Food and Frugality (2/2)

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You see, the foods I need – low fiber, low fat, low-lactose, fast, and cold – cost more. Chopped fruit, cold cut sandwiches, and deli sides cost more the whole fruit, sandwich fixings, and sides you cook yourself. Convenience (which in my case means accommodation) charges at a premium.

Generally the world is okay with middle class families using prepared or semi-prepared foods like I need. And we’re fine with rich families employing personal chefs. It’s poor people, especially poor mothers, who are expected to find the time, energy, and space to cook nutritionally complete dinners seven days a week. (You say “leftovers” and I laugh thinking my child inhaling “family serving” sizes himself on the regular.)

I’ve been poor my whole adult life, but that hasn’t always impacted my eating so much. As a young single adult with no dependants, I worked in restaurants for the discounted food someone else cooked. As a college student, I signed up for a free food text alert system. Each day it let me know where I could find free food on campus, and I’d run over to get it. It wasn’t until I became a mom on food stamps that I struggled to find enough food.

Once I was eating on the taxpayers‘ dime, I felt a bizarre responsibility to eat as cheaply as possible. Generic pasta and rice, whole produce, and large cuts of raw meat, bought in bulk. Of course, even that cost too much, so I switched to canned veggies, and only bought clearance marked meat that had started to turn. But those foods made me sick. IBS went from being part of going to the bathroom to the entirety of my physical existence. I lost twenty pounds but bloated so severely it wasn’t evident.

These days I still struggle, not just to pay for the foods I can eat, but to believe I deserve them. Food is so class stratified, and there’s almost no one more hated than someone trying to eat above their station on a government program. I know other people don’t think I deserve deli meals on food stamps. I know they resent me eating what may appear to be better food. They don’t realize that my food stamps only last midway through the month, and the bulk of expense is paid by me out of my poverty level earnings.

I deserve healthful foods that help my body be its best. So do you. So does everyone. Food stamps should be recognized as a human health service, not “free stuff” or “my tax dollars”. We should want people to eat as well as they are able. But instead people are petty, outraged if poorer people eat better food for even one meal out of their lives. And that hatred gets internalized until it manifests as a poor disabled mom going without food for a week or more. To satisfy the sadism of people with full plates.

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