Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Guarding the Food



A friend of mine recently decided to take the SNAP Challenge:

“The SNAP Challenge encourages participants to get a sense of what life is like for millions of low-income Americans facing hunger. By accepting the SNAP Challenge, you’ll commit to eating all of your meals from a limited food budget comparable to that of a SNAP participant – $1.50 per meal.” 

Meg’s recording her results, thoughts, feelings, experiences on her blog, This Big Happy. Since three of my children and I are on SNAP, I have eagerly read her blog posts. And even though I’ve gotten SNAP benefits for a year now, a lot of what she’s experienced and written about has been eye opening for me.

Or rather, maybe I should say it’s made me realize things I’ve dealt with and felt, but hadn’t thought about them much, because they’re just an everyday way of life for me. And they're not pleasant. 

But as I was thinking about it today, I decided to write it down. And thus, this post. 

On Day 2 of my friend’s SNAP Challenge, she wrote: 

“I actively worried when my son asked if he could drink the last bit of milk because I knew I couldn’t just run to the store and get more milk, and I knew the baby would need at least one more bottle that day. How do you choose who gets the last glass of milk? Unfortunately these are the daily decisions people who depend on SNAP have to make.” 

~Meg, SNAP Challenge Day 2

And that’s when a flood of realizations came to me, of what I deal with but don’t really think about too much, because #1-I hate going through them, and #2-it’s too frustrating because there isn’t much I can do about it. 

I hate to say this, but I have had to watch our milk all the time, and the kids get into the kitchen and take it without asking and then we don't have enough for cereal in the morning (the boys' favorite choice for breakfast) or for a recipe I’m making for supper. 

I tell them to drink water, which I drink almost exclusively, but they have always complained that they hate it, that they don’t like the “taste.” I’ve always said, that’s the point, it *has* no taste. We use a filter on our kitchen tap to take out the chlorine taste and anything else bad in it.

So far Megan will drink one or two glasses of water a day, and Ryan has been drinking ice water exclusively for three weeks now! Yay me for bringing someone else over to my side!! ;) 

But back to what Meg said, about how you choose who gets the last of the milk? I feel awful about that, and I also feel stressed and pressured because I feel like I have to “guard” the kitchen. I can’t camp out there 24/7 to keep an eye on the milk, or anything else, and I can’t keep the milk in my bedroom.

Which brings me to that. Yes, food in my bedroom. Meg noted that she started worrying over the decrease in fruits and vegetables her family was eating due to the cost of those foods being prohibitive. 

All I can say is, every time I go shopping, the kids ask for fruit. I’m having a hard time writing this, because of the feelings it is evoking in me thinking about it. They ask for it, all kinds of it, every single time. 

And because of how expensive it is, I can’t always get it. If I get a bunch of bananas, and usually there are about 6 on most bunches, that’s 2 each, and I hardly eat it because I’m saving it for the kids. I haven’t had a banana in almost a year. 

I try to limit the fruits to one a day, and I have repeatedly told them when they ask for another that they can only have one fruit a day. If I let my kids eat all the fruit they wanted, they’d demolish a bag of apples, a bunch of bananas, and half a watermelon. But I can’t.

Thus, the fruit is kept in my bedroom, unless it has to be refrigerated, like the watermelon or #10 cans of peaches and fruit cocktail. I bought a bag of apples the other day because they were 98 cents a pound at Walmart. I put it in my room, and for the first day they ate only one. But the next day, they each ate one, and Timmy went and took a second apple a while later, without asking me (he knows I would have said no) and without me knowing. 

An hour later Ryan came and asked if he could have another apple. I said no, told him (again!) that they can only have one a day, and that’s when he told me Timmy had a second. I said that he didn’t ask, he just took it, and Ryan was upset. He was hungry and supper was a couple hours off. 

I told him to take another, but this can’t happen again. I didn’t really think about how it made me feel, because it’s an unpleasant feeling that I tend to stuff down deep inside me. 

I try to shop wisely. We get our bread, hamburg rolls (we rarely even have hamburgers anymore since the cost of beef is so high), and snacks for Timmy for school at a thrift bread store. The other day I hit the jackpot and got 4 loaves of bread, a box of snacks for Timmy, and a bag of bagels for $5.45. The bagels were free for spending $5, and the four loaves of bread were 99 cents each because the use-by date was the next day, but they do last beyond that date, and seriously, it’s not the end of the world to eat bread that’s not so soft. Besides, I can put 2 loaves in the freezer. 

I buy store brand or others if they’re less expensive. I compare prices down to the ounce if I have to. I always look over the shelf cart of what I call the Dead Foods, about-to-spoil fruits or veggies, items of food and whatnot that are being phased out or discontinued, etc. I check out the meats that are reduced “for quick sale.” Though we eat very little meat anyway, except for chicken, and I mostly get leg quarters $6.90 for a ten pound bag and bag it up for the freezer in meal portions. I use boneless chicken breast and cut it up smaller to make it go further. 

But the fruits and vegetables are a hard one. Two nights ago I discovered that someone had taken a carrot, and it was a big one, and used a knife to peel it, carving big chunky strips out of it. I asked the kids who did it, and of course Not Me did it. Two days later, I found the rest of the carrot under something behind the waste basket,  chiseled and shriveled. <sigh>

I think the hardest part is that I feel like a shrew always telling my kids no, and especially because…I have one who “steals” food. I’ll call this child Spike for this. This one opens a small slit into a pack of cheap hot dogs and slips one or 2 out and eats them cold. Spike slips into the fridge and scoops out leftovers with the hands and shoves them into the mouth, furtively sneaking away. 

When I’m cooking, if I have any food out and walk away to go to the bathroom or get something from another room, Spike takes a handful of whatever food is left out. 

Spike says s-he is hungry, so I say make a PB&J sandwich, or some saltines with peanut butter, but later I happen to notice the bag of cereal in the living room, where it was surreptitiously taken, and there are only a few pieces of cereal left and then crumbs. I don’t know how Spike did it without me seeing, but it was done nonetheless.

Last night as Spike was using my laptop in the kitchen while I made supper, s-he went and opened the fridge and stuck the whole head in. I knew what was happening. I said to get out of there, supper would be ready in half an hour. Spike sat back down.

Today as I went to get the bologna and cheese for sandwiches for lunch, I pulled out the package of bologna (this used to be an almost never purchase because of all the fat, but now the ham or turkey is too expensive) and there were two slices in it. But underneath the package were 2 slices of the bologna stuck together, and with 2 bites out of them. That’s what Spike was getting into last night. <sigh>

I can’t guard the kitchen all the time. I do my writing in my room, which is open to the rest of the house, because it’s the coolest room in the house. Even when I’m not cooking, the kitchen is very hot and due to health conditions I have, heat is very difficult for me. So if I had to spend as much of my day in there as I can to guard the food, I’d be in a bad place health-wise. 

And there’s that word: guard. Guard the food. I hate having to think of all of this in that way. It’s like my kids are some kind of villains and I have to keep them from doing wrong. My kids are just hungry. They just want fruit. They want to drink milk without being scolded for it. I’d like to drink a glass of milk now and then without feeling guilty. 

I’m not writing all this to garner pity. I’m not writing it for any certain purpose, actually, except that as I was reading my friend Meg’s blog post, I was flooded with a bevy of thoughts and emotions. And I felt I just had to get it out. 

I haven’t always had to be this way with food or shopping, or my kids’ hunger. And I won’t always have to be on SNAP. At some point, we will be better off financially. I will keep reminding myself that this is temporary. 

And I hope this, as well as my friend’s blog posts about taking the SNAP Challenge, opens one person’s eyes about what it’s like to receive SNAP benefits, and maybe if you’ve ever had disparaging thoughts about people who use these benefits, maybe you’ll think differently now. 

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