Food Stamp Challenge Day 4: When the Cheapest Foods Make You Sick--Literally

Like millions of Americans at all income levels, I live with a chronic health condition that restricts what I can eat. In my case, the list of restrictions is long.

The condition I have is called interstitial cystitis. It's a bladder condition. Basically, the inside wall of my bladder lacks the protective coating that yours has. When I eat or drink anything acidic, aged, fermented, cultured, cured or containing certain preservatives, my bladder gets irritated, causing pain that can last for days. You can click on the link above if you want to know the indelicate details about living with IC, as it's called.

The point is, for the last decade, I haven't been able to eat most processed food. If it comes in a jar, a can, a tub, a box or a wrapper, I probably can't eat it. When I went to the store to shop for the Food Stamp Challenge, I couldn't help but notice that many of the cheapest, most convenient foods--think Ramen, mac and cheese, pasta sauce, canned chili, canned tuna, yogurt, even processed peanut butter--are items that I can't have.

Which got me to thinking about all of the people who have other diet-related conditions like diabetes, hypertension, Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and irritable bowel syndrome, to name a few. If you are poor--whether you are on SNAP benefits or not--how must if feel to go to the grocery store and pick up item after item that you could afford, hunger for, but can't eat without making yourself sick?

It is easy to see why folks whose disease processes are more silent--diabetics, hypertensives, heart disease patients--have a world of trouble sticking to their doctor's orders. Especially after a long day of work and/or parenting, it's so tempting to go for the salty, sugar and carb heavy items that you can just pop in the microwave. The fact that they are advertised everywhere you look reinforces your choices.

How have I survived the Food Stamp Challenge on a highly restricted diet? Basically by living on a rotation of four meals I prepared with foods I can eat:

  1. Oatmeal with brown sugar
  2. Egg casserole (shown above) made with potatoes, spinach, cheese and milk and served with carrots and cucumbers
  3. Polenta and pinto beans with avocado (see yesterday's blog)
  4. Turkey vegetable soup made with ground turkey, butternut squash, frozen mixed veggies and spinach and served with brown rice

With the exception of the oatmeal, which took two minutes to cook in the microwave, all of these meals took at least an hour and a fully stocked kitchen to prepare. As I said in yesterday's blog, you'd be kidding yourself to think that the only costs I incurred in making these items were the costs of the ingredients.

My kids are all grown now. If it takes me an hour or two to make a meal, no one is any worse for it. But back in the days when I'd get home from work and four hungry kids would be circling the kitchen like a pack of sharks smelling blood, you can bet that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Prego spaghetti sauce and Ramen were some of this mom's best friends.

Tagged: Just Food, Food Stamp Challenge, SNAP

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