Thursday, January 29, 2015

Your Friendly Neighborhood Food Pantry (Nutrition Through Attrition)

(I haven't seen a food bank or pantry yet that doesn't have this 
particular item...presumably, the low price point
has something to do with that phenomenon.)

<Diminishing Returns, Take I>
The end of January rolled around.
Our bank account ran dry as our food stocks began running like sands through the proverbial hourglass. Our refrigerator hadn't looked this bare in this long.  The odd stream of income continued to trickle in, but the returns were no match for the bills constantly barreling into our mailbox.

My turn in the eBay corral hadn't met expectations, either. Last week, I sold three CDs for $38, but coughed up $5.35 in fees -- hey, no wonder people are jumping ship to Craigslist, right?

The Squawker's blinks telegraphed the anxiety long before the inevitable question arrived: "We don't have a lot left this weekend...should we hit the food bank?  I found one that's open from ten to noon on Saturday."

"Well, usually, these things turn sour, because..."  Now it was my turn to exhale.  "It's mostly cheese, tuna, and junk food...and there's usually never any meat at these things."

"Actually, this church is one of the better food banks around here..."

"What the hell," I shrugged.  "I don't mind being wrong if it helps the cause...get me up when it's time."

(The stuff of nightmares...when your pockets and your stomach are empty...)

<Diminishing Returns, Take II>
The initial signs looked promising (at first).

We didn't have to stand in line; we could walk right in. We didn't have to fill out a lot of paperwork, listen to a sermon, or keep our best poker face while somebody picked out a bunch of dented canned goods and called it even.  We just could pick up a brown grocery bag full of whatever they'd set aside, and go home.

The people running the food bank seemed nice enough. In all fairness, though, the situation didn't leave a lot of room for extensive conversation.

The Squawker and I headed back out to the car. As I heaved the bag into the hatchback, my heart sank. Two boxes of macaroni and cheese? Check.  One can of tuna? Check. One giant box of Fruit Loops? Double-check.

Unfortunately, Squaker's fish and potato allergies -- and Type 2 diabetes -- make such items a no-go zone, although the remaining ones that I could make out (a few cans of corn and green beans there, an Ekrich franks there) redeemed the situation somewhat.

"Want me to swap the cereal?" I asked.

The Squawker nodded. "Yeah, why don't you?  I can't eat that stuff..."

I tucked the Fruit Loops box under my arm, and dashed back inside.  I gestured at the large, bright orange cornflake boxes that occupied every other bag, or so. Apparently, the luck of the draw had worked against us there. 

"Hey, I live with a diabetic, so would you mind if I could swap this box for..."

I walked back outside with the cornflakes. Nobody made an issue of the request. Like I said, the people seemed nice enough...but how do the contents of those grocery bags get picked out?

Does somebody flip a coin, check the I Ching, or throw a dart?

And does somebody eat this stuff at home regularly?  I won't ponder that issue for too long, either. Call it the New American Way: Nutrition Through Attrition.  (What, you expect meat at these affairs?  Look how much weight you'll lose...the pressures of life are funny like that.)

(Believe it or not, we got this, too...stale panini loaf, anyone?)

(We've got a winner here...note the non-GMO, non-artificial content
labeling: about the only entry in this particular grocery bag that qualified
with this particular designation)

<Diminishing Returns, Take III>
We put away our grocery stuff and headed to a different church community dinner at noon.

We got pasta with ham slices plus a side of corn, a roll, a salad and a small chocolate on this occasion, at least, you had the four basic food groups represented.

You could also take home seconds in a styrofoam box, but had to wait until one o'clock for them (house rules, and so on).

We used fifteen of our last twenty bucks to get through the weekend. By Tuesday, we'd run through what little remained from our last grocery trip. I threw up my hands and made a couple phone calls.

The first went to an editor of mine for an advance on future earnings; the second went to a longtime friend for a small it insurance, I guess, to make it through the week.

Next month will come around, I'll get paid for a few more projects. Hopefully, the returns get better...I won't need to work off anymore loans for awhile...and I won't have to practice nutrition through attrition so soon. Time will tell, I suppose. --The Reckoner

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