Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nutrition? in a hospital?

After a test at our San Francisco General Hospital, I was hungry for lunch, but had only a little time before I had to get to the job that I have right now. I stopped at the hospital cafeteria, thinking I'd get a quick bowl of soup. Imagine my shock when I read on the menu that that days' soup, Clam Chowder, contained 1510 mg. of sodium per serving.

I'll say that again, 1510 mg in a bowl of a hospital.
The US Governments' Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005, published every five years, recommends that Americans limit their sodium intake to
2300 mg per day. So, this bowl of clam chowder would provide one with about 65 percent of their recommended daily salt intake.

The City of San Francisco has banned soda and other junk food from it's schools, and requires chain resturants to post the nutritional data for their food, in an effort to encourage healthy eating by it's residents. At the same time, the City provides care to it's residents at SFGH, yet on this day a bowl of soup contained a level of sodium that is beyond unhealthy. That doesn't make sense.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Frugal finds

One of the pleasures I've learned during this time of diminished economy is that of the Frugal Find. I've learned to scout second hand stores for clothing, housewares and anything else I'm looking for. My favorite thrift store in San Francisco has become Community Thrift, originally founded to support those groups who provided support to those with AIDS, at a time when the various government support programs did not. Today Community Thrift distributes it's proceeds to any of over two hundred service organizations in San Francisco.

Some months ago I was in the market for a cat tree for the resident cats, Marcellus and Phoebe. These things, for what they are, essentially carpet stapled to scrap wood, are incredibly expensive. Community Thrift has a fifty percent off sale on the first Monday of each month, and I happened in one first Monday, to see what was in stock. Imagine my glee when I found a cat tree whose price tag read $6.50. With that days' fifty percent sale, that cat tree was $3.25, ordinarily priced at close to $100.
The beauty of this is that not only did I come out ahead, but a portion of what I paid was redistributed to organizations providing help to those in need. Fewer new goods need to be produced, one less carpet and scrap wood piece ends up in the land fill. Good deal all the way around.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Time/Money, Money/Time

The previously mentioned Spend No Money day was only partially successful. I left the house without the coffee that I had set up the night before. Didn't get around to making a lunch.

Which brings me to the thought that I've had for awhile: living cheap takes time and work. I've thought about this for a long time in the context of having less money. Put bluntly, being poor is hard work. Fixing meals at home, after a days work, rather than eating carryout. Buying groceries over the weekends or in the evenings when the stores are crowded with everyone else doing the same, rather than during the day when things are much less frenetic. Planning meals and shopping trips ahead so as to know what is priced well, what is in season and available, rather than using commercially produced food.

This has implications to me for those living on food stamps and other forms of public assistance. The Food Stamp Challenge was in the news a few years ago. The challenge was put out to live on the food stamp budget of $3 a day, 21 dollars a week a typical alotment to food stamp recipients. Various public figures, Congress people, state senators and the like took up the challenge and reported their experience with buying a weeks food on a food stamp budget. I remember being surprised at the choices that so many made, that cost so much money; boxed cereal for instance, instead of oatmeal. Sometimes food choices are made in light of the time available, and sometimes those choices are not the least expensive or the most healthful, but, "you do what you gotta do".

Now, I'm gonna go start the sprouts, before I go to the farmers market and put up some food for the week. Time...there's never enough.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Unemployment and Health Insurance

I'm the poster child for the issue of health insurance and the unemployed. Having left my job in May of 2007, I paid $530 a month for my health insurance through my employer, until it expired in November of 2008, eighteen months after my departure from my job. I'll turn fifty this year, and have had not had sustained employment since then.

Because of a variety of pre-existing conditions, including congenital Hydrocephalus, but including "ordinary" maladies of midlife like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, I was turned down by Kaiser Permanente, and presented with premiums by Blue Cross Blue Shield that were unaffordable in the absence of a job. We're talking in the realm of over a thousand dollars a month in addition to deductibles and co-pays.

I am fortunate to be able to enroll in San Francisco's innovative health-care access program, Healthy San Francisco. Initiated in 2007, I am able to have regular physical exams, receive treatment for my high cholesterol and monitoring of my blood pressure. This means that Lyon Martin Health Services will receive payment for their services, and I will receive care for things that often land folks in the emergency room with life threatening illness. If my shunt fails, the hospital will be paid for the surgery required to return me to health.

As more and more of us lose our jobs in this declining economy, other cities and states could create similar programs. Those of us who are not children, or elderly, or who still have to many resources to qualify for other programs, this sort of program is the answer to those who can't get health insurance.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Spend No Money Days

every so often, either for "fun" or out of necessity I declare a day to be one in which I will spend no money. It's a good way to remind myself of what I have, instead of what I don't, and to use the resources that are out there.
So tomorrow I will:
  1. make my own coffee and carry it with me;
  2. make lunch and carry my food with me, including tap water in the SS bottle;
  3. I'll read the newspaper at the public library downtown, after work, before I head over to feed a friends cat;
  4. I'll make tomorrows' dinner from what I have on hand between the freezer and my never ending pantry.
The downside to this, is that when I do buy coffee and the daily newspaper, it's from Fayes, the shop up the street that doubles as a video store and coffee bar, I buy my fruits and vegetables from the produce markets that abound in the neighborhood, and on these "spend no money days" I miss out on that opportunity to support and spend my money micro-locally. While it's true that many are watching their spendinng, what would happen to our local, neighborhood businesses if we all declared a SNM day all at once? Not good.

I've come to think of this as part of living frugally; spending my money at local merchants, and buying food grown as locally as possible. In San Francisco, indeed here in the Mission, that's not hard to do. The trick is to balance this somehow between watching my pennies and at the same time supporting local merchants whose money stays in the community.

I'd like to hope that as this economy continues it's downward spiral, we develop and ethos of supporting our local economies.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I've been marginally, and at times un-, employed since May of 2007. Leaving my job with the Big Law Firm, was a smart move then, but times have changed since then, and the change in the economy has created an economic challenge for me and so many others, living on savings, occasional work and ingenuity. I've learned quite a bit about the reality of living on little, stretching a dollar and making due. I've been challenged to put into practice the rhetoric that I've often espoused about living frugally, doing with less, etc.

On the other hand, I've been the beneficiary of some incredible generosity. One of the lessons I'm learning is to be appreciative of others gifts, and to look for ways to pay that forward.

I hope to write in this blog about the frugal life, cooking, and whatever else I come across. I hope to learn to express my ideas and to write better. Writing critiques are welcome!