Not Knowing When She Could Afford Food, A Broke Dolly Parton Ate At Grocery Stores


Today, she is a queen of country music and a greater cultural icon with millions of record sales to her name. But there was a time when Dolly Parton struggled so badly day by day that she ate at grocery stores to ease her hunger.

Parton was born the fourth child out of 12 children; she was born right in the family’s one-bedroom cabin. Her mother took care of the family, though she was weekend by so many pregnancies by age 35. Her father worked multiple jobs to supplement the family’s small income, and his efforts still saw them go without gifts on Christmas. Some of these hardships followed Parton into adulthood, to the point where the only chance to relieve her hunger was at grocery stores.


Dolly Parton ate at grocery stores as a limited way of tending to her hunger

Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business / Amazon

When Parton first embarked on the next stage of her remarkable life’s journey, she had no way to predict the splendor that awaited her—especially not when she ran fast out of money and faced food insecurity. Because she had no reliable way of purchasing food to fill a fridge, Parton got crafty to survive.


RELATED: Dolly Parton Says “Hard Candy Christmas” Isn’t A Christmas Song, But Something Much Sadder

“It’s not something I’m proud of, but I would do a little eating on the sly at grocery stores,” Parton revealed in her 1994 memoir, Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business. “I would get a cart and wheel it through the aisles. While I pretended to shop, I would pick up items I could easily open and eat from the package.”

She went on, “I would eat a bag of potato chips while pretending to check the produce for ripeness. Or I’d drink a pint of milk while trying to decide which brand of coffee I wasn’t going to buy. I would hurriedly gag down a handful of baloney and cheese while keeping an eye out for the store clerks.”

Thinking about her next move was a constant for Parton in several ways

When she faced daily food insecurity, Dolly Parton ate what she could at grocery stores / Greg Gayne / ©Hulu /Courtesy Everett Collection

Generally, after this, Parton would return her cart and exit the store. But if she had any money at all, she would buy the cheapest thing she could—usually a pack of gum.

“I guess, in my mind, that somehow made it better,” she mused in her memoir. “Even a basically honest person can do desperate things when hunger begins gnawing at them. But I shop now at all the stores I stole from, so I more than paid them back.”

But before she had the means to buy whatever filling dish she truly wanted, Parton also ate some remarkable concoctions cobbled together from old Depression-era tricks she learned growing up.

Parton uses her success for philanthropic purposes / ImageCollect

There was the “pine float,” which amounted to a glass of water and a toothpick. Then, Parton also ate soups that used ketchup and mustard in place of broth. “I had heard of people making soup out of hot water and ketchup,” she recalled. “I can tell you personally it’s not very satisfying. At a time like that, you can either dine for as long as possible on your own fingernails or learn to get by some other way. I tried both.”

Now, according to The Economic Times, Parton has a net worth of approximately $650 million and food insecurity is a thing of the past—but she uses this position to give right back and make other Dolly’s days easier. The Dollywood Foundation is all about uplifting the next generation and funding higher education for high school students. The organization’s efforts helped decrease local dropout rates from 35% to just 6%. Her philanthropic efforts earned Parton the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

“I just give from my heart. I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m going to do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it then I will,” said Parton in her acceptance speech. “If I can just do my small part in this world then that’s all that I ask in this world.”

Dolly Parton went without consistent food or holiday gifts often in her early life / AdMedia

RELATED: Who Are Dolly Parton’s Late Parents, Robert And Avie Lee Parton?

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