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American Hunger: The Food Pantry Experience

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Rjbatty is a comic book aficionado and critic from Irvine, California.

Have you ever been hungry? Have you ever gotten to a point in your life where there is nothing to eat and your stomach is churning? It's not a happy place.

You don't have to feel guilty about starving Africans; US citizens are starving. I know this because I've been among them.

A lot of Americans regard the disadvantaged as slackers, lazy misfits, what have you. While some portion of the population will always try to take advantage of any government subsidy out of laziness, thousands are eating stale bread and other left-overs just to survive and really need help.

They each have a story to tell, some more compelling than others. I cannot verify these stories, so I'm going to tell you my own.

How We Became Needy

I became disabled at the age of 55 and qualified for SSDI. I had a combination of defects I had no choice about, ailments that are still with me: a heart problem, a dislocated spinal disc, and psychiatric disorders as a result of multiple operations on an ameloblastoma on my upper jaw. I had no choice but early, early retirement. I didn't get paid a lot from SSDI, but I got by until my wife developed her own dysfunctions and had to put in in her own claim for SSDI. While her claim was being processed, which took months, we ended up selling everything, including our wedding rings.

After a year or so, she finally got approved but at such a low rate that we were living mostly on bread and water (no kidding) and became intimate with local food pantries.

The US Disdains the Poor

Politically, we've learned a lot about the US and how it cares for its disadvantaged individuals. This has been a real awakening. We are both college grads, and can barely grasp the disdain that is built into the US system of government.

For those who do not know, it's very sad. You go to one of these pantries, and you never know what to expect. You can expect Mexican women in line with big baskets, and also white Americans.

Typical Pantry Mix-Up

Typical Pantry Mix-Up

Pantries Offer Dying Flowers and Dated Food

At the pantry we visit they offer dying flowers to people, and the desperate seem eager to grab them up. I asked my wife, "Why do people grab up these miserable, dying flowers?" I surmised that people picked them up simply because they were free. They might be dying flowers but they were free! This is the same motive that would behoove them to pick up more than their share of bread—it was free—so push as much of it into your sack as possible, even if if you cannot eat it all. It's all very sad, very depressing. Put a sign "FREE" on a sack of horse dung and people will be fighting to get at it.

And as for the pantries? Do they offer good, wholesome food? No way. Visit one sometime and you'll see. The bananas are blackened. The bread is stale. There's a strict limit on canned foods—as if they were all primo goods (how can a can of tuna or creamed corn be primo?). All the stuff seems to come from supermarkets that are about to dump the junk. I have to wonder: where does all of their good stuff go? You can hardly find any fruit or vegetables.

I wonder; if you were to take just one grocery store and keep track of the expiration dates, how much food would expire and where would it all go? Not to the pantries. Just ONE grocery store in an area could fill ten pantry stores for a week with its non-selling items, but you don't see this. And there are multiple grocery stores everywhere. Where does all the food end up? I'd like to know.

I suspect that most of the food just gets dumped. That's my suspicion. I have no proof. But if not, why are the pantries filled with stale croissants and rotting tangerines?

What Exactly Is This?

What Exactly Is This?

Rich Neighborhoods Have Sad Pantries

I've visited what one might expect to be the best of pantries—the one in Laguna Beach, CA, where some of the most rich and famous reside. Their pantry looks utterly dismal. It's located on this canyon that looks like it will collapse at the next mudslide. If you are lucky, you might find some off-brand hot dogs, off-brand Cheerios, milk with a quick expiration date, maybe some eggs of the same caliber. And always the dying flowers—as if they could really lift anyone's spirits.

For my wife and and I, the dying flowers are symbolic of the entire experience. To the credit of the people who volunteer to work in this insane environment, you can visit once a week to get your stale bread and who knows what. The county outlet only lets you visit once a month—and their choice selection is hardly any better.

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Usual Tent Near the Pantry

Usual Tent Near the Pantry

The Homeless and Obviously Starving

There are always the homeless roaming around outside. Some pantries allow you entry once a week, others once a month. The homeless go through the garbage—stuff that is clearly out of date. They don't care. They are starving. Whether they are drug addicts, alcoholics, mentally ill, who can say, but they are hungry—willing to eat what is fit for neither man nor beast.

The Government Provides Nothing

This is America, people. This is what we provide people who can barely make it. This is pure charity. The government provides NOTHING. Somehow we can afford billions on wasted defense enterprises, but we have NOTHING to feed the poor. We have NOTHING to provide the homeless with shelter. The government depends entirely upon charities to fill in the blanks, well, I'm sorry, other countries do a hell of a lot better than us, and I hope that those eight rich men who are consuming the wealth of the nation are really, really happy individuals. Some people just need help—not fake help like dying flowers, but real help.

My wife and I are at the cusp. We own an automobile and could afford a reasonable rent. The key word here is reasonable. We don't need swimming pools, tennis courts or recreation rooms. We just need a shelter -- since our current landlord decided to push us out (after 12 years) without reason, we find ourselves further on the fringe.

Charities Give You Lists of "Resources"

Funny thing. When you seek help from some outlet group, they hand you a photocopied group of sheets with various hyperlinks. When you click on the hyperlinks, they refer you back to your starting point. Thus, the whole thing becomes circular and meaningless. "If you want information about "x" call ____. You call and it brings you back to your point of origin. Thus, probably unknowingly, these good-will charities are just participating in a great charade of beneficence. Because folks, there is nothing behind these various charities—although on the surface it may seem like there must be a lot to them. There isn't. The same holds true for Affordable Housing—most of it is a sham.

For those working in these pursuits, I mean you no ill will. I just want to lift the blanket off what our government considers charitable institutions and how flimsy a solution it is to rely upon them instead of any social welfare.

The Government and the Rich Do Not Care About the Poor

The sad (very sad) truth is that our government doesn't care about the poor. And when you think of the "poor" you don't have to imagine a dumb immigrant from Mexico who didn't discover his American dream. No, there are thousands of college-educated, American-born citizens who are on the verge of starvation. Right now they are homeless, cold, hungry, and just ready to die. And the upperclass would be content to let them die. The people who hold title over America's wealth are not humanists. I don't know what they are, but it doesn't give them any discomfort to hear about the plight of the underclass.

What will it take for the diminishing middle class to finally say enough is enough? If they thought electing Donald Trump to the presidency was going to be their great white hope, I sincerely wish they reconsider. No single individual can turn this country around.

Maybe, maybe, in the next four to eight years, we will see the rise of some American spirit that really and truthfully plans to keep people fed and sheltered. People who are eating stale raisin bread don't care about a wall with Mexico. They just want better food. And who can blame them?

Typical Weird Assortment

Typical Weird Assortment

I suspect that there are a lot of people like us -- people on the fringe. Oh, we can get by with bread and water, but it's not what we're used to. Is that the new America? If so, it's very sad and wasteful. To the higher-ups, I would only say, examine your waste.


rjbatty (author) from Irvine on January 30, 2017:

Jodah: This is just unacceptable. We hire politicians at good salaries to represent us, but they don't. Instead they vote okay on huge bills to cover the cost of creating new weapons -- usually geared at an ersatz war with the Russians -- as if either of us needed extra coverage. It's pure nonsense, and we, the taxpayers just keep sucking it up. It's not okay. It's all like watching some dog lifting his leg and peeing upon us. People are hurting. a tiny fraction of the population may find it amusing, but I don't find anything funny in human suffering.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 30, 2017:

An eye-opening article for many people rj. On the other hand, many know this is happening but just choose to ignore it or pretend all is good. Things are better for the poor in Australia, although that said the current Government are continually trying to blame welfare recipients for the country being in financial deficit, and making things more difficult for pensioners and the unemployed.

We go to a pantry, perhaps three or four times a year. The one we go to is not free, though. You pay $40 for a hamper containing goods worth about $120 if you were to buy it in store. With every item you have a choice of two or three different things so there is a good chance you will get mostly useful stuff. True that things like milk and bread has a short use by date, but if you have a freezer it can be frozen until needed.

In Australia, our richest 15% of the population earn as much as the other 85%, and even that is not acceptable. My wife is on a disability pension and I am her carer, so we are not well off, but we get by.

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