We've talked a lot about the cost of providing oneself with nutritious food choices, but never before has this been more apparent than this weekend. I was in Utah, which I regularly forget is mostly desert.
I had offered to make dinner one night, so off we went to a regular suburban grocery store with a list of essentials. I was planning a peasant-y autumn meal, but wanted to amp up the vitamin content of the meat and potatoes meal, so I grabbed an organic spring lettuce mix and a largish butternut squash.
The groceries for the meal cost $90, and while granted, one of the things I bought was a $5 bottle of almond extract, I also didn't need to buy things like olive oil or red wine vinegar that were needed for the salad dressing.
The shocker of the trip was that butternut squash, which ended up being $8.70! Um, hello, isn't squash in season right now? Two weeks ago at my own local farmer's market, I bought a similarly sized squash for $1.25. Of course, I live in an area of the country referred to as the dinner belt, but it really allowed me to realize what families in food deserts are dealing with every day. (See how our pal Kim hosts a dinner party on a budget.)
For Hunger Action Month, Illinois State Representative Kathy Ryg blogged about her experiences trying to eat on the $25 a week that is allocated to people on food stamps and she was alarmed by the reality that is faced every day by folks with low incomes:
"(I) went to my Target Superstore to buy my store brand staples: loaf of bread, jar of peanut butter, box of cereal, box of macaroni shells, jar of pasta sauce, 4 oranges @ $1 each!!!!, small brick of cheese and bag of frozen spinach leaves. My total bill was $19.53 - figured I could use the milk, jelly and eggs I had at home but if I had to buy them I would be right at the $25.Clearly I was not going to be eating very healthy - the fresh fruit and vegetables would not fit into my budget, neither did frozen or canned. Frozen spinach in a pasta dish and my 4 oranges for a week fall far short of the recommended 5 servings/day."
Last year, members of Congress took the challenge, but they only lived on $21 a week:
"Feeling full on $3 a day is one challenge; eating nutritionally is virtually impossible. Illinois Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky's week's worth of fruits and vegetables consisted of one tomato, one potato, a head of lettuce, and five bananas. Health problems are a likely result of the food stamp diet because the cheapest foods are carbs: bread, tortillas, crackers, rice, beans, ramen and noodles. It's easy to see why type 2 diabetes is an epidemic in America."
Here's how one man solved the problem of the lack fresh produce in the inner city.
I think back to the choices I made back in college, where I had about $30 every two weeks to feed myself. I basically lived on instant mashed potatoes and my one splurge item, frozen whole kernel corn. The only protein that made it into my grocery cart was peanut butter. Fresh fruits and vegetables were out of the question, and I would have been screwed if bread had cost more than 39 cents a squishy loaf. There are no choices made for the sake of health because the more crucial need is filling your growling stomach. And I, like the people taking the food challenges, had the luxury of a working vehicle and could look through newspapers to find the best sales.It really makes me wonder what people on limited incomes, relying on WIC and food stamps are doing now, as the cost of food continues to skyrocket. When I went to the farmer's market in San Francisco, walking back to my car, I was hit with a sense of regret as I passed four homeless people. I had a brief flash of going back to the market, buying some more incredible pears and maybe a bag of apples, and then just walking around handing them out to the homeless of San Francisco. Then a friend texted me, to make plans for the rest of the day and I conveniently dismissed my idea to become a hunger vigilante version of Johnny Appleseed. And now the sense of regret is back, because I should have done that. I should have risked dealing with the mentally ill and possibly obnoxious rumpled residents of Market Street and made the world just a tiny bit better. In retribution, I'll give my monthly charity budget to the local food pantry, and in the future, I will grab those little inspirations and run with them.
Related: Bring this list on your next trip to the supermarket and you'll be surprised how easy it is to stay healthy and satisfied.
[photo credit: Getty Images]
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