Crying in a Superstore

This food haul cost me over $100 at the grocery store on reserve

I was getting ready for my next adventure, packing my bags and heading to the great Canadian north to learn how to be a nurse. My list of items to bring was thorough, but for some reason, I decided not to focus on food.

I should have focused on food.

Food insecurity is one of those hot button topics that is impossible to relate to unless you have experienced it. At this point in my life, I was the girl who wrote papers on the subject but I knew nothing about it.

I had spent the previous 23 years of my life focused on the calories content and nutritional value of my food rather than the price tag attached to it. Food needs to pass my strict criteria before making its way into my shopping cart, vegan, organic, non-GMO and wouldn’t send me into a tailspin of anxiety if I ate it. This all went out the window when I walked into a Winnipeg Superstore on cold Canadian winter evening.

I was completing my final practicum in a community only accessible by plane, and that meant that everything and everyone must pay the airfare to get on, including both me and my food. I was informed that I was going to have to pay $1.90 per kilogram my luggage was over my 60-kilo limit, but I was a student, so my backpack of textbooks laid claim to my “free” 60 kg. I kept this extra cost in mind as I walked down the aisles of the big box store and began to come to terms with how much I was going to have to change my diet to match my pocketbook.

This shopping trip was not going to be as simple as,

This bag of lentils is $4, so I will pay $4 and be the proud owner of a $4 bag of lentils.

It was complicated and messy and went more like,

This $6 bag of lentils weights 2kg so now it costs $10 but if I bought it up north it would cost $12 if for some reason they magically sold lentils up north which they probably don’t so if I don’t buy them now then I won’t see a lentil for three months. How long will these $10 lentils even last me? Do I even like lentils?

And then I throw the bag of lentils back onto the shelf as if I was just holding a dead rat and swiftly move to the next aisle.

This anxiety fueled shopping trip lasted for about three painful hours and ended when I could not fit any more canned goods into my huge Rubbermaid container and I could no longer think straight.

I spent a total of $313.54 at Superstore, the next day I paid $212.60 for extra shipping costs at Perimeter making my total $562.14. This bothered me in such a profound way that I can never put into words. I had just spent $562.14 on food that should have cost me $313.54. Also, this was not three months’ worth of food; this ended up lasting me 17 days.

Although I had just spent an obscene amount of money on non-perishable, nutritionally deficient food, I could afford it. And as much as I would have like to have spent my hard-earned money differently, it was not what bothered me. I was a 23-year-old 4th year nursing student from an upper-middle-class family, a good school and I had a chequing account full of scholarship and bursary money I earned from working my ass off the semester before. I was bothered because I knew I was not an accurate representation of the people who live in the community I was going to be entering. I am privileged, white and food secure. Spending this money did not mean that I could not provide for my children, or struggle to cover the rest of life’s necessities, it was also never going to be my norm.

Fast forward two months later and I am in isolated Northern Manitoba. I lost my credit card on the ice road, deactivated my debit card and was about to be taught a real lesson on food insecurity.

I lived my last month on food donations from the nurses at the station, macaroni that expired eight years ago and ramen. I was forced to lower my standards on what was edible, and nothing made me more ecstatic than a birthday party with free cake. I completely ignored my lactose intolerance and ate meat for the first time in 8 years. But once again I couldn’t help but think,

Am I really food insecure?

Those around me sympathized with me, cleaned out their fridges for me and let me raid the cupboards of nurses who worked at the station many moons ago. Yes, eating had become a lot more stressful and was not always guaranteed, but I knew it would end the moment I boarded my plane back to Winnipeg.

I created my food insecurity yet I received more sympathy and free food than the countless patients I saw who were simply a product of their environment. This has made me question whether food insecurity is a consequence of support systems and the privilege attached to your skin colour and not actually the accessibility of food itself.

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A lovely Canadian Nurse traveling, oversharing, discovering the art of healthcare and attempting to be creative.

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Taylor Peters

Taylor Peters

A lovely Canadian Nurse traveling, oversharing, discovering the art of healthcare and attempting to be creative.

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