One of the reasons why I started this blog was to show that it was possible to live well on a low income and to show that eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. I’m pretty sure that most food experts (chefs, cooks, writers) would agree with me regardless of income.
Some of my motivation to eat well on a low income does come from a desire to live well, and that is part of the “whole sum” that I’ve written about before. A big part of my motivation comes from the desire to be in charge, to take back control of our finances when so much of the income in the household is swallowed up on bills.
Since so much of our life has spiralled out of control in the past couple of years, being on top of our food and spending is something that empowers me. Filling out forms for Social Welfare assistance doesn’t. Filling out forms for the HSE doesn’t. Begging for help from the local Public Health Nurse and the GP because there is a 33 month waiting list for an ENT referral in the local children’s hospital (despite 2 letters from the GP) and the 4 year old is having hearing difficulties doesn’t. Sitting on hold to the bank for hours each month, and making repeated phone calls doesn’t. It demoralises and upsets me.
Last week I was a bit under the weather and had to travel on two days to hospital in the city centre. The additional fuel, parking and transport fees used up nearly half our weekly budget. The thoughts of getting home, when neither of us was fit to wag, and cooking a meal for the family was wearing. I had some food in the freezer that I defrosted but one of the evenings, the kids didn’t even touch it. The boys ate cereal. Not because there wasn’t a decent alternative, but because after a stressful day on the road, Mammy sick, late in the evening, it was the only thing I could get into them without a fight. Fighting over food when I’m bone weary is the last thing I want to do.
My motivation at that point was to feed the boys so that they didn’t go to bed hungry. I would have given them anything they asked for. There was plenty of healthy food in the house by the way, but they chose cereal and that was what they got. If they had asked for oven chips and nuggets, I would have lashed them in the oven if I had them. No question. That might come as a surprise to some, considering how much I advocate cooking wholesome food for your family. At that moment in time I couldn’t have cared or less and I make no apologies for it either.
There’s been a number of high profile individuals who have recently made comments about how they don’t understand why families prioritise “lifestyle choices” over healthy food. They are of course perfectly entitled to their opinions, just as I am.
“I guess it’s just an opinion about how do you prioritise feeding your kids on the one hand and family lifestyle choices.”
Rachel Allen, in interview with the Irish Independent yesterday said:
“I think good nutrition from home-cooked meals is so important for the family. It should be our top priority, not further down the list behind other things that take up time.”
Talking about priorities and lifestyle choices alludes to the opinion that families are failing, not meeting high standards that those who have more options (such as money to make different choices) have.
Here’s the thing though, the lack of skills, nutrition and know-how in the kitchen is not just limited to those who are on a low income. Just because you can afford a big telly (rather than hire purchase), or a car (which may be a necessity for work or mobility impairment), doesn’t preclude you from making “bad food choices” either. It’s just that often these “bad food choices” are often prettied up under the guise of being a premium item as opposed to being a budget brand convenience meal.
How do you motivate someone to make healthier food and lifestyle choices for their family?
Pointing fingers and asking about priorities when you have little insight into the lives of others is unhelpful. It’s demoralising for those of us who find ourselves in the situation where we have to make choices, day in/day out.
How do you make someone empowered to make the right choices?
Let’s stop with all this negative language, criticism of what people are doing right now. Let’s start recognising that serving up a hot meal, any meal in a time of financial, physical or emotional hardship is something to be celebrated.
Let’s stop kicking people when they’re down.