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Healthy food desert?
July 15, 2011 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Better access to supermarkets — long touted as a way to curb obesity in low-income neighborhoods — doesn't improve people's diets, according to new research. 'The study, which tracked thousands of people in several large cities for 15 years, found that people didn't eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods. Instead, income — and proximity to fast-food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice.'

'The results throw some cold water on the idea that lack of access to fresh produce and other healthful foods is a major driver in the disproportionate rates of obesity among the poor, or that simply encouraging grocery chains to open in deprived areas will fix the problem, said study lead author Barry Popkin, director of the Nutrition Transition Program at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.'

'The findings are significant because in recent years, policymakers have been pushing for guidelines that limit the number of fast-food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods based on studies reporting lower obesity rates in communities with more supermarkets and fewer fast-food chains.'

'For one thing, experts said, grocery stores are brimming with choices that are every bit as fattening as fast-food meals. For another, the prices of healthful grocery store foods are often higher than fast-food prices.'

So if income is one controlling factor, could tax policies have impact? How about a soda tax? It seems a soda tax to reduce obesity might not work.
posted by VikingSword (168 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
The Illinois amendment would add 1 penny per ounce.

That's insufficiently high to change behavior.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:17 PM on July 15, 2011


Since these roundabout soda tax measures, perhaps a direct tax is in order. A pound of flesh, perhaps?
posted by pwnguin at 3:23 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh good a tax on soda. Now I will switch to healthy, healthy orange juice.
posted by benzenedream at 3:26 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm a jerk. Let's get that out of the way before I draw my next correlation.

So now it seems like being poor is correlated with being lazy? Wow. Shocking.
posted by GuyZero at 3:26 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, that's depressing.
posted by gurple at 3:29 PM on July 15, 2011


Can we have policies that encourage more farmer's markets, especially ones that take food stamps? I don't know if they will help with obesity, but the one in my neck of the woods insures that I eat double the fruits and veggies compared to the months when there is no farmer's market.
posted by Alison at 3:33 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


What about redlining? Proximity to supermarkets is not the same as proximity to good supermarkets.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:34 PM on July 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


Soon, the genetically modified Frankenfoods will crawl to your house and feed themselves to you in your sleep and there will no longer be a need for trips to the supermarket or restaurant. Problem solved! Even just running away from your dinner in terror will keep you trim.

Humanity, humanity, humanity... we're so good at making the solutions to problems into more problems. Do we have obesity as a horseman of the Apocalypse instead of famine in the U.S. at this point in history? That's what my diabetes meds whisper to me when I take them.
posted by XMLicious at 3:35 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


So now it seems like being poor is correlated with being lazy? Wow. Shocking.

Dude.
posted by rtha at 3:41 PM on July 15, 2011 [42 favorites]


This just in: human problems typically have a lot of factors, and changing just one is not enough.
posted by curious nu at 3:43 PM on July 15, 2011 [24 favorites]


I'm all for giving as many people better access to better (and affordable) food as possible. But the thing is, most people don't magically develop a taste for different foods (nor the ability to know how to prepare them) just by having them in closer proxmity. If you didn't grow up eating salads, suddenly having your choice of lettuce isn't going to make most people into veggie fanatics.

I learned a fair amount of my food preferences and cooking abilities from growing up, especially with a grandmother and a sister who loved cooking (which counteracted my mom's near-complete disinterest in anything having to do with the kitchen). But I also didn't really learn how to shop and prepare good food till I was on my own in my early 30s after my divorce, and I was motivated in large part to learn how to cook seriously because my boyfriend was a foodie. And that's having had access to perfectly good grocery stores my whole life.

Being surprised that people didn't transform into Mark Bittman fans overnight (as the study's author seems to be) is misguided (and tsk-tsking poor people for being "lazy," as GuyZero does, is just classist bullshit).
posted by scody at 3:45 PM on July 15, 2011 [23 favorites]


A few weeks ago I was in my local Grocery Outlet in the afternoon on a workday. I live in the seedier part of a town that doesn't really have any seedy parts, and the space had been vacant since Ralph's moved out 10 years ago. The opening of the grocery store was excellent for the neighborhood. Though there's an upscale grocery store one mile away and the food co-op is a mile in the other direction, the only other things that were close by were a couple of liquor/convenience stores. There are a lot of immigrants in the neighborhood, and have a source of inexpensive food -- and fresh produce! -- has really changed the quality of life.

Anyway, the couple in front of me had two baskets full of food. He was a big, slovenly, schlubby guy in loose sweat pants and a stained, sweaty white T-shirt. She was wearing pajama pants and flip-flops. They were both obese. They had a kid who was, I dunno, 5 maybe, and he screamed the whole time and was grabbing candy bars out of the basket. Mom kept yelling "Don't touch those, those are mine!"

As I waited and waited for them to finish their argument about who was going to pay for what, I checked out the food they were buying. (I'd run out of other things to look at.) It was all stuff that I consider crap. Boxed pasta, chips, hamburger helper, a big package of ribs, hot dogs, salami, those fruit juices that market themselves as healthy but don't actually contain any fruit, etc. No fruits. No vegetables. Not a single piece of produce of any kind. And when the checker asked "Credit or debit," the mom said "Food stamps." (The man, by the way, was wearing an iPhone around his neck.)

I had a lot of really conflicting emotions about that. I felt really horrible for the kid. The parents can eat whatever they want -- who cares -- but that kid is going to grow up eating (and preferring) crap. And the chances that he'll grow up to be obese too? I don't know if there's any way to predict that, but it sure seems like a possibility.

The other thing is, they bought a hell of a lot of packaged food for very little money. If their basket was filled with produce -- even at the Grocery Outlet -- they would have spent more.

Point being, access to fresh food is great, but you still have to choose them, and the decision-making process includes a variety of considerations.

(The other thing that occurred to me standing there was how grateful I am for the way I was raised. My dad had a huge vegetable garden, and we ate from it for 9 months out of the year. I grew up on fresh produce, and it's what I like now. What you eat in early childhood shouldn't just be called 'diet,' it should also be referred to as 'training.)
posted by mudpuppie at 3:46 PM on July 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


I need access to better supermarkets, not better access to supermarkets. Fresh produce requires me to go all the way downtown (though I have heard legends of the Fairway, I've also heard it's fucking BUSY on weekends).
posted by Eideteker at 3:48 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


(The point is moot, though, because my current job gets me home too late to cook anyway. But still. It'd be nice to have fresh fruit for breakfast and to take with my lunch on the days I have time to make it.)
posted by Eideteker at 3:49 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


and tsk-tsking poor people for being "lazy," as GuyZero does, is just classist bullshit

So I'm tsk-tsking anyone. Be lazy. Eat whatever you want. I'm not telling anyone how to live.

The point that seems most salient to me is that it isn't sufficient to move grocery stores closer to low-income people, it's that you have to move fast food restaurants farther away. Which, to me, implies that low-income people simply get their food from whatever is the literal fastest outlet. It doesn't even have to do with not liking salad - if they liked fast food so much they'd simply travel farther to get it. But they don't, from my short reading of a highly summarized article based on a limited study. They simply get whatever is at hand. Which, you have to admit, could be classified as lazy.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


There are much bigger problems facing the American supermarket, as mudpuppie hints at. Going south of the border, my shopping selection rapidly becomes nighmarish. Here in Vancouver I have a huge selection of non-white neighbourhood grocers (Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Iranian, etc) where I can have an incredible selection of very cheap produce, meat, etc. for much cheaper than typical over-the-counter junk food. Typically $20 gets me as much as I can carry.

As soon as I hit Lynden, the story reverses, and I have to go to Whole Foods if I want to avoid HFCS-laden garbage. The problems run much deeper than "the supermarket is too far away."
posted by mek at 3:54 PM on July 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


I should add it could also be classified as having limited time or limited resources for travelling (e.g. no car, bad public transport). But I don't think it has anything to do with not knowing what to eat.
posted by GuyZero at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2011


does fresh direct deliver to your neighborhood, Eide? Their produce is good and the slightly higher expense would pay off in the lack of subway ride and time taken to go downtown.
posted by gaspode at 3:56 PM on July 15, 2011


Which, to me, implies that low-income people simply get their food from whatever is the literal fastest outlet. It doesn't even have to do with not liking salad - if they liked fast food so much they'd simply travel farther to get it. But they don't, from my short reading of a highly summarized article based on a limited study. They simply get whatever is at hand. Which, you have to admit, could be classified as lazy.

Hours. Some people work a lot of them. Poor people especially.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:57 PM on July 15, 2011 [38 favorites]


Expecting people who've been eating (cheap) crap for years to suddenly choose more expensive produce because it's good for them is silly. There needs to be some education as well... not sure how that's going to work, though, since in schools we get "educational" materials from big food companies, not farmers.

How did you learn about eating healthful food, and how can we get that information to poor people?
posted by Huck500 at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


While it's definitely bad that lower-income neighborhoods don't have proper markets, the problem is far larger. I mean, have you looked at the waistlines of the shoppers at the suburban mega-marts?

Having access to fresh produce doesn't mean people will eat it. I'm sorry to say this but, for all the foody trendiness, the overwhelming bulk of Americans simply don't cook. Or, more accurately, don't cook anything more complex than spaghetti with a bottle of Ragu, or burgers on a grill. Do something with vegetables beyond a platter of cut-up broccoli and a tub of veggie dip? It's like brain surgery to most people.

Simply put, the produce section in the average mega-mart is the dietary equivalent of string-theory to most of Americans. They see the selection, and they have no damned clue what they're looking at or what to do with it. Nor, are they interested in it.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:58 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


As soon as I hit Lynden, the story reverses

The notion of comparing metro Vancouver with a small quasi-rural American town is nonsensical. I live "south of the border" and I can get twice as much good produce as you can at half the price. And I can get twice as much random ethnic groceries too. Well, maybe not so much Polish or Iranian.

I mean, sheesh, I'm the first to play the smug Canadian card, but the comparison is silly.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


BTW this is as good a place as any to ask this question.
So yesterday, I went to the Big Salad Shop downtown here and got me a giant garden salad.
It was lettuce and some purple lettuce, some cucumbers and a few croutons and lots and lots of sprouts.

It was magnificent. And it filled me up and (Im sure) did a little housecleaning that I needed it to.

Now then, is it true that as great as it was, I received little to no nutritional benefit from it since it was mostly lettuce? I have been told that theres no calories and almost no vitamins.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:00 PM on July 15, 2011


(The man, by the way, was wearing an iPhone around his neck.)


They always are in these anecdotes.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:00 PM on July 15, 2011 [43 favorites]


I don't understand why an Asian or Latino supermarket can sell onions for thirty cents, and green onions for ten cents a bunch, and greens for practically nothing... and the same things cost four or five times as much in "normal" grocery stores. Heck, you can buy chilis of fifty kinds for five cents each.
posted by sonic meat machine at 4:01 PM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


I mean, have you looked at the waistlines of the shoppers at the suburban mega-marts?

Yes, and they're mostly thin in my area. Also, they're mostly rich, and many are one-income families in which the wife stays home and cooks.

My wife and I share the cooking duties, and we cook plenty of veggies and such. Your experience is completely different from mine, and I guess the key is to figure out why.
posted by Huck500 at 4:01 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The notion of comparing metro Vancouver with a small quasi-rural American town is nonsensical.

The comparison is in price. If anything a rural area should have much better access to fresh produce, because it is a rural area. The scary thing is that most rural areas in America are corn-field deserts now.
posted by mek at 4:03 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand why an Asian or Latino supermarket can sell onions for thirty cents, and green onions for ten cents a bunch, and greens for practically nothing...

When I was young and poor we lived in Little Saigon in Orange County, CA... and the grocery stores there had really fresh food, literally stacks of tanks full of live fish. There were very few (none that I can remember) fat Vietnamese people there. As an example, pho is a really great, nutritious food that can be made cheaply and easily. You do have to be willing to stand over a stove for a little while, though.
posted by Huck500 at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2011


If anything a rural area should have much better access to fresh produce, because it is a rural area.
Yeah, that makes perfect sense if you have no idea at all about how food distribution works.

And yes, there are ethnic groceries in big American cities, too.
posted by craichead at 4:06 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


How did you learn about eating healthful food

The Internet, Eric Schlosser, Michael Pollan yada yada yada. You know, typical well-off white person nonsense.

The thing is, this whole thing reeks of What's the Matter With Kansas? "If only the poor oppressed people would have more choices rather than their corn-syrup bonanza, they would cast aside their shackles and love them some delicious fresh produce!" Well, no, actually, a lot of people revel in the fact that they eat crap. Food is a massive component of self-identity, and it tickles those back lobes of psyche way more than just being addicted to potato chips. Anyone who's gone vegetarian, vegan, locavore or adopted any other diet knows that even the most well-meaning people around you will give you a sideways glance as if to say, Who are you?

So yeah, if obese people feed their obese kid nothing but candy, that's going to form a massive amount of the obese kid's self-identification. And breaking that is hard, as hard as changing any other form of self-identification, with the added bonus of having to counteract what you instinctually "know" good food is. Hell, present a lovely bowl of brown rice and black beans next to a Dunkin' Donut and I'll certainly waver.

BTW, I have no solutions other than making the poor richer, which, you know.
posted by solistrato at 4:09 PM on July 15, 2011 [18 favorites]


Now then, is it true that as great as it was, I received little to no nutritional benefit from it since it was mostly lettuce? I have been told that theres no calories and almost no vitamins.


Purple lettuce is actually red leaf lettuce...

From Livestrong.com:

Iceberg lettuce is commonly used in salads. However, it contains fewer nutrients than red leaf lettuce. While red leaf lettuce contains 127 percent USDA daily recommended value (DV) vitamin A and 149 percent DV vitamin K, iceberg lettuce only contains 9 percent DV vitamin A and 27 percent DV vitamin K when comparing the same serving size. Raw spinach, however, has 161 percent DV vitamin A, 510 percent DV vitamin K, and 42 percent DV vitamin C, in the same serving size of 85 grams.

So... you're good. Eat some spinach sometimes, too.
posted by Huck500 at 4:10 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


AnecdataFilter: A friend of mine is a manager of a Papa Murphy's. Her store is within one mile of two typical grocery stores, two high-priced grocery stores and two farmer's markets. She is allowed to take any time off during the month so long as her work is done and it is not in the first 10 days of the month. Coincidence? Shit, they advertise that they take food stamps.

FWIW, she takes off around 8 weeks vacation per year. But never the first 10 days of the month.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:11 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


But the thing is, most people don't magically develop a taste for different foods (nor the ability to know how to prepare them) just by having them in closer proxmity

Exactly. I live right next to a Whole Foods and a Trader Joes, not to mention a fairly nice Ralphs with lots of produce. And I can afford to shop at all of them. I still don't buy a ton of fresh, healthy food because I'm lazy and don't like cooking.

I definitely think it's good to have access for people who want such things. And food subsidies should be adjusted so that such things are cheaper (at least relative to some of the crap).

But access will only change those people who actually wanted the stuff but couldn't get it. Plenty of people just don't want it.

(I eat well when I'm dining out, or at work. At home I eat pretty poorly, and it's entirely by choice -- and I know I'm hardly alone in that)
posted by wildcrdj at 4:11 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, that makes perfect sense if you have no idea at all about how modern industrial food distribution works.

Yep. Cheap Mexican and California organic produce in every major North American city, while we pay farmers in rural areas to grow nothing but corn and then wonder why the only thing anyone in the lower classes eat are corn-based value-added junk foods. How mysterious.
posted by mek at 4:11 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


A lot of families I have known who cooked Hamburger Helper type meals often used two boxes and about twice as much hamburger than in the directions. Don't try to tell me that a nutritious meal for that many cannot be prepared for the same money.

Not only do most people not know how to cook, they do not know cook efficiently.
posted by Ardiril at 4:12 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why an Asian or Latino supermarket can sell onions for thirty cents, and green onions for ten cents a bunch, and greens for practically nothing... and the same things cost four or five times as much in "normal" grocery stores. Heck, you can buy chilis of fifty kinds for five cents each.

Same reason as why every Safeway in Vancouver sells cherries from California & Washington (as did most of the vendors at Granville Island last weekend as well). I was stunned how hard it was to buy some BC cherries in BC.
posted by GuyZero at 4:13 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


The study's lowest measurement of proximity was a km, which seems too far. Proximity beyond a quarter mile or so doesn't mean much because most people won't walk far to go food shopping. Those with car will drive. Transit dependent folks are at the mercy of bus routes, transfers, etc. In low income areas, this often means people walk to the closest corner store. I've written about best practices for using transportation to improve access to healthy food.
posted by markvalli at 4:13 PM on July 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


we pay farmers in rural areas to grow nothing but corn and then wonder why the only thing anyone in the lower classes eat are corn-based value-added junk foods

In fairness, I don't think you'd do very well growing lettuce or strawberries in Kansas.
posted by GuyZero at 4:13 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Or anything at all in Texas.
posted by mek at 4:14 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


Now then, is it true that as great as it was, I received little to no nutritional benefit from it since it was mostly lettuce? I have been told that theres no calories and almost no vitamins.

Few calories is a feature, not a bug. It is good to find something that is filling, yet low calorie. That's the very point of it. And apart from vitamins and minerals, of which, true, there isn't a whole lot in lettuce, there are other nutrients and fiber. Further, you have to look not merely at the absolute amount of micro nutrients vitamins and minerals, but the nutrients per calorie ratios, for which lettuce is not bad. Obviously, lettuce alone cannot satisfy all your nutrient needs.
posted by VikingSword at 4:15 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


I should've elaborated more in my comment and not just been a one-off snark buttface.

So, a bunch of stuff that probably contributes to obesity:

* portion size (complications: dish size, unfilling foods)
* not drinking enough water, drinking too much of everything else (complications: taste (i.e. chlorine), possible safety issues with old pipes)
* idealized eating habits (large meals 3x day versus smaller meals with extra healthy snacks)
* market distance
* market stock
* market prices
* what foods you feed your children/were fed as a child
* stress/mental illness (feel like shit? you'll eat more of that ice cream and pasta and Coke)
* work hours (get home after 8+ hours, do easiest things that you can do + satisfy emotional needs)
* shopping habits (the typical once a week or every other week; easier to stock up on canned, boxed, et cetera processed stuff; this feeds back into distance and work hours and payment schedules)

So: get everyone to start using smaller dish sizes, stop drinking processed beverages and start drinking regular (ice) water, restructure every American residential area so that there are decent fresh produce markets (that sell at low prices) in ~15 minute walking distance, reduce or break up work hours in some way so that you don't come home exhausted, maybe get the kids to start helping with meals rather than leaving it all up to Mom or Dad, start tackling the staggering every day mental health issues (including isolation) which, incidentally, can be ameliorated with more exercise which would help a lot with keeping the weight down, and oh yeah, more physical activity, and, and and and...

In this, like so many other things, human beings have to get together and decide, at the most basic levels of their lives, that they want a change for themselves and their societies. Nothing else is ever going to do it, because we've got too many corporate interests driving the governmental layers to ever get a top-down approach (which is doable to an extent, but would require massive authoritarian moves to make it all happen and easily thwarted if you can't get people to give a shit about some of this themselves).
posted by curious nu at 4:16 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


One word: carbohydrates.

Cheap carbs, tasty carbs, filling carbs, convenient carbs.

Killer carbs.

Read Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat." It's about the "epidemic" of human insulin resistance (to carbs) and the resulting obesity. Where does it come from? Homo sapiens genetics. We were not built to process continuous carbohydrate overloading.

It isn't proximity to Mcdonalds or Wendys or the convenience store or anything like that. It's a lack of understanding magnified by a bizarro medical establishment bias, an amoral carbohydrate food industry, and awful education (aka propaganda) such as our American "Food Pyramid."
posted by geeyore at 4:17 PM on July 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


Fast food is delicious. You can take whatever you want, cover it in salt and sugar then fry it & it'll be delicious. This is the problem. Its not education or access. Its the fact that if your life is shit you're gonna eat stuff that gives you a superficial feel-good feeling.

You can tell me you prefer vegetables or slow food or healthy olive-oil options, but you're bullshitting yourself. Deep fry what you normally eat and wash it down with a gallon of soda and tell me that didn't feel good.

Poor people eat these foods because they fulfil the same role as booze or cigs or drugs. A bit of colour for a dull existence. You know its not the best option, but fuck it.

Providing vegetable aisles is a middle class solution to a problem they don't understand.
posted by seanyboy at 4:18 PM on July 15, 2011 [35 favorites]


Thanks Huck500 and VikingSword!
posted by Senor Cardgage at 4:20 PM on July 15, 2011


I can spend 20 dollars and buy enough fresh fruit for my kids to each have a piece of fresh fruit as a snack after school for a week.

Or I can spend 2 dollars for a 3-pound bag of animal crackers, and my kids each have a snack after school for a month.

I wonder why adding more grocery stores to impoverished areas isn't making a difference in the way the poor eat.

On a less sarcastic note, you know what my husband and I did when I got my very first advance check? We bought an entire cartfull of fresh fruits, vegetables and meat because we could finally afford them.
posted by headspace at 4:22 PM on July 15, 2011 [19 favorites]


What do have, 12 kids?
posted by Ardiril at 4:24 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


@seanyboy "they fulfil the same role as booze or cigs or drugs" is probably spot on correct correct. Even from a medical point of view. Some researchers think that carbs - regardless of whether it an HFCS soda or a bag of Doritos - literally stimulate the same brain responses as dope. Of course it's just a hypothesis.
posted by geeyore at 4:25 PM on July 15, 2011


darth_tedious : The Illinois amendment would add 1 penny per ounce. That's insufficiently high to change behavior.

You'd call 68 cents on a two-liter bottle "insufficiently high"??? I suspect an overnight doubling of price (on the generic brands... 50% on name-brands) would get most peoples' attentions.


Thorzdad : They see the selection, and they have no damned clue what they're looking at or what to do with it. Nor, are they interested in it.

Oh, come on... I don't cook, and I can turn just about anything in the produce section into something edible. Except perhaps the "exotic" veggies section, and even then if you gave me a bag of fresh... I dunno, kohlrabi or taro or cactus pads... I have Google as the best Chef's Aid ever created.



As for the real issue here - Humans evolved to like sweets and salt and fat, because those counted as valuable dietary rarities for 99.99999% of the time we've spent on this planet. You want to get people to cut back, you need to make them all but unavailable, simple as that. TFA pretty much jumps through mental hoops to avoid reaching that obvious conclusion - The further you live from cheap and easy fast food, the less of it you eat. The grocery stores in this case do nothing but remind us that "correlation" does not mean "cause"
posted by pla at 4:27 PM on July 15, 2011


I suspect an overnight doubling of price (on the generic brands... 50% on name-brands)

It would likely be more. When cigarettes get taxed more the price jumps more than the tax due to changes in the margins. I remember when cig prices got an extra $0.75 tax and price jumped about $1.20.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:30 PM on July 15, 2011


Fast food is delicious. You can take whatever you want, cover it in salt and sugar then fry it & it'll be delicious. This is the problem. Its not education or access. Its the fact that if your life is shit you're gonna eat stuff that gives you a superficial feel-good feeling.

This is absolutely true... for 20 years I would head to Carl's Jr. or Burger King for my comfort food, and order the super size meal, hang out and read a book while I gorged myself. Now, though, when I think about doing this I realize I can grind my own beef, cook a great burger that's going to be 100x better than fast food. I haven't had fast food for months, and I'm 35 lbs. lighter than I was two years ago.

It's money that enabled this change, since I can afford to go to restaurants that use quality ingredients, and therefore started to expect quality in my food and started cooking myself to ensure this quality.

More money in the hands of poor people, that's it.
posted by Huck500 at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


mudpuppie wrote: It was all stuff that I consider crap. Boxed pasta, chips, hamburger helper, a big package of ribs, hot dogs, salami, those fruit juices that market themselves as healthy but don't actually contain any fruit, etc. No fruits. No vegetables.

I've seen a lot of this, too and I've been on food stamps.

And I have to say that while food stamps (and not starving) are good things, the budget they give you isn't all that much. So you tend to start buying for sheer bulk calories and storage value per dollar, which really trends heavily towards fats, salts and packaged food.

It's very difficult and a lot of work to keep fresh produce in stock and then prepare it. You can't really go shopping once or twice for the whole month, it's more like every few days you need to go pick up fresh produce - and it's expensive. And takes skill and knowledge to store it properly and prepare it.

Meanwhile the crap in a box has handy instructions, often cooks in it's own dish or packaging and stores forever on the shelf or in the freezer.

But I'm not sure if increasing the grant amount would help much at all. Being on food stamps taught me some unhealthy eating/shopping practices I had to unlearn - and it is really partially due to laziness.

But you also have to figure that if you're broke enough to be on food stamps, you probably don't have much of a kitchen at home. My "kitchen" consists of a pot, a frying pan, a baking sheet and a cutting board and a couple of plates, bowls and cups. And that's a well equipped kitchen compared to the way some people live.

It takes extra work and planning to cook anything that's not "pottage" IE, a one pot meal. I can't make rice and steam veggies at the same time, so I have to make rice first, set it aside and then make veggies or whatever.

And I actually know what I'm doing in a kitchen.

I like cooking. Most people have no idea what to do in a kitchen these days unless it involves a box with simplified pictorial instructions on the side. They wouldn't even know what to do with a basic recipe card, much less the ambiguous terror of free form cooking something that didn't involve prepackaged meat on a grill. There's an entire socio-economic strata in the US that can barely cook a cup of instant noodles with a microwave, and they're not all poor or on foodstamps. We're now entering our second or third generation of people who think that the only food worth eating comes from a drive through.

(Conversely I intentionally do not have a microwave so I'm not tempted by frozen crap in a box. It actually seems to help a lot.)
posted by loquacious at 4:33 PM on July 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


I went to my extremely close by, large supermarket today, to buy vegetables. Then later I was going to make a Greek Omelet for linner. I bought the vegetables, and then a store made OK, not quite junk food meal, and ate that instead. No veggies, yes beans for fiber. In the end convenience still wins at times. But for $16.50 I bought 4 days of meat, four days of vegetables, a loaf of whole grain bread, and an entire meal. Hard to beat, and walkable. It is hard to retrain the pallet of our ancestors, for whom the mouth feel of fat meant a successful hunt, and extra body fat for leaner times.
posted by Oyéah at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The poor have always worked harder, ate more crap, and died younger than the rich. The makeup of crappy food may have changed, but whatever the dominant nutritional needs at the time, the poor have always had the least of what was needed most.

I find the "hierarchy of food needs" to be true to my experience: If only poor people understood nutrition

Instrumental food, what we are calling "healthy" food, is the last thing people can be concerned about. First, they have to make sure they have enough food, which means it needs to be cheap and filling. I often can afford to eat only one meal a day, especially after my benefit check runs out (before that I can usually eat two and a snack). That one meal is often going to be chock full of dense calories. If there is enough food (and again, it will be the cheapest and most filling, like that two boxes of rice-a-roni or hamburger helper mixed with the cheapest meat and cheese), next the food must be acceptable. Sometimes I push right up to the limits of acceptability, like eating meat that smells a little rancid or tearing the mold of the bread. I hate that I do that but sometimes I must because there is nothing to eat. But if I cannot even afford food that doesn't stink, I certainly cannot afford to waste money on a bunch of fruits and vegetables that will be bad in two days. Also, the nearest cheap grocer is Aldi's and they often have bad produce for some reason. So why would I make the trip for that.

Once you can reliably have enough acceptable food, well, you have to be able to get to it. That's where the supermarket vs. fast food comes in I guess. That also affects whether or not I buy fresh produce: my ability to get back to the grocery soon enough so I can buy less of it. There's also having to take advantage of sales and stuff like that. Then you need food that tastes good. The taste is much more of a priority than whether or not it is "healthy", sorry. All the people saying just replace everything you drink with nasty tap water (it's nasty in my locale) can really take a flying leap. Similarly unrealistic are those who expect poor people to waste money as they try to develop a taste for Vietnamese food or whatever. There will be salt and there will be butter because they make food taste good and herbs are quite expensive, especially fresh ones.

Speaking of the importance of taste, there is a reason it comes after so many other considerations. Poor people are aware of the fact that McDonald's is not the most delicious. We know better than anyone that our own mama's recipe for fried chicken will surely outdo, umm, Tennessee Fried Chicken (seriously, this is a place). We know that lots of food can taste better than fast food, but that other food may not be as accessible, or cheap, or easy to get for a big family after a hard day's work.

After a poor person has all of that taken care of, well, then they can start eating novel foods. I eat the same things all the time because I don't have the time, energy, or funds not to. When I do eat something different, it is a variation on something I already like. I love it when I can be bold and try something completely different but it just doesn't happen often and if you grow up with food scarcity it is really hard to consider variety. People eating a lot of fast food is partly a function of not having the resources to eat different foods. And only after all of that are we ready for the "healthy" foods, the foods you eat because they are good for your body. If I have enough other good-tasting, accessible, and varied food, I can pay more attention to eating healthy food.

And God forbid there are children involved.
posted by Danila at 4:40 PM on July 15, 2011 [43 favorites]


solistrato: "The thing is, this whole thing reeks of What's the Matter With Kansas? "If only the poor oppressed people would have more choices rather than their corn-syrup bonanza, they would cast aside their shackles and love them some delicious fresh produce!" Well, no, actually, a lot of people revel in the fact that they eat crap. Food is a massive component of self-identity, and it tickles those back lobes of psyche way more than just being addicted to potato chips. Anyone who's gone vegetarian, vegan, locavore or adopted any other diet knows that even the most well-meaning people around you will give you a sideways glance as if to say, Who are you?"

And it's interesting how that's changed. My father has worked with a bunch of good ol' boys on towboats since the late 70s. When he first started, most of them seemed proud of the fact that they got food locally instead of through a big name grocery store.

Nowadays they give him shit for getting produce at a farmer's market instead of Wal-Mart.
posted by brundlefly at 4:41 PM on July 15, 2011 [9 favorites]


> My dad had a huge vegetable garden

Maybe those people ahead of you in line have a huge vegetable garden, too, and therefore don't need to buy produce at Grocery Outlet.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:42 PM on July 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


I went to a fast food place the other day. I got a veggie burger and a diet coke. They have had healthy options for a while now, if it was as simple as availability those healthy options would be selling much better.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 4:42 PM on July 15, 2011


God forbid there are children involved.

I have been supporting 2 teenagers on my disability check from Social Security for the last two years.
posted by Ardiril at 4:43 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I basically was raised on healthy foods, raised my kids the same. You can't do much when they grow up. They love cake, I rarely eat
it, and if I am sick, I totally don't want it. The only white bread I eat is sour-dough, or totally fresh flour
tortillas.
My kids at least don't eat white
bread much. They do like
vegetables. My grandkids like
vegetables, although my grandson is in an 'I only like MEAT!' phase.

If I am sick I only want fresh fruits

and vegetables, chicken soup, and
maybe Jello. Sodas taste AWFUL to
me. I have lost some weight
because of that. This is good. Needed to, was headed from Fat
City to ObeCity. I think people who are working, 8 hours plus whatever
un-Godly commute, are going to
take the easy way out. Don't be hating on Papa Murphy's do much, pizza does have cheese, various meats, and VEGETBLES. It's not ideal, but if you choose something with chicken, vs pork products, you are halfway healthy.
I am in a bus route that runs hourly. I often choose things for how well they are going to survive the wait to get home. And I have storage constraints for EVERYTHING, not just food. So do most poor people. I love a good salad, I love fresh tangerines. I prefer fresh tangerines to any kind of soda.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Discussion

Conservatives - "fuck poor people, lazy bastards responsible for their own condition"

Liberals - "bbbbut social conditions, education, access to jobs, access to transportation, access to food..."

Conservatives: "we can't possibly take care of every single perceived problem you gotta pick and choose. Let's compromise. How about access to food?"

Liberals: "Oh well, fine, something is better than nothing. Let it be access to food".

Implementation

Helicopter drops cans of food to the starving masses in the desert. They have no can openers. They ignore the cans, continue to starve.

Discussion

Conservatives: "See! Failure! The poor are hopeless!"

Liberals: "bbbut it's a complex problem and there are many factors..."

Conservatives: "Fine. Let's compromise, since we can't fund everything. First cut taxes, then..."

And the loop continues through the ages.
posted by VikingSword at 4:44 PM on July 15, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm about to put a frozen pizza in my toaster oven. I know how to cook, I can afford produce, and I could get to the grocery store in ten minutes. But I've had a crazy, stressful week at work, and I don't have the energy to cook. I barely have the energy to get off the couch and heat up a frozen pizza. I don't eat frozen pizza that often, but I also don't work this hard that often. I think the energy factor is big, too, especially for people who aren't flat broke. Because my sense is that there are a lot of people eating crap who aren't on food stamps.
posted by craichead at 4:45 PM on July 15, 2011 [8 favorites]


One of the best things that ever happened to me was when on a very, very busy day at work (20 minutes between meetings, long workday) I went through the drive thru at McDonald's near my office - the cheapest, fastest thing. (Even though I make a decent living, I economized on lunches sometimes). I became horribly sick. And for some reason, that one bout of food poisoning just did it. I absolutely cannot eat that crap anymore. It wasn't a moral decision or an economic one. I just cannot choke it down. As twisted as it may sound, I wish I could give that experience to others. For me, it was the most visceral this is NOT worth it I could have.
posted by pointystick at 4:46 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


sonic meat machine: I don't understand why an Asian or Latino supermarket can sell onions for thirty cents, and green onions for ten cents a bunch, and greens for practically nothing... and the same things cost four or five times as much in "normal" grocery stores.

I remember hearing an NPR piece on Chinese super markets. The gist of it was that they're able to sell so much fresh produces so quickly that they can afford to purchase stuff that's ripe enough to not have a significant shelf life. They put it out there and it sells within a 24 hour cycle. Other supermarkets have to purchase stuff that's basically not very ripe so it can sit in the box for a week.

In addition (and I don't remember if that was a point in this NPR piece) I've noticed that people shopping at 99 Ranch Market here in LA (huge Chinese markets in the area) are much more willing to buy a vegetable or fruit that has blemishes and/or is softer because it's tasty and ripe. In super markets like Ralphs etc, and even at Whole Foods, most people will dig through the crates for the hardest, most perfectly shiny non-ripe item with a half inch layer of wax polish on it.

Regular super markets can't sell most ripe/blemished vegetables and fruit so they toss them eventually. That probably adds to the cost as well.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:47 PM on July 15, 2011 [10 favorites]


Few calories is a feature, not a bug. It is good to find something that is filling, yet low calorie.

I think this logic breaks down if you work a physically-demanding low-wage job. For people in such situations, inexpensive, fatty, highly-caloric food is crucial to their daily functioning. This is why fast food fits the bill so well for so many people in lower socioeconomic brackets.
posted by killdevil at 4:55 PM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh in my area only a chump buys produce at Grocery Outlet. It can spoil on the ride home. Same goes for unprocessed meats and seafoods. I only get canned goods, staples and specialty cheeses there.
Oh the schluby guy with thi iPhone, it can be cheaper even in the short run than having a desk-top computer or a lap top, even when you figure in a data plan and it is way more portable and concealable.
I will never go back even to a netbook, because an iPod is cheaper and easier to use, and much more portable.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 4:58 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Sort of forgot the conclusion from the NPR piece re Chinese supermarkets:

so the regular super markets buy up all the non-ripe stuff that will last. Then the suppliers are left with the stuff that's too ripe for Ralphs and they're happy if someone like 99 Ranch takes it off their hands. So 99 Ranch ends up getting lots of ripe produce at a very low price which enables them to sell it cheaply.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:04 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


I was not able to find a way to directly link to it, but, here, with the right inputs, you will find mp3's of Daniel Pinkwater reading Slaves of Spiegel. A sublime meditation on healthy eating and living in our fast-paced modern world.
posted by wobh at 5:07 PM on July 15, 2011


Well, no, actually, a lot of people revel in the fact that they eat crap. Food is a massive component of self-identity, and it tickles those back lobes of psyche way more than just being addicted to potato chips.

But this is more complex than a simple mechanism of self-identity. For example, SPAM is deeply linked to Hawaiian culture, but they didn't all wake up one day and decide to make SPAM part of their identity. Instead a generation grew up eating it out of necessity during WW2, and it became a comfort food for them. Eating patterns change due to external pressures, as they have drifted towards a corn-and-meat-heavy diet largely due to the corporate capture of the FDA and the ongoing massive federal corn subsidies. As the middle class becomes poorer in real dollars, they increasingly turn towards a nutrient-poor cheap-calorie diet out of necessity, and raise their children in that environment.

Our eating habits are an essential element of our self-identity, yes. And our need to think positively about those eating habits, regardless of how we found them, is a deep part of human nature. Eating habits help to establish our cultural membership - Coast Salish and the salmon, plains people and the buffalo, China and the pig, the Jews and matzah, etc etc. The scientific explanation for why we eat what we do is largely a question about geography and history, but that is rarely, if ever, the answer given by the individual. Why was SPAM embraced, rather than rejected as a colonial imposition? Because we are what we eat, and we would like to think we are not garbage. Poor Hawaiians ate and enjoyed SPAM in solidarity, while military personnel ate other things, and this served as a mechanism for cultural delineation.

But of course, if you ask a Hawaiian today why they like to eat SPAM, they will probably not give you this answer. Bourdain tackled a SPAM feast on No Reservations and it was examined as a cultural oddity, not an element of a colonial heritage. This is why it's pointless to attack individuals for their eating habits; their eating habits are not formed in a vacuum, they are formed in medias res. Really, it's pretty obvious that we do not choose what we eat, because we are rarely offered any choice in the matter until we come of age.

Even then, this notion of eating habits as formed by individual choice is a definite historical anomaly. For the vast majority of human history, eating and cooking were communal activities of shared responsibility, and in most households internationally they still are. Even today, here and now, my family is going to eat whatever I happen to cook for them this evening. Which reminds me I better get started, sorry to blather on. :)
posted by mek at 5:12 PM on July 15, 2011 [12 favorites]


s.e. smith does a good job of explaining why cooking at home is not as simple as people think it is:

"People are given messaging like ‘just get up half an hour earlier to chop vegetables so they will be ready for dinner’ and ‘don’t you want to be a good mother and prepare dinner at home for your family?’ Sexist expectations behind this messaging aside, there’s also the issue that many people face a serious time deficit that cannot be erased. You do not have time for a lot of activities, no, not even 20 minutes extra a day. Cooking a meal at home requires access to the ingredients and tools to make it and the time to get these things. For people who may be working long hours and traveling an hour or more for groceries, the thought of devoting more time to meeting basic needs like eating is not a pleasant one.

All of this messaging primarily accomplishes one thing, which is making people feel guilty and inadequate for the way they live their lives. Making people feel worthless, like failures, because they cannot meet these goals and expectations. This messaging is supposed to ‘benefit’ people but it doesn’t, when all they get is shaming and unhelpful suggestions on how not to be such giant, worthless failures. If the United States is really committed to improving the state of nutrition in this country, a place where many people face nutritional deficiencies, it should work on improving access to the tools people need. Like making sure that fresh foods are readily available to everyone in the US. Including, yes, fresh ‘convenience’ foods like pre-chopped and packaged vegetables for people to use, along with recipe cards for people who might be casting about for cooking ideas. There’s no shame in cooking with convenience foods.

Like addressing the unfair pay balances in this country that force people to work long hours and multiple jobs to survive. Maybe if someone really was working just 40 hours a week, there would be more time to source ingredients and cook. Maybe if benefits didn’t come with heavy strings attached, people who need assistance buying food would be able to make the purchasing choices they want to make. Have you ever gone shopping with Women, Infants, Children (WIC) coupons? It’s a nightmare. Some of the decisions about what qualifies and what does not are purely arbitrary. Maybe we could trust people to make their own food decisions instead of telling them what to buy, and how, and when?

And we should be talking about the gendering behind the messages about food preparation and responsibility for household nutrition. Most nutrition outreach programmes focus on women; it’s right there in the name of WIC, for Pete’s sake. Women are held responsible for these things. Not people in general, not parents, not families, women and mothers. Women are already held to unreasonably high standards in society and things like this reinforce these standards, reinforce the idea that you are failing at life if you cannot keep a clean house, have dinner on the table by six, perform all the myriad other unpaid tasks assigned to women. In an era where most households need two incomes to survive, it is not in any way reasonable to expect one person in the household to do twice as much work for substantially less pay.

Instead of assuming that poor people are ignorant, that most people in the United States cannot understand nutrition unless they are fed a tide of often conflicting and unclear information about food and eating habits, these public health initiatives should be grounded in trust in the public’s ability to make decisions, and should focus on helping people access the tools they need to make those decisions. Tools like equal access to a wide range of foodstuffs, and equal pay to be able to buy those foodstuffs."
posted by Year of meteors at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2011 [32 favorites]


Read Gary Taubes' "Why We Get Fat." It's about the "epidemic" of human insulin resistance (to carbs) and the resulting obesity [..] It's a lack of understanding magnified by a bizarro medical establishment bias, an amoral carbohydrate food industry

Begone, foul spirit! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you! The power of Christ compels you!
posted by Justinian at 5:18 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am a very advantaged person. I make a good living wage. There are 4 well-stocked supermarkets, dozens of affordable minimarkets, and a daily market with fresh produce, fresh fish and other comestibles within walking distance from my home. Yet I have less to spend than most and I am chronically overweight.

The reason is that I consistently make poor choices. Because I make poor choices in general, I also make poor choices in dealing with the consequences of my poor choices. Making harmful foods more expensive would do little except make me poorer and fatter. The reasoning behind taxing harmful foods frankly baffles me: "People spend money on food that harms them, so let's make them spend more money on food that harms them.

I don't know how to solve this problem for myself, let alone in general, but I don't see how any strategy that relies on the better judgment of people whose judgment is generally poor can ever succeed.
posted by eeeeeez at 5:21 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


My favorite part of these conversations is the comments where people describe in detail the perfection of their diets, and how their refined taste buds don't allow them to eat the things that lesser mortals find so tasty.
posted by not that girl at 5:25 PM on July 15, 2011 [27 favorites]



Can we have policies that encourage more farmer's markets


The farmers' markets around here not like the ones in California, which were awesome, generally.

Chard, carrots, maybe onions if I'm lucky. Big deal.
Gourmet-ish cheeses, meats, baked goods. Eeehh.

Tomatoes or whatever limited fresh fruit is in season? Ran out, should have come by two hours ago. Overpriced when they had them.

Farmers' markets are not all alike.
posted by etherist at 5:34 PM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Here's a thought: of the people who don't cook, how many don't cook because of illness/disability?

After all, being disabled makes you poor. Disabled people are often only able to work part-time [or not at all], and they also need to spend more money than most people on medical costs, in-home care, access taxis, and mobility aids (walkers, reachers, wheelchairs, are not cheap.)

I know how to cook. I used to be quite a good cook, in fact, before I got sick.

Before I got sick, I used to make lots of tasty, vegetable-rich vegetarian meals.

Before I got sick, I used to hold dinner parties with five dishes, each dish full of vegetables. When I had dinner parties, I used to spend a day and a half going to markets, buying fresh produce, cooking.

Now I have severe RSI-pain in my fingers, hands, and wrists and I can't chop or stir or wash dishes.

I have arthritis pain in my knees, and I can't stand up long enough to cook a meal. I also have extreme physical fatigue due to illness (the level of fatigue where a social worker suggests to you that you should think putting about a chamberpot in your bedroom, so that you don't exhaust yourself by getting up and going to the toilet.)

I have physical-coordination issues that mean [me] + [boiling water or a hot stove] = burns.

Now I live on pre-sliced cheese (slicing cheese off a block hurts too much), soymilk, yoghurt, pre-prepared pumpkin soup from the supermarket, sheets of dried seaweed, bananas and pears, and vegetarian indian takeaway.

Because all I can do is pour stuff into a bowl and microwave it.

And some days, even that is a stretch.

But the reason I don't cook isn't ignorance. It's physical pain, and physical exhaustion.
posted by Sockpuppets 'R' Us at 5:45 PM on July 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, Chapter 5:
The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes--an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter
to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing. The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less
money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit 'tasty'. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let's have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we'll all have a nice cup of tea! That is how your mind works when you are at the P.A.C. level. White bread-and-marg and sugared tea don't nourish you
to any extent, but they are nicer (at least most people think so) than brown bread-and-dripping and cold water. Unemployment is an endless misery that has got to be constantly palliated, and especially with tea, the English-man's opium. A cup of tea or even an aspirin is much better as a temporary stimulant than a crust of brown bread.
Replace tea with store-brand cola and convert to modern currency, and you get us.
posted by madcaptenor at 5:57 PM on July 15, 2011 [32 favorites]


My favorite part of these conversations is the comments where people describe in detail the perfection of their diets, and how their refined taste buds don't allow them to eat the things that lesser mortals find so tasty.

Why do people talk about themselves at all?

Were any of the commenters here included in this study?
posted by GuyZero at 5:57 PM on July 15, 2011


Sadly, notthatgirl, my personal experience only soured me on plastic-y tasting, mass produced, cheap fast food. I can still chow down on good quality bacon cheeseburgers etc etc. It's both bad & good that a $10 burger isn't financially or geographically available on my lunch hour.
posted by pointystick at 5:58 PM on July 15, 2011


They simply get whatever is at hand. Which, you have to admit, could be classified as lazy.

While my father was in prison, my step-mother was in charge of raising two kids who were in elementary school on $7 an hour, doing landscaping for a luxury resort. Her boss was cheap, so even if she worked more than 8 hours a day, she wouldn't get overtime. She had to accept that, or risk losing her job. I remember seeing weekly checks for not much over $200.

We mostly ate pasta and hot dogs, and when gas went up, we didn't get any hot dogs. We ate cheap cereal, expired milk, canned vegetables, stale bread, and we were lucky. Her mother often lent money to help keep us fed, and took care of us on many afternoons. Without that, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have made it, and we'd have to live in the projects again instead of the trailer park fifteen miles from the best school we lied to get into.

(Have you ever rode a big wheel in a circle in a 10x10 room because it's too dangerous to play outside? Had a parent tell you to cover your ears, because the guy next door beating his wife half to death was too dangerous to call the cops on? At age six, seen a man give you a wink while he's getting a blowjob from a prostitute around the corner from your front door? Needless to say, staying away from the projects was a priority for our family.)

My stepmother never complained to us, always tried to keep us busy. I know she slept with some men in a sugar daddy arrangement so we would have at least some toys, and I remember the day my father came home being so furious with her. She lied, she was a cheater, and my little sister and I had to keep it a secret forever. Which we have done; I haven't mentioned this to anyone until this moment. I found out later that she only allowed herself to cry in the shower, except for the two times she lost patience with us and spanked us and told us that she hated us. My grandmother on the other side of the family cried in the shower too.

Whatever you may think about the poor, let me assure you that unless you've been there, unless you've gone hungry, or been mocked by other 8 year olds and then the teacher for your ratty tennis shoes, or seen opportunities fly by because your parents can't afford gas money to a better school; unless you've had to take an F on a test because you couldn't afford a #2 pencil and no one would give you one and your "teacher" decided to "teach" you a lesson; unless you've watched a cop beat the shit out of your dad because they didn't like him and his record meant they could do anything to him, or listened to a parent beg and plead and offer sex to a repoman for a little more time to keep their car so they could take you to school, you don't have any clue what the word lazy means.

Poor people aren't worried about antioxidants and a balanced diet. They're worried about having water and electricity and heat in the winter. They are worried about how to miraculously make it through another week without losing their minds, or their children, or deciding to just give up the good fight, and spend their lives on welfare on the front porch with their neighbors, watching their kids give up too.

Even the few who make it out with any kind of success have to claim that it was easy and anybody could do it. They have to blame laziness, or morality, or drugs, because the other choice is admitting that their society left them in the gutter without much of a chance of making it out.

I thought I would make it out because my step-father's family is very wealthy. I've sat in well appointed dining rooms bigger than our entire trailer while educated, good hearted adults eating slabs of steak and fifty dollar bottles of wine complained about how they were being drained by Clinton's tax increases. It's a funny thing; they never offered to help. They didn't even help my step-father buy his first house over some decades old feud.

I made it out because despite all of his flaws as an addict, my father knew it was important for me to learn how to read early on, and got my grandfather to buy me a computer at age 12. I landed my first job at 13 through a friend of my dad's -- who later refused to hire a man because he was black -- who basically paid me to learn how to use my computer to write invoices for his construction company. I made it out because before the construction industry collapsed again, my father was able to move us into a safe neighborhood. (He's now strung out back home, and I pay his rent when he's able to find a place that will keep him. But he's addicted to his pain meds -- his leg is bowed and his knee is gnarled from decades of work. He's still fighting red tape to get a new knee so he can get back to work at age 58, and calls me when he's drunk to tell me that he wants to die.) I made it out because my grandmother took me in when both of my parents were unable to care for me and kept me out of foster homes. I made it out because I'm a lower-middle class white guy, whose family had even the tiniest access to some money and sources of employment.

I made it out because I was lucky.

I'm still not sure what to do with it, or if I should or could do anything, but I'll be goddamned if I don't lose my mind every time I hear someone complain about the poor.
posted by notion at 6:05 PM on July 15, 2011 [251 favorites]


notion, thank you for sharing such intense personal anecdotes. I think you are bringing a very important facet to this discussion. in essence, concern about health and quality of food is in many way, even in the US, a privilege, and those who've never experienced even a small part of your life's former reality just don't have the capacity to recognize that. poverty is the poison much more than hfcs or mcdonalds.
posted by supermedusa at 6:14 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Do people mostly buy crappy processed food because that's mostly what supermarkets have on the shelves, or do supermarkets mostly have crap on the shelves because that's what people buy? Somebody do a study, for the love of god!
posted by rikschell at 6:18 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I cannot favorite notion's comment hard enough.

Access to healthy food is certainly a problem for poor people, but it is so, so far from being the only problem... of course, of course just fixing that one issue doesn't make much difference. It's a tiny step in the right direction, but that's all.
posted by Kpele at 6:24 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Be lazy. Eat whatever you want. I'm not telling anyone how to live.


Well, it would break my fat old heart if you disapproved, mister.
posted by jonmc at 6:27 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh about soda and taxes and prohibition of sodas, when a child, any child gets diarrhea, this can kill that child, even here in America. 7-Up and ginger ale do restore the electrolyte balance in people with diarrhea. California used to not allow people on food stamps to buy ANY sodas. The doctors actually lobbied for that restriction to be dropped, as they used to recommend 7-Up or ginger ale for children with diarrhea. I lived in California at that time. It was in the 1980's.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:28 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


notion's comment reminded me of John Scalzi's excellent Being Poor, which I think some commenters would benefit from reading:

"Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs...

Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won’t hear you say “I get free lunch” when you get to the cashier...

Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last...

Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt...

Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn’t have make dinner tonight because you’re not hungry anyway...

Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw...

Being poor is hoping you’ll be invited for dinner...

Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor...

Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere...

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually stupid...

Being poor is people surprised to discover you’re not actually lazy...

Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that’s two extra packages for every dollar...

Being poor is knowing you’re being judged...

Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime...

Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so...

Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor..."
posted by Year of meteors at 6:30 PM on July 15, 2011 [17 favorites]


It's both bad & good that a $10 burger isn't financially or geographically available on my lunch hour.

An In-N-Out cheeseburger is about 2 dollars, though they don't have bacon. But, the truth is, there's probably not much of a source difference between the In-N-Out, the typical fast food, and the $10 dollar burger.

Fast Food Nation (2002): "Today, the top four meatpacking firms - ConAgra, IBP, Excel and National Beef - slaughter about 84 percent of the nation's cattle."
posted by FJT at 6:34 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Do people mostly buy crappy processed food because that's mostly what supermarkets have on the shelves, or do supermarkets mostly have crap on the shelves because that's what people buy?

Yes.

On one hand you have people with limited time, energy, cooking skill or history with "good" food, as arbitrary as that distinction is. There's a variety of factors ranging from illness and disability to lack of time from work and/or too many children. On the other hand you have an entire agribusiness and food processing industry that spends millions and billions on "food engineering" to hit all those evolutionarily pleasing sweet spots - pun implicitly implied by the etymology of the phrase "sweet spot".

It's nearly impossible to compete with that gargantuan "food and flavoring" industry. Why would you spend twenty bucks on the bulk ingredients to make your own bread or cookies when you can get the same thing (but better tasting, if crammed with empty calories and weird additives) for three?

Somewhere in the middle you have a battle ground that's the resulting clusterfuck of class warfare, food and agriculture subsidies and the food and agriculture lobbies making sure they can sell cheap but satisfying "bad" food to hundreds of millions.

If I recall correctly the food stamp program is actually part of this clusterfuck. It's a USDA program because the food stamp program originated less as a social aid program and more as a food surplus subsidy program and a way to make sure that various agriculture industries could sell more product - in particular, surpluses - even during economic downturns.

Another thing to remember about all of this is that poverty is often a symptom of poor education. When you're undereducated not only do you get shitty jobs, but you get ripped off by landlords, by employers, by credit agencies, by the scummy rent to own places, by banks and check cashing or paycheck loan centers - and even the cops aren't on your side, so you face additional risks at home in low income neighborhoods because no one wants to call the police, because almost every time they do they run the risk of being harassed or attracting even more trouble.

Add to that the lack of the same opportunities that someone white and middle class would find more accessible through the evils of institutionalized racism, sexism, classism or other biases and as others are pointing out in this thread "good" food becomes the last issue on someone's mind. This isn't just about food.


There needs to be better health and life skills education in schools. How to cook and eat well was never even addressed in my schools. They just recited whatever the current USDA party line was, and it was reflected it in their fatty, junky school meals - also often USDA subsidized and instructed.

Hell, I'm pretty smart, I had a health conscious quasi-hippie for a mom, and when as old as 25 and up I still thought a pack of raman with a handful of frozen peas and an egg or something wasn't an unhealthy meal. In reality it's awful, obviously - but if even I can be that confused... man, food has to be a minefield of confusing choices to people less educated and poorer than I am.

Fuck it, let's go to McDonald's.
posted by loquacious at 6:57 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


No. White Castle.
posted by jonmc at 7:03 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyway, the couple in front of me had two baskets full of food. He was a big, slovenly, schlubby guy in loose sweat pants and a stained, sweaty white T-shirt. She was wearing pajama pants and flip-flops. They were both obese. They had a kid who was, I dunno, 5 maybe, and he screamed the whole time and was grabbing candy bars out of the basket. Mom kept yelling "Don't touch those, those are mine!"

As I waited and waited for them to finish their argument about who was going to pay for what, I checked out the food they were buying. (I'd run out of other things to look at.) It was all stuff that I consider crap. Boxed pasta, chips, hamburger helper, a big package of ribs, hot dogs, salami, those fruit juices that market themselves as healthy but don't actually contain any fruit, etc. No fruits. No vegetables. Not a single piece of produce of any kind. And when the checker asked "Credit or debit," the mom said "Food stamps." (The man, by the way, was wearing an iPhone around his neck.)

...I had a lot of really conflicting emotions about that. I felt really horrible for the kid. The parents can eat whatever they want -- who cares -- but that kid is going to grow up eating (and preferring) crap. And the chances that he'll grow up to be obese too? I don't know if there's any way to predict that, but it sure seems like a possibility.


Look...I had a really snarky angry response to this, but then I re-read your post and decided against it. I think you possibly mean well, but at first read, this comes off as grade-A assholery/judgementalism. You don't know these people, their lives, or how they got where they are, yet you are making all kinds of assumptions based on what's in their grocery basket and how much they weighed and what they wore and how groomed they were, and it makes you sound like a jerk. Checking out other people's food purchases and judging them on it--or how they pay for it--is nosy and rude and makes you sound like an asshole.

Don't be that guy/woman.
posted by emjaybee at 7:19 PM on July 15, 2011 [22 favorites]


I guess this is a marginal improvement over the last discussion we had on a similar topic, which was basically a litany of "Why are obese people so obese? What is their problem?" Although inevitably in a thread like this the conversation switches rather speedily to "Why are poor people so poor? What is their problem?" At least GuyZero was direct about his opinion, instead of couching it in academese or finding some roundabout ideological weasel wording to frame it.

"The greatest challenge in this area of research is how to address the complexity of local food environments," they state. "In many disadvantaged communities, the food environment is more swamp than desert, with a plethora of fast food; convenience stores selling calorie-dense packaged foods, super-sized sodas, and other sugar-loaded beverages; and other nonfood retail venues selling junk food as a side activity." Reducing access to these products, remark Fielding and Simon, may do more to reduce obesity than might increasing access to healthy foods.

This is the essence of the matter. It seems that the issue is as much surfeit of junk as it is lack of supermarkets. And even in supermarkets, fresh produce isn't marketed and placed as strategically as processed packaged food.

Within a mile radius of my neighborhood there are basically two options: a Dollar Store selling processed food, and a convenience store selling more processed food. And then a handful of fast food restaurants. I'm lucky enough to have wheels to get to a supermarket. It wasn't always that way for me, and lots of folks aren't that lucky. But I suppose lucklessness is equivalent to laziness in this Milton Friedman world of ours.
posted by blucevalo at 7:34 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Every single time I come back to this thread, I know full-well what it is, but I read the title "Healthy Food Dessert" and think for a split-second, "that sounds good! I wonder what it is!"


Cuz I am teh dumb.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 7:43 PM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Oh in my area only a chump buys produce at Grocery Outlet.

The closest grocery store to my home is a Grocery Outlet and their produce section is tiny and horrifying. I've never bought any produce from that store that hasn't spoiled in two days, and even when I've bought produce there and eaten it right away it's been weirdly bland and flavorless -- woody strawberries picked so early that they're mostly white on the inside, hard hothouse tomatoes with literally no flavor at all, broccoli that felt like crunchy bits of plastic in my mouth and tasted like... not broccoli.

It's funny, because I am fat I probably get more scrutiny from other shoppers when I am there buying food. At least that's how it feels. I see plenty of people at the Grocery Outlet buying tons of junk food, but it's okay because they're thinner than me. No one bats an eye at them, even though they generally appear to be junkies (thin bodies, waxy skin, loopy behavior) and all they're buying is candy, chips, soda, and frozen pizzas. People like me have to stay away from the candy aisle and never put any "bad" foods in their basket like Hamburger Helper or a frozen meal, because we get the side-eye and the haughty attitude from judgmental shoppers.
posted by palomar at 8:32 PM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


Wow, it's a weird sort of pleasure I get knowing that others know what it's like to be poor. I grew up in abject poverty & abuse, climbed out a hard way, and got knocked back into povery it by illness & a mis-prescribed medication. But I feel less alone having read the above.

My anecdata... when I can find good food, and am well enough to stand in the kitchen long enough to cook it, I have absolutely no idea what to do with it. Kale? WTF am I supposed to do with this? I can watch cooking shows but that doesn't mean I know what it's supposed to taste like when it's done correctly. I can't afford restaurants that do serve it cooked right.

I give up and nuke something. I'm trying to get over 100 lbs. Any calories are a bonus.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:39 PM on July 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, all the stores in my ghetto area mostly sell junk. I have a special order with the chain store just to get soy milk. For some reason, the chain store's ghetto site sells groceries about 15% more expensive than the same chain store near my boyfriend's nice neighborhood. The produce from ghetto store is surprisingly quicker to rot. I shop near boyfriend's place when I can.
posted by _paegan_ at 8:42 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fast Food Nation (2002): "Today, the top four meatpacking firms - ConAgra, IBP, Excel and National Beef - slaughter about 84 percent of the nation's cattle."
Yup. I think about that a lot, too. I wish I could lose my taste for commercial food (is that even possible?) but I can't claim any kind of moral victory just because I got a bad case of food poisoning.
As for In-and-Out, I just got back from a trip out west. I used to make a beeline for that place. This time, I wasn't interested. Your point about ConAgra et al is a good one because I *know* I still eat their foods but I don't feel repulsed like I do about the meat at fast food places. I'm guessing it's psychosomatic but since it's to my benefit not to eat it, I won't overanalyze too much. ;) Part of me wishes I could only crave wholesome food (and we're lucky enough here to have restaurants that don't source their meat from Big Food, but that is over $10) but I have to admit, not all of me. I'm sure there are reasons for that too.
I know this was rambly. It;s late and this kind of stuff I think about a lot but don't have answers for.
posted by pointystick at 8:57 PM on July 15, 2011


What's the immediate reward for eating healthy food? It seems to take a long time for people to lose significant amounts of weight. If someone is going to eat 2000 calories of donuts or 2000 calories of spinach, why would they not pick the donuts?

Confession - today I ate frozen pizza, a chocolate bar, Coke and a beer. I weighed myself this morning, I'm 104 lbs. I'm not poor and there's a farmer's market literally 2 blocks from my house. Yet even I don't have the motivation to eat healthy. I certainly wasn't raised to prepare healthy meals, and if it weren't for my husband (he was gone today) I would subsist on pasta and pizza.
posted by desjardins at 9:02 PM on July 15, 2011


Eating fast food doesn't make you "lazy" it just means you don't care about the same thing foodies care about. Fast food and junk food and candy are popular because they are delicious If you're not worried about your weight, then of course you will eat them. That's not a symptom of lazyness.
posted by delmoi at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not knowing anything about what should happen in a kitchen and at a dinner table is a general problem with kids that will hurt them for the rest of their lives, when their bodies are no longer young and strong enough to be able to deal with the crap they stuff into them. And it's an education problem.

Put every boy and girl through home economics every year, starting in kindergarten. If you can't cook and clean for yourself, if you can't sew on a button and iron a shirt, if you can't feed and change a baby, if you have no idea how to make common household repairs, if you don't know how to shop for groceries, if you can't set a table and wash dishes afterward, you aren't ready to graduate.

And for exercise, step kids through a daily routine (20 reps of this, 20 reps of that, run in place or around the block, etc., with no expensive equipment required) they can keep up for the rest of their lives. Not basketball or baseball or football, where the kids who need the exercise most will spend most of their time sitting or standing while a few athletes do everything else. Sit-ups. Push-ups. Running. Stretching. Dumbbells. For everyone.

Kids that appear to need a diet change outside school ought to be talked to, not ignored. Get parents in if possible. Start parent and child cooking classes with the goal of changing home meals for the family.
posted by pracowity at 9:30 PM on July 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Being poor is hoping your kids don’t have a growth spurt...

The question is why people have kids when they cannot take care of them.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:33 PM on July 15, 2011


These kinds of articles always remind me of the scene in The Wire where Dookie is giving his little brother a fast food hamburger. If it's starve or McDonalds for eff's sake, suspend the Michael Pollanisms.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:33 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The question is why people have kids when they cannot take care of them.

You are aware that fortunes can change rapidly, yes? It only takes one car accident, one debilitating disease, or one layoff to transform a middle class household into a poor one.
posted by JDHarper at 9:41 PM on July 15, 2011 [13 favorites]


The question is why people have kids when they cannot take care of them.

The question is why people ask stupid and trollish questions.
posted by rtha at 9:41 PM on July 15, 2011 [26 favorites]


I live alone. I grew up in a foodie household but once I moved out my weight increased since every night I eat out. I prefer cheap food - mostly Chinese and Thai. I live next to a McDonalds but I save that for emergencies.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:41 PM on July 15, 2011


The question is why people ask stupid and trollish questions.

Honest apologies if it comes across as such. Why is it a stupid and trollish question?
posted by eeeeeez at 9:44 PM on July 15, 2011


It only takes one car accident, one debilitating disease, or one layoff to transform a middle class household into a poor one.

That is true, but it does not explain why poor people have more children than rich people on average.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:52 PM on July 15, 2011


eeeeeez, read this.
posted by palomar at 9:53 PM on July 15, 2011


And here's another link for eeeeeez.
posted by palomar at 9:56 PM on July 15, 2011


(It took me all of three minutes to find those links and many others, using a tool called Google. You should totally try it sometime, dude, it is awesome.)
posted by palomar at 9:57 PM on July 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


madcaptenor is my new hero.


It's all about cheap and tasty calories. Get rid of the Burger King and replace it with a farmer's market that costs about the same, and perhaps you will see real change. Just adding an extra (most likely ultra-shitty) supermarket with aisle after aisle of processed food won't do a thing to improve eating habits.

Wealthy people eat better because they can afford to have a longer-term perspective and pay the extra money for more nutritious food.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:11 PM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


My mother was a terrible cook who opened cans, dumped the contents into a pan and hoped for the best. I like to cook, married a chef, and don't believe that family-of-origin training is a life sentence. I know it's unpopular here, but perhaps the choices and patterns of behavior that mire people in generational povery, like lack of long term planning, inability to delay gratification, and a narrow world view, might also keep people making unhealthy food choices. Also, smoking kills your sense of taste, and many low income people smoke, for many reasons, but to deal with the stress that comes with poverty.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:11 PM on July 15, 2011


Honest apologies if it comes across as such. Why is it a stupid and trollish question?

Well, think it through.

Not everyone who has kids starts unable to "care for them." (First, of course, you have to define "care for them." Can you?) A lot of people are one or two paychecks away from, if not financial disaster, then great instability. Or their partner dies, the health insurance disappears, and the house gets foreclosed on. Or someone gets sick, and even with insurance, we're talking tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of medical debt.

Another things is that lots of people grow up in families where not always having much money is normal. If this is normal to you, and you grew up all right, why wouldn't you have kids?

And then there's the whole drive to reproduce thing, or at least the whole sex drive thing. You're going to sneer at that? Good luck - it's why the human race is here. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world who are much, much poorer than pretty much any American have kids, even when they're living in a inadequate housing and getting by on a dollar a day. Of course, by their particular standards, in their country, that may make them pretty well-off.

Last thing: How much money should someone have before they have kids? How many resources - financial, social, medical - should they have available to them before they're allowed to have kids? How would this be determined? If it's a single-parent family and they live in a trailer park, and the kids get free lunches at school and wear second-hand clothes, and the last week of the month everyone eats generic mac and cheese, is that not enough to "take care of" the kids? By whose measure? Yours? Why yours and not mine, or notion's? Or the person who lives on a dollar a day?

Define your terms, and think about what kind of "problem" your question is seeking to solve, and what the answers could be. Question the assumptions you make just by asking the question, and never underestimate your ignorance.
posted by rtha at 10:13 PM on July 15, 2011 [15 favorites]


madcaptenor is my new hero.

thanks, but all I did was read a book by Orwell that's not 1984 or Animal Farm.
posted by madcaptenor at 10:19 PM on July 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


palomar, thanks! Please help me understand those links because I am unsure how I should interpret them.

The science blog post seems to argue that you cannot draw direct comparisons between the USA and sub Saharan countries because of differences in the ways that wealth is quantified. Which is a fair point, but I am not sure how this translates to comparisons within the same country such as done by the Russel Sage Foundation. I

The Freakonomics link ends with: "Whether you cut the data across countries, through time, or across people at a point in time, the same fact arises: The richer you get, the fewer kids you have." Is this not what I said, as well?

I think that you are mistaking my factual (as far as I can determine) statement that "the poor have more kids than the rich" for a prelude into odious "the poor are breeding like rabbits" notions that I want no part of.

In fact, I am really sorry to have waded into the discussion with a canard that is so strongly associated with these noxious ideas about race and poverty. It was stupid and I can understand why it's perceived as trollish. I didn't intend it as such.
posted by eeeeeez at 10:34 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


The results throw some cold water on the idea that lack of access to fresh produce and other healthful foods is a major driver

Whose half-baked idea was this in the first place? There are plenty of examples in which "if you build it, they still won't come". Even in SimCity.
posted by polymodus at 10:38 PM on July 15, 2011


The question is why people have kids when they cannot take care of them.
That is true, but it does not explain why poor people have more children than rich people on average.


Because poor people have less access to birth control. Condoms aren't as effective as the pill. The pill requires getting a prescription, which means a doctor visit, and then it means getting to a pharmacy to pick it up and paying for it every month. If you don't have health insurance, it's going to be expensive. But, one might say, they can go to Planned Parenthood! IF there is one within easy distance of your home (not likely if you're in a rural or conservative area). Also, the GOP is actively trying to prevent Medicaid patients from being able to use it for ANY of Planned Parenthood' services. In my experience, in order to qualify for sliding-scale fees, you have to provide pay stubs so they can judge your ability to pay. Can't do that if you're getting paid under the table. I also had to go through a ton of back-and-forth bureaucratic stuff and while my application was going through I had to pay the normal price for birth control.

So you're poor and you get pregnant. Well, one might say, you should have an abortion if you know you can't afford a baby. The federal government DOES NOT ALLOW you to use Medicaid insurance for an abortion. Many private insurances don't cover it either. There are tons of restrictions on when and how you can get an abortion, even if you're paying out of pocket. Sometimes you have to pay for a sonogram you don't need. Sometimes you have to have a 24-hour or more waiting period from when you first meet with an abortion doctor to when you can actually get the abortion. Remember, if you live in a rural or conservative area, you may have to take time off work and travel long distances to get to an abortion clinic in the first place. Many states now ban abortion after 20 weeks. If you don't even discover you're pregnant for 2 or 3 months, which could happen if you have irregular periods (which are linked to obesity, and we're back to poorness/poor eating!) you may not be able to get an appointment or make it to the abortion clinic in the window you have. This is all assuming you can scrape together the money for an abortion, which yes, is less than a child, but a truly poor person may not be able to scrape up several hundred dollars before those 20 weeks run out.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:40 PM on July 15, 2011 [16 favorites]


Put every boy and girl through home economics every year, starting in kindergarten.
I think that's a fabulous idea. But I also think that public schools should be adequately funded and should be able to teach things that don't appear on high stakes standardized tests, but I know that's not how things work right now.
And for exercise, step kids through a daily routine (20 reps of this, 20 reps of that, run in place or around the block, etc., with no expensive equipment required) they can keep up for the rest of their lives. Not basketball or baseball or football, where the kids who need the exercise most will spend most of their time sitting or standing while a few athletes do everything else. Sit-ups. Push-ups. Running. Stretching. Dumbbells. For everyone.
That, on the other hand, seems like a good way to teach kids that exercise is miserable drudgery and to convince them that they will stop exercising the moment they no longer have a drill instructor barking orders at them.
In fact, I am really sorry to have waded into the discussion with a canard that is so strongly associated with these noxious ideas about race and poverty. It was stupid and I can understand why it's perceived as trollish. I didn't intend it as such.
Hmm. I'm going to take your word for it, but I'm having trouble coming up with a non-trollish way that you expected that to contribute to the discussion. I mean, I think it's a really interesting question why poorer people have more kids than richer people, but it's hard for me to read this in this particular context as anything but blaming poor people for having too many kids and therefore not being able to afford decent food.
posted by craichead at 10:41 PM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Studies like the one discussed in this NYT article are the absolute key to these behaviors, I think. ]

“Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,” Dr. Sousa said. “I call this a vicious circle.”


When you live your life under the snowballing stresses of not having money, fussing with food preparation and experimenting with perishable ingredients can't help but take more mental and emotional energy than it's worth.

I don't have kids and I have parents who I could move back in with if everything fell apart, but when my ex-boyfriend was going through mental health issues, just getting out of the house and going to Taco Bell was good. It was more than good, it felt great, just to go out and feel normal instead of like everything was broken. Now that I'm much happier in general (along with being in a healthier relationship), making good decisions about food feels almost effortless a lot of the time.
posted by redsparkler at 10:51 PM on July 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks for the response rtha.

Disaster and misfortune can always strike and it's by definition unexpected. In a country like the USA this can have horrendous results. I agree with you that it is very important to raise this point clearly and often. But I also think it is a sleight of hand to make that which is by definition exceptional into the normal. It would require strong evidence to make the case that poverty in general results from disaster, death, or medical emergencies.

As to whether there needs to be a child Gestapo to determine who is worthy of having children: of course not. Nobody wants such a thing. But the fact that the solution is elusive does not mean that the problem is not there. If you are living one or two paychecks away from financial disaster, and you know that this is the case, then is it rational to engage in an expensive, lifelong commitment?

For Westerners it seems utterly unthinkable that the drive to procreate and the drive to eat must be curbed by considerations other than our own volition. Sovereign consumption is the core of our identity. But the harmful effects of this ideology fall disproportionately on those who are least equipped to deal with the consequences and it bears to keep in mind that societies have been curbing desire for thousands of years through customs like (arranged) marriage as well as elaborate systems of food preparation and consumption.

This gets me back to the topic at hand. In the end I think that poor people eat poorly because they make poor choices. I know I make poor choices and I know I am poorer for it. At the end of the day, making the right choice often means making the hard choice, and I'm just not up to it.
posted by eeeeeez at 12:16 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


If anything is hopelessly Western, it's the notion that poverty is a problem solvable through individual human volition. As far as childcare goes, is it ever rational to engage in an expensive, lifelong commitment? The more important question is: when people engage in expensive, lifelong commitments, do they do so rationally? Even in our hyper-Westernized Hollywood popular culture, do we see madly-in-love couples sitting down to do pro/con charts before they decide to conceive? Honestly, I have no idea how your "bootstrap" model of poverty survived reading this thread to crap out your comment. Colour me surprised.

In the end I think that poor people eat poorly because they make poor choices.

By definition, yes. But do they make those choices poorly? Or are those poor choices made collectively, with a great deal of assistance from institutions, media, geography, economy, etcetera? The question really asks whether or not you have internalized a rational actor model of civilization, where we are individually and immediately responsible for all that befalls us. (aka: are you that same naive Westerner you pretend to criticize?)
posted by mek at 12:26 AM on July 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


Fixing obesity by suggesting everyone learn how to cook is like fixing botnets by suggesting everyone learn computer security. Would it work? Probably. Will it ever happen in a million years? No. Should everyone have to? Not really. People have different talents and interests, and the whole point of modern society is that people specialize instead of learning every single skill themselves.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:55 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


pointystick: As for In-and-Out, I just got back from a trip out west. I used to make a beeline for that place. This time, I wasn't interested.

I recently discovered that halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles on Highway 5 is a CAFO called Harris Ranch (aka "Cowschwitz"). It's a major supplier of beef for In-N-Out. The smell makes me thank God I can afford to avoid fast food. As the linked article puts it, "it's an honest smell, a by-product of the hamburger joints that line the highway."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 2:52 AM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


When I first read this post, I just rolled my eyes. But after reading notions comment, there is something I'd like to add. My personal experience is: education can help. It helped me, and I've seen it help others.
I grew up poor. Not as poor as notion, but poor enough that I'm the only person I know who has been really hungry as a child. When we ate, it was all crap. I have weight-issues for that reason: when I'm out of money now, as an adult, I over-eat junk-food for security. If I feel secure, I don't.
I got thrown out at 16, and after living with some family for some time, I got my own room at 17 - and a job at an up-market grocery store which was closed Sundays. On Saturdays, I was allowed to take home any unsold fruit and vegetables, and the owners of the store explained to me how to prepare them. I learned - out of necessity - to appreciate ripe fruits, and to cook all vegetables. I loved my job, but the store closed at some point.
Later, when I was studying, I lived with my fiancé in a working-class neighborhood where there were lots of welfare recipients. In that neighborhood, the local grocer took it upon himself to teach the single mothers how to cook and save money. It worked. I don't think it would work if it was done top-down, but I do think it could work if it was done as some sort of voluntary network thing.
posted by mumimor at 3:07 AM on July 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you are living one or two paychecks away from financial disaster, and you know that this is the case, then is it rational to engage in an expensive, lifelong commitment?
My metafu & googlefu are failing me, but it seems someone posted here recently about what % of Americans that is. I recall it was higher than I had thought.
posted by pointystick at 5:40 AM on July 16, 2011


If you are living one or two paychecks away from financial disaster, and you know that this is the case, then is it rational to engage in an expensive, lifelong commitment?

Since when is sex a purely rational decision?
posted by desjardins at 5:52 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Justinian : s.e. smith does a good job of explaining why cooking at home is not as simple as people think it is

Complete and utter tripe. Poor people should find that more insulting than merely calling them stupid or lazy.

At least once a week, I make a "frozen" pizza.

I could just buy the Lardmaster 5000, throw it in the oven, watch TV for 20 minutes, eat, and enjoy the fresh coat on my arteries.

Or, in the exact same time (it takes 20 minutes to cook either way), I could buy the minimalist cheese-and-sauce pizza (Which actually costs substantially less) and prepare fresh spinach, artichokes, some feta, and a (fake) meat or two to top it with in its last five minutes of cooking, for something vaguely healthy.

The same goes for pastas - In the 10 minutes it takes to boil a vat of boxed macaroni-and-something-called-cheeze-because-calling-it-cheese-violates-labelling-laws, I can whip up a pot of healthy high-protein rotini and prepare a light aglio et olio sauce, a handful of fresh basil, and a cup or three of quartered cherry tomatoes.

And as I said upthread, I really can't cook all that well. I can at least chop a few veggies to throw in, though, in the time it takes to merely heat up the main ingredient of a meal.

Saying people don't have time to make something at least more healthy, if not exactly bunny-food, completely ignores the reality.
posted by pla at 6:19 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


> could work if it was done as some sort of voluntary network thing

I've thought about this too, given all the food questions on AskMe that seem so elementary to me - there's clearly a lack of basic training in cooking and grocery shopping that used to be part of the "domestic arts" that kids (well, girls) learned at home as a matter of routine. We just took it for granted that our moms knew how to cook - not that they were necessarily good at it but that they could shop for and feed their families - and that we'd learn by helping. The economy has changed a lot and the traditional family-based system of training has fallen apart, leaving many young adults somewhat "undomesticated".

I've wondered if I could somehow help, since I'm a good cook who enjoys grocery shopping and I think I'm a good teacher, but the Askers never seem to be in my area. (San Francisco is a foodie town; maybe people here aren't as stumped by food questions as elsewhere?)

Anyway, if anyone wants a cooking or food shopping buddy in San Francisco, MeMail me - maybe we can figure something out.
posted by Quietgal at 6:22 AM on July 16, 2011


madcaptenor : Replace tea with store-brand cola and convert to modern currency, and you get us.

I can't quite tell if that account reads sympathetically or as a condemnation - Should we feel bad for people who choose to eat like crap?
posted by pla at 6:23 AM on July 16, 2011


pla - for many people, a spinach/artichoke/feta pizza will not taste as good as a frozen pizza. Also, since you can't feel or see cholesterol, there's no immediate benefit to eating healthy. Also also, people upthread have explained why obtaining fresh vegetables is problematic and more expensive than fast/frozen food. Your version will undoubtedly be more expensive than a DiGiorno's (2 for $11).
posted by desjardins at 6:24 AM on July 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or, in the exact same time (it takes 20 minutes to cook either way), I could buy the minimalist cheese-and-sauce pizza (Which actually costs substantially less) and prepare fresh spinach, artichokes, some feta, and a (fake) meat or two to top it with in its last five minutes of cooking, for something vaguely healthy.
Right, because if the peasants have no bread, let them eat spinach, artichokes and feta. Seriously, dude. You're like a caricature of yourself.
Your version will undoubtedly be more expensive than a DiGiorno's (2 for $11).
Oh, gosh. More like $1.99 for two french bread pizzas at Aldi.
posted by craichead at 6:34 AM on July 16, 2011 [10 favorites]


Harris Ranch (aka "Cowschwitz")

Oh Jesus, that is some rough chuckles, but I laughed.

posted by Countess Elena at 6:35 AM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


desjardins : for many people, a spinach/artichoke/feta pizza will not taste as good as a frozen pizza.

Heh, you should try one of mine some time. My taste buds don't believe in "delicate". ;)


Also, since you can't feel or see cholesterol, there's no immediate benefit to eating healthy.

I have to wonder about that - Can anyone in modern society really claim ignorance of the fact that what we eat directly affects our health? I can understand some confusion over the health-fad of the week, but does anyone seriously not realize that eating three Big Macs a day doesn't do the body good?


Your version will undoubtedly be more expensive than a DiGiorno's (2 for $11).

I don't know about that. I'd estimate I pay somewhere about that same $5-6 for the ingredients (the Feta costs the most, but a pound of it lasts for several meals). As for availability, I suppose I can buy that one for a small minority of people.


craichead : Right, because if the peasants have no bread, let them eat spinach, artichokes and feta. Seriously, dude. You're like a caricature of yourself.

Seriously dude, not talking about a nationwide famine during a revolution. You have to pay to eat something, and even TFA talks about how access to grocery stores hasn't had much (if any) effect on the real underlying problem.


Oh, gosh. More like $1.99 for two french bread pizzas at Aldi.

Okay, in fairness, I doubt I could beat that.
posted by pla at 6:41 AM on July 16, 2011


The basis of their diet, therefore, is white bread and margarine, corned beef, sugared tea, and potatoes--an appalling diet. Would it not be better if they spent more money on wholesome things like oranges and wholemeal bread or if they even, like the writer of the letter
to the New Statesman, saved on fuel and ate their carrots raw? Yes, it would, but the point is that no ordinary human being is ever going to do such a thing.


There's this particular chain of thought that the poor has to be more noble, more abstaining, and generally more virituous just to survive.

Maybe without it we'd have to abandon that suffering builds character canard.
posted by The Whelk at 8:03 AM on July 16, 2011 [11 favorites]


I can't quite tell if that account reads sympathetically or as a condemnation - Should we feel bad for people who choose to eat like crap?

"choose" isn't quite the right word here. Crap is cheap. Our "agricultural" system subsidizes crap. There are lots of ads for crap on television. Sometimes the only store that you can get to in a reasonable amount of time only sells crap. It's one thing to judge people who have easy access to "good"1 food for eating crap, and another to judge people who only have a "choice" in an almost purely technical sense.

1. although I'm not saying you should judge people for that! I live in Berkeley2, which is basically the food-judgment capital of the world, and I'm kind of tired of it. I want to move back somewhere where nobody notices what I eat.

2. I actually live in Oakland, but this story works better if I live in Berkeley, and I'm a couple hundred feet south of the Berkeley border.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:23 AM on July 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


It seems like the nicer the supermarket, the higher the price of the produce. You can't just plop a nice supermarket down in the middle of a low income neighborhood and expect everything to be solved. The people who live there actually have to be able to afford to shop there. If you have a $100 monthly budget for food what are you going to do? Get 2 weeks worth of healthy food or 4 weeks worth of cheap, not good for you crap, that will at least ensure that your belly is full for 4 weeks instead of two? It's more complicated than just improving access to supermarkets or that the poor are just lazy.
posted by katyggls at 8:44 AM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've seen people on both sides of "Being poor, eating healthy vs. unhealthy".

I grew up in Southside Seattle, which is full of immigrants of all types. Most everyone moves here and they have big families living in whatever housing they can get.

Usually there's a grandparent or unemployed person or two who can take the time to shop and cook for the family. A variety of grocery stores, fruit and vegetable stands, of various ethnic food choices are generally not more than 30 minutes away by public transit (the new light rail which eliminated several buslines has probably changed that). The people with houses often have a garden and may also raise chickens. (This was before Housing Associations took over everything and control what people can do with their yards).

These are the folks who are eating healthy. They're often 1st or 2nd generation immigrants. This kind of livestyle requires transportation access to affordable foods, enough community to maintain the cultural knowledge of how to cook certain dishes, etc.

The other side of things, there's the people who've grown up poor in the US. You become accustomed to shopping at certain places, to buying what is convenient, to what you know. After all, if this is the poor people's food, how much more expensive must the rich people's food be? (mind you, middle class = rich in this view)

You don't even walk into certain stores because it'll just make you depressed. You feel like the people will look at you funny - class, race, all these things form invisible boundaries you learn to respect, even as they disrespect you. (I remember reading in the news about 2 black girls, about 13-ish who were hospitalized by a security guard at a Safeway, because he thought they might have shoplifted. Cross those boundaries at your own risk.)

You never actually learn that the rich people? They're paying less on a lot of stuff.

As a teenager, I held a simple diet plan- get food wherever I could. While working 3 jobs, all outdoor-physical labor jobs (picking up trash, landscaping, etc.), I would had two dietplans during the day:

1) I could get a massive pack of cheap cookies and soda for $1.50. This was horrible calories but accessible and filling enough to last until the night.

2) I could get fruit when it was on sale and usually buy enough to eat for about $1-2.

All of that depended on where I was during the day, what was on sale, and what was close between work. In the evenings I'd alternate between friends' houses to get a variety of foods depending on who I could mooch off of without being too conspicuous or leech-y.

I was fortunate that I grew up in an neighborhood where I got to see people eating healthy and having access to fresh food - otherwise I imagine diet choice #1 would be the only thing I understood.

Yes, it's access, yes, it's time, yes, it's information, yes, it's cost.

All of these matter, otherwise, you eat what's close, what's available, based on what you "understand" to be within your price range (even if it really isn't).

This doesn't mean people are absent agency, just that the circumstances that inform their choices is a lot more fucking complicated than "Eat less junk, lazy fatso!"
posted by yeloson at 8:49 AM on July 16, 2011 [7 favorites]


As a lot of people are pointing out, so very much of this is cultural, as in how you were raised. I live in a neighborhood that's traditionally been very Latino, and many people who live here (Latino and not) are far from wealthy.

But we have a lot of markets - grocery store kinds of markets, as well as butchers and fishmongers and an excellent place that calls itself a Mexicatessen- that cater to Latino residents, and the full markets have enormous displays of a wide range of produce. When I walk up the street, I see people, men and women both, shopping there and coming out of those stores with huge bags crammed with greens and peppers and fruits. They're the kinds of places where limes are 10 for a dollar; avocados can be 5 for a dollar; fresh corn tortillas are some tiny amount of money for three dozen. If you, a gringo, buy three limes, one package of tortillas and two avocados, the cashier gives you this kind of pitying look. The fast food-type restaurants in this part of the neighborhood are all taquerias. This isn't to say that people don't ever go to Burger King or McDonald's - there's one of each - but there are many, many more choices besides those.
posted by rtha at 8:55 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


rtha, I've wondered about those places in your neighborhood: where are they getting avocados cheap enough that they can sell them five for a dollar?
posted by madcaptenor at 9:21 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that madcaptenor linked to the Orwell piece, which I usually have to drag out every time a Very Concerned Person has to wonder why Those People don't eat better. During my own relatively brief experience with poverty (in my early-to-mid-twenties), my comfort food was expired donuts and Hostess snack cakes. I knew that they weren't good for me, and dragging that extra weight around wasn't a treat when I was doing mostly manual labor and depending on cycling and walking for transportation (public transportation was not only limited in its routes and hours where I lived, but actually something of a luxury when money was really tight), and even though I had the public library for entertainment and edification, I wanted some kind of sensual supplement to the rather bland food that kept me alive, even if it ended up being some slightly stale assemblage of flour, sugar and vegetable shortening.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:43 AM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let me point out that many middle-class people do not cook either, eat mainly processed food (though they may make a stab at "healthy" with Lean Cuisine) or dine out, and also have weight problems; we seem to be imagining a dichotomy of Bronx Underclass Person who exists solely on Gray's Papaya (or whatever the NYC hotdog chain is now) vs. Park Slope Eco-Hipster who makes his/her own wholegrain pasta.
posted by bad grammar at 10:38 AM on July 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


Madcaptenor--in my downtown LA neighborhood, the Latin markets sell lower grade produce--and if you eat it fast enough, it's fine. They're selling the stuff that normally gets sold to manufacturers--commercial jam and jelly makers, guacamole processors, etc. Wholesalers sell top quality, picture-perfect fruit to lah-di-dah markets, B-grade to supermarket chains, and the over-ripe, the bruised, and so on to commercial processing plants and those markets that cater to customers who want to spend less.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:39 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's been my sense as well - what Ideefixe said. No way to confirm, of course. But a lot of people here do their shopping frequently, since it's easy enough to do so and it's another cultural thing. If you're shopping near-daily and using the avocados to make big batches of guacamole right off the bat, or making a lot of salsa with the peppers, it doesn't matter much if they're kind of bruised or would go bad in a couple of days, because you're going to eat them before then.
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2011


Right, but there's more to that than just culture, rtha. I too live in a low-income, mostly-Latino neighborhood, but it's comprised of a trailer park and three low-rise apartment buildings. We're in a wooded area on the outskirts of town, rather than being in the middle of a big city. The nearest grocery store is two miles away, and it's not really walkable. (There are a couple of big streets with no sidewalks, plus you'd have to cross a multi-lane street that doesn't have stop lights or cross walks.) I suspect that people here would happily shop daily at ethnic markets that had cheap use-it-or-lose-it produce, but we'll never get access to that kind of thing. I don't think the neighborhood is big enough to sustain our own grocery store, plus there would be serious zoning issues. And the two-mile-away grocery store is just your standard issue Midwestern supermarket. It may be that culture at least partially accounts for differences between immigrant and non-immigrant big-city neighborhoods, but I think that trailer parks pretty much encourage not-great food behaviors in everyone, regardless of culture.

(I actually think the whole food desert discussion is interesting, just because I don't think my neighborhood would be considered a food desert, since there are grocery stores just a few miles away. And it's not a food desert at all if you have a car. It's pretty challenging, though, for people who don't have cars. My guess is that there's a lot of carpooling to the supermarket, and I'm also surprised at how often I see cabs picking people up or dropping them off at the trailer park, considering that pretty much everyone who lives in the trailer park is poor. There's no direct bus to a grocery store, so you're looking at an hour and a half to two hours each way, even though the grocery store is not that far. I think that even though they're expensive, cabs may make more sense than the bus.)
posted by craichead at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2011 [4 favorites]


Absolutely, craichead. Have I ever mentioned how much I love your username? Because I really love your username. It's a huge advantage to live in a compact urban area where your style of eating and shopping is catered to and easy to get to and from.
posted by rtha at 11:19 AM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


So basically we're saying that only immigrants cook?

This country is screwed up.
posted by madcaptenor at 11:24 AM on July 16, 2011


> only immigrants cook?
Hey, there are still a few holdouts amongst the natives!

On something of a tangent, though, I've noticed over the 23 years I've lived here that Chinese/SE Asian food markets have gotten less "ethnic" as that immigrant demographic has settled in and grown more prosperous. I used to live downtown and walked to Chinatown to do my grocery shopping 20 years ago, and the stores were a bit grotty but filled with wonderfully exotic (to me) products. Now most of the food stores have moved out to The Richmond along with their middle-class customers, and they are a lot spiffier but shelves are starting to fill up with time-saving convenience foods - readymade stir-fry sauces and the like. Still no frozen TV dinners, but it's probably only a matter of time.

I'm even starting to see a little convenience food creeping into the Latino markets in the Mission where I shop now, like single-serving packets of instant horchata drink. It seems like as each wave of immigrants assimilates, the food industry is waiting with open arms. Sigh ...
posted by Quietgal at 12:23 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


No madcaptenor, I believe what's being said is that many immigrants happen to live in urban areas with local markets that cater to their population by selling cheaper (albeit very ripe) produce. The problem is that not all or even most of the poor are urban-living immigrants. The rural poor, in this one respect at least, have it worse. If your nearest grocery store is a chain with high produce prices and it's 3 or more miles away, daily shopping is completely unrealistic when you factor in gas prices (for those lucky enough to own a car), hours worked, etc. So those people tend to buy more shelf stable stuff, like boxed dinners, frozen meals, etc. rather than fresh produce and meat that you would take home that day and cook.
posted by katyggls at 12:26 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


The same goes for pastas - In the 10 minutes it takes to boil a vat of boxed macaroni-and-something-called-cheeze-because-calling-it-cheese-violates-labelling-laws, I can whip up a pot of healthy high-protein rotini and prepare a light aglio et olio sauce, a handful of fresh basil, and a cup or three of quartered cherry tomatoes.

Macaroni and cheese will cost you 50c, or less, for a box of generic. You use a dab of cheap ass margarine, a tiny bit of milk, and you have a meal for under a dollar.

Now, do you really want me to cost out your meal? Let's go here, in a fairly cheap area. Good quality whole wheat rotini is 2.50 a box. The aglio et olio is oil and garlic, correct? A small bottle of olive oil, the cheapest bottle that is, on my grocery store shelf is 3.59 a bottle. And that is a tiny bottle. Garlic is fairly cheap I can get a head of garlic for .25 at the farm stand down the street, .50 at the grocery store. Fresh basil is 1.50 a bunch. Cherry tomatoes are 3.50 a pint right now. Once in a blue moon they have them at the farm stand for less.

Let's add that up:
2.50 for pasta
.50 for olive oil (being conservative and counting only what you need.)
.25 for Garlic
1.50 for basil (basil comes in tiny bunches here, this is if you can find the cheap stuff)
3.50 for the tomatoes.

8.25 for that recipe vs less than 1.00 for the Mac n Cheese.

The Mac and Cheese boils in 6 minutes. The rotini in 11-12. If you just worked 8, 10, 12 hours on your feet, 6 minutes counts.
posted by SuzySmith at 12:57 PM on July 16, 2011 [14 favorites]


If you live in an urban neighborhood with a lot of immigrants, you live in a big family, and you really know how to cook, it's possible to compete with industrial processed food prices.

If you live in a suburb, I'd think it's impossible, unless you know how to grow vegetables and can keep poultry. Some neighbors won't even accept a vegetable garden, let alone chickens.

In a rural area, it's a maybe. In the rural area some of my family has a farm, I can live for the same as in the city, because I know a lot of people, and again: I can cook. Lots of people out there can't, so it doesn't help them to have friends. To live on the cheap in the farmlands, you have to be able to kill and clean fish, game and poultry, to clean and cook all sorts of greens, to recognize edible stuff in the woods like mushrooms and herbs, and you need a car and cheap gas.

Knowledge is the most important thing here, and this type of knowledge is hard to find. We are the third or fourth generation of processed food eaters.
posted by mumimor at 1:20 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess you guys are doing your job, because every time I even look at these sort of threads on metafilter, I lose my appetite.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 1:29 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]


Commenters upthread who talk about the palliative effects of junk food consumption bring up a very good point. The immediacy of consequences to poor food choices has a lot to do with what choices people make. Here are some things I think people consider when choosing between, say, whole-grain bread and salad and a box of Hamburger Helper:

1) Price
2) Time spent buying ingredients
3) Time spent preparing meal
4) Feeling of satiety/tastiness gained from eating said meal

Given these four criteria, (leaving out, for the moment, personal preference and assuming that, for msot people, a fatty, salty, carby meal like HH is both satisfying and tasty), the Helper is a better choice in terms of immediate benefit.

Most people don't consider how they'll feel a few hours after a meal, let alone how consumption of mostly unhealthful foods over time is detrimental.

People need a reason to not choose the path of least resistence. The only two things that saved my butt from being more typically American in its size are 1) an abnormally fast metabolism which a) enables me to eat a lot without gaining weight and b) forces me to avoid simple carbs if I want to avoid hypoglycemia and 2) being a distance runner. What I eat for dinner tonight depends on what workout I'm doing tomorrow. Weights? Okay, I can have a burger. Track workout? Better stick with something that sits less heavily in my tummy.

This is not because I'm awesome; this is typically human behavior. I choose what's going to benefit me, based my body and my lifestyle preferences. In this, I am no different to the people whose diets are lamented upthread. I make different food choices, but I engage in the same decision-making process.
posted by Flipping_Hades_Terwilliger at 2:01 PM on July 16, 2011


Don't see too many fat distance runners.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:09 PM on July 16, 2011


The problem can be the patronizing tone (I.e.'aglio et olio'). One of Jamie Oliver's kitchen things is near my work and they asked us about how to he. I mentioned parents - when your kid starts solids it can be a wakeup regarding eating habits. The person's response "yeah, but most of them don't care and just feed their kid whatever. We don't do baby food"). Which not only reveals a total disconnect between the goal of the damn place and what she said, but also reveals a lack of undertanding of the issues facing poor parents AND ignorance regarding current suggestions for children's food. Instead of getting people cooking good pizza and pasta, they lead off the bat with soup and vegetarian curries. Know your audience. Know the barriers. Kow when you are talking out your arse and need to listen to people who are living it, have lived it, and who have changed.

But yeah, come at a poor parents spouting BS about your agiio et olio, and artichokes, and feta, and wonder why no one praises you as a saviour. I'm not that close to poor, I eat pretty damn well, cook nicely and have fun doing it, but the patronizing quotient of this thread makes me want to go eat a double mclarge butt meal in spite. It happens when I visit my friend the locavore foodie too, so don't think you're special.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:45 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Distance runners are also people who a) pay attention to what they eat and b) demonstrably have time to hand to both run and pay attention to what they eat. If you have a larger point, make it. This isn't twitter.
posted by rtha at 2:52 PM on July 16, 2011


@rtha: No, I think you got it.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 2:55 PM on July 16, 2011


If you want to criticize how someone eats, go cook for them. I'm serious.

I'll be home all day tomorrow and Monday. Plenty of street parking right in front of my house.
posted by desjardins at 2:58 PM on July 16, 2011 [5 favorites]


After getting laid off at the crest of the real estate bubble, I was forced to revisit my frugal ways and learn new ways of cooking. I grew up poor and though no one taught me to cook, my folks always did their best to prepared healthy meals. Forced frugality, a desire for a healthy diet and boredom with the traditional American meal lit the fire to investigate how other cultures make the most of what they have. I've written on ask.mefi about eating and shopping frugally. I still cook like this.

In the end, one needs to plan ahead and shop seasonally when possible. Planning ahead means having a decent, healthy meal plan. I've been doing this so long my meal plans are in my head, but having a meal plan and sticking to it will surprise you in the amount you'll save.
Disclaimer: the website linked above is a project I have an interest in. It's not foodie-centered nor is it beans 'n' rice four times a week but aims for something in the middle. Frugal enough to make a difference and varied enough to keep you interested.

Second, shop seasonally. When possible, buy tomatoes in the summer and not in the winter because they're cheaper, fresher and tastier than those that have been truck-ripened. If you want something out of season, try canned (examine the ingredients for salt and high fructose corn syrup though) and frozen foods.

Third, don't eat so much meat. We have meat about once a week, usually when we eat out, but cutting back on meat will save you a bundle. If you need ideas on how to cook vegetarian, Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is a gem. Your wallet and waistline will thank you for it.

As for helping those who need it most—the poor—education is a start. In the 40s or 50s my grandmother had a state social worker come over and teach her how to shop and cook on a budget for a family of 5. I still love to hear her stories about what grandma and how she blended that with her own family recipes. I hope there is still some program like this today but I doubt it.

Also, it helps to shop in “ethic” markets because, as they say above, they have cheap produce and fish. I am often the only gringo in the checkout line, but such is the price for good eating. I know my grandmother shopped in the small, locally-owned ethnic markets because she hated to drive and they were nearby.

As for Farmers Markets, it varies by location. Here in Portland the few city Farmers Markets I've visited have been overrun with gourmet meat, exotic mushroom and foodie-type stalls. Nary a bargain to be found. When I was on the coast I stopped by one and found all manner of inexpensive, local produce. YMMV I imagine, but it's a shame there aren't more of the inexpensive produce types around.
posted by Tacodog at 4:30 PM on July 16, 2011


...about what grandma learned and how she blended it with family recipes, that is. I are suck at proofreading.
posted by Tacodog at 4:38 PM on July 16, 2011


t. In the 40s or 50s my grandmother had a state social worker come over and teach her how to shop and cook on a budget for a family of 5.

My grandma was one of those social workers in rural Georgia for more than 20 years. She really loved that job. But I don't think jobs like that have existed for decades. When she talked about it, she said she worked for Welfare. That was back before Welfare was a dirty word, when it had it's original meaning, like in the preamble of the Constitution. It was a comprehensive umbrella of programs aimed at helping people, not a series of condescending hoops to jump through like WIC and "Welfare to Work".
posted by hydropsyche at 6:16 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why can't I get cheap, pre-made food that's healthy and tastes good?

As we speak I'm making a pot of turkey noodle soup with an entire turkey. I add plenty of fresh herbs and veggies and it ends up tasting awesome, even after freezing. And it costs under $2 per 2-cup meal.

There's no fundamental reason Kraft can't make the same thing and sell it for $3. But as far as I know, frozen food is either overpriced fat-laden pasta dishes, or cheap cardboardy junk. And don't even get me started on canned soup.
posted by miyabo at 7:56 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


geek anachronism : The problem can be the patronizing tone (I.e.'aglio et olio').

Okay, I'll admit I didn't realize the discussion centered around sub-$2 meals vs $6.

But how does calling something by its correct name count as "patronizing"? Did you take offense at my use of "feta" rather than "salty sheep cheese in brine"? Do people really consider artichokes "exotic"? Should I have said "that spirally pasta" instead of "rotini"?

As for the "class" BS, I would point out that I call it that because I grew up in an area with a lot of (piss-poor) Italian families (ie, my friends' parents) who called it that. Just because modern cooking porn* has a thing about usurping cultural identities, don't lay that crap on me.


* My sole reason for recognizing the name "Jamie Oliver" comes from South Park making fun of him and the whole genre
posted by pla at 8:06 PM on July 16, 2011


Do people really consider artichokes "exotic"?

Yes. And I grew up in an upper-middle class household. I only ate white bread until my mid-20's and thought you only drank water to take medicine until I educated myself. My mother grew up poor and certainly didn't know any better even though we could have afforded healthier food. She didn't know those things aren't healthy.

I really wish we had farmers markets like the ones I hear about in California. In Chicago they're nice to walk around in the summer but I can't afford $7 for a half pint of blueberries.
posted by Bunglegirl at 8:35 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


But how does calling something by its correct name count as "patronizing"? Did you take offense at my use of "feta" rather than "salty sheep cheese in brine"? Do people really consider artichokes "exotic"? Should I have said "that spirally pasta" instead of "rotini"?

When numerous cookbooks, chefs and the products themselves refer to it as spiral pasta, yeah, that might be helpful rather than culinary dickswinging. Feta is feta is feta, but spiral pasta is what it is called at the shops I frequent (including the apparently requisite ethnic deli). Aglio e olio needs translation to be meaningful to anyone outside foodie culture - pasta with oil and garlic sauce does not.

It's all about audience, not your own (obviously marvelous) taste, upbringing and knowledge. It reminds me somewhat of the following bit from a fanfic I quite like (A.J Hall, Dissipation and Despair):

"Honestly, this is too ridiculous. And so bloody typically English. Half a century after Elizabeth David started writing, and it still seems to be impossible to buy a simple little staple like aceto balsamico di Modena ....and there isn't anything I can substitute for balsamic vinegar in the recipe."

Mrs Waley's expression instantly changed to one of enlightenment. "Why didn't you say it was balsamic vinegar you were after, sir? There should be some in the far corner, bottom shelf."


Persistent use of jargon and denial of it being jargon does not endear you to the masses you are attempting to educate. And it makes those of us who work with them somewhat suspicious of your abilities and your intent. it makes you harder to understand and harder to empathize with and learn from. We are almost explicitly discussing a food culture that does not have a space for ethnic delis or food, does not have massive wealth of knowledge contained within those cultures.

I recently made the half hour trek to the only organic farmers market within an hour's drive. It sucked. I found one thing under $5 a kilo and that was whole pumpkin. Leeks were 3 for $6 or $7 and we're in season for them. Same with strawberries, which were $9 a punnet. On top of that the service was abysmal, food handling skills suspect and the food itself unremarkable. I don't live in a food desert for I don't like in a food culture either - organic is for hippies and yuppies and well meaning middle class folk. Coming in outside those groups and there is no incentive to stay - people treat you badly (I shudder to think of how the visit would have gone should I have still been fat) and it's more expensive and the taste isn't that much better, if it even is better.

Trying to fold the poor and the non-food culturists into food culture is unhelpful and self defeating.
posted by geek anachronism at 8:47 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]


Eh, my generic box from the supermarket says Rotini and lots of people do in fact grow up around Italians. It wasn't patronizing the way he said it here but it might be in the context of actually talking to a target audience of people who don't know anything about cooking.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:22 PM on July 16, 2011


The food jargon thing is interesting and strange. It confused me a lot when I was a teen working in a grocery store, because some used French jargon and others Italian, and anyway I had no idea what they were talking about. It got me thinking, as I still do, why?
If you are Italian, the words you use are all everyday words. Rotini, aglio, olio - all completely normal words in every child's vocabulary for completely normal cheap food. (Though most people in Italy would be shocked at the thought of using pasta spirals for the garlic and oil dish. That is a spaghetti thing). Same with all the French words. How come people outside Italy and France use all their everyday words as a fancy jargon when it comes to food?
We do it now with some Asian foods as well, which would have driven me crazy 30 years ago.

Now, I don't mind it at all. But I still wonder how this comes about. It makes sense when there are no available translations - what does spaghetti mean? Or pho? Bearnaise is a proper name derived from a place, that seems fair to me. But I still can't forget the guy who insisted on calling bell peppers "paprika". Why? And remembering my food-ignorant teenage self, it does make food seem strange and difficult to some people.
posted by mumimor at 12:08 AM on July 17, 2011


One time I saw this lady at the store complaining that no one knew what she was talking about when she asked for a portabello mushroom. Come on lady, just say "Big brown mushroom."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 12:52 AM on July 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


I have obviously misspoken along the way - portobello mushrooms are a type, are they not? Maybe, if someone had no idea and couldn't read the label, 'big brown one's may suffice, but in general, big brown mushroom can mean any number of mushrooms.

I didn't use rotini as my initial example of patronizing foodspeak because it isn't a terribly good one and it isn't one likely to come up in my experience because it isn't a term used much here in Australia (hence spiral pasta being a more meaningful term here). Aglio e olio is within the category of food snobbery that I see really devaluing the attempt to broaden the eating horizons of any number of people. It is that conviction that eating the way you do makes you a better person and allowing any old jerk in your club, or to even feel okay about not being worthy, is met with disdain.

Jargon and technical terms are not the same thing. Some overlaps obviously, but speaking jargon at the resistant and uninitiated doesn't endear you to them, nor get your message across effectively.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:47 AM on July 17, 2011


mumimor : (Though most people in Italy would be shocked at the thought of using pasta spirals for the garlic and oil dish. That is a spaghetti thing)

Heh... Fair point, but I don't like spaghetti. I don't know why, I like plenty of other pastas, but I really really dislike spaghetti specifically.


But I still can't forget the guy who insisted on calling bell peppers "paprika". Why?

Hmm, I hadn't heard of anyone calling the fresh peppers paprika, but for the "why", paprika-the-spice comes from ground non-hot peppers (or mildly hot ones minus the seeds).

I have to agree, I'd probably have considered that somewhat silly - Which I suppose somewhat makes geek anachronism's point a bit more clear to me. I didn't grow up around a lot of Hungarians, and so wouldn't call a pepper "paprika"; on the flip side of that, however, GA needs to recognize that some people just call it that, no food snobbery intended.
posted by pla at 5:41 AM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


furiousxgeorge - that made me literally LOL!

geek anachronism - he is referencing this mefi inside joke, not actual mushrooms.
posted by desjardins at 8:07 AM on July 17, 2011



But I still can't forget the guy who insisted on calling bell peppers "paprika". Why?

Hmm, I hadn't heard of anyone calling the fresh peppers paprika


Paprika means pepper in Hungarian.
posted by palomar at 12:37 PM on July 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


And in other languages.
posted by pracowity at 3:08 AM on July 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


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