I thought today, as I ate my 5th portion of rice and dahl for lunch (filling but getting very boring) how much I like cooking for other people. Pre-lockdown, we often have friends over for dinner at the weekend and I love this. How would I do this on this budget? I couldn’t, no matter how many “cook dinner for a fiver!” articles I read. Cooking for others would be out and how could I go to other peoples for dinner with no gift? (wine is obviously out – “make something” said a friend – with what?? How could I afford to make a cake or biscuits on this budget?). This is really really horrible. I am not hungry but my diet this week has been very limited and there has been none of the usual pleasure in cooking – imagine if this was forever rather than just a week?
I think I thought I was aware, but I realise how many aspects of food poverty I had not understood. The anxiety that would go with an empty cupboard, the endless worry about children eating enough (and the guilt), the distress at not being able to reciprocate with friends and the shame this causes. I start to see the connection between poverty and mental health – the distress that hunger and anxiety about food can cause, the relentless, grinding misery of it all. How can we allow this to happen?
Breakfast was oat pancakes with (the very precious) banana – not entirely successful but we ate them anyway as we are both really hungry. I cracked and made coffee – worryingly, my headache stopped. Coffee was not in my weekly budget, so I have cheated (again). Lunch was very boring. My daughter went to Coop with our remaining 34p to see if she could find anything in the bargain section (preferably a vegetable of some sort) but there was nothing – even an apple cost 40p. There were no loose potatoes and a bag cost 90p. So – rice and lentils for tea again.
I met a friend for a walk after work and we usually have a coffee (from the mobile café in an old horsebox). I have to ask him if him will pay, which is embarrassing. He is fine about it but I wonder how this would feel long term? (He also bought me a flapjack which was marvelous!) I haven’t included coffee in my weekly budget so I can’t even bring a flask of coffee (assuming I have one). I suspect I would feel really ashamed and wonder if I would start to avoid meeting up? Would I start to lose my friendships? This is something that had NEVER occurred to me before… that poverty can cause even greater isolation, at a time when people need each other most. So far, this is the worst thing that I have realised all week, and the one that makes me feel most saddened.
Pre-covid, Norwich foodbank operated from ‘distribution centres’ where people who have been referred would collect their food parcel and any extras (toiletries, pet food, occasionally fresh items such as end of the day produce from supermarekts). All 10 Norwich foodbank centres (covering Wroxham, Wymondham, Loddon and all areas in between) had free tea, coffee / cold drinks and biscuits and 3 centres also offered a free hot meal, thanks to the church and volunteers for this provision. With specific regards to the meal-sites, lots of people would come for the food parcel at the start of the session and stay til the end – it was somewhere safe and warm and welcoming and, if appropriate and ‘wanted’, plenty of volunteers were around to chat and help and support.
This is something that is missing from the current ‘covid-secure’ delivery model – a phone call referral, a reasonably quick doorstep delivery and that’s it. Not much interaction and little ‘contact’ and we know in this current climate, lonliness at worst can be a killer and at the very least has a big impact on mental health.
Dawn’s comments about meeting up with a friend does remind us once again that for some in our community, they are very isolated and a foodbank delivery might be the only contact they have.