PlaySpent.org has an excellent website that shows just what kind of decisions that poor people are required to take in order to survive month to month. It uses a game format. You can make decisions about how to find and qualify for a job and then you have to allocate the money you earn in a month so that it lasts for the entire 30 days. Click on the above link to give it a try. If you manage to get through the month despite poverty, in the game or in real life, I'd love to hear what strategies you use(d).
I wasn't totally shocked that I made it through the end of the month, too. The sad thing is that I knew how to do it, because I've lived it and watched those around me do it. Choosing the right combination of foods is hard as hell, though. My mom insisted that we eat whole wheat bread when we were kids. She said that white bread had no nutritional value. It was more expensive than the white bread, though. So, she saved in other parts of the food budget. She bought unsweetened cereal and a bag of sugar (which could be obtained for almost $0.50 since we live in La.). We sweetened our own cereal. She believed that we should all get some kind of after-school snack, so she'd buy the cheap generic sandwich cookies and each of us four kids were allowed to get four--just four--every afternoon until they ran out.
We lived in a city (New Orleans) that had great public transportation, so even when our raggedy cars broke down, she could still get to work and/or go make groceries. Since it is La. and almost every type of fruit and vegetable can be grown here, because of the fertile soil, she was able to start a food garden and grow gigantic eggplants and greens and tomatoes and bell peppers. She didn't have to invest in soil or fertilizers or pesticides or else I doubt that it would have been feasible. It was also very easy to find other folks who grew stuff and we could trade with them for the stuff that we had too much of (first world kids like us felt like we could only eat so much eggplant without starting a riot at the dinner table).
I don't know how in the hell people who are poor and living in "food deserts" or those without yards to cultivate can possibly survive. I honestly don't know. I have a hunch, though, that a lot of the so-called "inner city crime" is probably connected to the fact that there are folks who simply can not bear to sit and watch their children go hungry. I'm not going to pretend that I'm so ethical that I might not resort to crime if I had to look in my beloved daughter's face and tell her that I didn't have the money for food this week.