What Is It Like to be Hungry?

I’ve never gone hungry before.

Sure, I mean, I’ve fasted and skipped a meal here and there and felt pretty hungry during those times, but I have never had to worry about where my next meal is coming from.

I’ve been thinking about this because I am aware that hunger exists all around me. I saw it in Africa and I am face to face with it again in my job. I see it in the faces of the people who go through the line at the food bank to pick up their monthly bag of food with their food stamps.

food bank

And there is not much choice beyond what is offered. The items in the picture above are samples of what might be available in any given week. In summertime, there will be more fresh produce and fruits from the farmer’s markets.

Someone I talked to last week had the opinion that there are food bank customers who have little or no cooking skills and many of them are third generation welfare clients who don’t know anything different. They just go with what is familiar and modeled for them by their caregivers.

As soon as some people get their stamps, they go to the grocery store to get their food and then with whatever is left over, use the rest at the food bank. But all too often, when the month is not quite half over, they find themselves out of food and out of luck.

Apparently, this person felt that many of them are not even interested in cooking classes and won’t participate.

He also felt that clients should go to the food bank first to see what is offered and THEN go to the grocery store. This would provide more choices and also perhaps make the supply last a little longer.

Some of these food bank customers may have had steady jobs and back then it was easy to just simply  look in the refrigerator and see what was appealing. If there was nothing appetizing, it is easy enough to go to the store and pick something up. And when that changes and they find themselves out of money, they have to plan every meal and be diligent about using every ingredient they have.

What I understood from this conversation is that it is stressful, having to manage the resources you have and to make them last until the next cycle. This stuff I am hearing and seeing is only the tip of the iceberg in my learning curve.

I take it all for granted: having food within reach and having it any time I want. I’m usually pretty good about planning our meals for the week and only go to the store at most twice a week if it is a solid meal plan. But this week I went to the store way more often than I usually do.

When I learned about these things, I actually felt ashamed of my behavior. It is all very eye-opening and humbling for me. I will say that I am now more aware of my actions and want to make more effort to be conscientious about how I spend my time and money. It is so easy to just hop in the car and dash to the grocery store for that one ingredient I am missing. And I want to make excuses: well, I was busy working and taking the kids here and there…

And I really don’t know enough about the hunger issue. I just know that I’m more aware of it and am trying to figure out how to sort through the political, social, psychological, economical complexities behind it.

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2 Responses to What Is It Like to be Hungry?

  1. Nan says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I can really relate what you are saying about food shopping/cooking behavior. I grew up with nearly nightly dashes to the convenience store to get a specific ingredient we were missing for dinner. (both my parents worked.) Then I got married to man who grew up with ONE main trip to the grocery store per month, and tiny weekly trips to the edge of the grocery store for for milk and fresh produce only. They usually didn’t make that trip the last week of the month, being out of money and ate unusual combinations of food with whatever was left. He was military, and all your fresh bread/buns was frozen for the month except for one loaf at a time. (His aunt recently told me she used to get 50 lb bags of oats at the feed mill, (packaged for horses) and feed it to to her kids for a few months. (Oatmeal, oat bran muffins, oat bread, etc.) She claims it is the same as what is in the store, but at a fraction of the cost!

    Anyway, it was a real change for me to learn to substitute for what we needed for what we had. (He was also in the military for the first few years of our marriage. We got paid twice a month, so it wasn’t as bad for us, as it was for his folks as they only got paid once a month and all their vegetables and fruits were canned.) But, I did learn some things: serve hamburgers and hot dogs on bread instead of buns, make spaghetti sauce with tomato soup, sloppy joes with water-downed ketchup left in the end of the bottle, and that old Italian salad dressing makes a decent meat marinade. I learned to always purchase LOTS of fresh onions and canned mushrooms as they could be added to bulk up just about anything. Sorry to say, 30 years later, we haven’t kept up this behavior as the military life has long since passed. I also no longer have multiple young people staying with us and keeping our refrigerator empty. There is just three of us, our baby is 21 and in her last year of nursing school, has two jobs and is rarely home. So now, our cupboards and two refrigerators are usually overflowing. Time to change our shopping/cooking behavior again! 😉 But hey, thanks for the memories! 🙂

  2. Consuelo says:

    I clearly remember the days when I would have to leave items at the check-out stand because I didn’t have enough money to buy everything I had wanted, and I remember a couple of times a customer in line behind me took pity on me and paid the difference for the poor college student trying to decide between leaving milk or bread behind, and who hadn’t had enough sense to bring a calculator and add up the groceries as she shopped.

    I also remember being appalled at the foods that were “approved” for purchase using the WIC food checks when I was pregnant and nursing my new baby….many items filled with unhealthy sugars, and never organic. The one fabulous thing was that WIC also offered Farmer’s Market food vouchers, and I LOVED going and spending my money on the beautiful local healthy organic produce.

    I’ve often wondered about the quality of food bank donations, so many of them (like the ones in the picture above) filled with artificial ingredients, sugars and syrups, preservatives, GMO grains and BPA. What is a poor and needy but health-conscious and cook-from-scratch food bank customer to do? What about those with Celiac, or breast cancer, or autism? Many health issues dictate avoiding such things as gluten, sugar, or food dyes.

    Now that I don’t have to worry about running out of money for my groceries at the check-out stand, whenever I donate to the food bank, usually the one at PCC, I always pick something as healthy as possible, even if it is expensive. I’ve been on the receiving end, it’s time to pay it forward in this small way.

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