What Food Scarcity Looks Like

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I’ve pitched this piece to clients before.

Several times.

I always get thanked for the pitch, but it always gets shut down. It’s probably too raw. Too real. Probably reveals too many of my own wounds from the past, making it an uncomfortable pitch to audiences who just want to be happy and fix their money.

But that’s why we have blogs, right?

With the corona virus putting more families into a situation where they’re fighting food insecurity — especially after the repetitive cuts to SNAP benefits the Trump administration has made and continues to attempt to make in the face of a pandemic — I figure it’s about time for this story to get told in its full bluntness.

What Food Scarcity Looks Like

When I started blogging, I was living well below the poverty line. We had just applied for food stamps.

I had found out I was pregnant. And I needed to get nutrients or calories of any sort to the fetus.

While we were in desperate need of money for food before, we didn’t humble ourselves to apply for benefits until there was a child involved.

We felt a lot of shame about applying. We both worked 40 hours a week. I was making just a little bit more than minimum wage, and he was making far less — even after his employer gave him a You’re-Going-to-be-a-Daddy pay bump, for which we were grateful.

Yes, that is a real thing.

But we intrinsically wanted to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. We wanted to be those self-actualized people the libertarians are always telling us we can become.

But we couldn’t do it. Not for lack of trying. Not without assistance. Not without financial aid for a college education. Not without Medicaid, which was not provided for adults in my state in the vast majority of cases before Governor Wolf was elected — unless you were pregnant. Not without LIHEAP. And not without SNAP.

The moment our lives really started to turn around was the moment we claimed the benefits we had poured our tax dollars into. When we had food on the table, we were able to stress less about making the electricity bill and freezing in the winter.

We were able to pursue and dedicate focus to the type of education that would lead to a higher-paying career.

We were able to maintain a healthy BMI. But there’s no way we could have done that if we couldn’t have put food on the table.

SNAP benefits were everything.

A lifeline.


Being a woman held to impossible standards.

It wasn’t all bad before the food stamps.

I mean, it was.

Let me get really real with you about beauty standards in our culture: I was much hotter when I was starving.

Well, I was much hotter according the Twiggy culture I was brought up in.

I was too skinny. I wasn’t getting nutrition, but I was getting a lot of attention. I didn’t like the unwanted advances. But I did like how others accepted me because of how I looked.

That included acceptance in the workplace.

Before my personal experiences and thoughts dominated my career output, I was the epitome of traditional professionalism. I wouldn’t bring up politics in the workplace. I worked in fields dominated by women, refusing to engage in the gossip and workplace drama that sometimes accompanies workplaces dominated by patriarchal matriarchs.

I was not liked for it.

But I was respected for it. And at least part of that respect came from my looks. I knew it by comments people thought I couldn’t hear, and compliments those around me couldn’t help — even when I was working in toxic work environments.

Starving myself was good for work. That, in part, contributed to my reticence to take care of my own body.

I mean, when someone else’s body was involved, I jumped for the food. I filled out applications with the same information six times, literally calling unpaid days off of work to go into the Welfare office in order to get accepted so I could take care of the life growing inside of me.

But when it was my own body, the social rewards of starving combined with the extreme guilt of being labelled a “taker” kept me from caring for my own health.

Hangriness & Stress

When you don’t have enough food to go around, usually it’s the kids that eat first. That can leave the adults in the household hungry.

It’s really hard to operate from a place of true scarcity. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s really easy to get stressed out. It’s real easy to make the wrong financial decision because you can’t plan where every dollar is going when you don’t know where or when those dollars will be showing up.

It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of fees that disproportionately punishes those who didn’t have enough to get by to begin with.

Now add hunger to starvation on top of it. How long can any human being sustain their individual fight against the system under these circumstances?

These are the realities of living in poverty, and it’s why the bootstrap mentality is great, but shallow. It doesn’t account for the real obstacles that pop up in people’s way.

It puts the responsibility on the individual who is facing impossible odds. Rather than asking ourselves as one of the richest societies in the history of Earth, why do we allow any of our citizens to go hungry?

Is it because we have abandoned a collective moral code which accounts for humanity? In favor of one that blindly worships individual actualization because it makes those who “have” feel better about the abusive, unfair distribution of wealth and power in our country?

What can we do to help people struggling with food scarcity?

It’s simple: Give them cash.

When you don’t have enough money to pay your bills — no matter how basic they may be — what you need more than anything is an injection of money. If you know someone who may be struggling right now and is too proud to say it, hand them a $20 bill, and reject their polite refusals.

It will mean the world to them.

It will mean dinner to them.

And that’s something they weren’t sure they were going to have before.

Our government is not yet effectively helping those who are struggling the most.

In fact, the executive branch attempted to hurt them them further by dramatically cutting benefits in a time when they are needed the most — when many people will be forced out of work in the name of public health.

Even if our Congress has failed in its responsibilities to check executive leadership, our courts are still here to do the right thing. Saturday evening, an injunction was issued and the additional work requirements were not allowed to be put into effect — at least until we’ve got this virus under control.

Ideally, we wouldn’t kick 700,000 people off food stamps period. We’d have compassion not just for the struggles we see when they’re presented to us front and center.

In an ideal world, we’d have compassion for those struggles we don’t see on a regular basis as our society shames them into the shadows and robs the people experiencing those struggles of their voice.

Yeah, but how do I know they’ll actually spend it on food and not just waste it?

You don’t get to say where that $20 goes. It might go to food. It might go to rent. It might go to the dispensary so they can get the medication they need to deal with the PTSD with which poverty often co-occurs.

If you’re struggling with food scarcity, you’re likely struggling with economic scarcity in other areas of your life, too. If you’re going to give someone $20, give them the basic respect they deserve as a fellow human being and allow them to decide where it’s best spent.

We need to watch out for each other right now. Food insecurity was real before the corona virus, but it’s going to be far worse now that society as we are accustomed to it is shutting down.

Kids are home from school. People can’t go to work. The government is issuing assurances while attempting cutting off access to food and income for our citizens.

Help your neighbor.

I challenge you to take $20, or whatever disposable cash you might have, and put it into your community. Maybe your neighborhood has an association that’s collecting funds to help people out. Maybe you know someone up the street who was teetering on the edge before all this, but is too proud to bring up their needs in this moment.

Drop that money in their mailbox. Sign a card if you so wish. But the important thing is that the money we have goes to those who are facing food and housing insecurity during this crisis. Our citizens do not deserve to suffer at the hands of our government’s slow-roll to action.

Help your neighbor. They may not be getting the help they need from the state.

Note: If you find yourself in need, Jacob has put together a phenomenal list of programs — both open and those that will hopefully pass Congress soon — that may be able to help.

5 thoughts on “What Food Scarcity Looks Like

  1. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life

    Once I get ourselves situated this week with all the fresh upheavals donations to our local food bank and homeless shelter are on the list. Because if we’re being impacted by everything going on, most certainly the most vulnerable among us are too. Thank you for sharing.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Way to be! <3 Give cash to the food bank! They can buy food at lower prices than donating consumers can.

  2. Done by Forty

    Such a beautiful post, friend. Thank you for being so open & sharing these stories.

    “When you don’t have enough food to go around, usually it’s the kids that eat first. That can leave the adults in the household hungry.

    It’s really hard to operate from a place of true scarcity.”

    I remember my mom talking about growing up in the Philippines, and the sad sort of calculus their family had to do when there wasn’t enough food for everyone. My grandpa had to work, so they would give him more. But then the kids needed some, too. I think my grandma was often the one who went without.

    Again, thank you for writing this. It’s an issue that isn’t talked about enough in the personal finance community and, yes, a return to the type of cash-based assistance from the early 1990’s and earlier is a good idea. Giving people cash is not only the easiest solution, it’s also the most effective.

  3. femmefrugality Post author

    Thank you, friend. You’re always the kindest.

    That’s a really good point. My perspective may be lilted towards single moms with jobs that don’t necessarily require a lot of caloric output, as that’s most of what I’ve seen first-hand. But every circumstance is different, and that makes total sense that the working adult would need to be prioritized — that’s your way to bring in more money and try to fight the scarcity tomorrow!

    Your mom is an amazing woman, by the way. From everything I’ve heard you say about her she’s made magic in her life. And raised a great human being along the way!

    YES. The welfare reforms of the 90s — what a massive step backwards! As if the rich don’t have enough power over low-income households without itemizing their budgets — and then blaming them when that budget doesn’t help them get to a better place.

  4. Pingback: Money Hacks in a Time of Social Distancing | Femme Frugality

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