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.
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