food insecurity

“One” can be the hungriest number.

It’s the 18th of the month. The food stamps haven’t hit our mailbox, and our dad’s child support check is late, again. As my Mom looks through the cabinets to try and figure out dinner, the anxiety isn’t just written on her face; it’s taken over her entire countenance. This isn’t a new place for us — it’s happened every two or three months since my parent’s divorce, but every single time it seems to create just a little more fear, and a little less hope for my mom, my siblings and me. Eventually, she pulls what’s left of a small bag of potatoes out of the pantry along with a box of powdered milk and an onion. It’s potato soup time. My mom is not a skilled scratch cook, but this is a recipe she’s mastered. It might even have been one of our favorites if it wasn’t for the fact that it was always an indicator of being dangerously close to having no food left at all.

That was over 30 years ago, but those memories are still so powerful I feel my own heartbeat quicken and my breathing become shallow as they come flooding back. I wish I could tell you that after surviving a childhood filled with these moments of food insecurity, I never had to deal with them again. But twice in my adult life I’ve found myself in very similar situations. I often tell myself that I was fortunate that I only had myself to worry about in those moments, and that knowing how to cook meant I could turn the very last scraps of just about anything into something edible. The truth is, though, that as recently as last summer I was under employed, unsure of how I would pay rent, and staring at empty cupboards once again. I had taken a gamble — quitting my comfy corporate gig to pursue culinary school full time. It seemed, in that moment, less like a leap of faith and more like a big, stupid, stumble. What had I done? This was all my fault. I was too embarrassed to even ask for help because I had done this to myself. How could I go stand in line with people who had no food through no fault of their own? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and terrified. Despite every effort to find a job in my chosen field, begging friends on Facebook for odd jobs, and literally going through everything I owned to find things to sell, I was failing. I was a failure.

Feeding America’s Hunger and Poverty Fact Sheet tells us that in 2014, 14 percent of American households, over 17 million, experienced consistent food insecurity. Households headed by single mothers represent the largest number of those households — a fact that probably wouldn’t surprise most of us. But in a report published in February of this year, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities revealed that childless adults dealing with the same issue, most of whom are women over 40, make up a large number of underserved hungry Americans. Most of the people in this group are currently working, or have worked in the past 12 months, but simply can’t secure employment that pays enough to help them get out of poverty. This group is subject to a three month limit to utilize SNAP benefits, and the CBPP estimates that as many as 1 million of them will hit that limit this year. While the majority of childless adults living in poverty do not have more than a high school education, the three month limit does not discriminate — even my two college degrees wouldn’t qualify me for any help beyond those three months if I lost my job tomorrow.

As a person who experienced food insecurity as the child of a single mother, I would never express anything less than full-throated support for providing families with children any help they need to remain healthy and well-fed. That doesn’t mean, however, that I believe we should turn a blind eye to other members of my community who are also struggling to feed themselves, simply because they are childless. I’m not ignorant to the fact that it costs money to feed people, and limiting longer term benefits so they go primarily to homes with children seems, on the surface, like the absolute best way to utilize those funds. But hungry is hungry, and no one at any age or station in life should have to experience the fear and humiliation of not knowing where their next meal is coming from.

On Wednesday, Rachael will tell her own story, and take a closer look at what hunger looks like and feels like for those experiencing it on a daily basis.

-J

Sources

Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/hunger-and-poverty/hunger-and-poverty-fact-sheet.html

Carlson, S., Rosenbaum, D., & Keith-Jennings, B. (2016, February 8). Who Are the Low-Income Childless Adults Facing the Loss of SNAP in 2016? Retrieved March 16, 2016, from http://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/who-are-the-low-income-childless-adults-facing-the-loss-of-snap-in-2016

Hungry at Home

“I’m so hungry!”

When we say that, it can mean one of several things. I could mean my stomach is growling, I’m bored, or that I just smelled something delicious and now I want some of whatever’s cooking. But it could also mean there’s nothing to eat, that there consistently hasn’t been anything for me to eat, or I’m afraid I’m about to run out of things to eat with no money to replace them. Regardless of what you mean when you say it, the word “hungry” demands satisfaction.

Starting this week, and over the next several weeks, my friend Rachael Niswander and I are going on a search for, well, if not satisfaction, at least some truth, as part of a series of reports called “Hungry at Home.” Through this series, we’ll first look at the experiences of those who are dealing with hunger and food insecurity; then at those who are working to help feed them, empower them, and give them hope; and finally, the people who are growing and supplying the food that seems to be so plentiful for some, yet frustratingly out of reach for others.

We’ll focus on the issue right here in the Denver/Boulder, Colorado metros. However, these questions don’t just demand answers in Colorado. People are hungry everywhere. Rachael and I both have our own stories to tell, along with those of dozens of others right in our own backyard. Our hope is that by shining a light on our own community, you will also hear echoes of the stories of hundreds just like us across the country, maybe even in your own community.

Today, we’re attending the Forward Food Summit in Denver. The summit, a collaboration between the Denver and Boulder Food Rescues, was organized to get all the local players in the same room to present ideas to like minded folks in our area, and help give those interested in taking an active role in the food justice arena a place to talk to each other and, perhaps, join forces. We’re so excited to share what we’re learning here, as well as letting some of those in attendance share their experiences as they follow their own search for satisfaction.

We’re hungry for change. We’re hungry to make a difference. We’re hungry to hear your story, too. Hunger affects us all, in one way or another, so the conversation needs to include us all. No matter where you live, we hope you’ll join in.

— -

About the Authors

Rachael Niswander is a passionate writer living in the Denver area. Originally from L.A., Rachael moved to Denver in 2010 to pursue a life where she depended only on herself. She realized that dream through hard work and perseverance, which included lessons in food insecurity. During a financially difficult time in 2014, Rachael was gifted a $100 Safeway gift card with a note that read, “Food is not a luxury. Hope this helps.” This anonymous gift was one of hope and Rachael promised to pay it forward when she could.

Today, Rachael is a founding member of Denver’s grassroots organization May You Have Enough, which makes and delivers sack lunches and clothing to the homeless. She also plays an active role as co-author of Hungry at Home, along with Jordan Anderson. Join her on Facebook via May You Have Enough and on Twitter at @rockitpixie.

Jordan Anderson is a recent culinary school graduate, food writer and blogger, and private cooking instructor. She currently works “in the industry” in Denver, and has also recently become the PR/Social Media Director for a new pop-up restaurant concept, ELEMENTS. A native of Arkansas, Jordan moved to Denver in 1999 after closing her eyes and pointing to a spot on the map. She is a Big Sister with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Colorado, and just celebrated the five year anniversary of her match with her Little. After experiencing food insecurity and homelessness both as a child and an adult, she firmly believes that it will be through the grassroots efforts of local food activist organizations that solutions will be found and implemented. You can find her here online at her blog, I’m Gonna Cook That!, @gonnacookthat on Twitter and Instagram, and GonnaCookThat on Facebook.