Ali J. | December 2020
The first time I ever received a box of food from a food bank I was humbled and relieved. I had been struggling with rent and bills, and food had simply fallen down to the bottom of the list. I had never really given much thought as to what actually came in the food boxes, other than assuming that they were full of fresh foods that allowed for people to make meals for themselves that would last. So, when I opened the box I received, I was more than surprised to find nothing at all like that.
The box was full of junk. Sodium-laden, fat-heavy, nutritionally devoid junk. Dollar store pastas – beef pasta that did not come with fresh beef to cook into it and macaroni and cheese. About 15-20 snack sized bags of cookies, goldfish, candy, chips…some of it as much as two years expired. There was a can of tuna that was labeled “textured soy”. There was a bag of potatoes and two huge containers of sour cream. Also included were a bunch of the tiny little packets of McDonald’s branded granola that they give out with their yogurt parfaits. Worst of all was the zip-lock bag full of fast food condiment packets – a mustard packet from Sonic, a packet of Soy Sauce from some unnamed Chinese restaurant, a completely random stick of vanilla and a few cloves….honestly, it looked like a junk bag from someone cleaning out their car.
The phrase that kept running through my head was, “beggars can’t be choosers”, which is an awful way to think about myself or anyone else who needs food assistance. And, I think maybe that’s how this food bank was thinking. After I convinced myself that it is not a shameful thing to need help, I was insulted and – if I’m being honest – pretty angry. Where was the milk? The bread? The nutrients of any kind? What was this telling me? Should I exist on sour cream, potatoes and pasta? Was I meant to eat BBQ chips and expired cookies for lunch or dinner? Everything about the food I was given said, “Here is just enough to literally keep you alive, but you won’t enjoy it, and it’s going to be really unhealthy.”
Is that what those in need deserve? I thought of the fact that I don’t have children, but what was I supposed to do with this food if I did? Do I send them to school with a half oz packet of McDonald’s granola for breakfast?
A few days later, a friend of mine took me to another food distribution (a DFR No Cost Grocery Program], and the difference was incredible. Fresh fruit and vegetables (Lettuce, lemons, limes, tomatoes, onions, squash, cauliflower, apples, fresh ginger root) two different kinds of bread, a gallon of milk, eggs, cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, sliced deli meat, a bunch of Yoplait yogurts, tater tots, – as well as some healthy snacks. With this food, I made sandwiches and hot meals. I made salads and tacos. I had healthy meals for at least a week and at no point did I feel unhealthy or lacking in nutrition. I didn’t feel like I had been given cast-offs that were barely edible. This is how all food banks should operate – no one should have to wonder if the food they’re receiving will be healthy and fresh.
A concerted effort needs to be made to consider the nutritional value of what goes into the food boxes we give people in need. They are not beggars and we should be choosing to ensure that they receive fresh produce and meats, dairy and grains. At the end of the day, a human being is a human being, whether they live in a shelter or in a fancy high-rise downtown. It is unfair and morally corrupt to not consider the nutritional needs of the poor simply because of their socioeconomic status.