Recently I’ve been working with very low income clients, relying heavily on food banks to ensure their cupboards are not bare. These individuals are also working to manage significant health conditions, at times more than one. If you’ve ever seen a food hamper, you’ll know that what is provided is largely starchy foods (often very processed, lacking in fibre and nutrition), occasionally some shelf-stable protein, and hopefully some vegetables or fruit (but good luck finding leafy greens or non-mouldy berries). My clients know that these foods are unlikely to help them improve their health and many would prefer not to eat them, but these foods remain staples in their diets; when you’re faced with calories or starvation, you always choose calories.
I often feel like I have so little to offer them, my expertise tailored to those with enough purchasing power to eat whatever they want, whenever they want. The messaging put out by government and professional organizations is largely about choice, but that doesn’t help those who have few, if any choices into what goes on the plate. When the client with diabetes just finished telling me how they like vegetables, but can only afford them for a few days after pay day, I can’t in good conscience continue to push the “1/2 plate of vegetables, reduce your carbs” line. If white rice and white bread is all that is available at the food bank this week, who am I to tell this person to steer clear? For many, there is often a place for basic nutrition education regarding nutrients, balanced eating, and the best and most affordable choices within a food group, all coated with a heavy dose of “but do what you can”.
Nutritious foods should not be an impossibility, or an occasional treat on payday. No one should have less ability to manage their health because they do not access to the foods that will help them.