Last year, our company went to the local food bank to help out. There was an exercise that was supposed to show you what it was like to buy food with barely any wages. One of the managers was skeptical and didn’t believe the numbers were accurate. I told her that when we were poor, we often had $60 for the month to eat with, if that. She gave me that skeptical look and said “You can’t eat three meals a day with that. How did you make it work?” I smiled sullenly “We didn’t eat three meals a day.” She was in shock, like I had blown her mind. Now I know that she had never been poor nor gone hungry before. People who haven’t been there often don’t understand or don’t believe it’s real.
It’s nearly impossible to sleep when you’re so hungry that your stomach growls non-stop. When you get to a certain point of hunger it actually hurts like a tummy ache. You get low blood sugar, which makes it hard to think, and it’s dangerous. In order to make food last longer, we rationed our food like a post apocalyptic family. Often times, we wouldn’t eat and ignored the hunger as long as we could. I chose to eat before bed so that I could sleep. I remember many times only having one meal a day. There were times when we’d eat half a meal and save the rest for right before bed time.
You get picky when buying food because if you don’t like it, you can’t afford to get something else. You might as well stick to the food you know you like, rather than risk being stuck with something you don’t like. Yet, you get less picky about what you’ll eat when you have nothing. We couldn’t afford dish soap nor paper plates, so we often had to rinse off dishes and re-use them even though it wasn’t clean or sanitary. Seasoning got caked onto the pans, but how else were we going to cook? Sometimes, if food was going bad, we’d still eat if wasn’t too bad yet. Sounds gross, but once you’ve gone some real distance without eating, you might change your mind too.
There were times that mom would help us get food when she could afford it. Sometimes, we would get food from charity. Sometimes we’d get freebies from friends. However, people aren’t willing to give you food three times a day every day. Some people can’t afford the charity. Sometimes, it was just grazing on left overs and candy and whatever scraps people didn’t want. Sometimes, it was the $1 slice of strawberry pie that we shared at the diner. Such a beautiful treat and a pleasant memory from a hard time. I remember digging in the couch for loose change, hoping to have enough to get that piece of pie that we walked a couple of miles for.
When charity runs out and you’re hungry enough you might get creative. Standing in a busy Taco Bell during lunch rush, looking upset, can get you a free burrito, but not much more than that. A bounced check can get you food once or twice, but then there’s always risk of jail time. Stealing food is an art form and also risks jail time. Starvation can turn you into a criminal. Desperation makes you compromise your morals.
I mentioned food banks, but don’t think we got proper meals from this. It was a random box of stuff. There was no fresh produce or meat, just boxes and cans of stuff. Look up any recipe and cross off anything that isn’t in a can or box. Then cross off 2/3 of the ingredients left. That’s what you have in the box. There’s never the right combination of ingredients, but it’s free! I remember eating a can of corn right out the can. I remember eating mac and cheese without butter or milk. I remember looking at that 2 year old can of beans and really considering it (we probably ate it).
However, my fiance (now husband) used to get really creative. On the days when I was feeling depressed and not so thankful for the free mesh of food, he’d get creative! He’d use what little we had, to create some form of new tasty thing to eat. One time, he used a packet of salmon and can of tomatoes from the food box, and combined it with the bowtie pasta we already had, and it was delicious. It’s one of the reasons I fell in love with him. He tried so hard to make me happy when we had so little to work with. I’m thankful for my husband and his creativity and I’m thankful for all the people who ever gave us scraps.