Food Insecurity

The Cost: One week of groceries in Toronto’s Kensington Market

This bike courier delivers for two food delivery apps, but earnings of $800-1200 per month means his budget is stretched thin
Andrea Yu

The buyer: Craig Mazzali, a 45 year-old bike courier in Toronto.

The story: I work as a bike courier for two delivery apps. I work six days a week, about six or seven hours a day. I take Mondays off since people are usually spent from the weekend and aren’t ordering as much. I earn about $800 to $1,200 a month.

My job becomes kind of dangerous in the wintertime. There are certain days, when it’s really snowy or cold, where it’s just not worth it, so I don’t work as much. But sometimes I have to actually work in really bad weather in order to make better money because they’ll pay us more, like three to five dollars extra per order, which is fantastic. But it’s not a pleasant experience at all. Before the pandemic I would get cash tips, but that’s not so popular anymore. Some people tip through the app, but I fear that tipping is going to disappear.

I live in a rooming house in Kensington Market, in Toronto. I have five other roommates. I spend about $60 to $70 on groceries a week. I shop at FreshCo, a discount grocery store, and at the independent grocers in Kensington Market. I usually make pasta dishes and bean tortillas. If I’m having a good week and I’ve earned more money, I’ll buy some meat, like steak or salmon. Otherwise, I’m eating vegetarian.

When you’re a bike courier, food is very important. If you’re not eating properly, it’s a struggle to work. When the pandemic hit, I noticed that the prices of food went up. I couldn’t buy as much as I used to on my grocery budget. I’ve been relying more on my sister to lend me money or buy meals for me. It’s embarrassing, and stressful as well because then it’s another struggle to pay her back and also support myself. 

I end up skipping meals two or three times a week. There are drop-in centres that offer free meals. Sometimes I go there, but I see the food and I just can’t stomach it. It’s things like sausages and eggs. Eating that doesn’t make me feel good. Maybe it’s better that I just cram it down my throat, but I can’t do it. It makes me feel ill. 

Facebook mutual aid groups have also been a big help. I’ll go there a few times a month to get food. People will post extra meals or pantry items that they’re offering for free. Or I’ll post in the group asking for help with food donations or money. If it’s a bad month, I might be asking my sister for help once or twice a week. If I’m really stuck, I’ll skip meals, or I don’t eat at all, because I don’t have enough food. Since the pandemic, my diet has been very poor.

As told to Andrea Yu

Weekly grocery shopping list: 

Steel cut oats: $5
Bread: $4
Cheese: $7
Lemon: $0.69
Garlic: $2.45
Spinach: $4
Broccoli: $2.50
Cheese: $7
NY striploin: $9
Tortillas: $7
Pasta: $2.49
Refried black beans: $6
Tomatoes: $3.49

Total: $60.62

This story is part of a series on food insecurity in Canada funded by the Maple Leaf Centre for Food Security, in partnership with Community Food Centres Canada.