Na Na pinches her pennies (aka frugal living)

Shh… don't tell anyone I'm poor. They all think I'm living frugal and green just like everyone these days. This is a blog about a senior citizen living a frugal life, on a fixed income, in a low income food desert, and passing along knowledge from lessons learned. Some she learned from her Grandma Mama many years ago and some learned only a few days ago.

Mobile food bank and my pantry

I live at the intersection of very little money and unexpected happens.  Its not easy to make ends meet here.  I lived for many years in a food desert in the poorest area of this city.  When I finally paid off the mortgage I believed I would live the rest of my life rent free.  Not so.  For safety reasons I decided it was time to move away from the escalating crime and be closer to a grocery.  I have a new mortgage to pay now which means less spendable cash.

Quite suddenly, without notice, the food desert I thought I had left behind expanded to include the area where I moved to.  The closest grocery to my new house, the one that was in walking distance,  closed its doors for good and its once again a very long city bus ride to the nearest one.  So now I’m living in a food dessert again but this time its with 60 percent less money to spend now that I have a new mortgage payment every month.

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When someone depends on food banks to stock a pantry we have to think differently about food because we never know what we’re going to get.  Instead of making a menu plan then writing out a grocery list those of us who get food from a food bank do just the opposite.  We get the food first and then decide what our menu plan will be.

Few, if any, of the people standing in the food bank lines give much thought to preserving the food because there is a belief the food bank will be there next week or next month.   Their attitude is just like anyone who believes the store will always be there, the shelves will always be full, and that the government will quickly step in to take care of them.  Ha!

Choosing the way a food will be used gives me a direction of how I should store it.  I buy some foods from the grocery but the majority of the food in my pantry came from the mobile food bank trucks.  Not to be confused with the emergency food bank where you go to get help to see you through a sudden and/or temporary crisis.  The emergency food banks are in brick and mortar locations like churches or neighborhood centers and often there is a limited number of visits per family per year.

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Two pound carrots from the mobile food bank. Not sell able but taste just as good.

The mobile food bank is a big truck filled with ugly and short dated produce plus various other donated items.  The trucks go to different locations called “food desserts” which means the people living in that area have limited access to fresh produce.  This would be either from lack of stores, lack of transportation to stores, or limited money.   I fit into all three.  These drop off locations may be rural, urban, or suburban because poverty knows no boundary or location.  The number of food drop offs each month depend on size of food dessert and number of people being served.

In the old neighborhood I could get food any day of the week at different food bank locations.  Here in this area there is only one food bank day a month.  By car the location is just 10 minutes away.  In order to be there for a 2 pm give away I must leave home by 10:45 am to catch my first bus.  I transfer to a second bus that comes once an hour.  By the time I get to the food bank location a long line has already formed.  I usually get home around 6 pm.  That’s almost a whole day away from home.  I take a sandwich and drink with me for lunch.

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The economists can say the economy is getting better but I don’t believe it.  I see more and more new faces in the food bank lines these days.  The foods we get are meant to keep people alive, not healthy.   Eating healthy is expensive and getting more expensive daily.  I don’t eat manufactured foods anymore.  I trade any of my pre-made foods for other people’s produce.  Its easy to trade my cheese cake for their carrots or cabbage anytime.  Its easy to trade my canned soups for their onions too.  The main produce is almost the same every time.  We get potatoes, carrots, onions, and cabbage.  Sometimes we get seasonal produce but those are showing up far less often.

A couple of years ago it occurred to me that these foods were very similar to the popular food of WW1 & WW2.  These were popular because these are easy to grow in a backyard victory garden.  In those days the government media came up with campaigns to convince people to eat their veggies.   Cartoon characters were used to convince kids to eat more veggies.  There was Doctor Carrot, Potato Pete, The Leeks family (they knew their onions), The Sprout Sisters (they used dried beans in new ways), and numerous posters featuring That Big Hearted Tenor (cabbage) and Spinach (the strongest veggie in the food world).

That was my starting point for healthier eating.   It wasn’t easy for me to give up eating fast food or pre-packaged convenience foods.  My taste buds kept begging me for a burger, spicy fries and large soda.   But I refused to go back.  Slowly I’ve expanded my recipes to use those four foods in a variety of ways so my eating doesn’t become boring.  I’ve found that I don’t mind eating the ugly veggies.  A two pound carrot or a two foot long carrot tastes just like any perfect size carrot in a package.  A sprouting onion makes an onion soup like any other onion.  An 8 pound cabbage makes just as nice a slaw as does a 1 pound cabbage.  Heart shape potatoes or simply bent out of shape potatoes may be difficult to peel but tastes the same.

Finding new “old” recipes is like hitting the kitchen jackpot.  I’m most thankful when I can recall memories of Grandma Mama and the way she prepared meals.   We had the same foods back then as I get in the food bank lines today.  These memories have helped me think less about what I don’t have and just be thankful for what I do have.

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13 comments on “Mobile food bank and my pantry

  1. James Schaupp
    February 16, 2017

    I saw you had Brown’s Best Beans. Those are made and manufactured in my hometown, Morrill, NE. They still employee hundreds in my small town, less than a 1000 people, though they moved their offices to the nearest largest city, 15 miles to the east. You can still walk to the plant in Morrill and get all the dirty uncleaned dry beans you can carry for free. And they always have a pot of beans with ham brewing in their local offices for people to stop bye and have some.

    • Anita
      February 16, 2017

      Oh how neat! Do you get the free beans? Sounds like a very friendly place. Most small towns are friendly places.

  2. Patricia
    February 14, 2017

    I almost cried when I read that it cost you, in time, 6 hours of a day to get food. Living in a small village, I’m in a “senior complex”, there is one small supermarket which makes it free to charge almost whatever they want. But we are fortunate in that there is a church food pantry – its in a church every Saturday morning. Set up similar to a market – you go in and with shopping bags pick up milk and eggs, 3 frozen items (from pork chops to frozen vegetables to Italian sausage, bags of flash frozen chicken breasts and tilapia fish and anything in between) – then on to the table piled high with rolls, bagels, loaves of bread, sweet rolls and donuts – and day old cakes – then over to the mac & cheese, bags of rice and soup table (up to 3 of each) – then on to the cereal, oatmeal, peanut butter and jelly table – then to the table with pastas and sauces, beans, Not to mention any assortment of winter veggies and some fruits from our neighboring organic not-for-profit farms and the assorted fruits that a kind man brings each Saturday morning (bags of bananas, oranges, pears, grapes and melons) – finally there is the “personal” items which include shampoos, soaps, vitamins, lotions, at times, laundry detergent. We all share this among the 30 people who show up each Saturday. I’ve been fortunate to be able to purchase most of my groceries at the market so normally pick up the milk and frozen meats and vegetables.. others need it more than me. I take my rolling shopping cart and our wait in line is no more than 30 minutes. I will be going Saturday moring – walking over at 8 am – it opens at 9 but I like to be early to get at the front of the line. The workers are so nice and accepting and helping – but we are able to pick and choose and walk between the tables making our decisions. Since I’ve never needed a pantry before I didn’t realize how wonderful ours is. I read your horror stories, and more from blogs I follow. I’m lucky to have access to free eggs from my daughters chickens – so I eat a lot of egg meals.

    • Anita
      February 15, 2017

      In a small village with only a few people in the food bank line sounds so nice. Here in Louisville the lines I stand in have at least 150 to 200 people. In the old neighborhood there would be around 300 people standing in lines two and three days a week.

      I judge the economy by how many people are standing in the food bank lines. The number of people seems to be growing every month. This is why the amount we get is growing smaller to serve more people. I’ve noticed the amount of veggies are getting smaller. For example we used to get 10 pounds of potatoes but its now down to about 4 pounds. We never get anything other than food.

      I’ve grown to like veggie based and bean based meals.

      • Patricia
        February 17, 2017

        Are you planning on planting out a “victory garden” this year? I would imagine planting your favorite vegetables would help with meals and canning the remainder would help for the winter.

        • Anita
          February 17, 2017

          Yes, I do hope to have a victory garden this year. Providing I can scrounge around for the materials I need and someone to help with the physical labor. It needs to be built to stop ground hogs and squirrels from eating everything and be above all the tree roots. Thankfully I won’t have a problem with bad kids destroying it this year.

      • Mary
        April 9, 2017

        Hi

        Love your blog. Just wanted to say that the number of people standing in the food bank lines might be more of an indication of greed than the state of the economy. I think it’s unfair when well-paid professionals and other non-needy people take advantage of the system. But in some instances, that is how the rich stay rich — by availing themselves of provisions which are meant for the poor.

        • Anita
          April 16, 2017

          Yes, its sort of the same process as the people standing on street corners with cardboard signs begging for handouts. I know a couple who stand out there with their kids and bring home three or four hundred a day. Why hold a job when you can easily earn a couple thousand a week part time?

  3. Jasna
    February 14, 2017

    You are a true inspiration, Anita. Thank you ever so much for sharing!!!
    Blessings from Chile.

  4. Donna
    February 14, 2017

    Wish I lived closer than Arizona! I would take you. You are an inspiring person Anita. You always make lemonade out of lemons.

    • Anita
      February 15, 2017

      Thanks Donna. My Grandma Mama taught me, “Better to count your blessings than to worry over your troubles.”

  5. Margie in Toronto
    February 13, 2017

    You make me realize just how lucky I am to have access to so many food shops – of all different varieties just within walking distance – and living right across the street from a subway station gives me access to a city’s worth of shops – all within about 20 to 30 minutes! I cannot imagine such a long day just to get my groceries! You are a wonder.

    I have a book called “The Ministry of Food – Thrifty Wartime Ways to Feed Your Family Today” by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall It was published to coincide with an exhibit at The Imperial War Museum in the UK – and is an updated version of wartime pamphlets & instructions that can be used to save money today. I love reading it as it gives you a lot of history as well as tips for today. I find it so interesting as my parents lived through WWII and always spoke about rationing and how long it continued even after the war ended. I know that it wasn’t as bad in the US or Canada but it really was life or death in the UK.

    • Anita
      February 14, 2017

      You are so lucky to live so close to everything. I was pretty bummed out when the store closed. I didn’t like it but because I had spent so many years in a food dessert I just fell back into the routine. In a way I’m glad there is only one food bank day a month here. It means I’ll stay home more and will be even more careful about not wasting food. I also have a monthly shopping trip as the driver for my SIL when I stock up on staples.

      Our library has that book. I like it too. Hmm, may be time to read it again for some inspiration.

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