November 10, 2013

Food Insecurity is just a fancy word for Hunger

I am beginning to research hunger especially among children in my community.  I'm not sure why this came to mind one day, but it did.  I have never gone hungry although when I was a child food was scarce when my dad's union went on strike.  We still ate, but at times it was just oatmeal.  I don't remember feeling hungry as the oatmeal filled me up, I just wished I had more choices.

Recently the government cut back on food assistance benefits (SNAP program) effective November 1st.  I know that there are people who abuse the system.  There will always be abusers, however I know that there are more people in need that don't abuse the system versus those that do.  Of particular interest to me are the children.  No matter what choices the parents make, children have no decisions in the matter.  In our country it is beyond my comprehension why a child should go without food.  

Many families are under employed or have been unemployed for a long time.  Having access to food is a priority and in my opinion is the right of every American.  This country produces enough food for all of us, it's just that some of us can afford food and some of us can't.

I have been watching videos on You Tube regarding people on SNAP and what it is like to be a mother and not be able to feed her children.  I have watched many videos produced by "Feeding America."  All of this got me to wonder what it would be like to be a single mom receiving SNAP benefits for her and her school aged son during the summer months.  This means no free school breakfast, lunch or after school program because it is summer.  So, what would this look like? It looks like $1.40 per person per meal.  

Instead of going on the food stamp challenge myself, I want to come up with meals on the above limited amount of money for 1 week for this type of scenario:  single mom with a school age son.  I am going to use the advertisement from the nearest grocery store and make up a list of food choices as if I am living in poverty.   I am assuming that I won't have a car and will have to walk to the nearest store for groceries.  

Here is what I would like from my readers:  I need your help in setting up this scenario.  

1.  What items would you think this type of person would have on hand that I wouldn't have to buy on my first shopping trip?  For example, ketchup, mustard, sugar, flour, soy sauce, salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic powder.  What do you think someone would have in their cupboard?  You may think that someone in a dire situation wouldn't have any of the above, and if so, let me hear from you.

2.  I have never been to a food pantry.  In our community I know that I would need to be referred.  Let's say that I get a referral, give me a list of a few items you think I would be able to get from my local food pantry for the week.  Set the situation for me.  

3.  Give me any other ideas to set this situation up.  Be brutal as I want to really have this as a challenge just as if I was this mom, underemployed, and struggling to feed my son.  I want to experience the sadness, fear and pain of figuring this all out.

So, give me your ideas so I can set up the challenge for myself.


Anonymous said...

There was a very interesting article in the Nov. 9 issue of the Washington Post on this topic, entitled "Too much of too little." It highlighted a mother down near the Mexican border in south Texas and her challenges to feed her five children healthy meals on a very limited budget. The subtitle was "A diet fueled by food stamps is making south Texans obese but leaving them hungry."

Here's the link:

seyrey said...

Martha - Why not take it a step further - example person's house/apt burned and they have nothing in the pantry or they had to flee an abusive relationship and so had nothing. Food insecurity is a very scary prospect for many people - unfortunately some I know that have food stamps feel that they are then entitled to things like lobster/shrimp/expensive steak. Others I know work hard to make their food stamps last and are careful in their purchasing.

Aunt Betsy said...

First, I want to tell you about a program that provides food for needy children to have to help feed them over the weekends.
Back to your questions. When I was a single mom of 4 children yes, I usually had catsup and Miracle Whip. Spices other than salt & pepper? No, spices are very expensive when you are on a severe budget. Treats of any kind? No. In the 1980's when I received food stamps, as it was called then, I had to make it stretch just to have hamburger, canned vegetables, milk, bread, basic things like that to last the month. I quit accepting food stamps as soon as I could, even though I qualified, because of the shame, and horrid remarks other customers in the grocery store made to me. Back then you had a booklet of "food stamps" that looked like Monopoly money in size so everyone in line behind you knew how you were paying. Instead I fed my children a lot of beans and cornbread. I have never been to a food bank but I know someone who has and they got peanut butter, canned vegetables, canned fruit and canned soup. Fresh fruits & veggies are hard to come by at food banks unless your town has a food bank garden as mine does. Another problem for single moms, besides food, is that most have no source or assistance for buying toilet tissue, kleenex, or sanitary pads. Those items as well as laundry detergent, deoderant, bath soap, dish washing detergent are expensive items when you have little money.

Paula said...

Here in Arkansas, I volunteer at both the local food pantry and the distribution of government commodities (TEFAP--The Emergency Food Assistance Program.)

Our food pantry runs on private donations. We give to anyone who says they need food. We prefer they be from our county and try to refer others to places in their own county, but turn no one away.

The government commodity program now only asks name, address, income, and size of household. They do have income guidelines.

At the pantry, two Saturdays a month, people usually get two cans each of green beans, corn, peas, canned dried beans,two cans of other vegetables, one frozen meat or canned meat, one canned meat dish, such as ravioli, two cans of soup, a can of fruit, either pancake mix and syrup or cereal or oatmeal, mac and cheese, potato mix, spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, brownie mix or other dessert, a helper type mix, peanut butter and crackers. If we have them, cornbread mix, ramen, all sorts of odds and ends that have been donated. We have a small amount of canned milk and try to save it for families with children.

One problem is that some of the families are so poor that they don't always have what we think of as staples, always there. For instance, they may not have an egg to go in the brownie mix. Any mixes that are "complete" are good donations.

When the pantry is full right after food drives, we may give out more and better food. When it is low, they may get a much smaller selection.

TEFAP varies widely month to month. On average, they get two cans each of green beans,corn, peas, dried beans, fruit,canned beef stew, some juice, dry beans or potatoes,and one meat. Some months there is no meat. Last month was good, each person got two packages of frozen catfish fillets and a boneless leg of lamb roast. Sometimes they get a turkey or ham. Sometimes no meat. You just never know.

As for what dishes I would suggest, I wish more people learned the skills of buying up groceries when they are cheapest and building a supply when they DO have money, rather than spending it all on the wants of today when they have grocery money. I wish they learned the skills to make inexpensive soups and baked goods from staples, instead of depending on mixes.

One ham or turkey can be stretched into many meals. Just a small amount of ham makes a potato soup or pot of beans taste rich and provides enough protein.

Refried bean and cheese burritos are an inexpensive meal and a complete protein, as are plain beans and cornbread.

Even a pot of beans can be stretched. Cook a big pot and serve with cornbread the first night. The second night use some of the leftovers in chili and use less meet. And so on. The rest can be used as a side dish with other meals, or for lunch.

The same with a pot of chili. A small amount of leftover chili is enough to serve on baked potatoes, with a cheap green vegetable.

Oatmeal cooked with a little chopped apple, cinnamon and raisins is cheaper than dry cereal or pop tarts!

One of Jimmy Carter's daughters-in-law once did an experiment where she lived on strictly what she could buy with food stamps, starting with nothing. That meant at first her only seasonings were salt and pepper. It's been a long time since I read about it. I do remember that she said she learned why people on food stamps bought unwise things like potato chips when they got their stamps, they were starved for TASTE. Of course, that takes us back to the life skills of pantry building when times are good, and cooking knowledge.

Lee Ann said...

This is an issue that concerns me. Not so much regarding children, which is important, but just in general. I find myself struggling as I am conservative by faith, politics etc but am somewhat middle of the road when it comes to hunger, food stamps etc...
Some families have done all of the right things and they are STILL struggling. They've cut out extras and STILL struggling.
I do think that snap could use some revamping. Such as buying food products like staple items, meats, produce, fruits not chips, cokes, cakes. Also let the families buy toiletries like bathroom tissue, toothpaste with snap instead of the junk food.
I also think giving easy to follow recipes and instructions could go a long ways.

Paula said...

One place you might find information for your project is The Prudent Homemaker. She has both a blog and a website. On the blog, she has a series of articles on how she feeds her family on forty cents per person per day.

She has many talents and is a wealth of information on doing literally everything from scratch, although she is overboard for my taste. You are a much more normal type of frugal homemaker to me. For instance, I wouldn't live in a half million dollar house if it meant I was going to refuse to fix my kids a burger when ground beef went over $2 a pound, or use as little as a quarter pound of meat in a pot of soup for nine people.

Paula said...

Red beans and rice, or black beans and rice, are tasty cheap dishes, with a side of sauteed cabbage. Smoked sausage is good with it, but not necessary for complete nutrition.

Baroness Prudent Spending said...

Hi! Unfortunately, I cannot give you much advice as I have not been in this situation but I think a lot will depend on where you are when you find yourself on SNAP as well as the skills you have (e.g. can you cook). It's possible to have a lot of spices etc. on hand and then suddenly you are on benefits.

If you are really interested in this topic, I highly recommend the UK blog A Girl Called Jack. It is about a young single mother who found herself on benefits when she quit her job. (She quit her job because she couldn't get the child care situation right and then couldn't find a new job.) She started blogging about her situation, discovered she can cook on very little money and is a now (1-2 years later) an advocate for food poverty in the UK. She is also an author having taken her recipes and sold them to a major publisher. Food banks give out her recipes.


alaskadreamin said...

What a great idea. I have thought of doing this myself. I was a child of a single mother in the 70's & we lived on food stamps. The items I remember eating and having on hand were, corn flakes, Cheerios, wheatieS shredded wheat, instant rice, pinto beans(dried), canned green beans, Campbell's cream soups, margarine, ketchup, milk, flour, sugar,spaghetti, tomato sauce, we didn't have syrup for pancakes, but mom made syrup with sugar & imitation maple flavoring. Of corse we didn't have all those cereals all the time or all at once, but we hardly ever had sugar cereals. We also ate oatmeal, cream of rice or cooked rice with cinnamon, sugar & milk over it. Hamburger patties,with mashed potatoes & canned green beans, tuna casserole, spaghetti, a pot of beans & cornbread, homemade Mac & cheese were often on our dinner table. Cheap homemade meals. We did have stove top popped corn ALOT & mom splurged on icemilk(cheap store brand ice cream)., it was always vanilla flavor. Sometimes we had homemade cobbler or homemade cake or cookies. Jello was also a staple as well as cottage cheese. Mom canned fruits when ever she got a bunch & black berries were plentiful as we're apples. None of us kids ever went hungry on food stamps, nor were we overweight.

alaskadreamin said...

Also, I wanted to mention a story I read in the Oregonian at least 13 years ago about a single mother on welfare who desperately wanted off of it. She wanted to go to college but would lose her housing & food stamps, etc. somehow she pleaded with them to keep her on welfare so she could attend college, and get a better paying job so she could take care of her family. It wasn't an easy task as she was rejected many times before she succeeded in getting approved. After completing her degree she ended up teaching food stamp recipients how to stretch their monthly stipend to make it last. She taught them how to price compare, how to cook from scratch, & avoid per packaged items as much as possible. Even buying instant pudding was considered per packaged as she taught that making pudding from scratch was a lot cheaper than spending a $1 for a 4 serving pkg of pudding. Long story short, I was amazed at her story & wish I had saved the article. Even I didn't think about making my own pudding. Her point as that more people could be successful if the had the tools of the trade(understood how to stretch their dollars).

Jackie Mc Guinness said...

I follow you through Bloglovin' but can't make any comments from there.

What a fascinating project. I would also guess they would have rice.

Living in a large diverse city such as Toronto I think pantry contents would differ.

Here is a link to our local food bank

Paula said...

It's impossible to know if anyone else is participating in this discussion or not, but I keep thinking about your challenge.

I forgot to mention that the government commodities usually have two or three cans of spaghetti sauce.

About the list of things that a person might have in their cupboard already. It depends on why the mother is single and under what circumstances she asked for assistance. If she has been in a stable home and was recently widowed, or at least if poverty is a change in circumstances, she would probably have all those things. Plus, cheapie brands of them are available at the dollar stores. However, if she is single because she left an abusive husband with nothing and was in a shelter until she found some work or qualified for subsidized housing, she may be starting with literally nothing.

Anonymous said...

When I was in a desperate situation, many years ago, I could not afford to buy anything in bulk, and did not have a freezer, other than a tiny one just big enough for a block of ice-cream, but I rarely had anything in it. Does this help give you more of a perspective?

But I am glad for the education in survival that I got. I'm pretty sure that it will come in handy soon.

Anonymous said...

When I was in a desperate situation, many years ago, I could not afford to buy anything in bulk, and did not have a freezer, other than a tiny one just big enough for a block of ice-cream, but I rarely had anything in it. Does this help give you more of a perspective?

But I am glad for the education in survival that I got. I'm pretty sure that it will come in handy soon.

Anonymous said...

When I was in a desperate situation, many years ago, I could not afford to buy anything in bulk, and did not have a freezer, other than a tiny one just big enough for a block of ice-cream, but I rarely had anything in it. Does this help give you more of a perspective?

But I am glad for the education in survival that I got. I'm pretty sure that it will come in handy soon.

Linda said...

This is a very interesting interview with a woman whose family's financial situation took a real nosedive and they must rely on food banks.

Kathy said...

Interesting idea.
One problem, from what I've read, is that there aren't grocery stores nearby for many who are struggling and on food stamps, Their food choices are sometimes limited to what can be purchased at convenience stores.

I hadn't thought about what condiments and spices someone on food stamps might have. Maybe nothing other than salt and pepper.
I wonder if food banks would appreciate a few things like that?

Anonymous said...

If this person just started receiving assistance due to a hardship, such as a job loss, death of a spouse or divorce, they would probably have a few things in their pantry. I'm guessing just the basics, like sugar, flour, a few spices like salt, pepper and maybe some ketchup. I read an article somewhere that most people have less than a 2 week supply of food in their home. I posted a link to this on my Facebook page, so I hope you get a few responses from that.

Paula said...

Martha, I have no way of knowing if you have finished your project, but thought of something you might like to know.

The little local food pantry where I volunteer is only open two Saturdays a month and an extra day to give out Christmas baskets. We cannot keep the fresh things that big city pantries give out, but this is a list of what we usually give for the Christmas basket.

One turkey, ham, or hen
2 cans each green beans, corn, yams
1 can cranberry sauce
1 box stuffing mix and can of broth
1 cake mix or brownie mix
frosting if we have any
1 can pumpkin and 1 can cond. milk

We have some donations of sugars, karo syrup, coconut, etc., not enough for everyone, but we give them out as far as they go to help if people want to bake.

The owner of the local pizza place buys from her supplier and repackages to add:

3 lb chunk of provolone
5 pounds potatoes
5 lbs. sugar
5 lbs. flour
disposable shakers of salt and pepper

When I was a girl and my mother and her friends went together to make baskets for the needy, they gave foods for cooking from scratch so the meals would be GOOD. Eggs, celery, corn bread mix, flour, baking powder, and broth, so that people could make cornbread and biscuits, then make real dressing. Fresh sweet potatoes. Small can of shortening for pie crust.

I am not in charge of buying and the woman who is insists that our clients do not want to cook that way. Nothing I can do about that.

Hope this is useful.

Martha said...

@Paula: I am still working on this. See my new post as of today and you will see what I have been up to. The info you posted is greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Paula said...

Lee Ann, I once did activist work with some members of the Cherokee Nation. The Indian commodities are STAPLES, white and whole wheat flour, rice, macaroni, cheese, canned milk,canned meat, etc. There are simple, basic recipes on the packages. I think it would be better if the federal commodities went back to the way they used to give staples like that, instead of processed food.