More Than Numbers in a Budget
By Trey Eggleston, VICPP Director of Advancement
This past week, I participated in the Poverty Diet. This was my first experience with the poverty diet, and therefore I had no real preconceived expectation for what the experience would entail. The day before I was scheduled to begin, I went shopping at Food Lion. The store was beyond walking distance from my house, but was located at a bus stop.
On the one hand, I was able to complete grocery shopping for three days under budget. I spent a total of $11.69 for what I considered to be a fair amount of food for a three day period. The benefit of shopping at Food Lion was the ability to take advantage of store brands at steeply reduced prices, as well as the ability to utilize a customer savings card that is free to sign up for. Every item I purchased was Food Lion's "My Essentials" brand, which turned out to be a vital component of my ability to purchase the amount of food that I did. I focused on purchasing foods that I liked and were easy to prepare (sandwiches, soup, frozen meals), while also incorporating some fruit and canned vegetables.
Overall, there were a couple of significant takeaways from this experience. First, even though the actual quantity of food I was able to purchase was enough to make it through three days, it was clear that I was making some sacrifice in nutrition. Although I was able to get some servings of canned greens and a banana for each day, other food items (likely because they were the deeply discounted brand at the store) were high in salt and at times contained an ingredient list that read like a novella.
One of the second major takeaways occurred during the very first day. Our power went out for about an hour on Tuesday. This normally would have been nothing more than a slight inconvenience. But then I realized how many of my groceries from the day before were being refrigerated. My lunch meat and milk - my primary sources of protein for the week - as well as other frozen entrees, were at risk. Realizing how a seemingly trivial event could compromise my ability to eat for the week was rather frightening. It made me realize that their is really no room for error or even events beyond your control, when living on a budget that demands efficiency and does not allow for a "do-over".
Participating in the poverty diet enabled me to experience the struggles with food insecurity many of Virginia's families must face everyday. I was fortunate that I did not have to worry about other factors, such as housing, transportation, or a job that paid a livable wage. It was only a small slice of the experience that too many in our communities confront daily in an attempt to meet their basic needs. Programs such as SNAP are truly about more than numbers in a budget or debate over public policy. It is a reflection of the human story in Virginia and the US in the 21st century. It is a story that can, and must, be re-written to truly value the life and life-experience of each and every one of us.