No matter how you look at it, some people simply cannot afford organic food. If you’re one of those moms who simply doesn’t have the grocery budget to afford organic food, know that you are not alone! This letter is for you.
This post is part of the Dear Mom Letters series.
Dear Mom Who Can’t Afford Organic Food,
Let me tell you something, Mama: I so know where you are. I’ve been there. Actually, I am there.
And you know what? I’m really tired of hearing the phrase “Cancer costs more than organic food.”
Is it true? Well, yes, cancer does end up costing more than organic food, but when you have little bellies to feed now, you can’t let them die of starvation.
Yes, you can grow your own. And, yes, an organic apple costs less than a bag of conventional, hydrogenated-oil-laden potato chips, but an organic apple is still more expensive than a conventional apple. And no matter how you look at it, some people simply cannot afford organic food. Anyone who proposes that organic food is available to the masses hasn’t lived in the reality of the masses.
Deep down, I’m a reader and a researcher. My dad always says: “Erin! You read too much!” And, yes, it has caused me some stress over the years–like when I read up on organic food.
No doubt, organic food is better for you. No doubt!
But there was a time when I let our bellies rumble a little at the end of a month because…I chose not to buy conventional items–and we simply ran out of grocery money.
I consider myself a “natural” mama. I do buy organic food whenever possible–when I can find it at Aldi, when I can get a good deal on bulk items at BJ’s, when I can get non-certified organic from the farmer’s market or when I find bruised or over-ripe organic produce in the bargain bins at the grocery store.
We prefer organic food.
But we simply cannot afford to go 100% organic–not to feed our family of 5. We just can’t. Sometimes…sometimes…you have no choice.
Image by H Assaf
A few years ago, a friend told me about a post in which a well-meaning blogger tells how her family of four was taking on the “tough” challenge of eating real food on a tight budget–a food stamps budget, in fact.
I couldn’t wait to read this post and join this challenge. Surely, surely, it would help our family.
But when I clicked over, my jaw dropped. The “tight budget” was more than $600 per month. $600 is a “tight” budget? I felt defeated. I wanted to cry. In fact, I think I did.
Our budget at the time was far less than half of that.
I emailed the blogger. She kindly returned my email and suggested we cancel cable, sell our cars. She just doesn’t get it, I thought. She just doesn’t get it.
We didn’t have cable, and at the time we didn’t even own a car!
I next googled the food stamps eligibility. And guess what? It looked like we qualified! Yep. I was carrying our second child, and finances were so tight that I didn’t know how in the world we would ever be able to continue to feed our one child as it was–much less two.
I did something so humbling I have waited until now to share it with you. And I hold my breath as I even type it: I drove to our county’s Department of Social Services, and I applied for food stamps.
Scratch that–I didn’t drive myself there: My mom drove me. We didn’t own a car at the time, remember?
I see it like it was yesterday: Mom had told me a lady from the church where I grew up worked in the food stamps office. Would they call a number or my name? If the latter, would someone recognize my name? What if I ran into that woman from my past? Would she look at me in pity–in judgement?
And I’ll be honest: My pride reared its ugly head that day. I wanted to push out my chest and shout from the rooftops: I am an educated woman! I graduated the top of my class–in both high school and college! I hold a degree–and was a double major!
It happens every time, doesn’t it? When our pride shows itself, God humbles us. And it’s not easy.
As the food stamps worker listened to my story and collected all my documents, a little bit of hope glimmered inside. Perhaps we would get enough money to be able to afford better food–at least for a while–until we were able to produce a better income.
I should give the disclaimer that my husband, a teacher, was already working 12-hour days, Saturday school, football games, teaching an extra class during his planning period and running an after-school program–all to bring in extra income. I would sometimes stay up all night writing–just so we could make ends meet.
We weren’t sitting on our lazy bums.
A rejection letter in the mail a few days later brought with it both disappointment and relief: Now I could say we never had food stamps. Yet, I was back to square one with how we would feed our growing family.
Why were we rejected? We overqualified by about $200 per month–the amount I was making at the time by freelancing for our local newspaper.
God provided for us in other ways: the sweet Catholic co-worker of my husband’s who left gluten-free goodies on our doorstep for our little girl. Again, I didn’t know whether to shout for joy or cry–because weren’t we supposed to be the ones who gave to others and not the other way around? I had never imaged myself in the situation where someone would even feel compelled to leave food on our porch.
And we did qualify for WIC–a program which provides milk, cheese, eggs, cereal, some produce, rice, tortillas, bread, juice and beans. Not all of it was healthy, and a lot of it we couldn’t use because of food allergies, but sometimes that rice and beans got us through until the end of the month.
I hid the food stamps in shame. We live in an affluent suburb of Charlotte, North Carolina. I went to the grocery store where I thought I wouldn’t run into anyone–and at hours when I thought there would be fewer crowds.
When people haven’t walked in your shoes or understand your circumstances, they can be very judgmental. I know because I used to be the same way.
Oh how I’ve been humbled.
The day I ran into another girl from my MOPS group waiting in line for her WIC appointment? We looked at each other and knew–we were both embarrassed and relieved at the same time. And so I wasn’t the only one hiding something.
I am not advocating for going on government aid to eat better. I am especially not advocating going on government aid for a long-term solution.
My husband continues to work tirelessly, and I write as much as I can–just so we over-qualify enough to not be on it. God has blessed me with the ability to stay at home with my kids and write this blog. It has allowed us to get ahead some.
That day I called and canceled our WIC? It was monumental.
Dear Mom Who Can’t Afford Organic Food,
I hear you. I really do. And I do not judge you.
You just keep on giving your babies the best food that you can. Even if you don’t eat organic, you can still eat real food–fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, meat that hasn’t been processed. Cook from scratch. Use up all your leftovers. Check those bargain bins for any reduced organic foods.
But, most of all, let go of that guilt that real food elitists may conjure up. Go in grace, Mama. Go in grace.
Be sure to read part 2 of this post: Practical Ways to Eat Well When You Can’t Afford Organic Food. If this post spoke to you, you might also my friend Beth’s post: Dear Middle-Class America, I Have a Bone to Pick with You.