By Michelle Los
Of course, a week ago I had the best of intentions and planned to check in here on this blog far more often than I have, but the week seems to have gotten away from me. In truth, my own personal blog hasn't received this much attention this week either. This highlights my biggest take-away from the SNAP challenge – how much time and energy my self-imposed tight food budget requires.
This highlights one of the many privileges I have enjoyed this week that someone who was actually living in a food insecure reality might not have enjoyed – I have the time to prepare decent food. Although it hasn’t been entirely healthy (I miss fresh vegetables), Peter and I sacrificed calories and convenience for nutrition and time. A week later, we have several pounds lost between the two of us and entire evenings devoted exclusively to the preparation of food. When I was working two jobs, 70 hours a week and still lived on the constant precipice of not having enough food in the kitchen, this was a luxury I could never have afforded.
Also on the list of privileges, a vehicle and money to put gas in the tank. After seven days, Peter and I have visited 4 (four!) different grocery stores. The bulk of our shopping was done at Aldi on Franklin Avenue, supplemented by a visit to the Quarry Rainbow. Halfway through the week, we satisfied a serious sweets craving at Target (Central Ave, just south of I-694) with a very cheap box of generic brand cookies. Finally, we picked up additional fresh fruit at Mike’s Discount Foods on University Avenue, way up north in Fridley.
Mike’s is a bargain shopper’s dream – they sell food that is past its sell-by date for ridiculously low prices. We picked up a few apples, a container of fresh blackberries, a pound of red grapes and a bottle of 100% juice for about $6.50. But given that the store with the greatest selection is outside the city’s perimeter and the hours are fairly limited compared to a big box grocery store, it just wouldn’t be accessible for many people living on food stamps. It’s also worth considering the fact that you do run additional risk buying food at Mike’s – you may end up wasting your money (I’ve had fresh fruit go bad in 24 hours before) or even make yourself sick (the food is past its date, after all).
Also high on the list of privileges was that I continued taking my prescription medicine all week. I have asthma, which worsens when the weather gets colder. A few years ago, I was prescribed Advair to reduce my dependence on a rescue inhaler. It isn’t available as a generic and, even with health insurance, a three-month supply puts me back about $200. Asthma is found at higher rates in lower-income populations (and there are many, many, many reasons why), but the medicine I take would be completely unfeasible (even just the co-pay, much less trying to purchase it without insurance) in tougher economic circumstances.
To make matters worse, albuterol inhalers containing CFCs were removed from the market by the FDA (even though inhalers were only 0.01% of the US CFC output). Naturally, the CFC-free inhaler is still not available as a generic. My cost for an inhaler increased from $3 to $40. Imagine the burden that would put on a lower-income family – potentially with no health insurance – and a child who couldn’t breathe.
So, at the end of this ramble – it is all interconnected. Food insecurity leads to poorer health and reiterating the cycle of poverty. You find yourself forced to make choices between nutritious food and food that will likely worsen your health – although it is unlikely you’ll be able to afford good medical care, should that happen. It also eats away at your mental state – the constant concern about whether or not there will be enough food at the end of the week. Although I could have easily broken the challenge and replaced it, I still found myself close to tears when I spilled the remainder of my half-gallon of milk all over the floor yesterday. Then it struck me how much more scary it would have been if I had been planning to feed someone other than myself with that milk.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays of the year – and I’m making a point to be especially thankful for how fortunate I am as tomorrow approaches.