Older adults hardest hit by hunger as their presence grows on the free food bank lines

Older adults hardest hit by hunger as their presence grows on the free food bank lines

Sacramento : CA : USA | Oct 03, 2011 at 3:04 PM PDT
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The number of older adults receiving assistance from Sacramento County's 140 charitable food programs each month increased 30 percent – compared with 24 percent for all adults – from 2009 through August 2011, according to the California Emergency Foodlink statistics, as noted in the October 3, 2011 Sacramento Bee article by Anita Creamer, "New age arrives at food closets as more seniors seek help to avoid hunger." Is it an issue of beggars can't be choosers?

More elderly people in Sacramento are arriving at food banks, but the seem to be driving up in cars, not walking in off the bus and carrying small shopping carts back onto the bus or light rail. Locally, like nationally, those age 60 and older represent the fastest-growing demographic asking for charitable handouts of food. Why are older people on fixed incomes not able to keep up with the rising cost of food and shelter?

At the same time, you have a group of well-do-to retired teachers and nurses also of the same age group taking annual vacations in Europe and spending Fridays learning about nutrition and alternative health in various courses offered at CSUS campus by the Renaissance Society for lifelong learning after retirement, courses open to anyone for $60 annually.

Why are older people in Sacramento divided between the well-to-do when it comes to food affordability, and a growing class of the hungry senior citizen? Is it a college degree that separates the two groups? Not necessarily. Since there are more college graduates in the liberal arts than jobs available, you find educated people without savings on food lines in their older years as well. But there is a growing demography of hungry senior citizens in Sacramento who had what they thought were good jobs and no longer have their jobs.

The article interviews several older adults who line up by the hundreds at local food banks to get food. But if you look at the food, it's not that healthy, but it's cheap--free food, such as packaged salad, white bread, and cereals or some bananas and a pineapple.

You won't find the healthiest organic produce or cans of wild-caught salmon, no-salt added. This is what Sacramento's food banks at churches provide from their pantries--donations of food. And the food some of the diabetic older adults take home aren't that nutritious, but they'll keep the person alive.

You're not going to find wheat-free bread, for example, at least not easily or the basic ingredients to bake bread with no-yeast and without corn or tapioca starches added, even if the bread had no wheat.

What you'll find are lots of pasta, canned goods, and starchy fillers, some fruit and packaged salad greens, mostly the iceberg lettuce rather than the Romaine. Are handouts the usual bag of white rice which turns to starch and sugar, or are handouts anytime healthier black or mahogany rice which contain more vitamin B content? Then again, some brands of Romaine packaged fixings were recently recalled in some areas. But that's another story. See the October 3, 2011 article, California lettuce recall covers Ohio, 18 other states, Canada.

What the Sacramento Bee article focused on was not how nutritious and healthy the food is or isn't, but on the lives of the people in line for the free food. You have lots of quotes in the article such as "My husband worked and made good money. I never thought I'd be in this predicament."

The free food pantry where the older adults were interviewed in the Sacramento Bee article this time was at Liberty Ministries Christian Fellowship's food pantry in North Sacramento. The patrons lined up for supplemental food of salad mix, fresh pineapple, dried and canned beans, bagels and coffee cake. But what if the canned beans contained too high a sodium level? There's always the dried beans, if the person is willing to soak the beans overnight, pour out the gassy water, and then cook them in fresh water. Do people prefer canned food to dried or fresh food?

Did you ever notice how many wheat belly starchy fillers like bagels and coffee cake are given out? You're not going to find flax seed bread make with coconut flour. But the crowd was big as the free food was given out. When you're hungry, you need to fill your belly with anything that's food. You get to the point where you don't care whether you're eating starchy bagels that raise your blood glucose levels even though you may be diabetic. You eat and feel full.

The people lining up for free food--is what the article emphasized, hard-working people in their sixties and older who lost their jobs--work such as caregivers and people in the healthcare industry who worked all their lives and suddenly found themselves out of work.

Older people without the money to buy food are called by sociologists the "food insecure." These seniors represent the growing number of Americans, including 5 million older adults, for whom nutritious meals are either inaccessible or unaffordable. In the land of plenty, where one-third of adults are considered obese, many seniors are at risk of going without food.

You can check out the various state's Centers for Poverty research. The War on Poverty never was finished back in the 1960s. In fact, some of those in the 1960s who fought the war on poverty are likely to be among a growing number of impoverished 70-year olds who are hungry and can't afford nutritious food or are out of reach of urban community gardens where they can grow their own seasonal food.

Sacramento is one throbbing pocket of malnutrition, even with donated canned food, packaged salad greens of the cheapest, non-organic types, often, and white bread or sugary cereals full of wheat gluten that many people can't tolerate. You don't often get gluten-free food being donated.

Sacramento older adults either have lots of financial stress or they're part of a wealthier retired class with $100,000 annual pensions. Not many are in-between when you think of the cost of living compared to average pensions, if any, of average working adults. And few women have pensions if they took decades off to raise a family.

If you can't feed yourself after age 60 and are out of work, it results in poorer health. Is the economy or the lifetime of savings of the older adult that's the root cause of food insecurity in this growing demographic of hungry senior citizens in Sacramento and nationally? The cost of living has gone up high, but income has not changed.

All you need to do is check out the bankruptcy filings of people over the age of 65. Those filings doubled in the past two decades. Check out the statistics at the National Consumer Bankruptcy Project. Also see, Bankruptcy rising among seniors - USATODAY.com. Often most of the proud older people who never asked for charity in the past now have to choose between prescription medications and food. But is the food nutritious enough to keep those people from having good health after age 65--when the immune system may be less functional?

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Are older adults eating healthy foods if they can't afford them?
The FDA's "My plate" media file photo. According to the FDA, vegetables take up a portion, fruits take up a portion, grains take up a portion, and protein takes up a portion as Dairy is placed on the side of the plate.
AnneHart is based in Sacramento, California, United States of America, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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