I remember talking to someone a few years back, about the local food pantry here in our little town (which is also the county seat, so it’s not exactly unsophisticated). I had good and bad comments about the food pantry, but the whole experience left me wondering about how that and the healthcare system are somewhat intertwined.
First, the positive – the food pantry here delivers. That’s really awesome and helpful, especially since the pantry is on the outskirts of town, where buses don’t go. So, for those of us without a car, that’s a really nice thing for them to do.
The people who deliver the food are very nice, and when you try to thank them they say, “Don’t thank me, thank God,” which I take as the modest statement it is. They are using their own cars to bring food to my apartment, and I think it’s really nice of them to do that.
Aside #1: Contrary to some misconceptions, I do not argue with every Christian who expresses thoughts about Jesus or saints or whatever deity they choose. I fully support their right to believe as they wish. My complaints only come into play when they try to force others to believe as they do, or force others to participate in their worship, or make judgments about neo-Pagans/non-believers being evil and so on.
The bad part about the food pantry here? It’s nothing but unhealthy food.
Day-old baked goods like cake and cookies (which are, of course, yummy), white bread, canned vegetables with high salt content and lined with BPA, juice “drinks” (basically the ones with juice flavoring and sugar), hot dogs, beans (in cans, not dried beans), and tomato soup (very high in sodium). And usually ramen – lots and lots of ramen.
Aside #2: Beans are the only things that are remotely healthy on this list, but they always seem to come in extremely large cans, are processed, and in general are not all that good for you. I don’t know why they don’t give out dried beans, as these are much cheaper, keep longer, and are easy to make – and better for you.
I received this a couple of times when my son was living here with me, as we had a very hard time making ends meet on just my food stamps. Thankfully, he got some assistance and we didn’t have to call these folks again.
Thankfully, too, he got a job down south years ago and never has to live like this again.
I mentioned the unhealthiness of this stuff to someone, who then turned to me and said, “At least it’s free.”
Garbage out of dumpsters is free, too, but it’s still garbage.
Since the person I was talking to was somewhat conservative, I asked him what he thought the extra cost to the healthcare system is, due to people eating unhealthy food for prolonged periods of time.
Aside #3: Heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and other diseases can sometimes be prevented, or often can be ameliorated, by eating decent food. That means little or no sugar, fresh vegetables (or at least frozen ones), fruit, fiber (like beans), and grains.
He thought for a minute and said, “I think we should pass laws so people can only buy certain things with food stamps. That way, they would have to eat healthy food.”
Sigh. I should have known – conservatives are not known for their generosity. Or for their understanding of how po’ folk live. Or for supporting other peoples’ self-determination.
Should we also pass laws telling private charities what they can and cannot give out at the food pantry, too?
Of course not. The answer lies in education. Education for everyone.
The people running the food pantries need to be educated so they can in turn educate their donors on what to give. I think most people would love to know that what they give could make a huge difference in someone’s health. And I think if they knew what to buy, and were shown how cheaply they can buy it, it would be a win/win kind of thing.
The people receiving food from the pantry could use some education, too (no, not all of them, and it’s not just the poor – most Americans don’t eat healthily). I don’t mean about the food groups and so on, I mean education regarding how to prepare meals from scratch.
Many people do not know how to cook from scratch, poor or not. But it’s not hard. Cooking rice and beans from scratch takes time, mostly, not brains. You can cook a whole bunch on the weekend and freeze it all, if need be.
Some poor people do actually work (for Walmart, too, but that’s another blog post). They have families. They might not have the energy or time to cook from scratch, unless they are given the tools by which to do so.
By “tools”, I mean…cookbooks. Heck, you can have volunteers cut recipes from magazines, punch holes in them, and put them in binders for very little effort or money. Or you could get people to donate cookbooks (though that’s probably a bit harder – most people’s cookbooks are not basic like Adele Davis’ “Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit”).
Aside #4: I always thought Adele Davis wrote “Recipes for a Small Planet”, but that was Frances Moore Lappe. Adele Davis, by the way, was the person who coined the phrase “You are what you eat.”
You could even – gasp – ask businesses to donate crockpots. They are not very expensive, and you can dump all the ingredients into one, set it, go to work, and have dinner by the time you get home.
You could get people to donate freezer-ware, and include instructions. You can get containers to freeze things in at Dollar Tree – and all their stuff is BPA-free, I asked. $1 for a set of 3 or more – cheaper if you buy by the case.
All of these things still add up to a lot less than hospitalizing someone who’s had a heart attack or other possibly preventable illness. Which would keep healthcare costs down – that wouldn’t satisfy Libertarians or right-wingers, who both want to see po’ folk not get any healthcare at all – but for most normal people, this would be a good thing.
And why should we think about how we can help the poor eat more healthy food, and save on Medicare/Medicaid costs? Because it’s the decent thing to do, and because it saves money in the long run (i.e., your tax dollars – and theirs, too, by the way, since many of them work).
But…what about people who work and don’t qualify for food stamps or government health insurance?
To them I say, “Be quiet, and be grateful that your life isn’t so horrible that you have to sit in someone’s office for an hour and explain to them why you don’t have enough food to eat each month.”
Aside #5: The intake process at most food pantries is pretty hard on one’s pride. They ask you how you got to where you are, and that’s a fairly painful question to answer. Not even welfare workers ask such nosy questions, or look at you like you’re trying to put one over on them.
To them I also say, “You own a car and a house, have a retirement plan, savings account, and other things that poor people will probably never have. We would all trade our food stamps and Medicare/Medicaid to have the income you have to afford all those things.”
We’d trade it all just to be able to work at a decent job. To just have a shot at a life out of poverty. Most of us aren’t lazy – if people who thought that had to live for a month as we do, where everything takes twice as long to do, or in some cases isn’t even doable, I think they would understand the amount of effort it takes just to survive.