We went to the grocery store last Saturday night and spent more than $200. Now, we don’t eat much beef in my house, and I almost always buy store brands or generic products. Bill and I were very poor during the early years of our marriage. I was in ministry 15 years before a church was foolish enough to pay me $20,000 a year. We learned to clip coupons and go to the store on “double coupon days.” On Saturday we saved almost $10 with the coupons Bill had clipped from the paper.
As we shopped, though, I felt grief and anger. The truth is there was nothing in that store we could not afford to buy. We were trying to be healthy, but the old days very harshly reminded me that the fresh vegetables in our cart cost much more than the less nutritious canned ones I couldn’t imagine eating now. I bought olive oil but noted that it cost much more than the less healthy shortening. Granola was more than twice the price of those big bags of sugary cereal; eggs with omega-3 oil cost three times the high cholesterol ones on the lower shelf. Soy milk is four times as expensive as whole milk, which I think has gotten very expensive for families with small kids. Soda was cheap, cheaper than juice, but the juice is so processed and made with corn syrup that it will rot your teeth in the glass.
One of our daughters is here for much of the summer, and she likes home-cooked meals. So the Italian in me gets carried away sometimes. As I pushed my cart through the aisle, though, I was almost brought to tears realizing that many of my neighbors also would like to feed their kids healthier choices, but they simply can’t afford to.
A former president was defeated for re-election because he didn’t know the price of milk or seem to notice that the average American was suffering in a recession. Middle class and privileged people like me can be critical of the rates of obesity in this country, and, though the causes are many, one of them is that healthy food is too expensive for poor people.
There are many things that can be done to address this, but it has to begin with us caring more and paying more attention. Next time you put something in your grocery cart and wince or whine about the price, think about all those who don’t have the money to pay. The system is broken, but it will never be fixed by the poor, only by those of us who have enough to buy it anyway.
Ask God to show you how you can help to make a difference, and, if you are sincere, I’m betting every time you turn around you will begin to notice just how much difference needs to be made.
by Michael Piazza
The Center for Progressive Renewal