Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Can Compassion go with Benefits?

It is my personal belief that few things anger people more than what Other people eat.  I also hold a really strong conviction that we as a society, as Americans, as people worry WAY to Much about what other people are eating.

Fad diets turned in cultural obsessions, making millions selling books and advice to people who are so desperate to feel "better" and look better and BE better. Be honest with yourself for a minute -

Have you bought something at the grocery store as and indulgence to make yourself feel better? Have you done it on a whim, based on packaging, placement in the store, or just because.

Have you bumped into someone you knew while grocery shopping and peeking into their cart and thought... No wonder they _________, did you see all the _________ they were buying!  Have you been on the other end and thought, I really hoped they didn't notice the ______ in my basket.

I want to share some thoughts with you today. They are very personal and they are my own, and I would like you to please take them as just that. I'm not trying to fix a broken billion dollar system and I don't believe for one second that I have any power to fix anyone other than myself.  But I have had some thoughts rushing around in my head, and I want to share them with you.

I have been the recipient of SNAP benefits at times in my life. That is a very revealing confession and some of you might judge me harshly - That is one of the hardest things about being a recipient of benefits. - You are most likely at one of the lowest points in your life, you have been bombarded by loss, stress, needs not being met, you humble yourself to ask for assistance and you are instantly labeled. - Lazy. Free-Loader.  I shopped late at night, I always went to the same cashier with the kind eyes and I swiped that card so secretly.  The shame that we heap on ourselves that we have failed enough at life that we can't even buy food is a tremendous one.

Sometimes being in a place in your life when you might be receiving benefits means that you are working longer hours at work, maybe you aren't home to cook meals, or the grocery store closes before you get off work. Maybe you have to leave for work before the kids are awake for school and you have to take three buses and walk.  Have you ever realized what a luxury it is to go the store, to load your groceries in your car and drive home and put them away?

I was so blessed that I had lots of family living close to me. Family that helped me by giving me and my children a place to live. But not all benefit recipients have that luxury of close family, or family that is in a position to give.  When Joseph lost his job in 2014, my old in-laws emptied their food storage and brought us bags and bags and bags and bags of food. I was so grateful, I cried over the boxes of pasta and jugs of juice. But it is a rare case that someone is in a position to do that for another person.  In fact, there is a brand new movement to combat generational poverty. It is a heartbreaking thing,  Have you ever felt like you just couldn't get a break....? The stories of families in generational poverty will break your heart for days.

Food choices and relationships are so complex. Think for a moment how the world feels about coffee, or girl scout cookies. Think about how vegans feel about their convictions or people who buy organic.  Are there foods in your life that you feel like perhaps you just can't live without. What if buying that became the choice between spending that money on something you love and something you knew you "should" buy - like frozen peas.

What if you were put into a situation where you budget was cut in half and yet none of the bills were. How stressful! What would you do to relieve the stress, go to the gym? some retail therapy? go out with friends? enjoy a pint of ice cream? -- Can you afford any of those things now?

What if you were put into that same situation, but you had never been taught to budget. (perhaps because your single mom raised you living paycheck to paycheck). When I first began my journey I almost never cooked at home. I didn't enjoy it, I was much to stressed to deal with dinner time. I had spend almost 20 years eating every Single Meal out. I had zero kitchen skills. I didn't know how to cook a bag of dried beans - so why would I buy them.  I didn't even know what bok choy was, why would I buy that. In fact, just last week, I cooked with Tofu for the first time. How terrible to be in the worst situation of your life and has almost no skills to deal with how to manage it.

An article was debated in our family a few weeks ago, it was about the SNAP benefits system and how much it costs. That eventually leads to comments about how it is abused and then each of us get our food opinions involved of course we feel so strongly that we are right..... But like I said at the beginning, it isn't my job to fix a billion dollar system.

But, Believe it or not, it actually IS my job to give people hope and help. Food $ense is who I work for and they are who I learned from.  The classes are FREE! The teachers are compassionate and amazing.  In fact, during their first month of employment, they are required to live on a benefits budget for a week - to develop compassion and understanding for those of us that they teach.  You can go to classes locally where you live, or you can attend the online courses that they have. (I have done both!).  They are always adding new things, recipes, tips and ideas. They are compassionate and believe whole-heartedly in helping you.. and me.

If you are someone who is looking for help to better feed your family - healthier with less stress and less cost. WE are here to help you!  If you are scared and overwhelmed and need encouragement, we are here to help you.

If you are someone who is blessed enough to be able to live with food exactly as you want, I hope these thoughts can help add a little compassion towards your thoughts of those of us who don't have the luxury of always being able to control our relationship with food and that sometimes that food or the lack there of controls us.