About a year ago I met a woman. She is a single, hard working mom with three kids. For a number of years she was on welfare. She received state funded insurance and food assistance. She worked but was still had low enough income that qualified her for aid.
Luckily for her, all the hard work paid off and she was promoted up to General Manager at her job. She works for one of the dollar type stores (Family Dollar, Dollar General or something similar). Her income increased thankfully. She was now making enough money to be off food stamps and was only receiving supplemental insurance.
This is supposed to be great news right? Well it wasn’t.
Now that she was full time and management, she is receiving insurance benefits but has to pay a certain amount for it. She no longer qualifies for food stamps and is paying for all food on her own. She also has to work the maximum she is allowed to work each week (55 hours) to get as much money as she possibly can.
I stood there talking to her for quite awhile. I was receiving food stamps as well so we had a few things to talk about.
We got to talking about nutrition. And our discussion is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Eating healthy is expensive but eating cheap is essential.
I have received food assistance for the past four years (while married when my ex-husband was unemployed & then again when I left him and was unemployed). For the past three months, I have not had food stamps. I still qualify for them but for a couple of reasons, I have not requested them.
I have been buying the bare essentials to get through each week. I’m forgoing nutrient rich foods in order to save money. My refrigerator use to be full of fresh fruits and veggies. Right now it has one apple and a few strawberries (those weren’t cheap either). I use to make these great salads to eat but I can’t afford to be spending $20 a week on fresh produce alone.
The woman I spoke to last year stated something similar. When she was on food stamps, her family ate a lot better. Now her grocery cart contains the who’s-who of sodium laden, fatty foods that can be purchased dirt cheap.
Where once she was buying fruit juices, fresh produce and lean meats, she is now purchasing packaged side dishes, processed meats and fruit flavored sugary drinks.
Cheap foods are not typically healthy foods.
If you have read anything from a dieting guru, you will know that they always say “shop the perimeter of the store.” The reason they say this is because that is where the healthiest foods are held. That is also where the fewest of foods with coupons available are held.
If you are shopping on a budget, you will find that the cheapest items are not healthy. Produce doesn’t go on sale too often. In fact produce is hit by economic changes faster than any other food. And when the price is lower, on apples for example, you can’t stock up too much because they will go bad. Coupons are rarely available for items like produce.
The woman I met and discussed this with told me a startling fact. Her daughter was of average weight when they were on food stamps but since she became ineligible for them (and there by forcing her to really watch what she spends on her food budget), her daughter had put on 25 pounds. I’ve seen this within myself as well. I’ve gained about 10 pounds in the past two months. I’m not buying the fresh produce I once purchased regularly. I’m opting for cheaper, lower quality meals in an effort to save money.
The Kool-aid effect
I’ve come to think of this harsh cycle of unhealthy eating as The Kool-aid Effect. The less money you make, the tighter your food budget becomes and with that, the lower quality of food is purchased. Where as once we may have been drinking 100% fresh juice, now it is kool-aid.
*Just a side-bar, I do not actually drink Kool-aid and will never serve it to my children. I’m thinking more of the lower income, less educated population who do not realize that drinks like Hi-C or CapriSun are actually full of sugar and not healthy. Statistically, low income goes hand in hand with less educated.
In my case, it isn’t the sugary drinks that we are consuming, it’s the overly processed side dishes that are replacing my freshly steamed broccoli or large salads.
The Kool-aid effect and health
What I see as a further issue is that this consumption of lower quality foods leads to health problems such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, etc. These are health problems that plague the poor.
For me, I can see clear solutions to these problems. It would seem to me that hard-working people like the woman I spoke with would benefit from further food assistance. She works hard, moved up in the company but once she did, she is actually worse off because she now has to pay for insurance and puts more money out for food. The health of her and her family is suffering. This will lead to higher medical costs.
Wouldn’t it be better to increase the food assistance allowance some?
I certainly don’t have all of the answers. This is just another issue I have encountered that is directly linked to my financial status. Now that I’ve realized what I have been unconsciously doing with my grocery shopping, I’m going to make a concerted effort to shop wiser. (I’m definitely giving up my horrendous addiction to Coca Cola!) I simply must make room in my budget for fresh produce, it is not an option for me.
For others who are in similar shoes, I’m not sure how they can make changes. If I had more than 2 kids for more than 1/2 of the month, I would be doubling my food budget just in fresh produce. That would be tough. I can certainly see how other families with more children pass on more expensive foods in order to feed everyone.
Photo Credit: vox_eft on Flickr
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