The Art of the Cart 3

By Susan Brockway

In my quest to find out what people are eating and cooking, I interviewed 2 single mothers on my weekly visit to the grocery store.  I found 2 very interesting contrasts. 
The first mother spends about $75 in cash for a family of 4 for 10 days, and is not a food stamp recipient because of her income level. They eat a lot of hamburger helper, many times without the burger, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs.  When I asked her what kind of fruits and vegetables she and her children ate, she identified bananas and canned peaches.  They do not eat eggs or breakfast meats because of cost, and instead eat 3-4 bags of sugary cereal.  I asked her about beverages and she identified soda, 1 gallon of milk and fruit drinks.  2 of the 3 children are enrolled in free and reduced lunch programs. 
The second mother has three children and  is a food stamp recipient.  She spends approximately $125 a week including her food stamps and cash on food. She buys very little with processed sugar said she watches portion control; adding 2 snacks each day of fresh fruits and grains. She said she is able to make things stretch.  Both women talked about the lack of money available because of fuel costs and the need to drive more than 10 miles each day for jobs that pay more than minimum wage but hardly add a cushion in their budgets.  Both pay some child care costs that are supplied by relatives.  I had a great talk with them both and was saddened by the choices they are forced to make because of the available resources. 
I posed a question to both, and their answers were almost identical:  I asked them if they could buy anything they wanted regardless of cost; what would it be.  Their answer was milk, meat and something so that their children could have better breakfasts each day.   I gave them both  coupons for Tyson products and pointed out some great protein buys for them. 
When I left, I sat in my car for several minutes and was even more saddened.  Each day there are people making hard choices about nutrition, and they often seem to be making ones we find fault with. But given their resources and living costs, I had no answers or additional words of hope.
They are working hard to make ends meet, and the ends never seem to come together. 
So here is my question to all of you; What if we all chose one family to work with, just one, and saw it through.  We could share recipes, our garden bounty and knowledge.  What if we listened to their stories and struggles and became agents of change for just one family?  Would it make a difference?  I decided the answer was yes. 
I am befriending one family and providing some help.  I, in turn, am being blessed more than I will ever receive in return.  I was given a new recipe for a vegetable dish from a family’s great grandmother that one mother cannot afford to prepare.  While I was in human service field in an earlier career, I learned a lesson that’s still true:  many doors are closed to people who are now classified as the working poor. What are you willing to do……are you willing to be an agent of change? Let me hear from you.


6 Replies to “The Art of the Cart 3”

  1. Rhonda Sanders


    Your comments were wonderful!  It is such a great example of the battle many families face each day and how difficult it is to give children the nutrition they need.  You have definitely challenged me to get personally involved!

  2. Amy Barnett

    First of all Sue,  Happy 50th Birthday!!  Thank you for your challenge =

    Seeing this article just proves to me, even more, that you are an ANGEL!  Hunger is constantly an issue in our society and probably will always be an issue, unfortunately.  Grocery stores will always be finding ways/forced to increase their prices on the very necessities we all need in life.  I heard the other day that people are beginning to supply themselves with the very necessities in life because they cost too much at the stores, such as:  planting vegetables & fruit in their own back yards – seeds are still reasonably priced; making their own bread, noodles, etc.  I am probably one of not many that are blessed to have a fabulous cook in our family (mother-in-law) that can get $150 worth of food for about $50!  She’s a smart shoper and a wise shoper.  When I find myself in a budget crunch for the week, I call her to see what’s on sale and where I can get the best bang for my bucks.  She knows by that call,  I need enough food to feed my husband and my son (which, alone, are like 4 people combined) and me for at least 2 weeks.  I always get the great meal ideas that are filling and semi-healthy.  Are we ever going to get to the point that food cost won’t be an issue? I think we thought the same thing with gas prices at one time as well and look where that got us!  Moderation is the key in most cases.  Finding a family to work with – absolutely!  My mother-in-law did it with us and I find myself becoming the better/wiser grocery shoper – and to top it off, my son catches me every once in a while not getting the best deals, "why are you getting that 8 oz container for $2.49 when you can get this 16 oz container for only .50 cents more, common mom" – the smart alleck, but gotta love him, at age 16, he’s already on the right track!  We’ve all been given many luxaries in life. The times are here where we’re going to have to start being very careful now about purchasing things that we need, compared to things that we want – there’s a big difference!  The way times are now, and look like they’re moving to, we’re all going to have to start thinking about the "needs" as opposed to the "wants" in life.  It’s hard, but should get us through these tough times and should keep things manageable!  Just my thoughts 🙂

  3. Randy Richards

    I am writing in response to Sue’s Art of the Cart reflections on the price of food – especially processed food. She turned her attention to vegetables, fruits and grains. She also suggested about teaching others to cook using these staples as a way to help cut costs and create heathier meals. Convenience comes at a price, when prices were low then okay you can weigh convenience worth it versus costs. But when prices go up then we all have to re-evaluate our choices. Just as we are doing about making extra and unnecessary trips in the car. Getting out the bike for the work commute or thinking of public transportation as an alternative. I would like to follow Sue’s suggestion with another one. Why not seek out and form some partnerships with the folks who might teach others to cook – Four H, the State Extention Services, High School cooking classes, etc. Forming a coalition of these may produce a powerful synergy.

     Randy Richards Chair Managerial Studies St. Ambrose University

  4. Ed

    I think you touch upon something that’s problematic within the issue of hunger, and that our friends in the food banking business know all too well:  the face of hunger in America is not necessarily limited to the panhandler we pass on our way  home from work.  Too often, it’s closer to our own front doors and we don’t recognize it.

    This week I was with a group a bright young college women who were working on a public service project relating to hunger. They had produced a PSA to create public awareness of hunger statistics. All of their images were stereotypical:  the guy on the street with the tin cup; large families of dirty-faced kids dressed in rags; victims of disaster.  Not to discount the enormous need represented by these images, but most on the front lines of the fight against hunger realize they are only part of the story.  The rest could easily be represented in a kid who plays on your daughter’s softball team, or is in your son’s Cub Scout den.

    How can we create awareness among more Americans that hunger is more often in the grocery aisles, even in the most affluent communties?


  5. Michael Clark

    Rising food and fuel costs are a common discussion around our house and office as of late. Your post makes me recall this past winter holiday season when my family (for the first time) spent the day to visit our church pantry, select a family and provide food for a holiday meal. I couldn’t believe the large number of families within a mile from where we live and who come our church that were struggling between paying utilities and putting food on the table, and even then, something nutritious.   The pantry was full of various dry goods and non-perishables (for storage reasons) and the one thing we were asked to purchase was some kind of protein to anchor the meals.  We went in thinking we’ll help just one family because we had a tight budget and we needed to be done within the hour.  As we looked at the stack of names and families on the list, we decided we should pick up a few other sheets and give up the rest of the day.  It was not a decision motivated from guilt, rather one from the desire to help others who we happened to see where in great need. 

    You posed a question above, What if we all chose one family to work with, just one, and saw it through. Would it make a difference? My answer to you is yes. I’d also add that we don’t have to look very far either. Perhaps just next door, at school or simply across the sanctuary.  We’ll be adding to our garden this weekend now, and to our list important things to do.  Thanks for the post.

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