A month ago, the director of the Winthrop Food Pantry sent board members information about the number of people who came to the pantry from January through April 2014. (Full disclosure: I am on the board.) Four hundred two families came, and this added up to 1,102 individuals. For a city the size of Portland or even Augusta, one thousand people might not seem like very many. However, according to the 2010 census, the population of Winthrop is 6,092, and a realtor I know pegged it at 6,200 for 2014. So my town’s population is 6,000, give or take a couple of hundred, and this year between January and April, 1,000 residents were fed by the food pantry.
I admit it. I was shocked that the numbers were so high. I shouldn’t have been. On days when the pantry is open, the waiting room is crammed with people waiting to get food. But to me, Winthrop seems like a middle-class community, a macaroni and cheese kind of place. Yes, there are some wealthy people, and they tend to live by the many beautiful lakes in town, but there are a larger number of state workers and other folks who earn an average salary.
Until I saw the food pantry numbers, I didn’t realize that there were also so many people in town living on the edge, people who are—let’s be honest—earning so little money that they meet the federal guidelines for poverty, the guidelines the pantry uses. The number of people coming to the pantry has risen since the start of the Great Recession, and those numbers don’t seem to be going down anytime soon.
For a completely different view about how some people eat in Maine, you only have to turn to last week’s Maine Sunday Telegram and its recently added food section, Source: Eating and Living Sustainably in Maine. The article’s headline was innocent enough: “Dinner is nearly ready: Summer brings a slew of opportunities for right-there-on-the-farm eating.”
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Bucolic and simple with lots of mouth-watering food fresh from the fields or the creamery at various farms in southern Maine. And I’m sure it is—albeit for a very hefty price. Most of the prices for the farm meals listed were between $110 and $60 per person. Yes, per person. (The Well, at Jordan Farm in Cape Elizabeth, was the only farm listing with what might be considered a reasonable price—between $23 to $20 per entry, with a kids’ menu available.)
I try to reconcile these two Maines—the thousand people in Winthrop who rely on the food pantry for some of their food, and those who can afford to spend $125 per person on a meal at a farm. But I can’t reconcile these two Maines. As the saying goes, it blows my mind to think about the discrepancy. (The idea of farm food being so expensive also blows my mind.)
To borrow yet again from the late writer Tony Judt, ill fares the land when there is such inequality.