I fell off the face of the Earth. I'd heard a lot of people talk about it..."It's like he fell off the face of the Earth" or "I wouldn't care if she fell off the face of the Earth." So I gave it a try. Why not? It seemed to be working for many other people. Let me tell you, time really flies by when you do this. Everything and everyone you left behind may or may not be there when you get back, and what is certain to remain are the problems you tried to leave behind. On the bright side, falling off the face of the earth gives you time to reflect on your life and to shake off the dust and see that the most important things and people are still there for you once you return.
Are you still out there readers? I may have taken a leave of absence from writing about my Adventures in Eating, but I certainly never stopped having adventures! They were (and still are) adventures I never would have pictured myself having. How spoiled have I become? How spoiled are many of the middle and upper class folks who take eating for granted? Wait...I don't want to lose your attention with preaching, because that is not what I plan to do here. I had the opportunity to take a glimpse into what it is like to not know where your next meal will come from, and to know that it is quite possible that it could happen to me.
Calamity struck at every turn; it seemed, for me, my family and for close friends. Just as the semester came to a close my relationship ended and my apartment flooded. My dad, who supports his daughter in her endeavor to get through college, had knee surgery and then ended up with multiple pulmonary embolisms. Little did we know that our lives were about to change that Saturday evening when my dad had to be taken to the E.R. for what we feared was another heart attack. Considering his diagnosis, we are lucky he is still alive! My dad cannot return to work as long as he is on blood thinners because of the danger that he might cut himself, fall, or bruise himself. My parents expected to live off of half of his pay, but so far that hasn't been the case. The last pay check he received was for a whopping $140.
Not only has my ability to buy groceries been diminished; for the first time in decades my parents are unable to spend liberally at the grocery store. When every penny you make goes to simply surviving, food usually takes a back-seat. Finally, a close friend of mine lost his job and eventually his home. While he looks for work that will pay him enough to cover his living expenses, he works making minimum wage in a factory setting set up through a staffing agency. He knows all too well what it's like to go without breakfast, lunch, or dinner. He applied for SNAP benefits, and boy do they make it difficult! There is usually some form of red-tape and it requires a lot of waiting around for appointments, phone calls, and wading through automated systems. He has a "job" so all SNAP is willing to offer him is $16 a month in assistance. Really? I suppose a single man, with no children, in between stable work only consumes $16 worth of food every month.
I join him at the grocery store pretty often, and I see the quality of food he is able to afford. It has to be cheap, it has to last, and it has to fill him up. Ramen noodles of course, canned soups, milk, eggs, bread. Basic staples. Can he afford the high quality whole grain bread? Can he afford free-range eggs? Can he afford "organic" milk? Of course not! Meat is a luxury, and even fresh fruits and vegetables are a luxury. You would have to be pretty creative, a good planner, and have the time and energy to get all of the recommended servings of all of the food groups and to make sure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. This was a huge wake-up call for me as an aspiring Dietitian. How can we presume to tell people how and what to eat, and hope to improve the health of the community if it's cheaper and easier for folks to eat junk? For a dollar, he can eat a McDouble on his lunch break.
Lately my mom has been experimenting with making cheap dinners, and they usually don't stretch very far between me, her and my dad. Using beans as the protein in a meal, vegetarian style, is a cheap way to fill every one up. For dinner last night we had a pot of pinto beans and onions, served with a side of fried potatoes and corn bread. Rice and pasta dishes are also prominent for those who are trying to make a hefty meal on the cheap. It reminded me of something I heard on one of those reality shows about rich people, "Poor people eat carbs." Yes, indeed they do, because they can't really afford to eat any other way.
Not everyone I know is struggling to eat well, and to me that is a huge relief. I know people who are still able to eat at restaurants several times a week and keep their kitchens well stocked. I truly believe that everything happens for a reason and that every situation I end up in is an opportunity for me to learn something. After my experience with applying for SNAP benefits and learning that if I have NO job and am a full time student I am NOT eligible for benefits, but if I HAVE a job and am a full time student, then I AM eligible. Even the woman on the phone, working for Health and Human Services, could see how silly this is, but...it's "policy." I am beginning to understand why it is so important for Dietitians to be able to lobby the government for change. Time will tell if this slow moving, archaic dinosaur known as welfare is helping or hindering those who need it most.
While I'm typing this blog the news is reporting that Texas is #12 in the nation for obesity. Womp, womp.