Not long ago, and not for the first time, I was having a conversation with a nutritionist about my diet. This is a fun little topic that comes up on a regular basis given my gastroparesis and its tendency to make digestion an issue for me. My diet is always evolving. And again, not for the first time, I was encouraged to go out and buy food that I can never in a million years afford.
Because you can’t eat right if you’re poor.
I knew this a long time ago, when I went to my first food pantry at Catholic Charities. The food was canned or frozen, and what little fresh food was available was a day away from the garbage bin. Sometimes you got lucky, though. I remember one afternoon when Trader Joe’s dropped off a load of almost expired products, and they put them on the shelves for anyone to take. Some women were arguing over a pack of American cheese. I looked in the cheese bin to see what was left, if anything, and was delighted! Gouda? Havarti? Brie?! I scooped all that fancy cheese while those women were fighting over Kraft slices. Still, the fresh food at that pantry was in low supply. I had better luck at a secular pantry run by a health organization I was linked to, but eventually I stopped going to them and lost pantry privileges.
Then there are the grocery stores. First of all, there’s food deserts: places with no access to fresh food, like downtown (soon to change now that Braymiller’s Market is opening, though I don’t know what their prices are like.) I shop mainly at Savealot or Aldi’s, which are discount grocery stores. Other options in the area are Wegmans and Tops. These stores are very different from one another-take Wegmans and Savealot. Firstly, you walk in the door and see the produce section. Savealot’s is about a case and a half. Wegmans’ is the garden of flippin’ Eden. Then you find their bakery sections…one with packaged breaks and cakes and very little choice, the other with a million fresh baked options. The meat and dairy sections at Wegmans are endless, but only a few cases at Savealot. But then…frozen foods! Savealot has two aisles for frozen food. I’m sure Wegmans has the same or more, but in comparison to the other departments there is a huge difference between the offerings. Almost as if there’s just more cheap and easy stuff per square foot at Savealot. So, essentially, this low-cost store is definitely saving me money, but at what cost? At the cost of my health. See, the strawberries might be two bucks cheaper at Savealot, but at Wegmans, I don’t have to throw half out because they are rotting or damaged.
Another thing about the stores that Mark noticed is the way they are set up. Savealot, has you enter in one specific spot and encourages you to follow a sort of zig-zag pattern through the aisles. In Wegmans and Tops, is just laid out for you to go wherever and get your thing. He noticed that when we went to buy cheese yesterday, we bought a few other things as well that we saw while walking the aisles. Had we gone to Wegmans, that wouldn’t happen. I would have gone directly to the dairy and got the cheese and left. But that’s not just because of the way the grocery store is arranged; that’s because of my wallet. I can’t AFFORD to aisle-wander in Wegmans.
Bringing me back to how poor people can’t eat right. My doc is from Amherst, a nice suburb, and likes to suggest I shop at Whole Foods and I like to laugh and laugh until it gets uncomfortable. I can’t buy a head of lettuce in that store. It’s outrageous. It’s outrageous at Wegmans, and some days, I think it’s outrageous at Savealot, too.
When we used to get food stamps, a lot of people were always talking about how folks on EBT were spending it all on steak and lobster and I would laugh and laugh until it got real uncomfortable and then I would go on a rant about how I can barely buy ground beef and tuna fish with the 125$ a month they give us to feed ourselves and maybe you should just sit down and shut up before you make yourself into a fool in front of people who actually deserve help! But I digress.
My point is that even with help, it’s not enough to eat right.
Mom told me Bill Maher went on a tear recently about how America is obese and her response was that maybe if we all had personal chefs and his kind of money that wouldn’t be a problem, which I think sums it up right there. I, personally, am sick of hearing how going organic or something is better for me. Why, I’d love to. Just make it cheaper.
There is a ridiculous amount of poverty in this country and hunger and food-insecurity are real things in our communities, and there are just not enough services in my opinion. I don’t feel as though people should jump though a thousand hoops just for the privilege of eating. Furthermore, I don’t think it should be a frigging privilege.
In my research, a woman led me to FullCart, an online food bank. I filled out the questionnaire and am hoping to hear back soon to see whether I qualify for a free box of food to be shipped to my house. I know there won’t be a fresh thing in that box, but I’m going to try it all and find out what else is available for people who are hungry.
I could really go for a fresh garden salad with chicken and strawberries and walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette for lunch, but instead I’m having a chicken patty on white bread because that only cost me 25 cents to make.
Because you can’t eat right when you’re poor.