Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the reality of pinching pennies.

when i began this blog post, i was going to complain about something and then refocus on me and what i'm doing.  as i wrote it, something else, something more important, occurred to me.  i hope you'll read with a generous heart and commit to help those who are in much more frightening circumstances make the season a little bit brighter.

i recently read a blog post that rankled me and got me thinking.  in it, the well-intentioned poster (and she absolutely was) discussed watching a particular documentary and committing to buying local and organic.

please don't misunderstand me and get offended at this point.  i have ZERO problem with this. in fact, i think it's a wonderful idea.

what bothered me, personally, was her comment that the extra expense might mean that she buys organic meat and everything else instead of the $4 cookies, but that it was worth it, almost dismissing the extra expense as not a big deal. 

that's what bothered me, because for a lot of Americans, they don't have that luxury and to assume that it's a) easy and b) totally doable is a distinctly first-world attitude.  again, if that's your circumstance (and it has been mine over the past few months at times), that's wonderful. you are blessed.

but i don't buy $4 cookies. ever.  even if i could justify the expense, which i don't feel i can, i am usually trying to spend the money that we have on the things that will get us the farthest.  for me, right now, that's often staples--the full-price options are usually fruits and vegetables, beans and rice, and dairy products.  everything else, unless it's a rare occurrence (which bothers me to do), gets bought on sale or generic or cheapest, because making our dollar stretch farther is crucial to me.

i am not alone.  not everyone even has the luxury that i have, to buy bananas and grapefruit and bagged salad when i choose. not everyone has the luxury of fresh ingredients, regardless of where they were grown, or healthy options in their shopping choices. meg and i have discussed this before, and it's a personal pet peeve of mine when people don't seem to recognize how difficult circumstances often dictate what choices we make.  even the most well-intentioned moms and dads can have truly huge issues providing their children and themselves with the nutritious food that they want. in chicago, for example, advocates have recognized this perilous issue and have begun taking steps to assist families to meet those needs.

beyond this being a personal soapbox for me, what does it mean for us?

it means that, all around us, people are living in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. in this economy, it can sometimes be desensitizing to be hit with statistic after statistic, like that 276,000 more people were unemployed in November or that the personal savings rate is lower than it has been in more than 50 years. but that's 200,000 more families who are wondering where their next meal is coming from or how their bills will be paid.  it's a sobering reality for those of us who find ourselves cared for and kept safe through circumstances for which we should be every day grateful.  it's no wonder, in a world like this, that 1 in 6 Americans suffer from "food insecurity," according to Feeding America. 

what can we do?

let's combine our efforts to not only help the hungry but to help provide them with healthy, nutritious foods.  here in the teachergirl/musicboy household, we will be making a donation to our local food pantry of healthy staples, including canned vegetables, beans, pasta, and fortified cereal. it will be one small step, but it's a step that recognizes not only how blessed we are to have what we have, but a step that will hopefully allow one more family to have healthy, nutritious foods available to them regardless of their circumstances.  

i encourage you to do the same. you can find your local food bank here, or you can find them in your local yellow pages. many organizations, including the salvation army, routinely run food drives at this time of year in preparation for the holidays.

on a smaller scale, but nonetheless important, as you prepare your holiday treats for friends and family, perhaps think about adding a loaf of whole grain homemade bread instead of one of those batches of cookies or fudge.  you'll be not only providing a delicious treat, but also a staple to a family that you love.  we don't always know what people need.  you just never know--1 in 6 is a staggering statistic. 

over the coming weeks in my posts, i will be revisiting the idea of balancing the budgetary needs of a growing family with the desire to eat healthy, nutritious foods.  perhaps i'll share my struggles, and you'll share yours; perhaps i'll share my recipes, and you'll share yours. 

whatever i do, i will do it with a grateful heart. i hope you will as well. i hope you will also share your stories of giving, as a way of encouraging each of us to reach out a little bit more.


  1. Thank you for sharing this!! I often forget those around me who don't have what I have. In my congregation, we recently had a service auction and all the proceeds will go to 46 needy families within our area. I was amazed how willing people were to part with their money and help those in need.
    Great post!

  2. Such an excellent post! You know my feelings on most of this (and I'm sure you know I'm about to hop on that soapbox with you, so I'll apologize in advance for the long post). Obviously there are cases where people do not make the right decisions, but rarely is it because they "just don't care." There are often other circumstances to be considered. (1) The ideal choice can be expensive. (2) In urban settings, healthy food can be harder to access (When was the last time you saw a Publix in East DC?). (3) Good intentions often can't outweigh low prices and convenience for those on a tight budget or without job flexibility.

    I am in a middle class SES and affording all organic/local meats and produce is not within my budgetary limits. Obviously people will say that I could make it happen if I wanted, but similar to what I mentioned above, there are always additional circumstances to be considered.