When there really isn’t enough. Food Insecurity.

I read this article (click for link) this morning, and it actually enraged me, first that there is a person who’s job is writing about food who would put raw cucumbers in a burger (not on, but in) but also that this is such a ridiculous and trite representation of what it really is like to live with food insecurity.

As you can tell from my blog, I cook, alot, I have a great interest in food, in fact right now it’s 10 am and there is a fennel dusted organic chicken roasting in my oven on a bed of fennel, concord grapes foraged from a fire escape in Brooklyn and red onions.

I’ve always been interested in food and cooking  and yes I do spent more money on food than I do on a lot of other things.  There have been times in my life, like after my restaurant closed and I was absolutely unemployable and depressed when I’ve had like $25 a week to spend on food and I did it, I ate a lot of pasta and luckily was invited to a lot of free drink events so I was able to leave my house and socialize.

That was the past and now my husband and I may not exactly be well off, but we are getting by, we’re better than many that’s for sure, and we keep to a budget for food it’s $100 a week (not including paper goods, cleaning supplies, pet food & wine/beer) for the most part I come in under that (when we are not entertaining that is)- which works out to 3.33 per meal per person per week which is about what the US allows per person per DAY!

We have a farm-share which costs us $26 a week, we limit our consumption of processed and prepared foods to canned beans, English Muffins, and the occasional American Cheese my husband loves. I buy the majority of our pastas, grains etc either on sale or bulk, I buy larger cuts of meat on sale and portion them myself. I have skills and enough extra income to live well on this budget. But I buy local and I spend more money at the Farmers Market than I would at Walmart, because I opt to do that over having nicer clothes or coloring my hair or having dining room chairs that match.

So when I see that someone says its totally possible, though kind of a bummer to live on $4 a day because she tried it for 5 days I say…please, do it right give it a month, give it 2 months let it really weigh on you, and don’t buy raspberries, because your 3.99 half pint of raspberries could have been a bag of carrots on sale, a pound of bananas, a bag of frozen spinach, some bruised apples and can of tomatoes.

This genius who was exhausted after having to go to two supermarkets- and actually had to split it up into two days of shopping because it was too much for her also purchased whole wheat pasta, tofu, eggplant and tomatoes. For her same money she could have bought: 2 boxes of regular pasta, chicken legs, sweet potato, frozen broccoli, dried lentils, an onion, a head of garlic, white mushrooms, a bag of rice and a couple cans of tomatoes.

And by the way $4 per person per day is the maximum, and awful lot of people who require  that don’t get it.

To get personal my mother and her husband lived on the combined income of her Social Security and his Disability which was about $1800 a month – their mortgage is $1100, medicare part B is combined $150, their medications cost about $200, car payment $150, utilities (phone, gas, electric, basic cable, internet) $300- which leaves them -$100 a month, but really counting things like gas, cleaning supplies, debt repayment they are actually behind by $300 a month.They were recieving about $200 a month in SNAP which combined with visits to the Food Pantry kept them fairly well fed, without crazy luxuries but they weren’t living on beans, rice & turkey thighs (the cheapest food one can find to live on).

Until last month when he turned 65.

Since her husband turned 65 their SNAP allowance was reduced to $78 a month. Because he now receives Social Security instead of Disability, and his PRE TAX income shows that they make too much money to qualify for more assistance, even though his actual cash in hand is less than it was before. So they have less money coming in and less resources to buy food. Good thing we keep pushing for tax breaks for Millionaires.

They are not likely to get jobs at any point in the future, they are both over 65, she’s had a stroke and he’s blind in one eye, diabetic and has a heart condition. And yes they could move to a cheap apartment, and yes they don’t need cable, and yes they made ALOT of bad choices and that lead them to the place where they are at, but still.

It’s heartbreaking to hear that my mother doesn’t have enough food, and yes I help her when I can, but we are not exactly living large and we both work.  I sent her a gift the other day, part of it was extravagant- because she has major Maine lobster envy- but via Fresh Direct for $48 I sent her :

  • 2 Lobsters
  • 2 Denver Cut Steaks
  • 1 Pork Loin
  • 2 Melons
  • 1 LARGE Heirloom tomato
  • 3 Ears of Corn
  • Half a Dozen Bialys

Yes for the same money I could have sent her alot more food, but I know my mother, I know that she needs treats and that the $1.50 Heirloom Tomato and the Lobsters helped her feel good and human and less needy. because it fucking sucks to have to define yourself and your life by being needy. Sometimes you have to feed your soul as much as your body.

I wish I could gather a legion of home cooks, armed with spoons and spatulas to help make sense of SNAP to work with Americans to show them how to feed themselves, nourish themselves and their families on what they have available, because not everyone has a relative who can send them a bag of groceries when they need it. I wish I could teach everyone not  just to put food in their mouths but good food, delicious, healthful food, joyful food even.

I sent an email to our local Food Pantry/ Soup Kitchen offering my time and assistance, and I have yet to hear back from them. I hope I do, I hope I can start my revolution as they all begin with one small step.

4 thoughts on “When there really isn’t enough. Food Insecurity.

  1. Okay, I read this on my phone during a break at work, at the conference table and I just had to dash back to my office because I’m crying. Yes, Yes, Yes. Being poor should not mean, ever, that you have to eat crap food, and certainly not that you should be judged on your food choices by people who have no idea what choices you are making in your life. We’re trying to put together a food event at work before the end of the harvest season to do a demo about how to use garden produce in an easy, delicious way – we have a community garden plot, but people are flummoxed at how to use some of the produce. Of course, we are having bad luck with venues but I’m calling a local church today that I heard had some interest.

    I could write more but I gotta get back to work….


  2. I am in LOVE with this post! I just lost my entire comment to poor phone navigation so I’m starting over becauae this is HUGELY important to me. Ali, you already know I dork out over this issue ans food access but as someone who just coordinated an outing to a Farm Market for a group of 25 people (included little tinies, teen parents and extended family) where they attended a food demo and received “Food Bucks”, an amazing program here that gives starter envelopes of $6 to use to buy fresh fruits and veg at city farm markets…I’m saying AMEN, sister, to this post. Fresh food is NOT a luxury and good quality food is therapeutic, not just belly-filling indulgence. I also read an article here recently almost shaming people like me who dare to encourage families to access fresh things when they likely can’t store or use things they are not used to. These young parents learned about what they saw at the market, were walked through the market to shop and utilized resources handed out but not always redeemed and I saw little people so excited to just be there and start a relationship with items fresh from local farms. To the folks who took the time to do a study and write something so offensive as to say people who are working to get fresh tthings into low income houses are hurting instead of helping I say bullshit-seeing teen parents immediately devouring fresh peaches with juices running down their hands and little people snacking on grape tomatoes…it’s the most exciting day I’ve had in weeks!!! (Well, aside from my July event where we set up our own mini farm market for another group of kiddos….I dare the people who think I’m on the wrong track to stop me!


  3. Read both articles… very interesting. In my opinion, it would be difficult to eat healthily on $4.00 a day. In fact just the ONE package of fresh broccoli that my family had tonight was 3.69 (and our family requires two of those at a time). Of course staples like oatmeal, rice, and such can be had economically. However, when you get to the kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables that we should all be consuming, the tab goes up fast! Thank goodness for places like Trader Joe’s that offer healthier choices at reasonable prices. I’m not sure if they accept the SNAP? Another interesting snippet – When I shop at Whole Foods my weekly bill is about four times as much as when I shop at Trader Joe’s, and about twice as much as if I had gone to Publix. Thanks for the article! Here’s to wishing everyone’s bellies be filled with kale, avocados, and pomegranates! :>) Oh yes, and lobster for your mom.


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