Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Nutrition and Need Collide

There are segments of the population that still find cheap, nutritious food unattainable for various reasons. These reasons can range from transportation to and from the food source to simply applying ineffective shopping skills. The population gamut runs from the unemployed high school dropout to some possessing a PhD.

The common denominator: the cupboards are bare, and the refrigerator’s empty.

I don’t know whether to chalk it up to poor shopping skills, poor food choices, under-education and under-employment, breeding beyond means, or a combination of all these things. Whatever the reasons, it’s a sad state to find one’s self in among one of the richest nations on earth.

Maybe it’s really a lack of reckoning with certain truths about the world we now live in. So much has changed, and so many can’t seem to keep up. For example:

Employment—businesses are in a constant scramble for profits, and will stop at almost nothing to preserve profit margins. Offshoring and outsourcing weren’t even in our vocabulary ten years ago, and now are tossed about every day in casual conversation. Since labor is the largest recurring cost for employers, they will find a way to do without labor or find cheaper sources. This means we must “recession-proof” our job skills through careful career choices and near-constant educational updates to stay current, useful, and in demand. We also have to stay current in the ways we FIND a job, and not fall victim to relying on methods that are no longer used.

Another priority we must fulfill is contribution to the boss’s bottom line. If you are a cost (liability) to him/her and not an asset, you won’t be employed long. Regular accomplishments that help bolster the bottom line at work (through sales increases, new customers/markets, cost-cutting, etc.) will help to ensure continued employability and can be used as bargaining chips for negotiating pay raises and bonuses. Those same accomplishments can also be applied to the resume’ for future employment and pay negotiations.

Choose a career that can’t be outsourced, sent offshore, or have software written to replace your presence. Achieve the maximum degree in it that will pay for itself, and this will require some research on your part (some Master’s and PhD’s don’t earn any more than a regular Bachelor’s, and turn out to be a waste of time and money). Fit the boss’s needs in with your regular job duties, and continue to job hunt while you’re already employed. Employers gain most of their new employees by poaching from other firms, so don’t be afraid to put your resume’ out or enlist the help of a headhunter (for discretion). The fact that you’re still employed means you are in demand, and demand attracts demand.

Spending—some people have a tendency to “reward” themselves for such hard work with short-lived and expensive trinkets. The want takes precedence over the need or even the consideration of options. The idea of having “something to show for all the hard work” is a fallacy that many people still seem to share.

Finding ways to save, even if it’s just a small amount, is imperative in today’s world. It’s also a tax benefit.

Shopping skills—as we all (or nearly all) know, judicious shelf label reading, coupon use, store selection, and product selection have maximum dollar savings. Too much focus is placed on the product price, and agencies that deal with food stamps ought to hold shopping and nutrition classes. It seems like so many people who use these programs don’t know how to shop correctly, and it’s no wonder—the schools no longer teach Home Economics like they did when Mom and Grandma went to school, nor is it explained at home. This “generational deficit” has led to buying salad in bags, vegetables in cans, and junk non-foods for lunchboxes. Familiar convenience items are now sought out at food banks and pantries, and they’re not going to be there.

Grandma had less money than we do now, so how did she get by? She had a garden and an oven, and she used them. As much as we may despise it, we need to get back into domesticity: cook from scratch, garden, learn portion control, and cost-per-unit shopping.

Breeding beyond our means—there just is no tactful way to say this, and I apologize to you readers. Choosing to have kids is a romantic reflex response to marriage, according to Dr. Phil. As we know, not all kids are planned, and we can’t send them back to where they came from. We can control their creation, however, with the myriad methods of birth control available.

Having children before getting a sufficient education to sustain employment is one big mistake lots of people make. The cart frequently gets put before the horse, and we hear, “it’ll all work out in the end,”—but mostly it doesn’t. This can lead to abuse, neglect, abandonment, and having to rely on agencies and organizations for mere subsistence rations of food with negligible nutrition. We cannot always rely on the support of a devoted spouse to carry us through, and he/she may have their own set of problems with staying employed, saving, shopping, etc.

The number of children can also be a detriment if sufficient income isn’t present or cannot be had to support all those bodies—it’s just like creating more bills that have no hope of being paid. This isn’t fair to the children at all. They didn’t ask to suffer.

There are benefits and consequences to both having kids while young and waiting awhile. One of the benefits of waiting is maturity of the brain—our frontal lobes aren’t fully mature until we’re 25, and this part of the brain is responsible for things like risk assessment and quick decision making. If we wait until the income is right, the marital and mental units are stable, and a savings/spending program is under control, we stand a much better chance for family success. We are also less likely to fall to levels where reliance on food stamps and food pantries become the norm for our households.

Kids are not a requirement of marriage or any other sort of relationship, and it’s perfectly okay if you don’t have any at all. Sometimes we can end up waiting until it’s biologically too late for conditions to be just right, and so far, about 30% of the “breeding age” population has. All the more reason to make education, career selection, savings, and shopping skills a priority on your life while you’re young. If you don’t make it and lose to the biological clock, don’t sweat it—you have plenty of company.

Individual personal responsibility has got to kick in at some point. Food banks, pantries, and agency programs cannot be expected to pick up the slack for what amounts to poor prevention planning. Articles and advocates cry out for increased access to more nutritious food through these “emergency” outlets, but there’s the rub—these outlets are not meant for providing first-line sustenance. Furthermore, these outlets are subject to regulations, donations and budgets, and seasonal/supplier availability. They are just not meant as a first-line defense for under-employment, bad shopping/spending skills, and over-breeding. Here is where nutrition and need collide, and it’s preventable.


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