Why I’m not taking the CalFresh Challenge

What a person is (or isn’t) eating could also be what is eating them.

When my colleagues announced that they would be taking the CalFresh challenge, I knew right away that I probably couldn’t join them.  My limited diet prohibits the digestion of everything from pasta to alcohol to nightshade plants. To sneak a glass of wine is one thing but ingestion of any food on the prohibited list for a whole week would have health consequences that could range from mildly annoying to painful. While I’m fairly certain that I probably could have found a way to adhere to a budget, it was the mental exhaustion of creating a meal plan for a diet that I already struggle with under the best of financial circumstances that I found to be the biggest hurdle.

Poverty snakes its way into every single aspect of a person’s life. It manifests as food insecurity, inadequate housing, environmental illness, a sub-par education, and an increased likelihood of encountering violence. The physiological consequences of dealing with just one of those aspects is substantial, but the mental health effect is equally if not more significant and is likely to have a generational impact.

Yes, just about everyone over the age of 15 is stressed out in modern-day America regardless of income, but not everyone’s stress is based on having to make choices over who eats in the household, which prescription pill to cut in half or skip for the day, or if the converted garage you’re illegally living in will be discovered. And even those of us who have climbed past the first rung on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may still have a lingering fear if you spent a little too much time in your childhood worrying about the basics like what you’ll eat and where you’ll live. Layer a health issue on top of the lingering trauma of lack in a critical area and it’s enough to make you throw your hands up in the air.

To be food insecure is to have to worry. A burnt meal or a dropped plate is concerning; a child with diabetes or celiac disease requires immense strategic planning with very limited resources. Mental wellness is just not achievable when a person has to worry about what they’re going to eat, or how what they are eating may affect their health.