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.
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.
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.
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.
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.