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Hunger is hidden
July 7, 2013 9:01 AM   Subscribe

A 5-year-old girl saw the dust trail of the bus and pedaled toward it on a red tricycle. Three teenage boys came barefoot in swimsuits. A young mother walked over from her trailer with an infant daughter in one arm and a lit cigarette in the other. “Any chance there will be leftover food for adults?” she asked. It was almost 1 p.m. For some, this would be the first meal of the day. For others, the last.

In rural Tennessee, a new way to help hungry children: A bus turned bread truck
Don't look at the comments. Do look at the photos.
posted by Horace Rumpole (114 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
I looked at the comments because I am my own man.

Now I am my own very disappointed man.

Why are all newspaper comments turning into Free Republic?
posted by mccarty.tim at 9:11 AM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Why are all newspaper comments turning into Free Republic?

Tuppence ha'penny looking down on tuppence.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:12 AM on July 7, 2013 [54 favorites]


I knew it. Never, ever look at the comments, except for here. Holy CROW.
posted by nevercalm at 9:13 AM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


The look on that kids face when he is offered that tiny can of peaches broke my heart.
posted by Sphinx at 9:14 AM on July 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Wow, thank you for posting this. What a really wonderful program; big government at work, doing a great thing, even if it's only a band-aid.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


These kinds of articles make me nervous, because while I read them as heartbreaking indictments of society's failures, lots of people are going to focus on the dollar amounts quoted and start itching to cut them, to show these stupid overbreeding poors that the government isn't going to pick up their tab anymore. Let 'em starve! That'll teach them.

I didn't have to read the comments to hear people saying that, because it happens every day.
posted by emjaybee at 9:28 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I see that bus and I see that kind old guy in Grapes of Wrath who ran the government camp for the migrants. Running water! A tin roof! And.... dances on Saturdays!?
posted by notyou at 9:28 AM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why are all newspaper comments turning into Free Republic?

If you buy into the idea that anyone can make it in the US with HARD WORK and GUMPTION and BOOTSTRAPS, that turns poverty into a moral issue and the poor can be safely judged as inferior human beings because if they wanted to not be poor and hungry, they should just get jobs and work their way up and stop having kids and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.

And if you think that way, you have a massive media apparatus reinforcing the narrative because the political and aristocratic classes derive a tremendous benefit from the various lower classes tearing at each other over scraps rather than eyeing the guys at the top who have a LOT more to fight over.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:30 AM on July 7, 2013 [85 favorites]


Jesus wept.
posted by PMdixon at 9:31 AM on July 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Why are all newspaper comments turning into Free Republic?

My theory: the Freepers are getting into retirement age and have endless free hours to post comments on various sites.
posted by lunasol at 9:32 AM on July 7, 2013 [29 favorites]


Heartbreaking. And not far away, so much food is thrown away by restaurants, party-givers, and supermarkets taking down the wilted produce. This makes me want to scream.
posted by GrammarMoses at 9:38 AM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


is poverty always been such a problem in these regions of appalachia? I mean i remember reading Agee, and seeing documentaries, and looking at the photos of william gedney, and thinking, you know is this an ongoing problem--and the idea that the programs don't seem to do enough--no seconds, just a blogona sandwhich, nothing for adults... do the programs continue this pattern, and if that's the case, what the fuck do people do?
posted by PinkMoose at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2013


This'll make you really cry, then: check out the corporate partners for Feeding America (formerly Second Harvest).
posted by toodleydoodley at 9:48 AM on July 7, 2013


I'm proud to see something like this happening in my normally very retrograde state. That was difficult to read.
posted by absalom at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2013


Jeezum crow. The mother, Jennifer, is my age, and looks about 15 years older. Poverty is such a lethal grind.
posted by like_a_friend at 9:49 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just wanted to point out that WaPost photographer Michael Williamson who made the images accompanying the story has been working on rural poverty stories for easily 20 years. His work is amazing and award winning including two Pulitzers and he's about the nicest guy you could ever meet. He really deserves his own FPP on the blue.

And also, don't EVER read the comments on newspaper websites. It will always shake your faith in humanity.
posted by photoslob at 9:50 AM on July 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


I have never read the comments on newspaper websites and afterward been glad that I did so. I actually used to pay for the Kindle subscription to my old city's newspaper even though all the same content was online for free just because the Kindle version was sans comments. (I kept telling myself to just not look, but the comments started immediately below the article text so depending on where the Page Down button took me I would inadvertently chunk-read the top comments and get sucked into the bile.)
posted by Jacqueline at 9:56 AM on July 7, 2013


Ugh, and the Wal-Mart ad we have to sit through in order to look at the slide show is a pretty grim irony, innit?
posted by like_a_friend at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


The pictures are amazing.

Is that food donated from somewhere? I don't mind the money being spent at all, but I hate seeing packaged shit like lunchables. You could feed a lot more people with a loaf of bread than that crap. Is it all about just getting calories into them, they don't worry about health at all? Those lunchables have a shit-ton of sodium and other bad stuff.
posted by nevercalm at 10:04 AM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]



Is that food donated from somewhere? I don't mind the money being spent at all, but I hate seeing packaged shit like lunchables.

Given that there is a picture of a 9mo old baby drinking Moutain Dew, I'd argue that the lunchables are no where near the worst thing those kids will eat.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:06 AM on July 7, 2013 [21 favorites]


nevercalm: Those lunchables have a shit-ton of sodium and other bad stuff.

I think worrying about sodium and preservatives in their diet is about a hundred steps up the Mazlow pyramid from where these kids are. Besides, I'm not even sure sodium is a problem for non-obese children.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:14 AM on July 7, 2013 [26 favorites]


@nevercalm, remember we are dealing with a situation where food must be:
1) easily transportable
2) able to be eaten on the bus, relatively quickly, with a minimum of silverware and mess
3) able to withstand storage in an ice cooler for a fairly long period while remaining reasonably edible.
4) relatively, if not completely, impervious to the risk of foodborne illness.

That doesn't leave you with a whole wealth of options in terms of fresh, unpackaged food. It sucks, like absolutely 100% of everything else about the situation in question. But these people are not in a position to let the perfect be the enemy of the required-for-survival.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:15 AM on July 7, 2013 [38 favorites]


[A few comments deleted; maybe we can skip a debate about parenting licences?]
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:16 AM on July 7, 2013 [10 favorites]


Typical bonkers comments; not surprised Pelosi wasn't being blamed for Appalachian generational problems.

Meanwhile; across buffets, kitchens, and diners across America, tons of food get slid off into the trash and off to feed the crows at the dump; or into the disposal to overtax the septic treatment plants. Ah; here we are. 2013. O. M. F. G .

I do get mixed about the soda pops and energy drinks, yes; one of the first ?extras? I skip if trying to save a few bucks at the grocery; OTOH, these folk deserve a break from the suck of it all for them.
posted by buzzman at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This hurts my heart and bad. I support our local food bank to the greatest extent I can, but it's never enough.


Ugh, and the Wal-Mart ad we have to sit through in order to look at the slide show is a pretty grim irony, innit?


The ad I was shown and couldn't skip was for Goldman Sachs. Not entirely sure which ad is more painfully ironic, honestly.
posted by vers at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2013 [5 favorites]



@nevercalm, remember we are dealing with a situation where food must be:
1) easily transportable
2) able to be eaten on the bus, relatively quickly, with a minimum of silverware and mess
3) able to withstand storage in an ice cooler for a fairly long period while remaining reasonably edible.
4) relatively, if not completely, impervious to the risk of foodborne illness.


That makes sense. Plus I guess there's less prep involved too, all that food takes time and a place to prepare it.
posted by nevercalm at 10:21 AM on July 7, 2013


Whoever up there said that poverty is an ager is exactly right, I think; when I was popping around Indonesia I was struck by how you'd see these beautiful people who seemed to go from eighteen to fifty in the space of a handful of years.

Photos are great; thanks for posting.
posted by angrycat at 10:23 AM on July 7, 2013


If you buy into the idea that anyone can make it in the US with HARD WORK and GUMPTION and BOOTSTRAPS,

When the only boots you can afford come from Walmart, trying to pull yourself up by your bootstraps just means you're falling on your ass with two busted boots.
posted by mhoye at 10:24 AM on July 7, 2013 [39 favorites]


Oooo I had a comment deleted bc I responded to the derail. There was more at the bottom that was not related, and LobsterMitten very kindly sent the rest to me. Loving the Mod squad.

I noticed the mountain dew, but more well-off parents lard their kids up with juice and capri sun and all that crap, so who am I to say anything?
posted by nevercalm at 10:25 AM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a region (west central New Mexico) with big pockets of this kind of poverty and it's just... Words fail. It's soul destroying. The future shrinks down to a question of getting thru the next hours sanity intact.

I've met that mom. I've met the kid angry about the bologna. There but for the grace of God and a parent working for the state went I.
posted by PMdixon at 10:35 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I grew up on welfare and in subsidised housing, but articles like this never fail to make me so grateful. My mom was also a single mom working minimum wage (sometimes less), but - thanks to generous government spending - we had decent housing, plenty of food and two completely free swimming pools (wading and regular) within a short walk. Part of our luck was that we lived in a big city, and so could live without a car and had more amenities. But most of it was just that the Ontario and Toronto governments used to put their money where their mouths were when it came to social services. They don't anymore - they've cut family benefits, haven't kept up the housing, and charge money for pools that used to be free, all in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and stopping "gravy trains". It's so bloody short sighted.
posted by jb at 10:37 AM on July 7, 2013 [21 favorites]


This is a heartbreaking and very well-executed story, and I appreciate the links to the rest of Williamson's work as well. This is an especially apt piece to run on the July 4th weekend, as a reminder what country all that flag-waving represents.
posted by RogerB at 10:39 AM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


You're also assuming they have access to something else, nevercalm. One of my dad's hobbies was canoeing and such and as a consequence I am rather painfully familiar with bouncing around the backroads of Appalachia and the rural South. Some of these places have a gas station/c-store and it's the only place within a reasonable to drive to buy food, so you're stuck with the sorts of premade sandwiches and sodas a small, not-particularly-nice gas station in rural nowhere can get. It's not exactly the sort of place where they keep the fresh fruit over by the little cafe they have, you know?

(I'm not taking a shot at you, I'm thinking of the wayyyyyy uptown gas station I live by that has a Tuscan-style cafe/wine bar because of course it does).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Darn it Metafilter, I've been thinking about that article for an hour and decided to make an FPP. Gotta be quick around here.

The article is beautifully written and heartbreaking. That nonprofit is going on my list of annual food bank donations.

The Mountain Dew is interesting brings up two associations. First is a brief scene in Angela's Ashes where our plucky narrator and his gang of brothers are floating around NYC as kids, taking care of the baby. They feed him sugar water because they can't afford milk, but it doesn't fill him up and he keeps crying. There's more than a similarity to five kids alone all day in a trailer, taking care of a baby, feeding him/her Mountain Dew.

Second, is a musing on soda. I grew up in, but not of, Appalachia. Feeding soda to children was standard, and I remember thinking nothing of feeding soda to my best friends 18 month old niece when we took her to the mall. As adults, neither of us would feed that crap to OUR kids. I have thought it was changing attitudes society wide, but perhaps it was me changing cultures. Thoughts from the hive mind?
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 10:40 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


People complaining about the comments, I heartily recommend CommentBlocker. It vastly improves the internet experience.
posted by Tsuga at 10:42 AM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


After I read the Tootsie post I loaded the "Might be you" video and I had to sit through 15 seconds of a glamor model ad selling hair conditioner. It was worth it for the footage of Dustin Hoffman plucking his eyebrows, curling his eyelashes and shaving his legs.
posted by bukvich at 10:43 AM on July 7, 2013


You're also assuming they have access to something else, nevercalm.

Yes, actually I imagine I was. I did a spot of living in the country for a while, and it was a 15 minute drive to anything. I can't imagine being poor and having to choose wasting the gas or going hungry.

The soda thing is funny, because I actually argued with a friend about it. He said "our parents gave us soda once in a while when we were little" and I said "Yeah, but that was SUGAR. Now it's all HFCS!"
posted by nevercalm at 10:46 AM on July 7, 2013


Second, is a musing on soda. I grew up in, but not of, Appalachia. Feeding soda to children was standard, and I remember thinking nothing of feeding soda to my best friends 18 month old niece when we took her to the mall. As adults, neither of us would feed that crap to OUR kids. I have thought it was changing attitudes society wide, but perhaps it was me changing cultures. Thoughts from the hive mind?

Possibly both? I was raised in suburban poverty, similar to what jb describes above. My mother was considered hopelessly weird and snobby --at that time and in that place-- for her anti-soda policies. The kids I grew up with, all of whom pretty much were weaned on Coke and Mountain Dew, now seem to be kind of split 50/50 on the subject, apparently independent of whether they got out of our childhood culture.

As someone who swapped out coca-cola slurpees for ginormous tubs of espresso, I have no room to judge. My addiction is simply perceived as higher-class, and therefore safe from the same kind of judgment.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


My aunt drives a bus that provides transportation in rural Missouri for older people and people living on a low income. While talking about how her day was to her brother in law, she mentioned that one of the customers was a person who qualified by being on a low income, who wanted to go to work in a place that was inconvenient with the other points on her route. She didn't seem to think it was wrong, just an annoying thing that piled on to her workload.

My uncle went on a rant about how public services always get abused by people who want something for nothing and that the bus was meant to be a great thing for the community.

Keep in mind the customer was trying to get to work to earn an income.

Some people just don't want the "wrong" people getting things, even when they are doing everything "right."
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:57 AM on July 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


The soda thing is funny, because I actually argued with a friend about it. He said "our parents gave us soda once in a while when we were little" and I said "Yeah, but that was SUGAR. Now it's all HFCS!"

Note the giant "This misleading bus-side feelgood PR brought to you by ConAgra brand high fructose corn syrup" sign on the side of the bus.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:03 AM on July 7, 2013


Anderson watched the mother for a few seconds and wondered if this would be one of the times when she needed to call child protective services to make a report. It had happened three times on buses already in the past two weeks, once for possible child abuse and twice for possible neglect.
If she keeps on doing that, pretty soon those teenagers will be taking pot-shots at the bus instead of cans.

Here's a fun child services story from my impoverished rural town. Mom is up on charges of kidnapping after sending her kids out of state when she heard child services was coming to take her kids. Why is child services taking her kids? Because she let Dad violate his restraining order and come home (Mom and Dad are addicts.) Why is child services involved at all? Because Mom asked for help, actually went to child services, when she was having trouble coping with a new baby.

Only in America. There are locals who drive around with slogans against DCF on their broken down SUVs and are being organized/exploited. You might feel sorry for the poor, but you'll find their political, social, and religious beliefs troubling if they ever grasped for power.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:21 AM on July 7, 2013


I'd posit that the comments are sort of essential in understanding part of the complex picture that results in such deprivation in an incredibly rich country. Ignorance isn't limited to the poor, and the people that make billions on exploiting labor markets and capital markets worldwide depend on it to keep the system running (relatively) smoothly.
posted by cell divide at 11:22 AM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some of these places have a gas station/c-store and it's the only place within a reasonable to drive to buy food, so you're stuck with the sorts of premade sandwiches and sodas a small, not-particularly-nice gas station in rural nowhere can get.

My husband and I (who are not poor) are currently living (by free choice) in a campground in rural Wisconsin. The other day, I'd gotten some meat for dinner on my way home from work. He asked me if I'd gotten any side dishes, and I hadn't; I'd forgotten. There's a "store" a few blocks away so I walked up there. Zero fresh anything. Most of their inventory is beer. I bought a box of mashed potato mix and a can of green beans. My total was $4.31.

The next closest place to buy food would have been a gas station; they don't have anything fresh or nutritious either. The nearest actual grocery store is 15 miles away; my car gets 30 mpg so at the current cost of gas, it's $3.50 just to go to the store and back. Plus at least an hour of my time.

If we were poor, that $3.50 and an hour (or the $4.31 for canned green beans & boxed potatoes) would be a big, big problem. I definitely don't fault someone who works 12 hour days for getting whatever she can at the local store.
posted by desjardins at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2013 [12 favorites]


Same as it ever was. Can you imagine a politician declaring a war on poverty today?
posted by entropicamericana at 11:57 AM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


For Hannah, 7, it meant her report card had been sent home with a handwritten note of the teacher’s concerns, one of which read: “Easily distracted by other people eating.”

Jesus Christ.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2013 [37 favorites]


I was part of the reduced lunch program for a few years as a kid. We never missed a full meal at home, but there was wasn't really extra food or snacks around. Nothing at all like the poverty mentioned in the article. All in all, I didn't think much about it.

It's plenty obvious to anyone standing in line with you at the cafeteria, and looking back, I don't think any of the other kids ever mentioned it.
posted by interstitial at 12:30 PM on July 7, 2013


Jesus wept.

When he's done weeping, now'd be a good time to work some of that magic we've been hearing about.
posted by klanawa at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


It isn't obvious any more, at least not in the school district I'm familiar with. All kids pay with their ID cards, and you can't tell at a glance how much they're paying or how the money got there.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:35 PM on July 7, 2013


Clarion call: ...
... the war on (this)
... the war on (that)
... signal for contractors to compute the bottom line.

Otherwise, what's the point?

... also, coming soon, the new prison.
posted by mule98J at 12:37 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's a fun child services story from my impoverished rural town. Mom is up on charges of kidnapping after sending her kids out of state when she heard child services was coming to take her kids. Why is child services taking her kids? Because she let Dad violate his restraining order and come home (Mom and Dad are addicts.) Why is child services involved at all? Because Mom asked for help, actually went to child services, when she was having trouble coping with a new baby.

Sorry if this is a derail, and perhaps I misunderstand your point, but this seems perhaps like not terrible overreaching on the part of child services (I'm assuming that the yanking of the kids does not equal termination of the parental rights)
posted by angrycat at 12:58 PM on July 7, 2013


Having been near homeless myself quite a few times in my life and having worked with the very poor and homeless for the last 20 odd years I can say with some authority that poverty to the point of actual hunger is...for many...a choice. Anyone who has done what I have for ANY length of time knows the refrain "I haven't eaten in three days." It is the mantra for 99% of the addicts/ alcoholics who seek services. That being said, I would wish no child was EVER to be without food. Feed them for goodness sake. The stores/ gas stations stock beer and cigarettes rather than good food for a reason. Guess the reason, It is just a fact and a sad fact. A six dollar pack of smokes and a five dollar six pack EVERY day for one parent would feed the kids. But as long as a tuck comes along with sandwiches every day, why bother buying food? Hard to hear about it? It is a fact. There are zillions of poor in these areas who do not starve and who are as dirt poor as the next but the kids are fed because the parents grow veggies and have some chickens/ hogs ...who don't blow money on alcohol and cigarettes. By all means feed the kids. I feed the kids and the homeless but face up to the reality that much of the problem is by choice. Now serve my head on a plate....people will hate that I said this.
posted by shockingbluamp at 2:07 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


don't blow money on alcohol and cigarettes.

It's almost as if both products are addictive and a propensity to addiction is not evenly distributed throughout the population!
posted by Phalene at 2:16 PM on July 7, 2013 [24 favorites]


Feed them for goodness sake. The stores/ gas stations stock beer and cigarettes rather than good food for a reason. Guess the reason, It is just a fact and a sad fact. A six dollar pack of smokes and a five dollar six pack EVERY day for one parent would feed the kids.

Um, if the stores don't even sell food, what would you feed these kids?

And what would you feed these chickens and hogs that just fall from the sky or whatever?
posted by Sys Rq at 2:28 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


For Hannah, 7, it meant her report card had been sent home with a handwritten note of the teacher’s concerns, one of which read: “Easily distracted by other people eating.”

I know it is the fashion around here to use clever euphemisms instead of saying this flat out, but I'll just tell you guys: that line is where I started crying.

I'm about ready to move into a desperately poor neighborhood and pass out fruit and sandwiches before and after work. What else am I doing with my life right now?
posted by Pater Aletheias at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2013 [33 favorites]


(Incidentally, maybe those stores could stand to be regulated by the government.)
posted by Sys Rq at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2013


It's very bad for society when children don't have enough to eat; it would be hard to quantify but I would guess that the cost of getting a kid proper nutrition is less then the costs associated with adults who were malnourished as children.

It may well be true that for some, not feeding their kids properly is a choice, but choice is a tricky thing when you start looking into the choices that other people made that predates the choices those parents are able to make. Growing vegetables and raising livestock is easier to do if that's how you grew up; if your parent was a disabled alcoholic who lived on SSI, that might be an option that's hard to fathom. Middle ground might be education, weekly access to useful vegetables like beans, etc.
posted by chaz at 2:36 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


shockingbluamp, I respect your experience and insight. And you are right; giving up addictions would free up money, there is no doubt.

However; addictions don't happen in a vacuum. And you and I and everyone else knows that just shaming doesn't decrease addiction, and neither does letting kids starve.

My response to the derail that got deleted earlier included this bit; basically, we cannot effectively end poverty and addiction by blaming and punishing individuals. Not because they don't have responsibility for their choices, but simply because it doesn't work, and innocent people suffer. And while you probably have many stories of people lying to you about what they need, if you've worked in social services, I would ask; would you trade places with them? If they were truly living lives of ease, we'd envy them. But we know they are miserable, even if they suceed in gaming the system in some small way. Because no one would care about getting free bologna for their kids if they weren't already desperate and miserable. There are no Cadillac welfare queens, just people who have trouble believing they have any reason to think more than a day or two ahead.

Taking a compassionate approach does not have to aid addiction or perpetuate poverty, but it has to be realistic. People with a lifetime of abuse and addiction behind them are not likely to become super-productive citizens. So we can care for them where they are or let them die in the street. A sensible social program would offer a ladder for those who chose to use it, which is very different from a handout. But it would also recognize that some segment will not use that ladder. The trick is to make that segment as small as possible, by making the ladder as available as possible for those that will be helped and especially for kids, who still have the ability to try.

This approach would include national healthcare, with access to contraception, abortion, and mental health care (including addiction treatment) for absolutely everyone who needs it. Combined with fairer taxation to fund such programs, along with better schools, and a higher minimum wage, allowing those in poverty a better chance of getting out of it. And continuation of food programs, because no one is going to climb out of poverty while they're too hungry to think straight.

That's what makes this story so sad; we give people just enough to keep going for a while, but not enough help to actually change their lives.
posted by emjaybee at 2:41 PM on July 7, 2013 [87 favorites]


God, this article is killing me. And it's making all the whiny middle-class shit that emanated from my mouth today shameful and ungrateful.

I have got to start helping my fellow man more. As someone else said upthread, "What else am I going to do with my time?"
posted by Kitteh at 2:51 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am pondering this phrase "but not enough help to actually change their lives." Outside of medical providers, is there any help to change lives that doesn't come attached to a little personal motivation to change? Mind you I'm not talking about children, just adults. Changing patterns is hard and from my perspective never happens as long as someone says, I'll do it for you." I would say successful assistance always is partnered with motivation. I am not sure whether the lunch truck builds hope or dependence?
posted by Xurando at 2:54 PM on July 7, 2013


I am not sure whether the lunch truck builds hope or dependence?

It feeds kids. It only feeds kids. Does a parent feeding their kids build hope or dependence? No; it feeds the kids. I don't see why it would be any different when the government does it.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:01 PM on July 7, 2013 [24 favorites]


Xurando, the woman in the article is already working 12 hour shifts. I'm curious how you think the lunch truck builds dependence in that case. If there was no lunch truck, would she work 16 hour shifts? Who does that serve?
posted by desjardins at 3:03 PM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am not sure whether the lunch truck builds hope or dependence?

I would posit that it does neither, and in fact merely allows kids enough calories to keep their brains functioning (barely). Both hope and dependence, for these kids, are as Mitrovarr so perfectly described it, "about a hundred steps up the Mazlow pyramid".

As for the adults, who it is to be noted receive no food from the truck but are probably as deprived of food as their children, I would imagine it functions more like a single breath of oxygen from a scuba tank. It allows them to move on to the next day, and that is all. Not hope, not dependence, just "ok, I get to do it all again."
posted by like_a_friend at 3:05 PM on July 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


shockingbluamp: "I feed the kids and the homeless but face up to the reality that much of the problem is by choice. Now serve my head on a plate....people will hate that I said this."

I don't give out money to people on the street, for reasons. But if anyone ever asks for food, I buy them a meal. I don't care if they're an addict, and they spend all their money on booze or drugs or whatever. I don't care if the meal I'm buying them is somehow "enabling" their addiction (ignoring that the argument for this idea falls apart with like 5 seconds of reasoning). There's a human being in front of me, who's hungry, and it's important to me that I'm the kind of person who isn't okay with that. Let's call it the last shred of humanity I'm clinging onto, in the face of the overexposure of need that comes from living in a city.

So no, I ain't even mad bro.

I'm just not sure how examined the logic is that tells you that refusing to feed the hungry is somehow going to solve hunger. Sounds a lot like fighting for peace, fucking for virginity, etc.
posted by danny the boy at 3:18 PM on July 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


To be precise, it's not that I don't believe that homeless people could be giving me a line about not eating for 3 days. It's that I don't actually care. I'll feed you, or anyone, no strings. It's literally the least we* should do.

*We collectively: society, the government, whatever
posted by danny the boy at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Once again, for the second time this week, I am finding myself appalled that there are Americans who are okay with letting children starve.

Good on Tennessee for trying something new. I hope the photographer never reads the comments either.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Because, danny, if we just get those 12 year olds hungry enough they will set up functioning small businesses and infrastructure and support and medical services, but since they get an entire Lunchable--500 to 700 calories!--a day from Big Government, they have no inclination at all to help themselves.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:39 PM on July 7, 2013 [28 favorites]


Here's to Mr. Bible. Talk about living up to your name.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:52 PM on July 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


The vast majority of us have "government help" when feeding ourselves. Roads, trains, ag subsidies, trade protection, USDA inspections, FDA regulations, etc etc. Yes, I work and pay taxes, but I pay less than others and more than some. I'm 99% sure I'd die of starvation if I had to suddenly provide ALL my own food.
posted by desjardins at 4:03 PM on July 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


"Beer and cigarettes" - no, I don't blame them for spending money for that, rather than food for their kids; Orwell explains it well, and I don't have the strength to link to that essay for the umpteenth time on the blue, but people who have absolutely nothing, sometimes have to medicate themselves with whatever is at hand to maintain a shred of sanity. We shouldn't demand unusual virtue from the poor.

And feed the kids unconditionally - period.

Oh, and for that matter, feed the adults... though sometimes it gets real bitter:

"There are locals who drive around with slogans against DCF on their broken down SUVs and are being organized/exploited. You might feel sorry for the poor, but you'll find their political, social, and religious beliefs troubling if they ever grasped for power."

yeah, they don't make it easy to like helping them. But if we have any humanity at all, we'll still help them.

I said we shouldn't demand unusual virtue from the poor - though you'd hope for ordinary virtue of at least not voting against their own interests, and our common interests.

That's what sets my teeth on edge. The poorest states - why aren't they the most liberal? Why are the rural poor so often asshole voters who can't wait to deny others their human rights while voting for the very policies that keep them down in the muck, and have, since at least the Civil War and earlier?

Tempted as I am to say "fuck 'em, let them eat Republican talking points", I will keep doing what I can to help. But it burns me up:

"we give people just enough to keep going for a while, but not enough help to actually change their lives."

Yeah, well there's a reason. Because that would demand structural changes - far going structural changes from the economy to education to taxation and so forth. And to do that, we would need the political wherewithal to do so - this is not something that can be accomplished with charity and volunteering. And guess why we don't have the political means to do so - that's right, voters like these rural poor, who keep voting hate, against themselves and our common interests alike.

Feed them, yes, however hard they make it. But it leaves a bitter taste.

This is where I part with the left. I don't romanticize the poor. Yes, absolutely they are victims. Absolutely. They should be helped, unconditionally. But so often they are willing collaborators in their own oppression. Countries that have been at long term peace, for generations, look the way they do, because those societies have done it to themselves, for good or bad. If an external army invades and installs a dictator, you were dealt a bad hand. If you yourself allowed an internal dictator to emerge without outside interference, put the responsibility on that society which allowed such a dictator to seize and keep power - it is a sick society (watch Egypt - which way shall it go?). And if the society that fails is actually a democracy, then there is really no excuse. America is what it is because we have collectively decided that we're OK with that. Do what you can to help, because you are human. But to not analyze the problem beyond the victim status, is to close your eyes to the complexity of responsibility.
posted by VikingSword at 4:20 PM on July 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


emjaybee: "These kinds of articles make me nervous, because while I read them as heartbreaking indictments of society's failures, lots of people are going to focus on the dollar amounts quoted and start itching to cut them, to show these stupid overbreeding poors that the government isn't going to pick up their tab anymore. Let 'em starve! That'll teach them."

I know it comes form a good place, but this really is concern trolling. Why would you want to defer to the group with the most vile political views? It's self-defeating and pointless to suggest that journalism should be held back because these idiots won't react well to the story. In doing so the cruelest views those people hold become far more powerful, by shutting down a story about poverty because they can't stand hearing about it, and the potential that story might have to prompt action by people who could potentially do something about it.
posted by krinklyfig at 4:55 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


since they get an entire Lunchable--500 to 700 calories!--a day from Big Government, they have no inclination at all to help themselves.

Also, if you take 1% more in taxes from people making over half a million/year (to pay for SNAP and school lunches, let's say), they'll be so discouraged they'll stop trying to make money.
posted by fings at 5:03 PM on July 7, 2013 [16 favorites]


VikingSword: " yeah, they don't make it easy to like helping them. But if we have any humanity at all, we'll still help them."

I really think this kind of framing is why the debate runs into problems when advocating for social welfare. The best reason to feed and house the poor is because it benefits society as a whole when we address poverty. It sounds lofty compared to the constant fighting about whether the poor deserve to starve, but it's just rational self-interest compared to an emotional argument that can't ever end in a satisfying compromise.

You can't convince anyone who lacks the empathy to care about poverty on the individual level to change their position and start feeling compassion for others, because it's not going to happen, but you can potentially convince them to get on the side of making it better for themselves. And that's not always possible, but it's a better shot than trying to play into the manufactured dichotomy that blames the least powerful in our society due to a supposed lack of morals or ethics, the idea being if you aren't poor you are automatically morally right, and if you are poor you did something to deserve it.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:16 PM on July 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wish the article would have at least mentioned USDA's program to combat hunger when school is out. They said that the bus exists because children can't get to summer feeding sites and that is awesome, especially because a search seems to indicate that there ARE no summer programs in the area.

Hunger is a huge problem in the summer especially. Children (and parents) who count on breakfasts, lunches, and snacks during the school year go often without that much needed nutrition. The USDA's Summer Food Service Program provides free meals to kids in areas with high concentrations of low income families. And kids don't have to live in the area of the open feeding site to get food. It's a great program but it really suffers from a lack of awareness, and it sucks that more schools/camps/park departments don't participate.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:16 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sometimes I get why people bitch about social welfare and feeding and housing the poor. I don't like it, but I occasionally understand why people would be opposed to it.

Except when it comes to children. Even if someone wants to apply their skewed morals to poor people who "deserve" to be like that, I cannot fathom that thought process about kids. What the hell did kids do to "deserve" to be hungry?

Children cannot pull themselves up by their bootstraps to feed themselves so they can go to school and be ready to learn. And anyone who is stingy when it comes to nutrition programs for kids is a big fat jerk.
posted by elsietheeel at 5:21 PM on July 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


~Why are all newspaper comments turning into Free Republic?

~My theory: the Freepers are getting into retirement age and have endless free hours to post comments on various sites.


You wish. Wander into almost any mega-church or the umpteen evangelical churches dotting the countryside, and you'll see rows upon rows of young, freshly-scrubbed, god-fearing republican voters. FWIW, some of the most rabid freepers I ever met were the fresh-outta-school developers in the software firm I once worked for. Hardcore conservatism still has a bright future in America.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:23 PM on July 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hardcore conservatism still has a bright future in America.

Well, you gotta admit, it's easier than thinking.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:30 PM on July 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


This approach would include national healthcare, with access to contraception, abortion, and mental health care (including addiction treatment) for absolutely everyone who needs it. Combined with fairer taxation to fund such programs, along with better schools, and a higher minimum wage, allowing those in poverty a better chance of getting out of it. And continuation of food programs, because no one is going to climb out of poverty while they're too hungry to think straight.

That's what makes this story so sad; we give people just enough to keep going for a while, but not enough help to actually change their lives.


Repeated, because emjaybee said it better than I can--emphasis because these are the only things that will break the cycle of poverty.
posted by BlueHorse at 5:46 PM on July 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, what's up with that?? When I was that age all the kids were left-wingers. Now they're all screaming about killing A-rabs and taking health care away from my mother.
posted by nevercalm at 5:52 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, what's up with that?? When I was that age all the kids were left-wingers. Now they're all screaming about killing A-rabs and taking health care away from my mother.

The kids today know they will never get halfway decent jobs or be able to retire? (I mean neither will I, but when I was a youngun we still believed that there would be a middle class forever.)

Also teenagers have got to rebel against something. When the culture itself is largely liberalizing, the only way to be a rebel is to act like a conservative reactionary.
posted by like_a_friend at 5:55 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


This made me quite weepy, and what's sad is how common food insecurity is.

I've been seeing more poverty up close lately, so I've been thinking a lot about wealth, deprivation, inequality, generosity, waste, and people's attitudes towards giving away money. I've been checking myself a lot, particularly my prejudices about people who look/are poor.

I come from a culture where, you know, you carefully scrutinize whether the homeless person is deserving before giving them that one quarter of yours. There are many variants of that instinct to judge, some quite nasty (the newspaper comment section) and some more mild-mannered (those questions about wanting to give but worrying most charities are inefficient or corrupt). Some of that judgment is useful and much of the rest of it comes from well-meaning instincts like wanting to help as many people as possible and wanting to contribute to solutions (food, clothing), not problems (alcoholism, corrupt middlemen).

But lately, seeing how much need there is, how pronounced the difference is between the haves and have nots, and how hard so many people are trying, I increasingly find that kind of overthinking distasteful and arrogant. It's actually pretty simple. If someone needs help and you can help, do so. If you can't or won't, then move along in a way that doesn't disrespect them as people. At least don't cloak that decision in sanctimony, superiority, and judgment. I feel like everything I'm saying is so obvious that I find myself wondering "why am I even commenting?" but I wish that people understood poverty better, that fewer people assumed the poor were somehow fundamentally different (you see this on both ends of the political spectrum), and that more people understood how many families basically just like theirs are struggling at the poverty line.

And if someone has twenty dollars to give away each month, they could do a lot worse than to just slip it in the pocket of a family struggling to get by. Leave a really big tip for the waitress or the hotel cleaning staff. Go to a grocery in the nearest low income neighborhood and slip the cashier extra to help pay the bill of that family in line.
posted by salvia at 6:04 PM on July 7, 2013 [15 favorites]


the Ontario and Toronto governments used to put their money where their mouths were when it came to social services. They don't anymore - they've cut family benefits, haven't kept up the housing, and charge money for pools that used to be free, all in the name of "fiscal responsibility" and stopping "gravy trains". It's so bloody short sighted.

This is more Paul Martin's fault than it is Rob Ford's (and maybe even Mike Harris's).
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 6:57 PM on July 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if someone has twenty dollars to give away each month, they could do a lot worse than to just slip it in the pocket of a family struggling to get by. Leave a really big tip for the waitress or the hotel cleaning staff. Go to a grocery in the nearest low income neighborhood and slip the cashier extra to help pay the bill of that family in line.

Favoriting this x100
posted by whistle pig at 7:00 PM on July 7, 2013


I'm late to the thread, but I just came to say, having grown up in places like Midway, TN, the communities shown are not even the bottom of the barrel! Thos trailers have walls! I remember one kid growing up, nice boy, smart, funny, hard working that always had lice. The school would give him the shampoo, but still he'd have lice. He came to school with his head shaved (actually set off a minor head shaving fad for us third graders), as soon as it grew back at all, yep, lice. They shaved his sister's head, still lice everywhere. Turns out the problem was that they didn't have running water in his trailer and they couldn't really take a good bath or wash their clothes and sheets. One of our teachers started washing his family's sheets once a week and they worked out for him to take showers in the gym before school and no more lice!

A neighbor of ours taught in the next town over. When she grocery shopped, she bought lots of extras to take to school. There was no breakfast program and she figured out that she could get a lot more accomplished during the day, especially before the kids got their sometimes only meal at lunch, if she had something they could eat first thing. Every day every kid had a piece of fruit on their desk at the start of school and they could go get themselves a snack if they needed more. She tried to make everything equal for all the kids so there was never a pride issue. She'd take anything I outgrew to school for the kids who had no clothes. Towards the end of the school year one year she flunked the class bully who was just not performing at grade level. His parents, aunts and uncles came after school and beat the teacher with bats hospitalizing her. She never taught again.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:43 AM on July 8, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yeah, basically my first reaction was Cigaretts cost about $5.00 a pack in Rural wherever. For $5.00 one could buy a box of cereal and a gallon of milk.
posted by Gungho at 5:50 AM on July 8, 2013


Sometimes it is necessary to remind people who say that they love Jesus and that they are sick of government handouts to remind them of what he actually said:

Mark 10: 21-22:

Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

Luke 16: 19-25:

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Luke 14: 12-14:

Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

posted by double block and bleed at 6:20 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Likewise, when they bitch about flat taxation and their rich man's burden, remind them of Luke 21: 1-4.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:28 AM on July 8, 2013


I am always amazed at the depths humans can go without showing any care for their fellow humans. The US government pays farmers to not grow food to keep the price of food high enough to allow farmers to make a living. I don't know why they don't just pay them for growing food and then send that food to hungry people.

Also I think one of the best things that you could do to help these people would be to teach them gardening and chicken keeping. They are living on areas with a good climate and access to water. With an initial investment in a spade and some seed potatoes they could grow enough potatoes to feed their family for 6 months. Once they start to branch out into other vegetables and learn about canning they could easily be self sufficient by spending only $40 for seeds and some horse manure (or just use the free chicken manure if they started to keep chickens). Then some more education on how to cook and preserve and their all set for food. They live in TN, the growing season is longer than it is in VT (where I come from) and there are certainly poor people in VT who grow a non-trivial amount of their own food. It is hard work, but a different kind of hard work to your normal work. The kids can even help out t is actually kinda fun digging up potatoes and pulling up carrots because you don't exactly know what you'll find, but after you get it you can eat it. When my mother was a child she grew up on a farm where they grew their own food. It doesn't take that much land to grow enough food to feed a family, and as an added benefit you tend to spend time as a family sorting things out in the garden. I was faced with the possibility of some longer term unemployment when my last contract finished, and if I was going to be unemployed for a long time I was going to work my allotment very dedicatedly just to see how much I could grow on it and how small I could get the grocery bill down to when you only need to buy meat, milk, oils and spices, and bread (or even just flour since I'd have lots of free time). I'm not saying that they should have to grow their own food it is just that if I was lacking money to buy food I would just grow it. They've got some land to grow things, but they're not probably because they don't know how easy it is to grow stuff especially things that are easy to grow like radishes, green beans and beetroot.
posted by koolkat at 6:33 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, basically my first reaction was Cigaretts cost about $5.00 a pack in Rural wherever. For $5.00 one could buy a box of cereal and a gallon of milk

as a former smoker, I am evangelical when it comes to hating smoking, but all the same, I completely grok the relationship between smoking and stress. When something brain-exploding happens at work or in my personal life, I allow myself a cig (max three a month). It is like a beautiful brain wipe. And I hate smoking. Except for the brain wipe bit.

I was thinking yesterday, in a convo w/ a friend in NYC who doesn't have a working AC, that if I didn't have a working AC (here in Philly, where outside is like death right now) I'd be smoking again. Horrible, right? Yes, but it is also a twenty-year habit I cultivated to deal with stress. It kills you, but it also works.

I doubt that the people in this FPP have access to patches, which is how I got off the cigs.
posted by angrycat at 6:52 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meant to add: those folks in the FPP are probably dealing with levels of stress more long-lasting and persistent than the Heat Wave from Hell. So their smoking is really understandable to me.
posted by angrycat at 6:54 AM on July 8, 2013


elsietheeel: "Sometimes I get why people bitch about social welfare and feeding and housing the poor. I don't like it, but I occasionally understand why people would be opposed to it."

Sure, some people have daddy issues or were abused or neglected, or their parents or circumstances failed to impart the necessary emotional development where providing assistance to the least among us doesn't bring up feelings of resentment. Some people are just poorly informed and feel victimized by the system. I get why people bitch about the poor, and I understand why people feel resentment and contempt towards those who are not able to provide for themselves, but I don't think any of these reasons rise to the level where I'd take their arguments seriously. Because resentment of people living in poverty in the US is largely an extension of the platform of perpetual victimhood promoted by the right wing in the US ever since the Civil War. That is, if you want to trace that philosophy back to its modern political roots, it starts with people in privilege taking on the role of the victim, laying the blame for society's problems on a marginalized group: slaves, immigrants, poor people, LGBT people, women, children, orphans (seriously), etc., etc., etc. The most powerful people have the most interest in perpetuating feelings of resentment of a marginalized group, because it takes the focus off their efforts to tilt the political machine in their favor and lays the blame at the feet of people who are the actual victims, who can't fix the problem, while the most powerful are working directly against them.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


They are living on areas with a good climate and access to water. With an initial investment in a spade and some seed potatoes they could grow enough potatoes to feed their family for 6 months.

I don't think this is a bad idea and in fact in theory it seems great, but it's not like this knowledge has been hidden from these folks. You only need go back one generation or even just next door in rural areas in America to find susistance or supplemental farming. A short time ago, prior to social welfare programs this was how people survived at all. A lot of people, particularly in rural America, will blame those programs for causing the left behind to be in the state they're in, but most of those people also ignore the fact that it was those very programs that put them in their own loftier perch and were it not for them they too would be scrounging for food like their parents and grandparents did.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:15 AM on July 8, 2013


Cigaretts cost about $5.00 a pack

Incidentally, the tangible result of this is not so much that people aren't smoking, but that they are smoking shittier and shittier cigarretts.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:18 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


and if I was going to be unemployed for a long time I was going to work my allotment very dedicatedly . . . and bread (or even just flour since I'd have lots of free time)

Most of the people mentioned are working; much of America's poor are working. Often multiple jobs. Unemployment is only one part of the problem--the rest is underemployment, and demanding jobs that also don't pay an actual living wage.

The mom profiled in this story is not unemployed: she is working 12 hour shifts. And then she is supposed tend to an allotment big enough to feed SEVEN people, and raise chickens? Sure, the older kids can help...until the school year starts up again. Then the garden and the chickens fail and go neglected.

Admittedly it's just one family, and other families have different situations. But individual farming is not the solution to America's hunger epidemic that many people would like it to be.
posted by like_a_friend at 7:37 AM on July 8, 2013 [9 favorites]


Not to mention, a lot of impoverished people do not own homes, or lose the homes they do own. Who wants to put time and energy into a garden at a house you might not be living in in a year?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:03 AM on July 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I can imagine what would happen if they tried to raise chickens in a trailer park. The chickens would end up dead and the family thrown out. You need a decent fence and a friendly landlord to own chickens. Trailer parks are not likely to have either.
posted by domo at 9:09 AM on July 8, 2013 [3 favorites]


Outside of medical providers, is there any help to change lives that doesn't come attached to a little personal motivation to change?

My experience with change is that motivation has far less to do with change than hope. This is true of most any major change - for me it was losing a significant amount of weight. Not to equate the two, but both seem to come with deeply ingrained habits and serial discouragement along with all sorts of other social & mental crap. I knew that I wanted to be healthier. I knew that I wanted to lose the weight. I just did not believe that it was possible. Not truly. Not for me. So... why bother. It's not going to matter. Once I found the belief that I could lose the weight, I did. I lost 100 pounds in a year and it took shockingly little motivation. These last few pounds, though? Ugh. This is where the motivation is coming into play. But at this point, the change has already happened and it's a matter of seeing it through and making it stick.

I'm not saying that hope is some sort of magical cure for poverty. Or that it makes change easy. But without it, I'm not sure change is even possible. Giving a hungry kid a lunch, the occasional surprisingly large tip left on the table, the smile from a stranger... these things reduce stress and that helps keep that littlest ember of hope buried deep inside from going out. Get that ember burning bright enough and the motivation will come. At least for most people.
posted by imbri at 9:18 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I lived in a "nice" trailer park for awhile when I was growing up. Our lot wasn't very big, I don't know how much of a garden we could have put in. Maybe grow a few tomatoes and peppers or something, but hardly enough to put a dent in the food budget for a family. The slummiest trailer park I know of back home didn't have any kind of growing space at all. The trailers were basically just plopped down in a gravel lot.

I wonder too about the feasability of trying to have a garden while living in close proximity to hungry neighbors, especially unsupervised hungry children. I can imagine much of the crop mysteriously disappearing during the night.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:21 AM on July 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is heartbreaking, and powerful. Worth mentioning that the writer of the piece, Eli Saslow, has also written the best thing I've read so far this year and one of the best things I read all last year.
posted by AceRock at 9:35 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know that personal farming isn't going to be the panacea for hunger, but it could make a start. I listened to the TED talk by Ron Finley where he started out by growing food in the grass verge in south central LA. Looking at picture 17 it looks like there is more than enough space to grow some food. Especially if you get people together to help out more of a community garden. I know it wouldn't work because you would have people not working and just taking their share of the food grown, but it would be at least a start. If you look at it in a similar vein to saving energy to stop climate change then putting in CFL bulbs isn't really going to solve anything, but that one small change does actually reduce the rate of CO2 release and also reduces power consumption. Just because it doesn't completely solve the problem doesn't mean that you shouldn't bother.

I think that growing up in VT gives you a different view of poverty. Until I moved out on my own nearly all of the fish we ate we caught ourselves, sometimes we would get salmon as a treat and we would buy shrimps and cans of crab meat for cooking but the majority of the fish was line caught by hand. Mostly because it is fun to go fishing. I also didn't know that spaghetti sauce could come from a can until I was over at a friends house. We would grow enough tomatoes and turn it into spaghetti sauce and can it in mason jars that it would last us through until harvest time next year. Again we didn't do it because it was cheaper or to save money but more because it just tastes better. Nothing is better than sauce made with fresh vine ripened tomatoes and then immediately canned. We would also eat venison about once a month, but again it is because you just shoot it and not to save money but because it tastes good and the deer herd needs to be culled to have a healthier herd.

I know it takes a certain mindset to grow your own food and it isn't for everyone, but I bet with a little education in how easy certain things are to grow and some preservation advice for canning things could really help these people. They obviously need more help and it isn't for everyone, but I bet you could sell that kind of aid to a low tax low service government type fairly easily.
posted by koolkat at 9:53 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You need a decent fence and a friendly landlord to own chickens.

Huh? Only if you live in town or on a busy road. Mostly you just need a place to shoo the majority of them at night and that's just to keep them from getting eaten and so you can more easily find where they lay their eggs.

While we're on the topic of produce getting eaten, we put up with a lot more critters than ever before in America, so it takes a lot more fencing (thus cost and lobor) to keep them out of your garden than it did for our grandparents.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:01 AM on July 8, 2013


Also I think one of the best things that you could do to help these people would be to teach them gardening and chicken keeping.

I hate this argument so much. It seems to hinge on the idea that "the poors" have unlimited time and no physical restrictions, and that they all have decent soil and a friendly landlord and no local pests that will come and destroy their garden. Subsistence farming isn't a virtue, it's an unrelenting toil and just as much insecurity as it is anything else. Something goes wrong--a new driver can't park and drives over your garden (had that happen), some terrific storm kills 75% of what you're growing (check), a brutal heat wave cooks everything your yard (check, check,) deer or raccoons come and steal your produce just as it's ripening (check)... Then, tada, you have no food from the garden, plus you're out the time and energy and money that you spent on it in the first place. And a garden big enough to feed even two or three people a decent percentage of their daily calories is fairly sizable--big enough to feed a family of four, or seven, and you're talking about a lot more land than many people have access to.

Also, come on. If you have six kids and you're working twelve-hour shifts at your job, where the hell are you going to get the time and energy to work? On your feet for twelve hours, on your knees in the garden for another two? It's not realistic or fair to expect that of anyone.

Gardening for the middle class is a fun little hobby, but it's fun because there aren't any real stakes involved. If your flowers don't bloom, or if whatever thing mentioned above happens, eh, that sucks, and probably you're out some cash, but it doesn't mean that things you were counting on for survival are suddenly gone. Gardening for a substantial portion of your diet is a stressful, time-consuming, high-stakes chore.
posted by MeghanC at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2013 [25 favorites]


I'm getting real tired about hearing "small government this" and "small government that" these days.

Seems the government we have keeps getting smaller in all the ways that help us, and bigger in all the ways that harm.

I'm basically ready for big government right now. I mean, if we can't realistically do anything about the continuing erosion of our privacy and freedoms, can't we at least guarantee that we take care of our fellow people at the same time?
posted by Imperfect at 11:06 AM on July 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also I think one of the best things that you could do to help these people would be to teach them gardening and chicken keeping.

Another hazard is dangerous soil/water conditions, especially lead contamination. I grew up in an older urban house and our parents wouldn't allow anything edible to be grown because of the risk of lead contamination. While we could, theoretically, have raised some things in pots or put in a lot of raised beds with completely fresh soil, that can get to be really expensive (and you still run the risk of soil being blown into them or lead paint falling off our house or another nearby residence.) Some heavy metals from mining and other industrial activities also accumulate in the tissues of animals grazed in areas with contaminated soil.

I'm all in favor of growing your own food despite having a black thumb, but it's not that easy and there are a lot of costs upfront if you want enough to make a dent in your food budget.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:36 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, if we can't realistically do anything about the continuing erosion of our privacy and freedoms, can't we at least guarantee that we take care of our fellow people at the same time?

North Korea has a worse GDP per capita than Chad, Papua New Guinea, and the Gaza Strip, and a two decade long food crisis, but it has the life expectancy of Russia and Indonesia, why? Social services and public health infrastructure. They might not have electricity or medicine, but they've got one (free) doctor per 130 households and they make house calls!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:44 AM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another hazard is dangerous soil/water conditions, especially lead contamination.

This is really mostly a concern if you are eating the dirt or dirty crops. Lead is not taken up by plants very much and little is accumulated in the fruit of plants even in soil with very high concentrations. Washing and peeling produce, even root crops, drops the contamination levels to next to nothing. They advise families with kids in high lead soil areas not to garden because the kids will be exposed to loose soil, not because they will eat contaminated food.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:51 AM on July 8, 2013


I understand that the risks can be ameliorated, but this suggeted list of restrictions on types of plants, cleaning options, and laundry suggestions are somewhat daunting. (In some cases, like the neighborhood where I grew up, the tap water supply was also contaminated with lead-- it's been fixed, mostly, but it's another issue that parents tend to be wary of.) I'm not saying it's a factor in all areas, nor is America like the Wadi Faynan, but if I lived in an industrial/mining area or an older house and couldn't afford soil testing-- I'd probably skip edible gardening.
posted by jetlagaddict at 12:14 PM on July 8, 2013


I'm coming late too, but I have multiple thoughts on reading this. First, thanks for posting, and if we could find a way to beam this into people's heads, I'd be on board with that.

Second: I will by no means state that I can relate to the extreme poverty depicted here, but I do have some experience with the food versus cigarettes argument. My husband lost his job in the housing crash in 2008 and we were living on my salary; which is fine, but not for our mortgage and three kids, and we had no way short of walking away from the house and trashing our credit to unload it. (We're fine now, that's not the story.) My husband was a pack, pack and a half a day smoker, and when you're struggling to fight off the bank, pay utilities and feed a family of five on half what you'd been bringing home, plus gas to get to work and interviews, that $5/pack adds up. I was seething every time he lit up, but on the inside; because the addiction is such that if it came down to eating or buying a pack of smokes, that man would buy the cigarettes every time. I'm not saying it's right or wrong; it just IS, and you learn to deal with it, and you can't judge, especially as I have never smoked and so don't know. (He quit a year ago, thank dog.)

Third and last: I'm struggling personally with how to help. My family was one more bad thing away from catastrophe, and some days I'm surprised we did okay, but we did. Not everyone is so lucky, so I wanted to help. I volunteer every Sunday (memail me if you want to know the organization, I'm not here to shill). I'm called out if someone needs a place to stay or some food or water after a home fire, and some of these calls are heart-rending. People who already had nothing, and now what little they did have is a burned, soggy mess on the front lawn. People who have a good landlord or good insurance, but need a motel for the night because it's the weekend and they have no family in the area. These are the calls that make what I do worthwhile, because when I leave I know I've helped someone.

Then there are the scammers; and it's happened a few times. The last one was a woman who insisted that between 10-15 people lived in a tiny 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom modular home with a galley kitchen and a tiny living room (really a hallway). Who swore they all lost everything even though the fire was small and contained to one room. Who was telling us one thing and her landlord another. Who we KNEW was running a scam, but 9 of those people were children, and we are there to help. So we did. We found a hotel that would take them all, got them some money for food for everyone, explained the benefits and talked about calling the main office to get continuing assistance; and found out not an hour later that she had gone straight to an ATM and gotten all of the aid disbursed in cash, and never checked into the motel.

I was wretched, and angry; how could people be so awful? It took me two days to calm down, to remember that of all the people we help, the scammers are the 1%. That for this woman to do this meant she was living in a place I can't imagine and don't ever want to be. She did (and still does) need help. Are we providing it? I don't know. So I do the bit I can, and think about how I can do better. But man, it's a long slog. It shouldn't be just a few of us out here volunteering with non-profits; it should be all of us as a society. It's such a big job, as articles like this remind us.
posted by jennaratrix at 12:21 PM on July 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


Tuppence ha'penny looking down on tuppence.

I feel ignorant asking this, since it has 50+ favorites, but what the heck does that mean?
posted by averageamateur at 8:01 PM on July 8, 2013


two and a half cents looking down on two cents, in other words somebody just a half step higher out of the mire acting superior to those still in it.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:06 PM on July 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


You only need go back one generation or even just next door in rural areas in America to find susistance or supplemental farming.

I've studied poverty at different times between c1600 and c1950 -- and in most of the places/times I've studied the really poor could not support themselves through subsistence or supplemental farming. That was part of the reason that they were poor. They either didn't have access to land, or didn't have access to seed, labour, etc.

If you want to really see what rural poverty was like two generations ago, read Let Use Now Praise Famous Men - I'm not an Agee fan, but he shows how even a sharecropping family who had access to land was still going hungry. It's been a while, but I believe that they had to give over all of their land to cotton, and cotton strips soil very badly such that food crops suffer. Also see Cotton is the Mother of Poverty (great book with a truly memorable title).
posted by jb at 7:11 AM on July 9, 2013 [5 favorites]


Funny you should mention Agee, I went to the same boarding school in Tennessee as him and actually got to know Fr. Flye before he died! We had the manuscripts and drafts of Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and original prints of the Walker Evans photos that went along with it in our library collections!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:34 AM on July 9, 2013


"Launched last year with a $50,000 grant from the ConAgra Foods Foundation awarded through the national Feeding America food bank network, the program was reinforced this year with a second $20,000 grant from ConAgra."
posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on July 9, 2013


This approach would include national healthcare, with access to contraception, abortion, and mental health care (including addiction treatment) for absolutely everyone who needs it. Combined with fairer taxation to fund such programs, along with better schools, and a higher minimum wage

Billionaire Koch Brother Says Eliminating The Minimum Wage Will Help The Poor
posted by homunculus at 1:51 AM on July 11, 2013


Billionaire Koch Brother Says Eliminating The Minimum Wage Will Help The Poor

...to starve to death.

It's like how "Right to Work" means employers' right to work you to death, and how the Job in "Job Creators" is correctly pronounced biblically.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:44 AM on July 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


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