According to The National Healthcare for the Homeless Council, those facing homelessness eat fewer meals per day, lack food more often, and are more likely to have inadequate diets and poorer nutritional status than housed U.S. populations. Why is it so difficult for those experiencing homelessness to obtain food with nutritional value?
Unfortunately, people who are homeless face numerous obstacles when it comes to securing and meeting their basic, physiological needs. Homeless shelters, food stamps, and resources given by citizens passing by are oftentimes their only direct means of acquiring food. Whether these options are desirable or not, they are often the only options available.
Often, the food provided by shelters is high in fat, low in fiber, and lacks a full range of daily nutrients. Due to the vast number of people who are homeless that congregate at these shelters, the large volume of food being distributed must be affordable for the shelter. Not only does the food need to be affordable in these settings, it oftentimes needs to be non-perishable, which resultantly leads to the distribution of food that is highly processed and fails to deliver necessary daily nutrients.
Even if a person facing homelessness has some money in their possession, they are still limited while grocery shopping. Typically, food is cheaper when purchased in bulk. As much as they would love to, those facing homelessness do not have means by which to carry an excess amount of food. Despite there being less expensive, healthy options of canned or raw food, it is rarely considered that a person who is homeless would need the tools to open or prepare the food. Lugging around a can opener, utensils, dishes, silverware, etc. all contribute to the issue of portability.
When a person passing by is kind enough to share food with a person struggling, it is usually food that is easy to grab on the go, which can also lack proper nutrition. It is rare for a person to take the time to hand-pick nutritious groceries to give out. The same goes for the person facing homelessness themself. To be wise with their scarce amount of funds and avoid the uncomfortable position of walking into a store as an “outcast,” a person who is homeless would usually prefer the option of fast food. The feeling of helplessness comes into play and convenience, more often than not, trumps nutritional value.
As bystanders, should we consider donating perhaps a more expensive, time-consuming meal that is nutritional, rather than a cheaper, quicker meal that lacks nutritional value?