It’s nearly midnight and I can’t sleep. Hunger is gnawing at my belly. There’s a little food in the pantry, but it has to last the next four days and most of it needs to go to my son. He doesn’t go to bed hungry: I make sure of it.
We qualify for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, better known as food stamps. The government says it’s not supposed to meet all our food needs, but like most recipients, I try to make it stretch to cover everything anyway. Each picture show’s a whole day’s allowance for me.
I don’t eat anything close to enough. I can only afford for myself one meal a day, for the first few weeks of the month. After that it gets worse. I try, desperately, to squeeze all the pleasure I can out of too little food. And at the end, I feel guilty. I fret over every dollar “wasted” on nurturing my own health. Because there is this question of who deserves food.
A lot of people believe beggars can’t be choosers. I am literally a beggar, yet I don’t try to subsist on naught but rice, beans, and water. If I really cared about my own hunger, I’d just make “better” choices, right? Defending my texture aversions and dietary restrictions sounds like an excuse.
And hey, maybe I’m just making up my diagnosed condition of IBS and I really could survive on cheap freezer burritos, except I can’t. My bowels rebel. Do choosy beggars deserve to eat more than one snack a day?
Some days I convince myself that six crackers, an egg, and a can of Coke is a reasonable caloric intake, because after all I’m disabled. I spend my whole day in bed, so what do I need calories for? I might know logically why that’s silly, but sometimes that self loathing is what makes the hunger pangs bearable.
There’s a constant running list of things I need to buy first, expenses that come before me. A winter wardrobe for my son and a trip to the groomers for my cat, a non broken desk for writing and a new bottle of cleaner. Every time I buy myself food, I know I’m pushing back those other purchases, all of which feel more deserving.
When you’re poor, when you rely on social welfare or when you are a beggar, people feel entitled to pass judgment on your every transaction. The more help you ask for, the more entitled they feel. My defense against this is to ask for less than I’m entitled to and less than I need, so I might preserve what scraps of independent dignity I can afford.
Of course, if I’m this hungry it proves I can’t afford those scraps after all. Today I had what I initially thought was an autoimmune flare up, causing excruciating pain in my back. When I caved to “temptation” (hunger) and ate some buttered bread the pain faded. I’ve learned to ignore most normal hunger pangs, so my body resorted to referred pain to get my attention.
I had an eating disorder, officially from age eleven to twenty-six. Since then I’ve managed to have entirely disordered habits, whether I wanted to or not. Poverty is as constraining as anorexia, with some similar outcomes. I am thin, and weak, and crazy.
I don’t know how sane I could be if I wasn’t always hungry. I don’t know how few IBS symptoms I might have, or how few colds I might catch, or how much sleep I might get if I wasn’t always hungry because I literally don’t know what that is like. I have been hungry for twenty-two years.
I went directly from being an anorexic to being pregnant, to being a woman who was still sick and crazy and filled with self loathing, but now had the perfect excuse to martyr myself and my health. I never truly recovered. I just renamed the reason I subsist on fewer than a thousand calories each day. I’d like to get better but I can’t afford to. I already have to beg each month to pay my bills: food for myself feels like a luxury I have no right to expect or ask for.
But I am asking now. I’m asking you to become a subscriber. Ask your friends to become patrons too. And lobby Congress for increased food stamps for all of us. Knowing every other mom on food stamps is likely suffering the same silent starvation makes me feel selfish asking for myself yet I have to. You can also contribute directly using PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org
I’m posting this now while my hunger is stronger than shame, or I will convince myself I’m unworthy.