Yesterday the Tulsa World, our local paper, published a front-page story describing the huge increase in the amount of food the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma distributed to local food pantries in recent months. Food pantries are the entities that get the food into the hands of people – so the article included a more in-depth look at one pantry, called Iron Gate. Iron Gate is actually both a soup kitchen and food pantry; its staff and volunteers serve hot meals every day of the week and distribute bags of groceries every Friday. It operates out of Trinity Episcopal Church, whose parishoners are actively involved, in downtown Tulsa. (Full disclosure: I am Chair of the Board of Directors for Iron Gate.)
The thing is, the paper included a photo of guests receiving grocery bags, and to many Tulsans these folks did not look like hungry people should apparently look . The paper’s website received so many hostile email comments in response to the article that the paper had to shut the comment section down.
What the commentators failed to consider – and indeed, what most people who don’t experience hunger themselves fail to realize – is that just as hunger is a result of being poor, so, too, can obestiy be a result of being poor. How? Consider the cost of a value meal at any fast food restaurant; or think of the restaurants that offer items for $1. Now think of the cost of a salad or sandwich on whole wheat bread with something other than bologna. Then maybe take a drive through a low-income neighborhood. How many grocery stores are there compared to convenience stores? How many restaurants are there with healthy options?
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) put together a fact sheet outlining some of the reasons why low-income families – the kinds of families Iron Gate serves every day – might be at greater risk for obesity. A fact sheet alone isn’t going to change everyones’ perceptions. But perhaps if just some people can be persuaded to consider that not everyone lives the same kind of life they do, there will be less hostility out there.