waistlines and wallets

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It was difficult to get warm the other day. The wind was whipping around the house and sneaking in under the kitchen cabinets, a frigid draft that chilled the floor and therefore my toes. I kept stepping in puddles left by the tumble of boots in the laundry room, and went through three pairs of socks before resigning myself to scuffing around in too-big slippers that make a racket on the wood floors. Food, I thought. Cooking will warm things right up, and a hot, hearty meal would be nice.

But it was a tough crowd in the kitchen. I thought that playing out in the snow would guarantee appetites at dinner and the menu wouldn’t be questioned, but oh ho ho, was I ever wrong. I made a big batch of “snack mix” that the girls won’t eat. A huge vat of cauliflower cheese soup and meatballs with hidden veggies (just carrots! they love carrots!) were also rejected, so mama hit three strikes before bedtime and had to tap out.

#FrugalFebruary starts this week (are you joining in?) so I have been thinking even more about food than I usually do. Not to say that this challenge is all about the kitchen, but groceries are a huge part of our budget, and one of the few places we can really control what is spent (other than just not buying non-essentials). I decided that I want to avoid depleting our pantry and freezer, because I’d eventually have to spend the money to replace those items anyway. Instead, I want to focus on being more mindful of my choices at the store, selecting items that will go further than one meal and choosing recipes with basic, inexpensive ingredients rather than something pricey or fancy. For example. I know I’ve got at least one ham bone in the freezer, and recently bought a bag of beans for less than $2. If I make a loaf of bread to go along with a big pot of soup, that’s three meals or more for under $5.

There is always food in our house. We rarely waste anything, particularly now that we have chickens who eat what the dog does not. However, we don’t need to skimp on portions or prices for any reason other than saving our waistlines and our wallets. There is always more for us. We can afford it when the girls are picky, but not everyone can.

It is downright alarming how many do not have enough to eat. Surrounded by farm stands and homesteaders, it’s sometimes hard to remember that food insecurity isn’t just an urban problem; here in Maine, approximately 14% of our state’s population uses the SNAP program, far fewer than actually need it because of new restrictions on who qualifies for assistance. Our food pantries are filling that gap – and not on an emergency basis, but as a regular source of calories.

The Bangor Daily News did an eye-opening piece on how and why food insecurity in our state has increased, even as the recession has ended and unemployment has decreased.

If you’re a podcast listener, I recommend “When the Food Runs Out” with Erica Heilman at Rumblestrip. Parts are tough to listen to, but give a pretty clear picture of how things actually look right now.

I don’t think we can afford for issues such as these to remain invisible. I’m not certain what the answer is at the governmental level, but down here in the weeds, it’s obvious to me that we need to make a commitment to caring for each other. If the political climate continues to deteriorate, our community may be the only thing we can rely on.

Anyway. That’s just what’s running through my head these days.

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