August 30th, 2018

Canada - alcoholism / food poverty plausibility, and specific foods eaten

I'm writing a story about a girl whose father was a cop in Toronto until his alcoholism took over and caused him to lose his job. I'm trying to confirm that the setup as I've got it is plausible, and also figure out some details of what they would eat.

The story is set in the late 1990s (circa 1998), and the daughter is approximately 16 at this point. Her dad's been out of work for over a year, and the mother is not in the picture at all. It's just the two of them.

Is the following plausible?
- The father's found some way of getting enough money to get drunk as often as he can (pawned everything of value, at this point I'm not sure what he'd do for income as the daughter won't give him any money to drink with).
- The girl's hiding this from authorities as she doesn't want to be taken away from him (I presume that even at 16 she could be removed and sent to a group home of some kind if it's clear that she's not being taken care of).
- They've had to move to a low-income apartment, as he couldn't keep up with rent on the old place. The daughter's paying the rent at this point with what she earns from a part-time after-school job. (Does she need two jobs to make enough for this?)
- Whatever she has left from that goes to food for the two of them.

Which brings me to - what is she likely to be able to afford? Assuming that she does have kitchen tools and a kitchen to cook in, this is a girl who's going to find the cheapest food per serving. Searches I did ("cheapest foods in Canada" "cheapest foods to eat") turned up only prices from the USA but I did find this article - looks like things such as rice, dry beans, eggs, plain yogurt, frozen veggies, bananas? (Also, that's from 2013 - about 15 years after this story is set, so some of that may not be true, such as the kale. I don't think kale was a big thing in 1998 yet.) I can find a list of them but not any real sense of what she would actually be able to afford - for instance, is she barely getting enough to eat full meals, is she having to skip a meal here and there because she can't afford to eat it? Or does she have enough to eat comfortably, if a bit monotonous? (Do I have the freedom to choose from that range of possibilities, or would economic constraints make it tilt firmly one way or the other?)

My searches seem to indicate that she wouldn't be receiving any sort of free lunch at school so she'd have to pack something.

I searched for the cheapest grocery stores and came up with this list, though since I don't have her actual housing location sorted out, I'm not sure which she could get to... I'm planning on handwaving, though, and not specifying the store - the food she cooks and eats is going to come up in a few scenes, but they'll be set at her apartment so I don't have to specify which store or anything. It's mostly that I want to know how much I can have an observer pick up on her poverty struggles by the food she's eating/cooking, etc. Like, are they going to be noticing she's eating a lot of beans and rice, or only having fresh veggies once a week, or something like that, that the other person could notice?

Mostly I think I have ideas here, but I'm really guessing and going out on limbs about a lot of it, so would appreciate some eyes who know the landscape. I'm from the USA and while we ate almost exclusively homemade food to save on $$ while growing up, we always had enough money to not worry about having enough variety and healthy food to eat; I've also only been to Canada once or twice in my lifetime and don't think I was ever even in a grocery store there so I really have nothing to go on as far as personal experience.

I've searched "food poverty in Canada" (and got lots of statistics) and variations, among the other searches I mentioned above. Again, the trouble I'm having is mostly that it's not really possible to get a real sense for what's plausible without knowing what she'd be paying for rent, the prices of all the foods she's buying, what she'd be earning… all of which is far too complex and overwhelming for me to search for one little story. I'm thinking someone's personal experience would be far more helpful than trying to look up all those specific details and doing a bunch of number crunching (plus I probably would miss some important detail or something).

Any confirmation (or contradiction, if it needs it!) of my assumptions/setup would be welcomed. (Hopefully I tagged correctly.)