The Art of the Cart–4

By Susan Brockway

The last two weeks have been a struggle for my adopted family.  She has lost some of her hours at work and is really struggling with fuel prices.  We have talked twice and shared 3 recipes.  I have made a commitment to her to share from my garden, which is finally in the ground after large spells of rain. 
I have been shopping 4 times and it continues to amaze me what people of all socioeconomic groups are putting in their carts and what is NOT being included.  Since I grew up in a home where we did not spend money on the limited non-nutritious food that was available, I am still saddened when I see struggling moms and dads so tired after working two or three jobs, spending money they don’t have on packaged meals with little to no nutrition.  What is the answer? 
I am still optimistic that working one-on-one with families will help.  I have heard from some of you who have also done the same.  Maybe a grassroots movement is what we need to look at in the future, making a difference one person at a time and then empowering them to do the same.
In addition, flooding in the Midwest is going to be a repeat crisis of New Orleans, but with a twist.  While driving through Iowa in the past week I saw green fields of rolling hills, and picture perfect farms.  Cities like Cedar Rapids and Iowa City have experienced more water than ever intended, and the real victims are going to be middle class families who thought they were insured, but will find there is nothing to start over with.  Many of their homes will be much like those in New Orleans, inhabitable. 
We will have people screaming for reasons why this happened, while we have not yet addressed why it happened in a city of rich in tradition and music and culture almost three years past.  Having spent a good deal of time in states hit by Hurricane Katrina, I can tell you the only difference between what people feel in the lower ninth ward and Cedar Rapids is a change of zip code.  I predict food banks and their agencies are going to see an increased surge of people needing resources, only to find their federal state dollars cut because someone is going to have to pay the billions, not millions needed to get people back on their feet.  And this, like Katrina is going to be a multi-year financial nightmare.
My family in Northwest Arkansas, much like families hit by Katrina and now the floods and tornadoes of 2008 have one thing in common:  They are hardworking and trying to make ends meet. 
My question for you today:  What can you change today to make a difference?  Let me hear from you…agree to disagree, but get in the game while we have a game to play.

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.

 

Art of the Cart

My weekly visit to the grocery store was an eye opener.  This week I concentrated on the produce and dairy aisles.  I was thinking about how people get fresh produce in their diet when they can’t afford it, like the $7.00 watermelon I purchased last week or the $4.89 bunch of asparagus; or they do not have a garden.  I am of the mindset that we have raised a generation that cannot cook out of anything except a can, making healthy choices somewhat of a challenge.  I am old enough to remember that most of our meals came out of the garden or were made from scratch; bread, noodles, soups. If my grandmother could grow it she could can it and my mom could make it taste great.  And everything was balanced, all of the food groups represented including a glass of milk and NEVER soda for dinner. Milk by the way was over $4.00 for a gallon of 2%, but soda was less expensive, adding a little attraction by the number of cans/bottles in shopper’s carts.  I think we need to get together and grab a partner and teach people how to cook with fresh, healthy ingredients and show them how they can actually SAVE money by doing so.  Who are you willing to teach; a son or daughter, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, a neighbor?   Can we still eat good tasting healthy meals and save money?  I think we can, and lower our blood pressure at the same time.  What do you think?

By Susan Brockway