Saturday, June 16, 2012

Food Lack in the Community

Yesterday, I had a thought. I don't want people to think that dealing with disability and my love of food has always been all "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy, Where are we going to eat next? It is impossible to talk about disability and food without touching upon the more serious subject of food insecurity.
Plain and simply put, many people on fixed incomes do not have access to the amount of food they need. My family faced this hurdle many times.
Receiving a monthly check is already a challenge, but trying to create a food supply that lasts throughout the month while dealing with disabling conditions can really become overwhelming. And, food insecurity is not something people are likely to discuss on social networks. I mean, who really is going to come out and post "I'm hungry tonight."

But, the research is there to support these facts:
  1. Thirty-seven percent of all low-income households with very low food security had at least one working-age adult who was unable to work because of a disability. 
  2. Households with no member in the labor force and at least one working-age adult who was out of the labor force because of a disability had the highest rate of very low food security (23 percent).
USDA Chart Food Insecurity
Food Insecurity and the Disabled  [Description: Pie Chart presented by USDA of Food Security and Disability, copyrighted December 2005]
As a single mom with disabling conditions raising children who also had life challenges, I learned very quickly about the pantries in the neighborhood as well as the Food Stamp program. Down the road from me was a 72-year old silver-haired woman, who lived alone, struggled with emotional disabilities, trying to make her benefits stretch. We would often ride to the pantry together, and then come home and share. If there was something she didn't care for, she would offer it to me for my children, and I would do the same. This was a great way to communally share and help each other through the month. If I found out about an event where fresh produce was being offered, I would make sure she was there and then store her overflow in our freezer (a roadside yard sale find for $40.00!)

We also shared recipes that fit in with what we received from the pantry. I can still make a mean pulled BBQ chicken from that seemingly innocuous can of chicken. And, she taught me to make many things from scratch, saving on processed foods. I can remember her hand-written recipes for lemon cake and butter-cream icing. Many a birthday was spent outside on the lawn eating her strawberry pies made with graham crackers received from a pantry.

One of the great things about the pantries I've been to is there is usually a shelf of items that are considered extras. I would find all sorts of items new to our food-style, but great to experiment with in a new recipe. I would always get excited about that shelf. There you could find roasted red peppers, garlic couscous, mole sauce and other items not usually part of the typical pantry fare.

I always lingered at that shelf, making mental notes to check online for recipes where I could showcase my newly found food treasures. These were special occasion items and no birthday or holiday came or went without something special and unexpected.

Now that I live in Charlotte where we have a vibrant Slow Food movement, many successful community gardens and farmer's markets, it is easy to get fresh, local produce. Many try to accept EBT in order to make fresh food accessible for all. I will write about some of these in a later post, where I can really give it full coverage.

For some people, this subject may be very uncomfortable. But, I don't have economic amnesia. Even though I am in a better place today, and now give more to the pantries than I receive, I cannot forget that for many, this subject is still very real and very current.

How can you make a difference?
  • Support EVERY food drive you can. Share recipes that help others use items that are low-cost and shelf stable.
  • Support your local food banks, farmer's markets and community gardens.
  • Ask markets to accept EBT Food Stamps even if you don't use them.
  • Work with local faith-based organizations and other non-profits to make sure the word gets out about available food outlets.
  •  Share with others. You never know who may be in need.
 Drop a line in the comments section, if you have a link you would like to share or a suggestion for others.

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