Poverty, Health, and Healing: How do I overhaul my eating on $357 a month?

I have to confess that a significant factor in my resistance to making “healthstyle” changes is due to the challenges of being economically poor. I’ve gotten very frustrated, discouraged, and, often, angry, when trying to discuss the challenges I face in attempting to cook home-made meals, with nutrition dense foods, while living in extreme poverty.

I came across a couple of other posts which simultaneously helped me feel validated and more than a little angry. As a matter of fact, the first one, from Michelle, The Fat Nutritionist, pissed me off as soon as I read the title: If only poor people understood nutrition!


I understand nutrition. I’ve studied it off and on my entire adult life! Seriously. I grew up without learning how to cook. We ate fast & convenience foods or in cafeterias where my mom and grandma worked. Later on, when I lived with other relatives, I still didn’t learn to cook, but we ate a lot of greasy, carb dense, “Southern food.” So, I’ve struggled with learning to cook, planning meals, grocery shopping, and all the other logistics of eating healthy. However, I’ve taken college classes on health and wellness, participated in community-based education on nutrition, owned and used a variety of healthy eating oriented cookbooks, and so on, ad infinitum. So, why has my eating and nutrition stayed so abysmally awful?

Michelle provides a lot of relevant information and probably explains it in a way that is less whiny or b****y, than I would. Once I read the following, my initial ire at the article’s title simmered down:

The reality is that people who don’t have enough money (or the utilities and storage) to buy and prepare decent food in decent quantities, cannot (and should not) be arsed [“asked” maybe?] to worry about the finer nuances of nutrition.

Because getting enough to eat is always our first priority.

She sums it all up, quite nicely with her closing statements:

You want people to eat better? Give them enough money, a place for cooking and storage, and access to a decent variety of food.

Then you can worry about the finer points of nutrition.

A link from that article led me to Ami’s Guide to Food Privilege. Ami wrote from firsthand experience and addresses things like personal agency, classism, and how it seems like everyone in our society who is NOT receiving subsistence benefits (and even some who do) have an opinion about what those of us in poverty should or shouldn’t eat or spend food stamps on.

I’ve got to say, it was a relief to find these two articles. Because these women wrote them, I don’t have to wind myself up to say it all again. NOTE: These articles are from 2010, FIVE YEARS AGO! I think the “War on Poverty” has taken the form of “War on People in Poverty” because none of the information these two women provided is out of date.

For a variety of reasons, which I choose not to go into in this post, I’m on a zero cash income, unless a minor or major miracle happens. Minor ones do occasionally. However, every month I receive $357 in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps).

How do I feed my youngest and myself the foods on the food list from yesterday and do so with only those benefits? This averages just under $12/day to feed the two of us. Three meals for me and one for her on school days (she gets breakfast and lunch at school) is just under $3/meal. On her days off from school, when it’s six meals, it’s just under $2/meal. True confession time: I often wind up putting groceries in my ex’s (because, CODEPENDENT), get a container of organic formula for my grandson, and regularly discover items I’ve purchased were consumed by other household members (again because, CODEPENDENT, *sigh*). Moving on.

With zero cash and limited kitchen equipment & tools for home cooking, how do I get the necessary equipment and supplies for food prep and storage? Those things need “real” money to purchase. Even if they’re “affordable” at thrift and discount stores, when you have a zero-cash income, even the “affordable” things are beyond reach.

I’m supposed to only eat fresh food and not eat leftovers because of the probable histamine intolerance. No beans. No rice. No pasta pasta. In other words, no dietary fillers and meal extenders. That means almost daily shopping trips. This is a good idea given current living conditions and solves the lack of food storage supplies. The problem with that is that it’s a minimum of an hour round trip on public transit in order for me to get to an affordable, bag-it-yourself grocery store. Thankfully, the ex bought me a bus pass for November.

When I got my SNAP benefits yesterday, I took a trip to a local butcher shop that is probably not as expensive as other well-known butcheries in the area. Most of those were quite hipsterish, offering lunch and dinner menus for the privileged who aren’t as concerned with food scarcity. This butcher shop is a long time fixture in an area that has historically been economically depressed, although gentrification is altering that demographic a bit. I hoped that I could buy some quality meat that was affordable FOR ME. I also really need to get busy making the homemade meat broths and stock, since it seems most of my upcoming meals will be some form of veggie/meat stews or soups. I haven’t been able to find where to get bones, unless they’re labeled for people to feed to their dogs, which I probably can’t get with SNAP.

I spent around $42 and came away with a whole chicken ($2.99/lb), 3 lbs of chicken wings ($2.99/lb), beef bones at, you guessed it! $2.99/lb. I got pork and turkey necks also. I have no idea how much broth or stock I’ll be able to produce. I just hope that was a good use of 12% of my grocery budget for this month.

One comment

  1. Oh, the socioeconomic studies on food deserts in cities based on income is ridiculous. It’s been a while since I’ve seen any of them in detail, but cheap is accessible and something that is supposed to be able to stay on the shelf a while. Ugh.


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