Sunday, October 20, 2013


Last month, the CDC released a new study showing that, from 2008 to 2011, rates of obesity among low-income children, ages 2-4 in WIC monitored programs, fell approximately 1% in 19 of the 43 states. People hail attempts at dietary improvements for this decrease in obesity rates. However, it is not clear exactly why this is happening, since studies show that even when given the exact same diet as their richer counterparts, that the poor will still gain much more weight. This difference is generally attributed to higher cortisol production associated with the stress of poverty. In a 2012 study it was determined that approximately 50 million people are currently food insecure in the U.S., and that number rises to 1 in 4 for children.

A few years ago I moved near a soup kitchen in Florida, a hard hit state which has more than it's share of poor and homeless winter arrivals. After the stock market collapsed, I noticed the arrival of increasing numbers of people to the kitchen, and I was surprised at the obesity of some of them. But not now. Now the obese have slimmed down significantly and considering the high fat and carbohydrate content of the food that most soup kitchens serve (and I applaud them for doing the best that they can!), I find this new finding somewhat frightening. I myself have observed stick thin individuals, some of whom looked to be on the verge of starvation. Once as I was out walking in the late afternoon, I came across two teenagers behind a bush, sitting on a hidden ledge, having a “snack”, which was actually their dinner.

“Oh, I see you've found yourself a nice little hidey hole!” I said with a smile. Then I commented on the treat the young man was eating: a large packaged honey bun. “Oh...that's not so good for you.” It seemed a poor choice for a meal.

“Yes I know,” he said. “And I'm diabetic. But this is what they gave me to eat for later and it's all I've got.” Neither of them was overweight....even though this was typical of the type of food that they ate.

I was totally appalled. “Oh that's awful! I am so sorry! ” I said, with great shame at my judgement. “I wish I could help you, but I'm on food stamps myself.” I wished them luck, then I moved on.

Over a year ago, when I still had a car and was out running errands, I saw a sign at a church announcing “free food today”. I was struggling to keep above water financially, so I thought, Yes, I should take advantage of this opportunity, and went over to apply. As I waited for the doors to open, more people arrived. They were among the poorest people that I have ever seen. The condition of their clothing and obvious lack was so apparent that I began to feel quite out of place. I began to feel somewhat torn about my presence there, but I kept my place in line. When my number was called and I entered into the privacy of the one room panty, they took one look at my license and announced that, “We only serve people who live right here in this community and you live too far away to be in our area, but since you are here and we want to give you something. However, we can only do this once. We won't be able to help you again as we are a small church with limitations. The people we serve are very poor.”

“I AM very poor,” I protested. How could $715 a month not be very poor? It's thousands a year below poverty level.  But then I noted, “However, I am not homeless.” It was obvious to everyone, including myself, that even though my income was well below the poverty line, that my situation was nowhere near the level of desperation of those standing outside.

By now I felt extremely uncomfortable. I suggested repeatedly that maybe I just shouldn't be taking anything. The extent of neglect of the American people and the extreme situation so many were in, dawned upon my consciousness like the great glare of a police light on someone who has committed a heinous crime....I felt great shame....and greed.

But they insisted that I take something, so I did. I eventually opened one can, but I was unable to eat the rest, so I donated what they had given me to a food drive. Since then I have not applied to take home free food anywhere because there isn't enough food to fill a far greater need than I have. Such is the sad, unnoticed, state of the American people.

That many of the American public assume the so called “greed” of the homeless and poor is a true testament of both their projected fear and ignorance. No one lives this way out of choice. No one.

Todays Lesson: “The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” Mother Teresa

copyright Linda Matthews 10/20/2013

Update:  Shortly after this was written  the State of Florida enacted back-to-back food stamp cuts and I had no choice but to start attending a local soup kitchen to save money.

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