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Writing, learn-ing, jewelry, deconstructing t-shirts and reality - it's what I do. I live to be inspired, and to inspire.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The November Experiment: Health and Poverty

If "Health is Wealth" what does that mean for the poor?
November 2013 I embarked on an experiment looking at healthy eating on a tight budget. I promised to spend $20 per week on food and still eat healthily. The first 2 weeks went smoothly and then I reached a budgeting roadblock in the third week. I wanted to celebrate a special birthday with a friend so I used my $20 allotment for that and skipped the grocery that week. I was fine for week 3 and 4 with what I had already in my pantry and making use of leftovers – another important skill on a budget. I used the remainder saved from the previous weeks to splurge for Thanksgiving ($25) and by the end of November I averaged $19.80 for each weekend that I would have gone to the grocery.

Now in doing this experiment I was not going far off the road I am used to. I have been putting myself through school and money has always been tight. Oftentimes I’ve had less to work with and sometimes more. The purpose here was to get concrete information about shopping with a set limit for healthy eating. As an educator I hope to use this information to prepare health and wellness workshops for people in financial hardship. During this time though, there were other things I learned  too.

For one I learned there are some psychological roadblocks that can be associated with or exacerbated by poverty which a recipe list and mere shopping advice cannot solve. Anxiety and depression can be triggered or exacerbated by the very real struggles of poverty. This was well expressed here in a blog post by a woman living in poverty entitled “Why I Make TerribleDecisions, or, poverty thoughts.” 

So in addition to caring for the physical health of those with low socioeconomic status, we need resources caring for their mental health. Taking care of oneself and one’s family is a commitment that can truly be derailed when issues of depression and anxiety overwhelm. Everything starts with the mind, health included. 

The tangible limitations of the cost of food can be worked around with the right MIND set and SKILL set. Knowledge and application of what your body needs, what foods are healthy, how to cook, how to shop for  or grow them; these are all important in overcoming the challenges of being healthy when funds are scarce.

So it comes down to education: not necessarily the institutional classroom and grades type, but the education generations before us were receiving in the home, in the kitchen, the market and the yard. In many U.S. families, for about 3 generations (both boys and girls) have not been leaning how to cook for themselves and their families (here is Jamie Oliver’s TED talk about this). That leads to a deficit contributing to poor health among lower socioeconomic classes. If you are poor and do not know how to cook for yourself, you do not have the money to pay someone else to prepare wholesome meals for you and your family. You end up paying cheap fast food restaurants to cook for you instead. You are stuck with low quality nutrition form the cheapest prepared food sources: fast food and cheap processed bulk foods.

In order for us to truly address the health of the socioeconomically disadvantaged we need to make available resources for their mental health as well as help them develop the necessary skill sets through education.

Truth is socioeconomic imbalance should not even exist and is a symptom of the many things wrong with this world and how it is governed and controlled. The argument that a poor person is responsible for his or her circumstances because of laziness or poor character is the highest level of bullshit. The deck is stacked. Those of us who have knowledge and resources to do something need to look out for those who do not – that is how we build and grow together. The November Experiment helped me gain new insight into what I need to include in developing my strategy to help. I hope it also helps you get a wider perspective of the issues of health and poverty.