Stress and Stigma

Around 2pm on Sunday I turned to my fiancé (E) and said, so we start the Challenge tomorrow and should probably have a game plan, huh?  He agreed, and we got to work.  Two hours later, E had looked at all of the local grocery store ads, and together we created a meal plan that we hoped provided enough nutrition and variety while staying within our ~$60 limit. 

It wasn’t easy. I’m gluten and soy intolerant, and we’re both used to eating out almost as much as we eat in.  We created a meal plan, and then a shopping list, and then cut back.  While we are generally a great team, there were multiple, “do we really need this?” and “how important is this, really?” and a few “why can’t you eat/like this?”  The tension in the house definitely rose as our anxieties about meeting our nutritional needs impacted the rest of our conversations.   A quick search pulled up multiple studies linking food insecurity to stress and domestic violence.  I thought about how stressful it would be to try and find meals that were nutritionally adequate, cheap and (and enjoyable ?!?) to everyone in the household as well as the likelihood that if I was struggling to purchase food, I’d also be struggling to make other critical purchases like paying rent/mortgage, putting gas in the car.  I quickly arrived at the realization that SNAP is only part of it; I’d be juggling competing priorities vying for time, brain space and patience.  While we were able to fairly quickly bounce back from our snappy “SNAP” conversation, the ability to do so partially hinged on the larger context of this experience’s time limit and gratitude that this does not have to be our daily experience.

On the way to the grocery store, E and I talked about how SNAP was meant to be a supplement and often becomes the primary food budget.  We also talked about the impact of SNAP on local economies.  E was surprised to learn that SNAP benefits are only distributed once per month during the first 10 days.  This morning, I came across an article talking about how hard it is for many grocers to keep up with the variable demand based on SNAP distribution. Apparently, some stores struggle to keep enough product,  leaving customers to go home empty handed… on the way to the store, little did I know how much this would affect me.

Once we got to the grocery store, a new set of conversations unfolded.  I had estimated how much each item would cost based on current purchasing patterns, and while I was close on most, a few items costed much more than expected.  We found ourselves in the meat department, debating about how much chicken to buy, when I looked at the expiration date and realized that the chicken wouldn’t make it all week.  My first thought was to just come back, but I realized that not only did we need food for Monday’s dinner, we probably shouldn’t be spending lots of gas money to go back and forth to the grocery store 10 times.  During this debate, the chicken was be “restocked.”  We awkwardly hung out in the meat section until the new food was out and dug into the “back” to find the meat with the latest expiration date.  It was $3.50 more than we budgeted because it was a bigger package… after more conversations, we took it and reduced our meal plan variety.  Lunches of Rice and Beans and Pad Thai just turned into Rice and Beans and Rice and Chicken.  On the way home I thought about all of our grocery store conversations and how lucky we were to never have to debate the legitimacy of one another’s purchases in public… upon sharing how conscious I was of our grocery store price conversations, E said he noticed other couples having similar conversations… even if no one else stalked the meat section for 10 minutes.