Helping readers get to know our vendors is a big motivator for putting together street papers. For this story, Oklahoma City street newspaper The Curbside Chronicle asked vendors to document a week’s worth of meals with a food diary, curious to know more about what vendors are eating. The results were mixed—everything from multiple visits to soup kitchens to eating nothing at all. But one thing was clear, most vendors experience significant food insecurity. Hopefully this piece helps illustrate how poverty affects people and what they eat every day.
Meals: 5 strips of bacon, 2 slices of bread, scrambled eggs and grits for breakfast // 2 fried chicken breast tenderloins with ketchup and fried okra with hot sauce for lunch // 7 shrimp, garlic toast, tossed salad with a boiled egg for dinner // 2 ice cream sandwiches and 2 fruit cups for snacks // Water and fruit juice with most meals
Michael loves cooking. When he was homeless and living in his car, it was difficult for him to skip meals and rely mainly on fast food. Michael says there’s a sense of pride in making a quality meal. Thankfully, Michael ended his homelessness in November. The first thing he did after getting the key to his apartment was go to the grocery store. Now that he’s back in housing, Michael rarely misses a meal and enjoys cooking for others — just like his mom did.
Meals: Biscuits and gravy, eggs and coffee for breakfast from the OKC Day Shelter // Skipped lunch // Bowl of chili and water for dinner from Salvation Army
Being street homeless makes accessing meals difficult. Brian doesn’t own a vehicle and has to rely on walking to nearby shelters to feed himself most days. He’s looking forward to securing housing because he knows having a place to stay will allow him to store food in a pantry and fridge. On the streets, he says he can only eat what he can carry.
Meals: Skipped breakfast // Skipped lunch // Hot dog and a soda for dinner from 7-Eleven
Eating on a budget is difficult. Renita usually keeps her cost per meal to a couple of bucks and relies heavily on 99-cent options from convenient stores when hungry. Some days, she’ll skip meals entirely. Renita says she’s so used to having just one meal a day that it’s impacted her appetite. Since moving into housing and ending her homelessness, Renita has been able to shop more frequently at a nearby Dollar Tree. She says magazine sales have been picking up, so she’s looking forward to having more money to spend on food.
April, 51, and Frederick, 44
Meals: Beef ramen with sausage slices, a handful of Cheetos for breakfast // Beef ramen with sausage slices, a handful of Cheetos for lunch // A garden salad for dinner // 44 oz. cup of Mountain Dew and coffee with most meals
Although this photo represents a day of Frederick’s meals, this couple shares a lot of what they eat. Experiencing street homelessness makes it difficult for them to access meals because transportation is a constant challenge and April’s knees make it hard for her to walk long distances. They mainly rely on a nearby Circle K for food. When they can, Frederick and April try to afford a motel room where they can make meals in the microwave. If that isn’t possible, they spend the night outside and eat their ramen dry.
Meals: Skipped breakfast // Cereal and a 32 oz cup of Dr. Pepper for lunch // Cereal and a 32 oz cup of Dr. Pepper for dinner
Terri’s two young children never stop moving and neither does she. Between caring for them and selling Curbside, she often runs out of time to cook for herself at home. Terri and her family moved out of Salvation Army and into housing toward the end of 2018. Despite their limited income, her kids never go to bed hungry. Most of Terri’s money is spent on groceries — including fruits and veggies — for her kids. Terri relies on cereal for herself because it’s quick and easy to stretch. Over the course of the week’s food diary, Terri ate a bowl of cereal for lunch and dinner almost every day.
Nathan Poppe is the Editor of The Curbside Chronicle, the street newspaper in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.