On Inauguration Day, Meals on Wheels, poverty and the myth of the safety net

It’s a big day in America.

We officially have a new president. People are having feeling about it. But while some are celebrating and others are preparing to march, thousands of people in Austin are worried about when they are going to get to eat.

This thought was on my mind as I delivered seven meals to residents in a low income building downtown. I carried two reusable grocery bags up to the very top floor and worked my way down, dropping off a hot meal and a cold bag with milk and extra food to seven apartments.

My Meals on Wheels route takes me to a low income building downtown, where dozens of food insecure clients receive a hot meal delivered each weekday. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

My Meals on Wheels route takes me to a low income building downtown, where dozens of food insecure clients receive a hot meal delivered each weekday. Addie Broyles / American-Statesman

But here’s the thing: I wasn’t delivering to apartments. I was delivering to people. We have so abstracted poverty and need in this country that we lose sight of the people who are affected when we make the cuts and keep the institutional problems in place that keep them out of luck’s way.

What does luck have to do with it?

Everything, says Robert Frank, author of “Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy.” When we frame our personal narrative of success as hard work — “pulling yourself self up by the bootstraps” is how someone might put it — we lose sight of the good fortune we had to have boots in the first place.

I can see the hard luck on the faces of the many people I’ve delivered to over the years. Some struggle with health problems. Others are just struggling to make it through life alone. We’d like to think that everyone has his or her own personal safety net, just in case something crazy goes down, but the truth is that any kind of safety net — financial, familial or social — is just like those boots.

If you have one, you’ve already got a head start.

Brooke Gladstone did an excellent job with the entire On The Media poverty series, but if you want a single snapshot to hear on this very big day, when we’re thinking about the state of our union, give a listen to the shortened Radiolab version.

I’ve seen lots of posts from you all today about the ways that you are strengthening the social safety net. I’m grateful to organizations like Meals on Wheels that allow volunteers like me to feel like we’re doing something, even if it’s small, to support neighbors in need and gain a wider perspective about the personal side of politics, the balance of luck, hard work and charity and what happens when the foundation of a person’s hierarchy of needs starts to crumble.

 

Is there anything food-related on your mind this Inauguration Day?

 

 

 

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