Sunday, September 7, 2014

Eating Healthy When You're Poor

I've seen a few YouTube videos and blog posts about how people can eat healthy food while living on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) benefits. Their intentions were to help the impoverished eat healthier foods that were in their limited budget, instead of relying largely - or entirely - on cheap processed foods which have little nutritional value.

Sure, junk food will fill you up when you're hungry, but the end result of living on it often includes obesity, diabetes and other health problems. This is why poor people in the United States are often overweight and subsisting on a diet high in fat, salt and sugar will not only make you fat, it will adversely impact your health.

However, guidance for people in such financial straits is difficult to find and when it can be found is sometimes delivered in a rather condescending tone. Since nobody likes being talked down to, such "advice" gets ignored. I read a blog post by someone who tried to eat on $4 a day  for about a month and he seemed to delight in how clever he was in finding all those places he could eat for free, which may have been good for him since he knew he was only doing it for a limited time. However, his findings do little (if any) good for someone forced to live in such circumstances for months or years at a time.

Then, there are the comments posted under news items about hunger in the United States. It seems there's always some self-appointed genius who thinks that poor Americans should "just put a few seeds in the ground" and start to grow their own food. On the surface, that might seem like good advice, but it's actually rather stupid. Such advice-givers seem to assume that people actually live somewhere that they could have even a small garden. I'm not even going to ask where these people are supposed to get the seeds, fertilizer or even the knowledge of how to grow their own food. This would be good for people living in the countryside, but totally worthless for the urban poor for whom a garden plot is about as accessible as a winning lottery ticket. Even if there is unused land in their vicinity, it is likely to be owned by someone who might not take too kindly to people growing crops on their land. Slumlords aren't known for their civic-mindedness.

So, I've decided to locate some items on the Internet that actually try to help people eat healthy foods on about $4 a day.

First, there a cookbook published by the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion called "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" which you can find here.

Next, there's "Good and Cheap" by Leanne Brown, a cookbook that she wrote to help people living on SNAP benefits to eat healthy foods when their food budget comes down to about $4 a day. You can find it online in PDF format and print it out for yourself or for someone you know living in such circumstances.
A much more extreme lifestyle would be trying to eat on $1 or less. While I hope that would never happen to anyone, there may be times that it would occur and it's good to have this information at hand.

I found out about "Live Below the Line", which is an annual event to raise awareness within the more affluent of how people in impoverished countries have to survive on $1 or less. Granted, that dollar includes total living expenses such as housing, medicine, food, etc. But, the event focuses on participants simply trying to eat on a dollar a day or less. A cookbook was designed to help people keep within their budget without starving themselves and it is available online. Bear in mind that the event is only for five days and the recipe book was not intended for long-term survival. I include the link in the event that someone may actually find themselves in such circumstances.
Of course, you can use recipes from any or all of these cookbooks in order to make the most of whatever money you have. I think it would be a good idea if somebody could actually combine these cookbooks together and maybe include a shopping list to make it easier to know what to look for when you go grocery shopping, like "Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals" did.

If you - yes, I mean YOU - don't need any of these cookbooks yourself, but you know someone who might, it would be no small kindness to print them out and give them to someone who needs them. After all, they might not have access to a computer and/or a printer.

Given how many places in the United States are food deserts, I cannot even guarantee that all the ingredients in these cookbooks would even be available for people to purchase them.

There may be a way to further stretch your food budget by simply regrowing vegetables from leftover scraps. This could be done with foods such as Romaine lettuce, green onion, ginger, celery and avocado. Visit this link to see how. Most of these ideas don't require a plot of land.

If you don't mind watching videos and taking notes, there is an excellent video series on YouTube, called "Great Depression Cooking" hosted by Clara Cannucciari, who lived through the Great Depression. In her videos, she shared the recipes that helped her family survive the Depression years and to come out of them healthy and well-fed. Sadly, Clara died recently. But, she shared a lot of valuable information with her viewers before her passing.

I plan to add more to this posting as information becomes available to me.

Duane Browning
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