Thanks to my friend, Krystal, I got my hands on this link for a documentary that really sends a message about what life down here on the bottom is like. It links the obesity rates in this country to the problem of food costs in this country, and to the realities of living off of food stamps. Now, the truth is food stamps are supposed to supplement your family’s food budget, not replace it, but for a lot of families they really do have to live off of what they get.
Now, before I do anything else, I have to put in a plug for Krystal here. She’s got a wonderful service to those local to her area, but she’s also got some products, meditations, and a birth blog. Check her out at Birth in Conscious Choice. It’s one of the small things I can do to support her, her business, and an alternative to hospital births or births with many interventions, even though all my kids were born in a hospital. Experiences vary and I have a permanent, painful scar to show for it from my first birth.
And on to the real content…
I just got though with watching the Food Stamped documentary. By just I mean upon writing this. I’ve set it to scheduled publish because I really don’t feel like writing tomorrow and I don’t want to bog my poor readers down with a gazillion posts a day! So, keep in mind that by the time this posts, I’m talking about something I did the day before. Anyhow, that being said, I do feel it’s important information, which is why it’s getting it’s own day.
The documentary is available for free for one week only. I highly encourage everyone to check it out. If you’re not on food stamps, I might suggest trying their experiment if you’re able. It’s really enlightening to learn why it’s so hard for poor families to make healthy choices. We don’t get much to live off of if we don’t have money to supplement. It leads to cheap food and unhealthy choices, choices that will follow a person for the rest of their lives.
In a lot of ways I can appreciate the experiment they were trying to do. It’s hard to live on our budget. Their estimation of a dollar per meal per person is about on par with what we’ve received for about half of our time on food stamps. On the high end, we’ve gotten about $1.50 per person per meal. Can you imagine living off of $1.50 per meal? That’s not including snacks, sodas, or juice throughout the day. How do we make it work? Oz and I generally skip meals so we can afford for the kids to have snacks. Sucks, right? But you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. It also means most of our meals are cheap, like pasta, and include very few fresh foods. It’s not exactly the healthiest lifestyle, but we’ve got to do what we can. Thankfully, when we can make appointments on a regular basis, we can also get WIC, which provides milk, soy milk, cheese, peanut butter, bread, cheese, eggs, and a small allotment of money for fruits and vegetables. They provide a lot of baby food too, though I’d much rather make my own. I’ve been crazy about making that money stretch as far as we can, but it doesn’t include organic and hormone-free foods for many options.
So, what about the documentary? It’s made a number of good points. They talk about the subsidization of food products that go towards making our country healthier. Our government is actually subsidizing junk food through their actions, like paying out money to corn farmers, which then goes to making that high fructose corn syrup that’s oh so great for our families. Meanwhile, the good and healthy food gets no subsidization, which means healthy choices for food are more expensive, sometimes making them completely out of the budget to buy fresh, especially if they’re out of season. It’s meant our diet is very in-tune with the seasons, probably something that’s better for us in the long run, but it can be trying at times. There aren’t a lot of fresh, local vegetables in every region in winter time. With the high prices, sometimes buying things that are in season can be challenging.
It did also bring to light some of the options available to families that live in poverty. Some areas are lucky enough to have community gardens. I’m actually planning to plant a “victory garden” come spring so we can have some of our own fresh produce. Thankfully, starting up a garden is low cost and has long-term benefits. Now, I know the term “victory garden” is outdated, way outdated, as in “victory over the axis powers” in WWII, but I think the term applies. There are plenty of other terms, homesteading, sustainable gardening, etc, but I feel “victory garden” is a suitable term. We’re talking about victory over poverty, victory over big businesses, and victory for environmentalism and sustainability. However, for those without the space or means to grow their own food, community gardens can be a huge benefit. I’ve seen some really beautiful community gardens that offer a benefit to the local residents while beautifying the area at the same time.
Then there’s food banks, a resource that’s pretty well known about. I’ve known people who go food bank hopping. They’ve got a schedule of when the different food banks are open and how often they allow people to go. This does a great deal to help out with your family’s food resources, but sometimes you get stuff you just won’t use. However, you can always donate that stuff back to the food bank for someone who will actually use it. The ones I like most are the food banks that allow you to select your own food because we can pick out foods I know my family will actually eat. However, a lot of food banks in our area have been running out of food and have needed to restrict the number of visits to once a month and give half the food they used to. It’s not a lack of donations that’s causing the problem, but how many people need to use the resource. It’s actually one of the reasons we rarely use food banks, not because they aren’t a useful resource, but because I’d rather leave that resource for the people who really can’t get by without it. We can, so we will. I can only hope that if enough people feel that way there will still be food available should we really need it.
Best of all, there are areas where farmer’s markets and co-ops are starting to get in on the deal. I loved where we lived back home because we were within walking distance of a cute little co-op. We were able to buy some locally grown and organic foods at reasonable prices, sometimes just as inexpensive or less costly than regular foods at the supermarket. The co-op also allowed us to buy really cheap quick meals, like organic mac and cheese and organic TV dinners for quick and easy meals. That was a lifesaver when we lived in the shelter for a while. We got a lot of criticism for the “expensive” foods we were buying from the shelter staff, even though they commended us for our healthy choices. When they saw how much we were spending they started to make the recommendation to other families in the shelter, so hopefully our smart choices helped out some other families that could really use it. Let’s face it, healthy and local generally isn’t cheap, so if we can pass that benefit on to someone else, that’s wonderful. At that time we were trying to live off of $50 per week to feed a family of three. That co-op was a lifesaver. We lived for a while where a local meat market was an option too. They sold locally raised meats at decent prices, half what you’d spend at a grocery store and much better quality. It made buying meat a much more reasonable option.
One of the most disturbing things I got out of the documentary was the push for schools offering the kids healthier choices of things they were familiar with through outside advertising. For example, the cereals that are reduced sugar are great, but what are those same kids going to choose outside of school? They’ll choose the same cereals they eat at the school breakfast program, only they’ll have no choice but the full sugar version. It’s a healthier option for the time being, but it doesn’t teach the kids to make better choices on a life-long basis, and it relies heavily on advertisements that play to children. The message they’re sending is it’s okay to eat these unhealthy foods and to eat what the television tells us to eat. They’re setting these kids up to eat unhealthy things later in life because it’s familiar and the television tells them to want it. The programs teaching kids to cook and helping them diversify their dietary choices are a much better way to handle the problem. Then again, I guess I can’t really complain too much because we don’t use the public school system and I’m helping my kids understand how to make healthy choices that aren’t based on some television advertisement telling them to eat it.
The truth is it’s not cheap to eat healthy. Oz and I have both been saying that for years. We’ve tried to justify making more expensive meal purchases, but it’s hard. Buying an expensive, healthy meal can mean having to rely on unhealthy things like ramen for other meals, but at least we get some healthy benefits out of it. Sadly, ramen and other cheap dishes end up being more common the more healthy meals we include, and I’m not quite sure the trade-off is really worth it. I’ve tried to spice those things up with stuff that makes the meals healthier, like adding vegetables, meat, or fish. We’ve come up with a concoction of ramen, tuna, cheese, and some canned veggies that’s filling, mostly healthy, and tastes pretty good. We rely on things that sit heavy in your belly, like shepherd’s pie, since they help stave off hunger while being on the healthier side if made right. It’s certainly been interesting.
Unfortunately, most Americans eat SAD (Standard American Diet) because that’s what they’re taught to eat, or maybe what they can afford. It’s not healthy, but it’s what so many of us have grown accustomed to. It feeds into our health problems, which puts more money into the medical industry, which fuels our country in a lot of ways. Sometimes I have to wonder if that’s the plan, to keep Americans in poor health to increase profits in the medical industry. It would only make sense as it starts with medical interventions during hospital births. Medical care is becoming a life-long trend, even in the cases where it’s completely unnecessary. Perhaps that’s part of the plan, as paranoid as it may sound, to keep Americans reliant on the healthcare system to help them run their lives.
I don’t know what can realistically be done about the situation. The obvious choice would be to make healthy food more available, especially to those who are “under privileged”. Either raise the amount each family is allotted on food stamps (which may just make the problem worse because those families will still make poor nutritional choices), or take away the subsidies for junk food and instead put that money towards the farmers that grow crops that the people reliant on those government programs to eat can actually afford it. Find a way to make it cheaper to buy real, healthy, homemade meals and families will have no real option but to eat better or be malnourished because they can’t afford a lifestyle of living off of junk. Perhaps funding local farmer’s markets that support SNAP benefits is a potential solution. A program like WIC could be created that would offer families an allotted amount of money every month to spend in certain areas that are staples for a healthy diet, such as a fruit and vegetable allotment or so much that can be put towards whole grain bakery goods, things like beans, eggs, and dairy or dairy alternatives. This could be run off the same system as WIC to simplify things and would mean that each family could have a reasonable amount to spend on healthy foods a family needs to truly thrive. Whatever it is, something needs to be done.