Putting myself through college as a single mother is what showed me how much the system needs to change. I thought the time I spent seeking out higher education—in class and studying—would be equal to the time I spent working various part-time jobs. But I was penalized for it, and told since I was a student, I had an even higher work requirement to qualify for food stamps for myself, so I was cut off and only received my younger daughter’s allotment. She’s a picky eater, and wouldn’t eat the hot lunches at school. I couldn’t afford to pack her lunches every day anymore, and she’d often come home from school having not eaten anything but an orange since that morning.
Most of the food I bought her during my final year of college was anything with the highest calorie count and that she would definitely eat. I perpetuated her picky eating habits. I bought Ritz crackers and cheese, Go-gurts, and the cheapest jelly, cheese, bread, pancake mix, syrup, and milk.
After college, when my freelancing career began to pick up, I told my seven-year-old that I wouldn’t buy anything with ingredients on the package that she couldn’t read. We moved within walking distance of a higher-end store that carried organic food. I learned to shop in the bulk section, and our eating habits changed. Even though we spent a little more on food, we ate less. Our health improved. We cooked together more, and it brought us joy to have bowls of fruit on the table for breakfast.
These things should not be a luxury. Getting an education should not be considered a luxury. Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women Infants and Children should not have to jump through funding hoops and lower their income brackets or lessen the quality of the food clients are allowed to purchase. Good quality food should be something we all have a right to, if we are in need. A belly full of dense proteins and whole grains makes for a clear mind.