A few days ago, I saw this Washington Post analysis of homelessness and hunger among college students.
I scoffed. This is nothing new.
I knew at least one homeless college student. There were days when I was absolutely famished and didn’t want to ask my family for help because I was supposed to be an adult and doing this on my own, briefly had three jobs and, in theory I was guaranteed — up until my senior year, when my dorm was demolished there wasn’t enough housing and I could have been homeless if not for my fraternity brothers and I renting our unofficial official house — three meals a day from the dining halls.
This didn’t end after graduation. After a few months of only eating beans, getting the occasional Wendy’s sandwich, gorging myself on whatever baked goods showed up in the newsroom and willing my credit card bills (and gas prices) low enough for some meat, I asked my mom for food.
From 2006 to 2009, my mom bought me groceries. Occasionally, she still does. I also try to raid her freezer whenever I visit. It’s more of tradition at this point. Or she sees a killer deal through the connections she still has from the restaurant industry.
Typically, whatever she bought me was all the food I was going to get for about a month. On paper, I made enough to live. I got paid between $22,000 and $24,000 a year at my first paper. I don’t exactly remember, but I know I made less than $12 an hour and absolutely did not reach $25,000. My rent was about $600. I had utility bills and a car payment I wasn’t expecting to have. I had college-related debt to pay back. From the start, I would get my check stub and realize that the entire thing was spoken for. And then some. I had a bank at the time that gave everyone up to $500 to use, minus overdraft fees, after hitting zero. You had 30 days to get your account back into the black. I mastered having about $5 in on the 29th day and then jumping back down to -$480.
I was constantly tired. Journalism is not an 80-hour job. We pretend it is. I’ve never worked at a paper where people put down ever hour they worked. I don’t see how some people have a second job beyond reporting. I walked into every day of my first six years or so of journalism not knowing when I’d get home at the end of the day. Even when I had food to cook, I’ve come home too tired to cook it. I went a day or two without eating because I didn’t have time to eat or had no time to prepare anything. When I lived alone in Petersburg, I’ve passed out because of that on more than one occasion.
On one particular occasion in early 2007, it took me entirely too long to have time to cook the chicken I put in the fridge to thaw.
It definitely had started to spoil.
I was in no position to waste food.
Yes. That happened.
Despite heavily seasoning it and baking it until it nearly was burnt, I almost couldn’t bear to eat it. Luckily, I had some liquor, so I figured it would help kill the germs or help induce vomiting later.
I kept it down. I don’t know how, but I kept it down.
This still feels embarrassing, although a dozen years have passed. It’s because I went too long being too proud to ask for help. And then, when I asked for help, I was too ashamed to ask for more help.
You’re better off looking back at the time when you had to eat at a soup kitchen despite being in your chosen career than looking back at the time you cooked and ate rotten meat.