Can Beggars Be Choosers?


In a word: yes. In fact, they have to be. 

Many of us have lived with the mentality that those in material need ought to be grateful for whatever they get. Nothing in life is free, after all, right? We have more important things to worry about than someone complaining in the soup line. 

Actually, the truth is really more that our feelings get hurt and our egos bruised when we 'do a good deed', and it's rejected. When someone turns their nose up at our obvious good intentions, we become defensive, upset, and even cruel. It's a tough thing to swallow when someone in need looks at you and says: "No thanks."

Here's the reality of the situation: people-in-crisis and people-in-need are just like you and me. They have tastes and preferences, allergies and ailments, fears and frustrations and feelings. While I do not condone poor behaviour on anyone's part, some well-timed grace is needed when understanding the needs of the poor.

I just began my position as coordinator of a food bank, soup kitchen and thrift store. When making food hampers, you work with what you've got and give it out. If a client turns his or her nose up at it, that's okay. No one is forcing them to take it.

But understand something: it is all too regular and easy for someone accessing food banks on a regular basis to be overweight, and even obese. On a steady diet of KD, hot dogs, white flour-based carbs, surgary cereals, candy and processed foods, the body does not receive the proper nutrition it needs. The wrong kind of fat is stored up and yet the person remains malnourished.

Heart disease and diabetes ratios are skyrocketing. Higher allergy rates (and ones with reactions of increasing severity), food/environmental sensitivities, and drug interactions all demand we look at our way of giving differently.

If I have a client who pokes through her hamper and sniffs at it, thinking it's useless, well… I work through the situation. If I have a client who is a diabetic and says "I can't eat that cereal. It will make me really sick", then I need to listen! Peanut allergies… those can be deadly. And peanut butter is a staple at most food banks.

And pharmaceutical interactions… many marginalized people or people in poverty struggle with mental illness. If they are on medication, there are many types of drugs that prohibit the ingestion of certain foods while on that particular drug. Manorex, for example (an anti-depressant), prohibits the user from foods like aged cheeses, red wine and processed lunch meat. Bologne is a cheap 'meat' but can cause damage when someone is using MAOI's (personally, I think bologne can cause damage no matter what, but that's just one girl's opinion). 🙂

So can beggars be choosers? Yes. For many, their lives depend on it. Speaking out about their health needs can be very invasive, and to demean them and tell them "be grateful for what you get" is a grave mistake on our part. Like I said, there will be criticizers no matter how perfect a giver you are, no matter where you go, so don't worry about that. Sometimes, you just have say "Take it or leave it", but I'm learning that even in these situations, there are opportunities to build healthy community relationships.

So I am the beggar.

I beg on behalf of my clients.

NO MORE SUGARY CEREALS!!!! I know everyone wants to be kind and give "the poor kids a treat", but when everyone is thinking the same thing, I end up with shelves of Alpha-Bits and bellies of kids that aren't getting nutrients. And let's face it: there are far too many over-chubby faces looking early heart attacks and kidney failure in our kindergarten classes.

100% REAL fruit juice and not fruit 'drink'; tropical punch and Sunny-D do not qualify as healthy beverages! Read the labels carefully to make sure that the juice you're giving is all fruit and water… no added sugars, flavours or syrups.

WHOLE GRAINS!!!!! In cereals, pastas, rice, breads, and flour, start steering towards whole grain and multi-grain foods. If we're going to change the overall health of our community, everyone needs access to healthy foods.

FRUITS'n'VEGGIES!!! Whether you donate cans or fresh produce in season, I can stress enough how important these are. We're all told to increase our fruit and vegetable intake and again, the same holds true for people using the food bank. Please give these plainer yet healthier foods and not Alpha-getti or Chef-Boy-R-Dee junk. That stuff is absolutely good for nothing for everyone. It's not food. Just filler, no matter what the commercials say about having vegetable servings hidden in them somewhere. I still have yet to find them.

BEANS!!! Whether in cans or fresh, they are a source of vitamins, protein, and fibre. They're great especially when someone is a vegetarian or cannot digest red meat.

These are just a few necessary suggestions when shifting our thinking. We don't want to just stop the hunger. We want to increase health and relationships. A healthier person is more able to function in family, work and life. Food banks and soup kitchens are short-term solutions to a long-term problem, but they do have their places. And within those places, let's make conscious choices to think long-term and choose healthy like we would choose healthy for ourselves.

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