In Search Of…

Posted: April 28, 2007 in Health, Homelessness, Hopes, Money

In the 1970’s there was a television series hosted by Leonard Nimoy called "In Search Of…"

Each week the series would go "…in search of…" lost civilizations, the loch ness monster, strange phenomena, or any number of assorted "unexplained mysteries."

Homelessness is chock full of "… in search of…" quests. The search for shelter, clothing, employment, a place to be when you have no place to be. More importantly, though, is the quest for food.  

You can go about it two ways: buy your own meals if you have the money, or eat at the day center at noon and then the night shelter in the evenings.

Some of the homeless use both options.

Either way, your ability to actually eat healthy is out of your hands and you’re at the mercy of someone else or whatever your tiny budget will allow.

If you buy your meals, more like as not, it will be from one of the fast food restaurant chains that have a "value meal" – sometimes called a "dollar menu" – or a place that has a "daily special." If you’re really lucky, every so often you might be able to afford Denny’s or the IHOP.

Although restaurants – fast food chains and otherwise – have media blitzes and other "nutritional information" about how few calories, or how little sodium or Trans Fats are in their respective foods items, the truth is: it’s all a bunch of bunk. A sustained fast food diet simply isn’t healthy.

An ongoing diet of day center or shelter food isn’t that much of a step up either.

At both locations, you can look forward to quite a bit of pasta: spaghetti, pasta salads and so on. Then of course, there is "Black Bean Tuesday" at the night shelter. There is usually a "green salad" that’s served with the meal, but by the time the homeless get it, it’s usually wilted and has so much "dressing" on it that it’s soggy.

There’s just not a lot of variety at either place. The meals are repetitious from week to week – and quite predictable. In many ways, they remind me of the rather bland and uninteresting lunches in the cafeteria when I was in elementary school countless moons ago. And as for how healthy the meals at the day center or homeless shelter are – that’s a question best answered by a nutritionist.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m enough of a capitalist to know that non-profit organizations – like the day center and homeless shelter – have limited budgets. I realize that there are administrative and operational costs, wages and so on. And preparing a meal for 100+ people per day on a limited budget can’t be all that easy. I just wonder what percentage of their budget is actually spent providing the "daily bread" for the homeless. Considering the types of meals served, I imagine it can’t be all that much.

I saw an advertisement a number of months ago. The SLO Economic Opportunity Commission (EOC) was looking for a cook. One of the facilities the cook would be preparing meals for was the homeless shelter. If I remember correctly, the ad stated that the position’s salary would be somewhere between $50,000 and $65,000 annually – depending on experience.

Since the meals being served are still the same, I wonder if perhaps they haven’t found a cook yet. Or, perhaps they simply "kept on" the person who had been doing the cooking.

If they did find someone, I would wish that they could be a bit more creative with what they do prepare. I’m sure that there is a way to prepare meals that could be healthier and still not cost an arm and a leg.

I’m sure that someone will say: "Just be grateful that you’re getting something to eat!"

Perhaps. But in my opinion – that is too easy a cop out.

There are homeless in this city, who cannot eat a lot of pasta due to already existing health problems. Many times they are forced to skip meals altogether. Many homeless have diabetic problems, cholesterol problems, gastric-intestinal problems or other medical issues that preclude them from eating certain types of foods.

In fact, some have actually developed these problems due to a diet of fast food and/or shelter meals.

To shrug our shoulders and dismiss it out of hand simply because they’re "just homeless people" doesn’t reflect the ideals and principles on which this nation was founded. It belittles the American spirit of equality for all. It short changes the part of the American psyche that urges us to have compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves.

Me? I’m not asking for much. Perhaps a good old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of tomato soup.

Perhaps in the not too distant future I’ll have a place where I can make them myself.

That’s what I’m "…in search of."

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