Monday, November 07, 2016

to have and have not

A f/Friend shared this article on Facebook earlier this week. In it a piece written by a medical student who had experimented with living on $3.30 a day for 200 days is critiqued. His argument was that as he had thrived on this it shows how all the other factors of poverty must have a bigger effect on health outcomes than poor diet.

His argument sounds fairly reasonable until you factor in that he had weekends 'off', and stuck it out for 200 days out of +20yrs. Real poverty doesn't take weekends off, and the health impacts are generally due to accumulation over years not 200 days, unless one is only 200 days old. Anyway, the other article says lots of this better than I can.

I've lived on or below the official poverty line for a hefty chunk of my life. However I come from a middle class background where there has been enough money to house us well throughout my childhood no matter how low our family income might have been at times. Whenever I've found myself facing homelessness (3 times!) I've had friends with good incomes who have provided me with a home. I've lived off a very low disposable income since coming to Aotearoa NZ but there has always been someone else paying the bulk of the bills. Yes I have eating healthily off a low income down pat which proves it can be done, but I have the cashflow ability to buy in bulk, I never have to sacrifice buying food to replace a broken washing machine, buy school shoes, or fix a car. Also the only times in life that I've been turned down for jobs through prejudice has been when I was considered 'over qualified', rather than from having the wrong address, skin colour etc. Yes I know what it is like to have too much month at the end of the money, and have lived off frozen spinach, tinned tomatoes and bread from the half price bakery for several weeks waiting for the next grant cheque, but I've never actually gone hungry.

I think for some people doing the living off $3 a day or whatever experiment is quite an eye-opener and can teach them a very different perspective on life they might otherwise have been oblivious to. But they are usually still doing that in the comfort of their own home, with their bills paid, a job to go to etc etc etc. To really 'get it' you need to factor in more than just one aspect of your day. 
I'm always impressed though with the will power of those who've done the living off x amount a day, or refugee rations for a week/month in aid of Oxfam etc to raise awareness/funds. It's not something I ever intend to try given my health, and it would take a lot of planning not to end up with other food in the house/garden going to waste because you weren't eating anything but the rations etc, which does seem rather pointless. After all I'm pretty sure those for whom it is a daily reality wouldn't appreciate perfectly good food being wasted on their behalf. 

The difference between living in poverty and living below the poverty line can be huge and I am grateful for the skills I've learned as a result of the latter, and the fact that I've had the privilege in life not to fall into the former. Being part of inter-generational poverty, growing up with poor nutrition through lack of funds and/or education, living off cheap takeaways as there isn't enough money for power bills this month is the reality for some. Living in poverty is often more expensive than simply being poor, you can't take advantage of supermarket specials as you have no spare cash to buy anything not desperately needed this week, you end up paying far more for power etc to get the fixed installments so you can budget (or worse have to have pay a $500 bond to get those fixed installments! I was horrified to discover this when sorting out our neighbours affairs earlier this year) and so the list goes on. So yes providing good healthy food for the children of these families will go a long way to improving their outcome, no matter how cheaply someone else in better circumstances can feed themselves. There has recently been a swell of enthusiasm locally to get some fruit trees planted around town on public land and I really hope we can make it happen to improve access to free healthy kai here as there are plenty who need it. Now we just have to kick up a noisy fuss about the new food regulations which are making it difficult for small scale growers who sell off their surplus at the market to help make ends meet... there's always something to make life harder when you're struggling already.

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