a week, but over the course of four weeks, that’s $280; that can mean the difference between paying a whole bill and being behind on a payment,” says Hsiang.

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