• Phoenix Rising needs funds to operate: please consider donating to support PR

ME/CFS and the Poverty Diet

View the Post on the Blog

by Jody Smith



Chronic illness and the Poverty Diet often go together. Far too often. I was on the Poverty Diet for many years. I have ME/CFS, my husband Alan deals with crippling past injuries and fibromyalgia. We raised our children on the Poverty Diet during more than half their childhoods.

It is a no-brainer (pardon the ME/CFS pun) that when you can't work, you aren't making any money. It is less obvious, to many who haven't been through it, that people who can't work because of poor health are not automatically protected by any kind of federal safety net - social, financial or otherwise.

Alan and I had no such safety net provided by our government. We were luckier than some in that a few family members would contribute food and money to our household, some occasionally, and some on a regular basis. But even with such philanthropy, there was never enough money to pay all our bills and buy adequate food. Not for years on end.

We were experts on squeezing everything possible out of a nickel. We could feed a family of seven on three dollars a day. Not well, but enough to fill everyone's bellies. We sought out the day-old bread, the sales. We bought stuff we didn't much like because it was cheap. We bought white bread, noodles, margarine, few vegetables, rarely fruit or juices. Meat was cheap cuts and not too much of it.

As you may imagine, people who are sick to start with and who must live on the Poverty Diet for years, even decades, are being set up for worse health problems than they started with. A little over 10 years ago, I stumbled upon the Low Carb Diet, and learned that it worked much better for me than the Poverty Diet. We were in a situation for a couple of years when we could afford to buy the appropriate foods, and I began to feel better, to think better, and lost 50 pounds in the process.

Five years ago our finances took a solid dive and we were all on the Poverty Diet again. We were able in those days to pay only about 25 percent of our bills each month, juggling payments wildly, and somehow managing not to be without light or heat, or foreclosed upon. We wished we could live on our old Poverty Diet once again. We aspired to one day be able to afford the Poverty Diet we'd choked down in the past.

To eat, we went to the local food bank. This meant we only had to come up with a few dollars for groceries each month. But there was a problem with the Food Bank Diet, which is, let's face it, another version of the Poverty Diet.


This is not the fault of those who work in the food banks. We were so grateful that these wonderful people cared about what happened to us. We weren't used to people caring anymore. Being allowed to walk in there and be given food with no strings attached, no suspicion, no judgment, made me weep the first time I went in. They were so decent, and we hadn't seen a lot of that in awhile.

The problem with the food bank was that most of the food was processed, high carb, lots of bread, bagged noodles, boxed noodles with powdered sauces, boxes of cereal, potatoes, rice ... None of which I can safely eat.

There was some protein. A dozen eggs, a package or two of hot dogs, cans of tuna, cartons of milk, there would be enough to keep me going ... for a few days out of each month. Cans of green beans or peas, tomato sauce, frozen carrots, cheese and peanut butter, all contributed in a limited fashion to some nutritional health. But most of the time I was eating canned spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, plain rice and noodles with margarine.

I gained back 30 of the pounds I'd lost on the Low Carb Diet before the Food Bank Diet. One winter I contended with hair falling out, and distressing pains, sparks, swirling sensations and little explosions in my nervous system.

The more I partook of this Diet, the worse my cognitive problems became. I would have food-induced panic attacks after too much wheat at a time. I was hungry all the time, while I was slowly gaining weight. Eating a dish of rice would leave me hungrier after I ate it than if I had eaten nothing at all, apparently due to my inability to properly metabolize most carbs.

The only other option, though, was to not eat at all. So even though I could feel myself sliding health-wise, cognitively, and said goodbye once more to my girlish figure ... it could have been worse. For some people it is worse. I know some people who can't work due to health issues, live in poverty and who manage on less than we had. But they are paying the penalty as their overall health is pushed further downhill.

We went to the food bank for three years. I started my ME/CFS website Ncubator.ca during the Food Bank Diet years, some months later I started my job while still on the diet. We were on the Food Bank Diet during the couple of years when I worked part time, and for a while after I hit full time hours. And now, it has been almost two years since my family and I have been able to walk away from the Food Bank Diet.

It is a wonderful thing to be able to eat decently. And apparently it is a privilege, not a right. Because many people are stuck with a Poverty Diet ... and many others even less fortunate can only aspire to attain it some day. But it seems to me that everyone should be able to move beyond the Poverty Diet and its kindly-meant counterpart, the Food Bank Diet, and have a decent chance to heal.

What kind of diet has ME/CFS brought into your home?


Phoenix Rising is a registered 501 c.(3) non profit. We support ME/CFS and NEID patients through rigorous reporting, reliable information, effective advocacy and the provision of online services which empower patients and help them to cope with their isolation.

There are many ways you can help Phoenix Rising to continue its work. If you feel able to offer your time and talent, we could really use some more authors, proof-readers, fundraisers, technicians etc. and we'd love to expand our Board of Directors. So, if you think you can help then please contact Mark through the Forum.

And don't forget: you can always support our efforts at no cost to yourself as you shop online! To find out more, visit Phoenix Rising’s Donate page by clicking the button below.

View the Post on the Blog
 

Comments

I don't know whether food banks in the US have similar rules to those in the UK, but here we can only donate packaged food. I was very frustrated when I was trying to donate some delicious, fresh surplus apples from my tree. They would not take them. I commented at the time that it was a bad idea to force stressed, poor people to live on processed food with no fresh fruit and veg.

I noted the stark contrast with a TV item on the economic downturn in Greece, where farmers were donating crates of fresh fruit and veg to the poor.
Perhaps there is a soup kitchen in your area ? The one we have in town would be happy to have your apples.
They are sometimes not well advertised. You might ask around by calling a church or local office for the aging.
 
Sometimes in my neighborhood people leave a box of surplus fruit from their trees at their mailbox with a sign "free".
I am always grateful and pick out some and take home.

I love that as it's such a waste when fruit are left to rot on the ground.
 
I just wanted to toss this in. I'm too sick to get to a food bank. I have to get groceries delivered and that costs more than even going to a market. So far I can afford to eat. Not sure how I'd survive on Ramen Noodles.
 
I put this photo on my thread yesterday as it shows my first caulifower Ive grown at my new house but I thought I'd put it here too to make more people aware of just what can be done as far as growing veg without too many hassels (the most hassel is the watering if its a time of year you needed to water). I perfer planting in something this size as pots generally dry out too fast for my liking and hence need more care and attention.

This tractor tyre (so holds water in well) has a round hole in the middle which is only 1metre by 1metre in size. Its a no dig garden.. the mushroom compost I used was poured in from its bags.. which was layered with garden clippings from my lawn which I got my gardener to dump into the tyre when he mowed. I havent weeded this area at all either yet and only watered the cauliflowers, twice a week for the first few weeks they were planted and that is it (as we are having wet weather here), 3/6 of the cauliflower seedlings died due to my lack of watering when they first were planted but half survived.

I havent bothered doing any fertilising due to using the mushroom compost, lawnclippings and throwing my kitchen scraps there. One thing I had to do thou when the cabbages were young, was to pick off a big green caterpillar which was eatting holes in the leaves (but this was the only pest issue I had).



In this little space I have growing (well did before i picked one yesterday :D )..
-3 cauliflowers (which will last me 3months, when they are being ready to be picked is spacing themselves out in time differently..not something I'd planned but just happened).
- 2 tomato plants (which came up themselves from food scraps).. one of them is a big plant growing vigerously (see behind the big cabbage in photo) thou its the wrong time of the year, its even started to flower now (and isnt being bothered by the frost, maybe those cabbages protect it well)
- potato plant (once again came up from scraps)
- I have 8 leek plants in it too (hidden by the cabbage leaves in photo)
- chives (those are the thigns at the front of photo which look like a grass weed)
- and a winter savory herb too

the new house i moved inot has a big old apricot tree which had buckets of apricots dropped all over the ground when i moved in. Unfortunately due to my low carb diet.. I can only eat one small piece of fruit a day so when these ripen i will be giving away to family or advertising free apricots on freecycle. *For anyone who dont know about freecycle.. look it up as occassionally people give away fresh fruit throu there or other foods when they clean out their tins...
 
I hadn't thought of using the food bank as being part of an illness, but it really is.

Two winters in a row, I went to the food bank regularly. All one has to do here is fill out the paperwork indicating need, and continue reporting back in regularly with any change.

Yes, carbs, carbs, and more carbs, simple carbs, pasta, rice, bread, on it goes. It was scary eating like that, but I felt that 1) I was not starving, thanks to God, and 2) I was grateful for the kindness of the people administering the program and 3) if I was grateful for the food, maybe the impact of it would be lessened somehow. It never made me sick. I think God just watches out for you when you do what you have to do. If I shopped like that now, oh, my, I'd be sick. So I simply enjoyed things like the day-old cakes and brownies that came my way. :) What else can you do? You can't starve. Better to be eating something than nothing.

My days of not being able to contribute to the food bank still have not ended. My eyes are open, though, and the day I can contribute very much again, it will be canned proteins.
 
Sometimes in my neighborhood people leave a box of surplus fruit from their trees at their mailbox with a sign "free".
I am always grateful and pick out some and take home.

I love that as it's such a waste when fruit are left to rot on the ground.
My parents do that at their vacation house in the US. It's got a variety of orange raspberries growing as a ground cover in front, which really do taste delicious. One neighbor came over to ask if a woman living nearby with two young children could have some of the raspberries and then he picked a bunch for her.

Now a sign goes up in the yard in the summer saying "Free Raspberries - U-Pick!" :D It's a great way to get to know the neighbors too, especially on a smallish island where there's a mixture of struggling locals and wealthier vacationers and retirees from nearby cities.
 
It occurred to me that right now the food banks here in the U.S. are themselves on a poverty diet. With the economic downturn, need has gone up while donations have gone down. If you have to feed more people with less money, you turn to cheap carbs.
 
I am now growing things that are very low-maintenance, e.g. apples, blackcurrants, and trying to grow gooseberries but not much luck with fruit so far!.
Realised that this wasn't clear - it's only the gooseberries that I'm not having much luck with - I have had hundreds of apples (had to give a lot away) and lots of blackcurrants, but not many gooseberries. If anyone likes apples (or similar tree fruit) and has a little space, I strongly recommend getting a tree, bush, or trainable variety. It's so easy to grow them. My apples don't keep very well using most methods, but I have found that they will keep well for months in a plastic container in a fridge. Just check them about once a week for any rotting ones. You can also dry them in slices or strips, or chop or puree them and then freeze the chunks or puree.
 
Sometimes in my neighborhood people leave a box of surplus fruit from their trees at their mailbox with a sign "free".
I am always grateful and pick out some and take home.

I love that as it's such a waste when fruit are left to rot on the ground.
I'd be happy to do something like this, but with the position of my house it would have to be where the drive meets a lane, and I would not be surprised if some opportunists took them all to sell, or fruit-averse delinquent children walking home from school used them to throw at each other, or some antisocial idiots dumped a bag of dog mess on them! I think I have solved the surplus problem now, as I share them with a local vegan group and am getting an extra fridge to store more.

beaker I would still really like to give some to people who are needy, but I doubt whether there is a soup kitchen or similar in my very small town (in the US you would probably call it a village!).
 
MeSci,

I had to laugh, when you mentioned the children throwing the fruit at each other.
My older brother used to think it so funny throwing grapefruit at me as I was biking off to meet my friend as a teenager.
lol brothers !! :D
 
I put this photo on my thread yesterday as it shows my first caulifower Ive grown at my new house but I thought I'd put it here too to make more people aware of just what can be done as far as growing veg without too many hassels (the most hassel is the watering if its a time of year you needed to water). I perfer planting in something this size as pots generally dry out too fast for my liking and hence need more care and attention.

This tractor tyre (so holds water in well) has a round hole in the middle which is only 1metre by 1metre in size. Its a no dig garden.. the mushroom compost I used was poured in from its bags.. which was layered with garden clippings from my lawn which I got my gardener to dump into the tyre when he mowed. I havent weeded this area at all either yet and only watered the cauliflowers, twice a week for the first few weeks they were planted and that is it (as we are having wet weather here), 3/6 of the cauliflower seedlings died due to my lack of watering when they first were planted but half survived.

I havent bothered doing any fertilising due to using the mushroom compost, lawnclippings and throwing my kitchen scraps there. One thing I had to do thou when the cabbages were young, was to pick off a big green caterpillar which was eatting holes in the leaves (but this was the only pest issue I had).



In this little space I have growing (well did before i picked one yesterday :D )..
-3 cauliflowers (which will last me 3months, when they are being ready to be picked is spacing themselves out in time differently..not something I'd planned but just happened).
- 2 tomato plants (which came up themselves from food scraps).. one of them is a big plant growing vigerously (see behind the big cabbage in photo) thou its the wrong time of the year, its even started to flower now (and isnt being bothered by the frost, maybe those cabbages protect it well)
- potato plant (once again came up from scraps)
- I have 8 leek plants in it too (hidden by the cabbage leaves in photo)
- chives (those are the thigns at the front of photo which look like a grass weed)
- and a winter savory herb too

the new house i moved inot has a big old apricot tree which had buckets of apricots dropped all over the ground when i moved in. Unfortunately due to my low carb diet.. I can only eat one small piece of fruit a day so when these ripen i will be giving away to family or advertising free apricots on freecycle. *For anyone who dont know about freecycle.. look it up as occassionally people give away fresh fruit throu there or other foods when they clean out their tins...
I use Freecycle too - great place to get things you need, but difficult when you don't have a vehicle to collect things. Some kind people will post or deliver items though.

Re fertiliser, I make a liquid one from nettles. You put the nettles in a bucket, cover them with water and leave for a few weeks or months. The resulting strained liquid smells like manure - and it is! The smell disappears a few minutes after you put it on the soil.

I make compost from garden waste and kitchen scraps, and never need to buy it except for acid-loving plants, not edibles.
 
I just wanted to toss this in. I'm too sick to get to a food bank. I have to get groceries delivered and that costs more than even going to a market. So far I can afford to eat. Not sure how I'd survive on Ramen Noodles.
Some churches here do deliver donated food to the sick. It might be worth asking about. Similarly some food banks deliver to sick people. This is not always the case though. I find that church run food banks who have lots of volunteers are more likely to do this. I have had several baskets of food delivered over the years, though these days I can afford to order food online for home delivery.
 
This is an excellent article. I think it should be seen by a wider audience than here at Phoenix Rising, perhaps as Illness and the Poverty Diet. You might add a paragraph on “what I wish you would donate to the food pantry”.
I don't know whether food banks in the US have similar rules to those in the UK, but here we can only donate packaged food. I was very frustrated when I was trying to donate some delicious, fresh surplus apples from my tree. They would not take them. I commented at the time that it was a bad idea to force stressed, poor people to live on processed food with no fresh fruit and veg.

I noted the stark contrast with a TV item on the economic downturn in Greece, where farmers were donating crates of fresh fruit and veg to the poor.
The food rules here are utterly stupid. My son's wedding was a "bring and share" affair as none of us could afford (or wanted to) the "wedding feast" stuff. There was loads of food as so many people contributed. At the end there were stews and soups left over so I asked our Deacon if he wanted it for the homeless people he worked with. He was up for it - all fresh food properly cooked - but it wasn't allowed! So some of it was wasted.
My "mum" is a Sister of Mercy and she used to gather all the near-the-sell-by date stuff, fruit, veg, fish, meat for her homeless and poor elderly until the rules changed. Then they found it hard to afford to keep feeding everyone.
My daughter is volunteering for the local food bank - and yet again rules seem to work against the poor and those who want to properly help them.
A priest I know who runs a soup kitchen and takes food out to the streets and many homeless people feel unsafe in the shelters or enclosed areas. His local council have tried to stop him and his helpers taking food out even in winter.
These rules need ditching so communities can help each other.
 
There has just been a programme on BBC Radio 4 about 'Skint Foodies'. Unfortunately I had to stop listening after a few minutes due to sensory overload from the intrusive snatches of music that have started appearing in the programme in the past year.

The programme will be repeated tomorrow and you should be able to listen online soon from here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b037gnxk
 
Todmorden in West Yorkshire, England is the place to get free fruit and veg. The locals are planting it in all available places such as town council parks, railway stations and canal enbankments. Its free to anybody who wants to pick it.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2072383/Eccentric-town-Todmorden-growing-ALL-veg.html
Trust the Daily Mail to call it 'eccentric'!

It's being done in other places too. Sometimes it's called 'guerrilla gardening' although that doesn't always involve edibles. There's some in London:

http://www.communitychannel.org/video/1yCKvvOI4G0/living_graffiti_the_story_of_guerrilla_gardening/

and a more formal initiative in London:

http://www.citybridgetrust.org.uk/CBT/Grants/GrowingLocalities/

There are some great initiatives aimed at encouraging people to use local spaces for growing food. Not all can benefit disabled people who can't manage the exertion, of course.

Another informal-type arrangement is for disabled and older people with gardens they can't manage to let someone else grow things in it, and presumably they then share the produce?