The New Face of Hunger
July 29, 2014 12:08 PM   Subscribe

“This is not your grandmother’s hunger,” says Janet Poppendieck, a sociologist at the City University of New York. “Today more working people and their families are hungry because wages have declined.”
posted by ellieBOA (96 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great feature, lots of data to mine here- wish you could drill down the SNAP participation by county map.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:14 PM on July 29, 2014


Avoid the comments, though--more "poor people could really live just fine if they didn't ever do anything I disapprove of" than you can imagine.
posted by HowardLuckGossage at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


It should be noted that the man in this article, Jim Dreier, makes $14/hour, a good $4 OVER the proposed new "livable" wage.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2014 [19 favorites]


This is a really thoughtful article and the beautiful, heartbreaking photographs bring it to life. thank you for sharing.
posted by chatongriffes at 12:24 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Seems to be a pattern in this country: people can no longer afford what they used to out of pocket (food, health care, college, housing). But nobody wants anarchy, and we need keep 300+ million people occupied somehow, so the government will subsidize those items. Seems like an awfully inefficient way of doing things.
posted by Melismata at 12:26 PM on July 29, 2014


so the government will subsidize those items....in a punitive, half-assed, still-insufficient way that allows their cronies to skim off the top and justifies endless invasive "nudging" of the lives of the poor.
posted by Frowner at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2014 [38 favorites]


The comments at the end of the article make me weep for the sense of compassion that we have apparently lost.
posted by bshort at 12:44 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I assure you from recent personal experience that $10/hr is not a livable wage. But holy crap, those comments. Who the hell is Tippy Tom, and why is he camping on those comments? He sounds like those assholes that used to harass us during the Occupy Wall Street movement, yelling at us to get a job, and that they never got any help, they pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:51 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Avoid the comments, though--more "poor people could really live just fine if they didn't ever do anything I disapprove of" than you can imagine.

I was going through the slideshow and thought "well, buying sushi isn't really a frugal way to have lunch if you--" and then I punched myself in the fucking face until I passed out. The asshole is strong in many of us; some of us just manage to tamp it down more.
posted by Shepherd at 12:53 PM on July 29, 2014 [30 favorites]


Seems to be a pattern in this country: people can no longer afford what they used to out of pocket (food, health care, college, housing)...

I will never understand how a so called Christian Nation has trouble finding money to feed and clothe it's own children, yet never fails to fiance Freedom Bombs and Guns For Muslims.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:01 PM on July 29, 2014 [16 favorites]


I'm glad the article touched on government crop subsidies and how that factors into grocery expenses (ie, corn is heavily subsidized so foods made with corn syrup, like soda, are cheap, whereas fruits/veg aren't heavily subsidized, so whole fruits/vegs are expensive) and how *that* plays into what the American diet looks like and the "obesity epidemic."
posted by rue72 at 1:16 PM on July 29, 2014 [27 favorites]


It's remarkable that some people can insist that all those poor and hungry people must be poor and hungry because of their own individual actions. Millions of people, but it can't possibly be systemic, nope.
posted by rtha at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2014 [29 favorites]


I will never understand how a so called Christian Nation has trouble finding money to feed and clothe it's own children, yet never fails to fiance Freedom Bombs and Guns For Muslims.

I thought we were no longer supposed to call America a Christian Nation.

Anyway, to your question - a large part of the answer is bureaucracy. It's not as if billions are not being pumped into the federal food budget (the cynic in me will point out that this is good for Monsanto, Archer Daniels Midland, and Kraft Food). Similarly, bureaucracy kept American soldiers deployed in combat zones from getting proper Kevlar body armor. Trying to manage any kind of program on this scale is bound to produce dismaying inefficiencies.

(By the way, plenty of American Christians, Left and Right, have been against the recent military adventures from the get-go. It gets complicated.)
posted by IndigoJones at 1:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


If my child wanted chicken nuggets and tater tots instead of school breakfast and lunch, or clamored for deep fried gizzards, I'd need nutrition education. The kids are being set up for lots of health problems. Yes, that's judgmental, but not being able to afford fried gizzards is a weird description of food insecurity. Raise the minimum wage, raise it again, so people can afford decent lives. But also incorporate nutrition education in schools, because the food that corporations advertize is incredibly bad for you, full of salt, fat, sugars, and weird additives, some of which are probably bad for you. Teevee is how an awful lot of Americans learn about everything and surprisingly few people are critical of ads.

The family of 6 getting 650/month? That's a reasonable amount to feed a family - 150 a week, esp. supplemented with food bank. It won't pay for lots of fast or convenient food. It's absurd that the government supplements wages in the form of rent subsidies and SNAP instead of requiring employers to pay people a fair wage with vacation, sick time, maternity leave and health care. School lunch is a help, and gives kids a chance at decent nutrition, but jobs with good wages are so much better.
posted by theora55 at 1:31 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I still like the idea of a national draft. It would be on the books and, should someone in DC decide we need a war, the draft would then kick in and the American public would sure as hell have something to say about a war their folks involved in.
posted by Postroad at 1:31 PM on July 29, 2014


The family of 6 getting 650/month? That's a reasonable amount to feed a family - 150 a week

$7.22/meal to feed 6 people is reasonable?
posted by jeather at 1:34 PM on July 29, 2014 [26 favorites]


If my child wanted chicken nuggets and tater tots instead of school breakfast and lunch, or clamored for deep fried gizzards, I'd need nutrition education.

I don't think that's necessarily fair. The boys' mom probably understands that deep fried anything isn't good. Millions of little kids eat nothing but nuggets and fries as long as they can get away with it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Oh lordy, the comments.

Food security is the path to better health, better education, and better employment. I don't know of a simpler way to say it.
posted by mochapickle at 1:36 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


But poor people especially shouldn't get to expect the same things as normal people or else what could possibly motivate them to make the kinds of better choices no one else is making either? /grar
posted by saulgoodman at 1:37 PM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Oh, absolutely! I mean, the hungry should only get cabbage.

And cell phones, really, are straight out of the question... even though studies show cell phone access improves compliance with medical treatment and encourages people to be involved in their communities -- many state Medicaid programs, in fact, offer free cell phone service for this very purpose.
posted by mochapickle at 1:43 PM on July 29, 2014


The family of 6 getting 650/month? That's a reasonable amount to feed a family - 150 a week

$7.22/meal to feed 6 people is reasonable?

Not to mention that to feed people cheaply, you need to spend a great deal of time cooking. Ingredients are much cheaper than prepared food, but they take a lot of effort and time and sometimes knowledge to make into meals. If you work odd shifts, or long shifts, or have to travel the usually long distance from a job in the economically vibrant parts of town to the places where it's cheap enough for you to live, you do not have enough time to cook. Or if you don't know how to cook, you're expected to know how to combine cheap supplies into appealing, nutritious meals?

I've got it easy (in terms of income, commute, family responsibilities, farmers markets, choice of grocery) and most days it's all I can do to sweat some garlic and a can of tomatoes for a quick pasta sauce after a day at my cushy office job. On those days, I get to order take-out and no-one tells me my lack of frugality is a moral failing.

Also, regarding the woman who on one occasion gave her kids a friend drive-through snack: "Christian says she knows she can’t afford to eat out and that fast food isn’t a healthy meal. But she’d felt too stressed—by time, by Jerimiah’s insistence, by how little money she has—not to give in. 'Maybe I can’t justify that to someone who wasn’t here to see, you know?' she says. 'But I couldn’t let them down and not get the food.' " Remarking loudly on the internet how she is Doing it Wrong is a big part of where that pressure and stress come from. Seriously, how much would you condemn a middle class parent having a bad week for giving and buying the fast food lunch? You probably would not think twice, unless the kids were being whiny and demanding in front of you in line, then you'd probably say she was just a bad mom with bratty kids.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:56 PM on July 29, 2014 [48 favorites]


I bought that issue of nat geo just for that article. Not that the skara brae stuff isn't way cool, of course.

But yeah, that woman just wanted her kids to eat and she's probably hungry herself, and tired, and no one makes good decisions when hungry tired and listening to young kids be young kids. (I babysit a 5 and 3 yo occasionally. Good lord how do you parents do it?!?!?!?!)

I remember being "food insecure" and sometimes getting some sushi in the food court near my job because I just wanted something that seemed healthy and fresh.

It made me feel good to eat it and not in the way that cream puffs do. It was a satiety thing.

I wish the article could have explored more the obesity problem with more Science! stuff. I think it was a good start to even bring it up.

Altho, I found the graphic about what your $10 gets you a bit disingenuous. You need a kitchen to cook that shit. Like a knife, pots, pans, a working stove and or microwave, maybe aluminium foil or saran wrap, and the know how. You need to pay for those things.

It assumes you have the means to prepare the food. Not saying everyone doesn't have a working stove, but a lot of people might not have access to these things. Handling chicken safely is a big deal.

I remember eating a lot of boring crap when I was much less well off than I am now. Because I couldn't afford to buy something I wasn't absolutely sure I knew how to make.

Now? When I burned my bacon a few weeks ago, I didn't cry. I can get more. There was definitely a time in my life when that was not true.

I can see the logic in getting reliable take out or prepared food you know how to cook your kids will eat, rather than risking wasted food and them being hungry.

No one wants to hear their kids say they're hungry.
posted by sio42 at 1:57 PM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


$7.22/meal to feed 6 people is reasonable?

I'm not feeding a family, but that sounds really tight to me. I mean, you could do it, but it wouldn't be easy and you'd be making trade offs between cost and variety.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:58 PM on July 29, 2014


Some years ago I volunteered for a soup kitchen for the homeless (in Seattle); 40% of the recipients of that charity were working adults with kids. Heartbreaking.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:00 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


HowardLuckGossage:
"Avoid the comments, though"
I should have listened to you...
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:03 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Altho, I found the graphic about what your $10 gets you a bit disingenuous. You need a kitchen to cook that shit. Like a knife, pots, pans, a working stove and or microwave, maybe aluminium foil or saran wrap, and the know how. You need to pay for those things.

What struck me about the "what $10 gets you" is...well, first off, that's not what $10 gets you around here, for sure. You'd need more like $12 or $13, and the bread you'd get would be absolute shit - loaded with sugars and very little fiber. The only good mainstream supermarket loaf around here is ~$3.50 and it's a small loaf. Eighty cents doesn't get you any broccoli to speak of, and I know for I purchased broccoli only last Friday.

And second, your $10 gets you hardly any protein, and not that many servings of vegetables.

The USDA recommends nine to fifteen servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Your $10 may not even get you to nine (one serving of green beans, maybe two; two servings of broccoli, maybe three; two servings of bell pepper; two servings of fruit). Let's just say that you're spending $10/day to feed two (which you're not; unless you get a big fat sugary loaf of bread, you just aren't getting the caloric density you need to keep two adults on their feet). That gets you to $300/month for groceries, which is more than I have available to spend for two.

Seriously, I eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, and I just cannot afford what they are telling us to eat now. If my partner didn't loathe most fruits and vegetables and I were actually trying to buy for two instead of 1.3, I wouldn't even be able to get what I have now.
posted by Frowner at 2:05 PM on July 29, 2014 [14 favorites]


$7.22/meal to feed 6 people is reasonable?

It can absolutely, one hundred percent, be done. But the problem is, it relies a lot on knowing how to cook for a large family with very little money. This is a skill that is often passed down generationally - except when you have interrupted generations, or other circumstances that mean that wisdom was never acquired.

I know how to feed a large family shockingly cheaply, when it comes to it, because my family taught me how. Because I came from a family where women stayed home and had plenty of time to cook homemade meals. Flour is relatively cheap. Rice is relatively cheap. Beans and cabbage and a hundred other not-often-thought-of-vegetables are astoundingly cheap and filling.

But again, you need to know how to do it. When I went to my incredibly traditional middle school, Home Ec was mandatory (I can't remember for the boys or not, but definitely for me), and a large part of it involved planning and budgeting around food and learning to cook cheap meals.

So I have these incredibly conflicted feelings on all of this. One the one hand, I was taught, quite methodically, to be a Wife. I was taught, quite methodically, these skills about household management and how to be tightfisted about food money. So I get indignant when people say it can't be done, because I both know it can, and also spent a lot of time and effort learning how to do it.

On the other hand, I still know that not everyone learned this, and I'm not even sure everyone should learn this when they could be learning other skills - and know that some people have working parents rather than someone able to spend long hours cooking.
posted by corb at 2:07 PM on July 29, 2014 [31 favorites]


Also, sometimes you just get sick of what you can afford. Things are (hopefully temporarily) quite tight at home, and every once in a while I just snap and get something that's off-budget because I'm really tired of the stuff I eat day in and day out. In general, I feel that my meals are tasty (lots of sweet potatoes, lots of sauteed vegetables, home made whole wheat bread, various tofu dishes) but you just get tired of them sometimes.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


It can absolutely, one hundred percent, be done.

Definitely not 100%. It depends where you live. There is nowhere within walking distance of my apartment (I don't drive) that I could get a half gallon of milk for $1.99, as is claimed in this article. So it would cost me subway fare to buy that milk.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:12 PM on July 29, 2014 [8 favorites]


women stayed home and had plenty of time to cook homemade meals
That is not really an option for most of the families profiled here.
posted by soelo at 2:18 PM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Also, why should anyone have to stay home and be the Wife? Haven't we moved on?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:20 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's like we think the poor represent an opportunity for us to remake ourselves with all the good habits we wish we had. But if you think about it, the justification for doing it doesn't make sense. If these onerous rules were supposed to help give poor people the habits they need to be successful, why don't most non-poor people have these habits of thrift, etc., already? Shouldn't they have to have them since they're supposedly the explanation for why the other (poor) people aren't succeeding?
posted by saulgoodman at 2:23 PM on July 29, 2014 [15 favorites]


Let's not do that thing where we insist that SAHP, specifically motherhood, is something we need as a society to move on from because of reasons. It's a valid choice for human parents of human children and is not the thing causing hunger as this article describes.
posted by elizardbits at 2:26 PM on July 29, 2014 [23 favorites]


corb:
"So I get indignant when people say it can't be done, because I both know it can, and also spent a lot of time and effort learning how to do it."
I can be done if you can afford to do it. If the ability to lower your food budget comes at the price of losing your income then you're not really gaining anything.

My mom was like what you described. Old school, didn't work, cooked and preserved food at home, driven to be extremely frugal by childhood experiences of hunger during WWII and in post-war-Germany.

However, she was only able to do so because my dad's not-so-great income actually sufficed to provide for all of us to the point of eventually acquiring a small house with enough of a garden to grow food in and a basement to store food in including a freezer chest. An equivalent income today would not be sufficient to establish the infrastructure that enable my mom to be frugal about food. Back then that income afforded us a lower middle-class existence. Today we'd be the working poor under equivalent circumstances.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2014 [20 favorites]


Let's not do that thing where we insist that SAHP, specifically motherhood, is something we need as a society to move on from because of reasons.

That's not what I was saying. corb was saying how lucky she felt that she was taught to be the Wife, and that she realizes not everyone is that fortunate. I was pointing out that we live, I hope, in a society enough that we shouldn't put a value judgment on SAHM, good or bad.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:27 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


Also, government cheese and flour were a big help for people living thrifty in our parents/grandparents generation. They depended on handouts.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:30 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I mean, if what you want to say is that corb's experience is really ironically invaluable in 2014 but it would be better to call it "training for adulthood" and have it available for all humans who will one day be adults instead of gendering it, then yes, I agree. Otherwise it's sort of unhelpful to be like "we need to move on from people staying at home to take care of their kids" because it devalues the legitimately hard labor being done by parents of any gender who choose to take on this role.
posted by elizardbits at 2:32 PM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


If you want to irritate someone who's advocating that poor people eat nothing but rice and beans for years and be happy about it, ask them if they think you can raise a child vegan. Clash of the identity politics.
posted by stavrogin at 2:39 PM on July 29, 2014 [30 favorites]


I was going through the slideshow and thought "well, buying sushi isn't really a frugal way to have lunch if you--" and then I punched myself in the fucking face until I passed out. The asshole is strong in many of us; some of us just manage to tamp it down more.

Man, i used to get comments like this on facebook constantly when i was unemployed and on foodstamps.

And yea, when i had no money i occasionally managed to "treat myself" like this. There's $1-2 a plate conveyor belt sushi places near my work, for example. The sushi thing really reminded me of that.

Everyone fucking judges though. It's hilarious. I actually got some of the most bald faced, out in the open judging on social media... from supposedly progressive SJW types who were friends of friends. It was like, goddamn, examine your beliefs if you're gonna sling that poop.
posted by emptythought at 2:40 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


That sushi is actually a good choice. It's cheap, healthy, and really filling.
posted by bleep at 2:42 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Being able to have one adult in a family stay home full-time to take care of the kids, grow vegetables and can/preserve things is great and all -- if you can afford a house with a garden and enough storage space to store said canned things away. I make good money and don't even have kids, yet a garden and storage space are way out of my reach.

I can't even imagine how a family with kids can manage that much space in some parts of the US where the only "affordable" housing comes in the way of studio apartments in highrise buildings. Some of these apartments contain kitchens that barely have room for a single-burner stove and minifridge, if you're lucky. Where am I supposed to store all of my home-grown canned vegetables and cook my huge pots full of rice and beans and vegetables for a family of 6 each night?
posted by joan_holloway at 2:43 PM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


Otherwise it's sort of unhelpful to be like "we need to move on from people staying at home to take care of their kids" because it devalues the legitimately hard labor being done by parents of any gender who choose to take on this role.

To R317's defense, I read her comment to mean: Haven't we moved on from a place where we're demanding that one parent stays home in order to make meager ends meet, instead of supporting/respecting both choices?
posted by mochapickle at 2:45 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Being a "stay-at-home" parent when you're on an acre with a garden and a relatively roomy house is a lot different than being a stay-at-home parent in a tiny apartment in the middle of an urban food ghetto.
posted by maxwelton at 2:47 PM on July 29, 2014 [12 favorites]


As in so many areas of life, it's easy to eat cheap if you're rich; it's extremely expensive to eat when you're poor.

It can require a significant investment of capital to get food at a decent price. "Oh, just buy cheap cuts of meat and cook them in a crockpot, you'll eat for a week!" Yes, you can buy chicken at $1.99/lb--but that's the Value Pack price, bone-in. Yes, the six-pound chuck is a wonderful deal and with some carrots, onions, and potatoes, makes enough food to feed an army. But if you don't have $25 all in one go to make that meal (not to mention the slow cooker, the reliable electricity, the safe space to cook it) how is the advice to buy bulk and save supposed to help you?

$8.11 - the price of the fried gizzards and okra - buys almost nothing at the grocery store in the way of whole ingredients. You can't buy the half an onion and two tablespoons of tomato paste and shake of salt people cite and calculate when they say a recipe cost $2.86 per serving, totaling up four cents worth of pepper and eighty-nine of ground beef per.

What if you don't have space in your freezer, or if your freezer is unreliable, or you don't have a freezer? What if you share space and can't cook or leave food in the kitchen because someone else will eat it or waste it? What bugs get into the sack of rice that was supposed to feed you for the next month? Not to mention the time investment, the learned skills, etc. etc.

It is endlessly frustrating to me, the but-but-you-can-cook-cheap-and-good-food meme so strong in the comments on the NatGeo site. I know it can be done; I do it myself out of habit and because I like it. But it's only easy to apply if you have skills, tools, resources, and--most critically--some money to spend to begin with. Education is important, but food access and justice isn't just about a knowledge deficit.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2014 [46 favorites]


It can absolutely, one hundred percent, be done. But the problem is, it relies a lot on knowing how to cook for a large family with very little money. This is a skill that is often passed down generationally - except when you have interrupted generations, or other circumstances that mean that wisdom was never acquired.

So is time not a factor here? Always, when i hear someone say this, i find myself thinking "wow, you really don't understand how much time and energy it takes to be poor"

So lets say you're working two jobs. Or you're working one job, but have a ton of lost time from the shitty public transit/long drive/drive through awful traffic commute to it. Now you have to carefully plan all these purchases AND have the time and energy to prepare all of them and rigorously keep to your system so you don't run out of ingredients?

It's just not that realistic, no.

This isn't just about knowing how to do it, it's about even having the time available to. That's a huge element of why people eat unhealthy things, that they just don't have the time or energy to prepare the more healthy things. Many people know what they're eating is unhealthy, and know how to do better... they just can't.
posted by emptythought at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


And yea, peachfuzz gets at the other angle of what i'm getting at. It's time PLUS that. But time is a huge factor.
posted by emptythought at 2:50 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


So lets say you're working two jobs. Or you're working one job, but have a ton of lost time from the shitty public transit/long drive/drive through awful traffic commute to it. Now you have to carefully plan all these purchases AND have the time and energy to prepare all of them and rigorously keep to your system so you don't run out of ingredients?

And double that effort that if you're sick or caring for an ill or aging family member.
posted by mochapickle at 2:52 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I thought the article did a really good job of illustrating the bind these families are in. Even the one family where the mom had time to forage in the woods was still having trouble making ends meet. It's not that feeding a family with cheap, healthy and delicious meals is impossible in theory, it's that prevailing conditions make it way more difficult than it should be. And our shitty tendency to blame individuals for systemic problems.
posted by bleep at 3:04 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I feel corb's point was that she realizes people often don't have the skills needed to be able to make it work, and that her indignation goes away because she sees she was lucky and realizes not everyone had the same advantages she did. She wasn't advocating anyone stay home, she's realized it was a circumstance that enabled her to develop these skills.

I don't often agree with her but I think her comment above was very good. Way too many stop at the indignation without taking the further step of seeing how it came to be easy for them. She took that step here and I appreciate that.
posted by sio42 at 3:11 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


And double that effort that if you're sick or caring for an ill or aging family member.

Or, in this day and age, a special needs child.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:17 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Or, in this day and age, a special needs child.

Which, similarly to being poor itself, is seen as some kind of "well you did it to yourself and this is the punishment you get" thing even by people who are staunchly anti abortion.

It's just like, nebulously your fault somehow. Because reasons.
posted by emptythought at 3:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


She wasn't advocating anyone stay home, she's realized it was a circumstance that enabled her to develop these skills.

I agree. I was taught those same skills (or at least the version taught to boys, which was more about self-sufficiency than running a family) and the reality is that not everyone gets taught all that stuff and it takes real resources to maintain it. And as noted, adding in time constraints changes everything. That kind of traditional cooking and household management just aren't relevant in a lot of situations.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:41 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Altho, I found the graphic about what your $10 gets you a bit disingenuous. You need a kitchen to cook that shit. Like a knife, pots, pans, a working stove and or microwave, maybe aluminium foil or saran wrap, and the know how. You need to pay for those things.


Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about this in Nickel and Dimed. One quote: "If you can't put up the two months' rent you need to secure an apartment, you end up paying through the nose for a room by the week. If you have only a room, with a hot plate at best, you can't save by cooking up huge lentil stews that can be frozen for the week ahead. You eat fast food or the hot dogs and Styrofoam cups of soup that can be microwaved at a convenience store.''

Things haven't gotten any better in the 13 years since this was written, and that's really sad.
posted by SisterHavana at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2014 [22 favorites]


One oddly good (to me anyways, though I can imagine people gnashing their teeth at the idea) thing these threads give to me is less guilt.

I live on $781.42 a month (that 42¢ get used BTW) with the odd help from family. It is a lot of pressure constantly. I loathe the day I get my cheque. It is almost more stressful than the week beforehand (usually weeks... It is a good month if it is just a week). Constantly churning in my head to how am I going to pay rent, phone, gas, insurance and take care of my dog. I hate it.

I used to beat myself up for every purchase. For every luxury. How spoiled I am to not being able to work and have a phone and a computer and internet. To have a car. How dare I?! How useless I am as a human for being so poor and I certainly shouldn't have a dog.

Even now, here, I want to go into long explanations of why I have those things to justify it.

Food is way down the list of necessities for me and a large part of that is what was mentioned up thread of not knowing how and not having the energy and the sheer panic that comes from ingredients. Knowing that if I burn this piece of meat I just wasted five dollars makes me want to throw up. So I live on a lot of processed garbage and feel like crap for it because I fully am aware that it isn't healthy and I have enough health problems and yeah, it plays into my blatant fatness too.

These threads on Metafilter where I do want to read the comments make me feel less guilty because there are people out there who get that it is stressful as hell to keep this up and don't rush to judge cause the woman fed her kids fast food.

They make me feel less ashamed by helping me to understand why people in my situation act the way we do sometimes. That me buying myself a hamburger on cheque day isn't the end of the world and if it is a common thing then maybe I don't have to beat myself up about it. Cause frankly, that's the last thing I need but flip into automatically for some strange reason.

They educate me into thinking about how poverty stricken people like me (hell, the line marking official poverty seems luxurious to me) are conditioned to have the attitudes we do about ourselves and I tell my friends it.

I let them know they don't have to call themselves stupid and useless cause we want a damn hamburger once a month. That we do it to justify it to outer society. That there are reasons why we are all "bad" with our money and that it doesn't make us have a moral failing. Most people living on this amount and paid once a month would struggle too.

I don't know. Scattered and not explained well. It isn't the end of the month and I still have 112$ left to last me four weeks and have to head out and try to buy groceries with it to last that long too... However, at least if I buy some McDonald's with four dollars of it I won't be saying how I don't deserve it in my head cause you people get it.
posted by kanata at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2014 [40 favorites]


I think another thing that I was musing about, but maybe didn't express, is that I think it's an unproductive tactic to say that something can't be done, when what you mean is that it shouldn't be done, or shouldn't have to be done. Because the first way, you get into arguments about possibilities, and sometimes find yourself arguing that things are impossible when they're just really, really hard. It's okay to not like people doing things that are really, really, exhaustingly hard! You can just say that. People doing things that are exhaustingly hard sucks!

But at the same time, I think that there really is some hard and terrible stuff going on with the way that we are splitting apart from families. It may be because job opportunities are so scattered, or maybe just cultural, or an emphasis on consumerism, or maybe even, perversely, longevity, but I feel like you used to not have to worry about acquiring the knives and pots and pans. You would just get your mother's, or your grandmother's. Or be building a hope chest. Get tips and tricks about how to survive in poverty. I just wonder - it feels like steps of a ladder got knocked out somewhere. And I wonder a lot about urban living. There's this push right now, that home ownership is for suckers, that everyone should rent everything forever. But it means you have nothing to pass down, that you're always effectively transient, where one hard wind can knock you out. And I'm just really conflicted about that. I'm not saying anyone should have to live the traditional way - and god knows parts of it really sucked! - but there's some things we've lost and I'm not sure it's a good thing.
posted by corb at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [9 favorites]


Given that preparing food for a family is indeed a learned skill that requires quite a bit of work to attain, I wonder if there are any charitable initiatives in any of these areas along the lines of free "frugal", bulk-cooking classes for the poor? Perhaps that is something the food pantry places could try, if they haven't already? "Here's a bunch of cans of shit, and here's how to use it to cook a meal for your family by buying X ingredients for Y dollars/food stamps."
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:19 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


Also, I am a stay at home parent who knows how to cook, and cook well, and I am feeding 4 people, and I spend . . . more than $650 a month on groceries, that is for damn sure. Maybe more than twice that. I'm teetering on the edge of a prediabetes diagnosis, which makes cheap carb-heavy meals a false economy for me, and my daughter has a dietary intolerance that makes beans and cabbage (and every other cheap vegetable, and also HFCS and lots of sugar) impossible. Before my daughter was diagnosed and when we were broke as snot, I fed us for 3 months on ~$700 a month -- again, for FOUR people, not six -- and I gained 20 pounds in those three months and my daughter was so sick she was below the first percentile for BMI and her hair was falling out.

My kid's dietary restrictions are rare, but they didn't go away just because we were broke. Neither does lactose intolerance, or celiac disease, or diabetes.
posted by KathrynT at 4:30 PM on July 29, 2014 [13 favorites]


It may be because job opportunities are so scattered, or maybe just cultural, or an emphasis on consumerism, or maybe even, perversely, longevity, but I feel like you used to not have to worry about acquiring the knives and pots and pans. You would just get your mother's, or your grandmother's.

So we just moved, from an apartment to another apartment across the country, and I've been thinking about the economics around the kitchen a lot: when we moved, most of the important stuff had to go in the moving van, so we had to buy cheap replacements. And then our stuff was delayed by three weeks, so...more replacements. New pest-proof containers: another $125 dollars. New microwavable dishes from Target: $5. New tupperware to actually store leftovers: $30. New non stick pan because three weeks of scrubbing eggs out of a stainless steel pot was making me crazy: $25 set from Costco. So much replacement food: oil, flour, sugar, mustard, pasta, beans...All the kitchen cleaning gear we couldn't bring with us: $20?? (Sure, we could maybe have gotten cheaper replacements from Goodwill, but hunting and pecking for decent alternatives after a cross country trip was not happening.) In some ways, I wish I hadn't spent so much money on decent kitchenware before, because it would have been easier to rationalize selling it and leaving it all behind, but I couldn't afford the replacement costs once here. The opportunity of moving made it worthwhile, but that is a privilege.

So yeah, every time I read an article about how you can totally get by with by cooking on X tiny amount of money or in Y situation (have to move because of changing jobs, high rent) I'm always appalled at the assumptions. I was shocked to find out that apartments in California don't always come with fridges. Yes, that's right, you have to buy the fridge and move it around with you. Sometimes your other appliances too! We could not afford to do that. That is crazy. But if you can't afford a big fridge or an apartment with a fridge, it limits your food options substantially. (Owning a house would have left us in a much worse economic position, because we couldn't have taken opportunities elsewhere-- I think there are a lot of tradeoffs.)
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:57 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just bought 1/3 of a pound of cheese and it came to like $11.50. And while I don't buy this cheese all the time, I enjoy it, a lot. There's something to be said for the amount of happiness that food can bring you, and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy that once in a while.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:05 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


And second, your $10 gets you hardly any protein, and not that many servings of vegetables.

I live in nearly the most expensive city in the world (where a single parking lot usually costs $60,000, separate to the apartment you purchase) and I buy raw chicken drumsticks for $3.00-$4.00 a kilo at the local deli.

I'm making this comment because this fills me with a sense of wonderment every time at how brutally efficient we humans have made the entire process of growing and slaughtering a chicken on its journey to the glass box in the deli. That's a lot of protein for the price.

(Culturally, I've made the private observation that Western diets generally look for 250g of meat per meal while Eastern diets look for half that, about 125g of meat per meal. My own musings on historical physiological adaption... for a more carb heavy diet when meat was scarce...)
posted by xdvesper at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2014


turbid dahlia: “Given that preparing food for a family is indeed a learned skill that requires quite a bit of work to attain, I wonder if there are any charitable initiatives in any of these areas along the lines of free "frugal", bulk-cooking classes for the poor? Perhaps that is something the food pantry places could try, if they haven't already? "Here's a bunch of cans of shit, and here's how to use it to cook a meal for your family by buying X ingredients for Y dollars/food stamps."”
That's a great idea. I knew someone who received SNAP who couldn't cook frozen, breaded chicken patties. Even just having step-by-step instruction sheets available would be a start.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:06 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


I feel like you used to not have to worry about acquiring the knives and pots and pans. You would just get your mother's, or your grandmother's.

Yeah. Longevity. I was living on my own having to cook for myself well, well before my grandparents passed away. I just turned 30 and my parents have just happily retired and expect another couple of decades of happy life with their pots and pans (which are very nice, nicer than mine, and sure I would like them, but they're still using them). It's not just geographical proximity - it's life expectancy. Same thing with houses as assets; if I'm waiting on my parents to die to have a place to raise my family, my kids will probably be in late high school en route to college by the time that happens.

And on preview, I agree with jetlagaddict. We are fortunately in a position where cooking in bulk and freezing is just something I like to do, rather than a strict economic necessity, but it still hurt when we had to move countries (due to my husband's military job) so I had to re-stock kitchen basics from scratch. Several hundred dollars within the first two weeks (we spaced it out) just to have the pantry stocked with spices, flour, sugar, salt, butter, milk, oatmeal, rice, pasta, vinegar, a couple of oils, and basic condiments. That's not counting any meat (YMMV), fresh vegetables, or fresh fruit you need on a weekly basis to feed people healthily. And yeah, our Tupperware was slow to arrive, so we had to drop $50 on that too. It's not a huge hit to us fortunately, and the tupperware more than pays for itself when we can take our lunches to work rather than buy lunch every day, but it's a lot of money to drop all at once when that may exceed what you have available in an entire month.

Someone mentioned programs to stock up from food pantries and have classes on cooking healthy food cheaply... first I think you need to educate donors that food pantry donations can be more about basic staples (like spices, oils, and condiments) than canned artichokes and mandarin oranges. It never would have occurred to me in high school, when we did massive food pantry donation drives, to donate those sorts of things. As an adult, I see the genius in it. But I don't think a lot of donors would even have that cross their minds.
posted by olinerd at 5:08 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


buy raw chicken drumsticks for $3.00-$4.00 a kilo at the local deli.

I don't think I could get anywhere near that price in a good grocery in New York (Fairway, Whole Foods, etc.). Maybe an Associated Market, but probably not a Trader Joe's even. And how many drumsticks would it take to fill you up? Several, I bet. A lot.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:15 PM on July 29, 2014


I wonder if there are any charitable initiatives in any of these areas along the lines of free "frugal", bulk-cooking classes for the poor?

These do exist, for teens as well as adults -- a friend of mine used to volunteer as a teacher for one organization. The classes were more about nutritious cooking on a budget rather than bulk cooking specifically, though.

For the kids' classes, an issue was that the kids don't do the family grocery shopping, so it's not like they were necessarily able to use the skills they learned in class. For the adults (almost all or all women in every session my friend taught), the issue wasn't that they didn't know how to cook cheaply or at all, it was that the cuisine most of them liked to cook was unhealthy. This was in Anacostia, in DC, so a lot of women cooked Southern style, with grease, dark meat, etc. And the cheapest cuts of meat are usually the fattiest, too. And of course time is also a huge issue when you're talking about cooking many kinds of cheaper whole foods, because you're probably talking about things that are going to need extra time to tenderize (like stew meat or cheap leafy greens like collards) or that will need extra processing (like organ meat).

I mean, a staple dinner in my family growing up was chicken liver with rice and salad, and that's a fairly cheap meal that doesn't require a whole lot of utensils to prepare. It's also fatty, not very nutritious, and requires about an hour's worth of prep time to clean each individual liver, wash the salad, make the vinaigrette, etc -- and that was possible in my family because of un- and under-employment, but that's a financial trade off, too. Is it better to be able to save money cooking from scratch if it means you're not working a paying job? And is cooking from scratch really all that great health-wise when you don't have all that much food to prepare and the ingredients you have are relatively poor quality or unhealthy anyway?

Anyway, one important thing that this article brought up and I wish had been able to go deeper on was the connection between the foods the families ate and farming. It's appalling that the person who was best able to get cheap, fresh food (through foraging) was the person living in a relative wasteland -- not the person living on "black gold" soil among cash crops, not the person living in a huge shipping mecca/urban center. It's also kind of fascinating to think of the tiny amount of SNAP/government money that went to the one family getting and growing a small and labor-intensive "victory garden" relative to the amount of government money going to farming subsidies for cash crops like corn (as the one family basically starved in the middle of those lush corn fields). I have my issues with Big Ag and all, but that is straight up government corruption, as far as I'm concerned.

Also, I don't know how common this knowledge is, but as an FYI for people who don't know, since it seems relevant: the reason that "government cheese" etc exists, is because, as part of the farming subsidization programs, the government will buy the excess of certain crops in order to keep those crops' prices relatively high. That's meant to keep farmers from going bankrupt or having incentives to hoard bumper crops, etc, and is economically sound. But what happens is that then the government has all this random extra cheese/milk/whatever, and it gives it away to poor people. It's not a nutrition program. So the reason why WIC, for example, is constantly pushing tons of milk on people is because of dairy subsidies, and not because milk is so nutritious or something (not that milk *isn't* nutritious, but that's not why poor people are constantly getting milk pushed on them relative to things like...Idk, Romaine lettuce, which isn't heavily subsidized). If this is getting anyone het up about how this is LIES ALL LIES, this is actually what I was taught by my econ professor/ODB economist in policy school, this isn't some controversial thing. So anyway, my point is, what foods are subsidized in terms of being *groceries* and in terms of what poor people have available to eat -- it's not based on nutrition that some foods are cheaper than others or more available than others, though certain people within HHS and other departments do think about that stuff, it's based on what the government has too much of because of what crops they're subsidizing. And you see the end result of that in articles like this, when poor people's diets/access to food is examined -- and the end result is a cheap diet that is extremely unhealthy and not even all that appetizing or nourishing or desired. It's not that these families just want to eat this bland, unhealthy, heavy food SO BADLY, it's that this is the food they can get for the amount of time and money they've got, this is the food that is de facto the only food accessible to them.
posted by rue72 at 5:45 PM on July 29, 2014 [6 favorites]


I was shocked to find out that apartments in California don't always come with fridges. Yes, that's right, you have to buy the fridge and move it around with you. Sometimes your other appliances too!

Standard Operating Procedure in many other countries, even much of first world Europe. Often kitchen cabinets as well. And really, why should you expect it? Appliances, I mean. Other than it's what you're used to.

(FWIW, our east coast rental came without fridge, clothes washer or drier. Come to think of it, those latter two are frequently not included in American rentals. Assumptions again)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:46 PM on July 29, 2014


When I read these articles I feel so very sorry. Not in the "Oh, my heart goes out to the poor people" sense, but a vast and inchoate feeling that I'm doing something wrong and I don't know how to make it right, even if I were to sell everything that I have and give it away. Which I'm not about to do, because I have responsibilities to other people and I'm frankly not that good a person. But I still feel bad.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:11 PM on July 29, 2014 [4 favorites]


I mean, a staple dinner in my family growing up was chicken liver with rice and salad, and that's a fairly cheap meal that doesn't require a whole lot of utensils to prepare. It's also fatty, not very nutritious, and requires about an hour's worth of prep time to clean each individual liver, wash the salad, make the vinaigrette, etc

I'm with you on the prep time issue (and don't personally enjoy livers of any variety other than the Bad Livers), but how is that not nutritious? I've eaten versions of that meal in a bunch of countries and make it all the time myself, and think of it as a basic universal staple meal, unexciting but balanced and tasty.

(And it's not really poverty cooking -- I doubt you could hit the $7 for six people target, unless it was almost entirely rice with only a hint of chicken and salad.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


This is only slightly related, but I got a pressure cooker 2 months ago and have used it basically every day since then. Brown rice, grains, beans, lentils, oatmeal ... I can buy huge bags of these things dried for dirt cheap and make them in about 20 minutes. Most of my friends (even older people) don't even know what a pressure cooker is. It's just an example of how incredibly valuable basic knowledge can get lost when a couple generations abandon cooking and eat prepared food instead.
posted by miyabo at 6:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm with you on the prep time issue (and don't personally enjoy livers of any variety other than the Bad Livers yt ), but how is that not nutritious? I've eaten versions of that meal in a bunch of countries and make it all the time myself, and think of it as a basic universal staple meal, unexciting but balanced and tasty.

(And it's not really poverty cooking -- I doubt you could hit the $7 for six people target, unless it was almost entirely rice with only a hint of chicken and salad.)


The meat is very fatty, and some kind of lettuce is the only veg. It's maybe got a lot of Vitamin A, but not much else. Also not very filling. I guess it depends what you consider nutritious? I tend to exercise heavily and tend to work really physically demanding jobs, so for me it's like OMG WHERE IS THE REST OF THE FOOD I NEED VITAMINSSSSS after eating something like that, but I know my parents think of it as perfectly nutritious.

Last time I cooked this for myself was in LA, so I'm not sure how universal the prices are, but here is what I would expect (for feeding 3): a container of livers is about $2, an uncleaned head of lettuce is $1, an onion is about $.50, and the rice you can get in bulk (not sure how to price that out, I buy like one 20lbs bag a year and don't remember how much it is). The condiments used are a few cloves of garlic, some olive oil and vinegar, salt, pepper, and some flour. If you needed 2 containers and another head or lettuce to feed six, that should still be about $7 (though you're right, including the condiments, rice and utensils and things it could be more -- but it shouldn't be *massively* more. And my larger point is that even a relatively nutritious, relatively cheap, home-cooked-from-scratch-and-labor-intensive meal is still not nutritious, cheap, or accessible enough to be a great option! Probably the article makes that point much better, though, when it talks about the effort that the woman who forages for food and researches about ways to forage better and grows her own food and all of that put in to feeding her family healthily and who still struggles to make sure they're well-fed).
posted by rue72 at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


Since no one's posted it yet... Find a Food Bank. You can call up your local one and ask them how you can get involved. Some can use volunteers at the food bank itself divvying up 1000-lb bags of cornflakes into 12oz packages, and some will refer you to local pantries that need help passing out food on Sunday mornings. Some need lots of money, some need connections that will get them fresh vegetables, some need skilled volunteers to help the elderly fill out SNAP paperwork properly or home cooks that can teach people what the hell you do with a rutabaga. Put your money where your mouth is so someone else can put some food where their mouth is.
posted by juniperesque at 7:54 PM on July 29, 2014 [5 favorites]


All I can say is thank goodness for Walmart. There is a general trend in Canada to serve either the low end of the grocery market (Walmart) or the high end (Sobey's etc). There is a Sobey's in our neighbourhood (actually a Thrifty's; since being acquired by Sobey's, Thrifty's has increased prices by 10-15%), and I can't afford to spend an extra buck on a 4-litre carton of milk. Or five bucks for a head of cauliflower. That's where Walmart has come in.

Food prices where we live have gone up far faster than the rate of inflation. A loaf of bread costs about five bucks at Thrifty's. We make our own bread, which brings down the price considerably.

But it's awfully surprising how cheap Walmart is for vegetables, milk, and eggs.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:57 PM on July 29, 2014


I agree. I was surprised when the Walmart in my town started selling fresh groceries. The prices there do beat most grocery stores for things like milk and even some meat. That's why I get frustrated when people say it is easy to boycott such places. I wrestle with the guilt of how they destroy communities and they have caused local businesses to close here but in the end I will take the cheaper option. Options and standing up for moral principles are a luxury of the fed.

One thing I have really noticed since I saw it brought up here a lot is the utter lack of stores in poorer areas. I am lucky to live on the side of town where there are grocery stores and access to Walmart. My friends on the other side are sometimes forced to do a lot of shopping at 7-11.

I am starting to think it is really criminal to do that to people and part of some giant conspiracy but I try not to go down that route lest I seem insane.

There needs so be some magic overall of the system somehow so that people don't get to the point (I have been there in the past and a few friends are there now) of just feeling they are too poor to live.

Sometimes I think that's part of the conspiracy... But then I just pet my dog.
posted by kanata at 8:11 PM on July 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


Still trying to wrap my head around feeding a family on under $8.00 per meal a day. That surely can't include snacks, fruit, cookies, milk, an occasional cupcake, etc.

Pure sustenance? Sure. Enough healthy calories for survival? Just enough. But how long can that last before someone, anyone, would just freak out?

When I was a kid we used to eat organ meat and rabbits that we raised in our back yard, but when times got REALLY tough, my parents would get 2nd, 3rd and 4th jobs...just to pay bills and get food.

Those jobs aren't there anymore.

It's easy to say that nobody owes anybody anything, but in my lifetime the "Land of Plenty" has turned into the land of "I got mine, fuck you."

I won't get into the politics, but politics and big business is where this conversation should end up. We need jobs. Lots and lots of middle-income, middle class jobs. Lots of them
posted by snsranch at 8:22 PM on July 29, 2014 [11 favorites]


Still trying to wrap my head around feeding a family on under $8.00 per meal a day.

It can be done. If you have no food intolerances, if your kids aren't picky, if you have shitloads of time and a fully kitted kitchen and a deep freeze and access to a reasonably priced bulk food store that doesn't eat all your savings in bus fare (and a way to get a 25 lb sack of lentils back to your house!). . . it can be done. But it's worth noting that the store where I shopped when I was dead broke in order to get us all fed for cheap? doesn't accept food stamps.

I could do it when I was broke, and before we knew that diet was killing my daughter. (We knew it was killing me, but my health was apparently expendable in my eyes.) I could never have done it if I were poor. This is one of the big differences between being broke and being poor.
posted by KathrynT at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2014 [3 favorites]


This article made me confused, and sad, and then confused again. Over and over.

It seems pretty clear that the problem is deep-rooted and systemic, not some kind of failure of the individual. There's something fucked-up going on when people are overweight yet malnourished and food-insecure.

Yet the author seems to gloss over some things. For example, in discussing the Jefferson family:

The Jefferson sisters, Meme and Kai, live here in a four-bedroom, two-car-garage, two-bath home with Kai’s boyfriend, Frank, and an extended family that includes their invalid mother, their five sons, a daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren...Though all three adults work full-time, their income is not enough to keep the family consistently fed without assistance. The root problem is the lack of jobs that pay wages a family can live on, so food assistance has become the government’s—and society’s—way to supplement low wages..

Well, if only three adults work full-time in a household of at least 15, then it's not surprising they're struggling. If there are five grandchildren living there, then presumably Meme, Kai and Frank are not the only adults in the household, so what do the rest of them (the 'five sons and a daughter-in-law) do?

I'm not saying it negates the main points, but it seems inaccurate to say that the 'root problem is the lack of jobs that pay wages a family can live on'. In this case, the root problem seems to be the lack of jobs, full stop, not the wage level; not many jobs pay wages that can support that many extra adults and children.
posted by Salamander at 12:36 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


Some of them might be under 18. Some of them might have disabilities. Some of them may be unemployed.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:19 AM on July 30, 2014


Sure, *ChuraChura*, that's what I'm saying. The problem isn't low wages, in their case, it's no wages.
posted by Salamander at 5:21 AM on July 30, 2014


It's immensely sad that we live in a country where the statement "people are hungry because they don't have enough money for food" is considered a debatable proposition. What a horrible place to live.
posted by medusa at 5:57 AM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


But it's only easy to apply if you have skills, tools, resources, and--most critically--some money to spend to begin with.

This sounds a lot like the distinction between capital and expense spending.

Capital covers the pans, the crockpot, the freezer, and the cookbooks; expense is the beef and the salt. A capital cost has a long timespan to be spread over, while expenses are usually pretty immediate.

I bring this up because I have a college education, a well-organized house with healthy meals, good money management habits, and twenty years working -- and only recently have I started to think about money in a way that differentiates this way. We always considered whether we were getting our money's worth from a purchase: what is expected timeframe of payback compared with an item's expected lifespan?

But only recently have I started to really internalize this vocabulary, and of late I see it reflected (but not stated) in a lot of conversations about money. And if my privileged background didn't hep me make this distinction, why should I expect it from everyone else?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It just occurred to me, this whole situation really doesn't resemble our grandmothers' hunger (we'd all be fine if only there were jobs), as much as it does our great-grandmothers'. I was just thinking about The Jungle, and how everybody had jobs, they all worked constantly, yet the cards were so stacked against them, they could never ever get ahead. The flour/bread was altered to make it more filling but less nutritious. Their house was a scam, locking them into a loan they would never be able to pay off. And they were only one injury away from total destitution. We've really come a long way in 110 years.
posted by gueneverey at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2014 [19 favorites]


Thank you for posting this, ellieBOA.
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 7:41 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


This sounds a lot like the distinction between capital and expense spending.

The thing is, in this scenario the food itself is capital. You cannot buy a shake of salt. You can't buy a meal's worth of beef (that is, you can, but it's much more expensive than five meals' worth of beef).

In rue's chicken liver meal, the condiments - "a few cloves of garlic, some olive oil and vinegar, salt, pepper, and some flour" have an enormous start-up cost. Say $6 for the cheapest olive oil. $1.50 for the cheapest vinegar. $2 for the salt, $3 for the pepper, $2 for the small sack of flour.

The cost of all those things can be amortized over many meals, but the relatively small capital investment of $15 could also buy several whole, ready, complete fast-food meals. When you are worried about feeding yourself and your family today and the next day, I understand why ingredients to help feed them for the next three months aren't the priority.
posted by peachfuzz at 8:09 AM on July 30, 2014 [3 favorites]


snsranch: “Still trying to wrap my head around feeding a family on under $8.00 per meal a day. That surely can't include snacks, fruit, cookies, milk, an occasional cupcake, etc.”
Not to mention that SNAP won't pay for anything like aluminium foil, plastic wrap, paper towels, or many other things that aren't food but are often necessary in the kitchen. Forget about all the other things you need to run a household that come from the grocery store like laundry things, cleaning products, toothpaste, light bulbs, diapers, baby wipes, toiler paper, etc.

As the comments on the article attest, the hostility of some people towards SNAP and other anti-poverty programs — and more to the point the people who need them — cannot be overestimated.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


My current working theory for the lack of compassion is that the baby boomers grew up in a time period where the return on growth was greater than the return on capital (Piketty) and additionally, most of the urban poor populations were suffering from the effects of lead poisoning: lower IQ, lower impulse control, etc.

Baby Boomers have a totally skewed and unrealistic understanding of both the results of hard work and labor as well as the lived experience of lower income populations. Hence the contempt, the politics of "got mine, fuck you" etc.
posted by Freen at 8:44 AM on July 30, 2014 [2 favorites]


...150 a week, esp. supplemented with food bank.

Except, y'know, food banks aren't ubiquitous. Or easily accessible.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:50 AM on July 30, 2014


Baby Boomers have a totally skewed and unrealistic understanding of both the results of hard work and labor as well as the lived experience of lower income populations. Hence the contempt, the politics of "got mine, fuck you" etc.

*sigh* Yes. Let's blame the boomers. It's all their fault.

It's odd, though, how so many of the "got mine, fuck you" crowd were kids during the Reagan administration.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:52 AM on July 30, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's odd, though, how so many of the "got mine, fuck you" crowd were kids during the Reagan administration.

You mean those of us who grew up being told we were screwed, the country was screwed, the social safety net was unravelling, we were going to be "the first generation of Americans to do worse than their parents" and that we had better hustle for anything we could get?

Funny how being told repeatedly during one's formative years that handouts are for suckers and parasites tends to lead to an attitude that doesn't value taking care of one's fellows unless they "deserve" it.
posted by Lexica at 10:16 AM on July 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


"The Working Poor" is a term that simply should not exist in our national vocabulary.
posted by tommasz at 10:27 AM on July 30, 2014 [4 favorites]


What if we had a conversation about this stuff that didn't strive to pin a social problem on a particular generation? Especially because it so quickly becomes ridiculous - there are so many "large post-WWII baby cohort" people that there are large groups of any of them who hold any given position. There are lots of Boomer leftists. There are lots of Boomer yuppies. There are lots of queer Boomers. Trying to say "yes, this is all the fault of [very large group with diverse opinions]" doesn't work real well.

Honestly, it really bothers me when I think about my parents, who are baby boom generation, and who have voted as left as possible all their lives...and my father in particular coming from small town Indiana and not having a really easy time of it...and then everyone is like "yes, the boomers, they are so terrible and so selfish and it's all their fault". No, it fucking isn't.
posted by Frowner at 10:56 AM on July 30, 2014 [7 favorites]


Forget about all the other things you need to run a household that come from the grocery store like laundry things, cleaning products, toothpaste, light bulbs, diapers, baby wipes, toiler paper, etc.

One of my exes moms was the first person to point out to me that it doesn't pay for pads or tampons either. Which is like, what? She was convinced that was a basic attack on women, and I think that's even come up in an fpp here before. At the time, my 18 year old brain thought some of that was just snark/hyperbole but it's really not.

Similarly, that there's nothing like EBT for feeding your pet(s), nor can it be spent on that unless you're just going to feed your dog raw meat, or your cat tuna or something which isn't awesomely healthy at all.

I guess if you fall on hard times and you have a uterus or a cat, you're just supposed to give the cat to a shelter and lump it on both that and the period front?

The only thing I've ever seen people do is put that shit on credit cards(which will be paid off in ??? time) they're fortunate to have because they were previously lower or solidly middle class. Seems like you'd just be fucked if that wasn't the case. And even then, when I was underemployed and making like $550 a month, I bought them cat food a couple times.

Seriously, fuck the system.
posted by emptythought at 11:09 AM on July 30, 2014 [6 favorites]


As in so many areas of life, it's easy to eat cheap if you're rich; it's extremely expensive to eat when you're poor.

The Sam Vimes theory of boots seems to become more and more relevant every day.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:33 PM on July 31, 2014 [1 favorite]


The Sam Vimes theory of boots has always been correct. I have $200 (Corcoran) boots that have lasted me more than ten years. $20 boots fall apart in less than six months.

What we really need is a Kiva for the developed world that offers people interest free small loans for capital improvements to their lifestyle.
posted by corb at 11:14 AM on August 3, 2014


Frowner: I get where you are coming from, and I agree that generalizations about generations can be tremendously problematic, but I do think that there is a chronological analysis to be made about societal attitudes around poverty, the relationship of the growth of wealth to hard work and additionally an abnormal surge in crime and lawlessness due to lead poisoning. Perhaps laying the blame on the "baby boomers" is too broad a brush. However, people whose moral compass was formed during that particular time period have a very very very different view of humanity, the economy, and the social contract than the rest of us.

That brief period of time undid generations of learning that began with the end of the age of monarchies, namely, that kleptocracy is a bad idea.
posted by Freen at 7:40 AM on August 4, 2014


However, people whose moral compass was formed during that particular time period have a very very very different view of humanity, the economy, and the social contract than the rest of us.

That brief period of time undid generations of learning that began with the end of the age of monarchies, namely, that kleptocracy is a bad idea.


Oh yeah? I'll see you and raise you Allen Berube, Karen Clark, Valerie Miner, Samuel Delany, virtually every important member of Women Against Military Madness, pretty much every radical nun I've ever met...jeez, Joe fucking Strummer, buddy. What moral compass are we talking about? Silvia Rivera was a baby boomer, and if there's a more heroic woman I don't know her. Arthur Russell was a baby boomer.

And how is it so very different from the American moral compass at the end of the 19th century? Or the moral compass during the Palmer raids or the red scare? The moral compass of the American South in the fifties? The moral compass of the company town? The moral compass that burned down the "Black Wall Street" in Tulsa?

It's reasonable to explore generational attitudes, but to my mind it's not very useful to talk about a tiny sliver of middle-to-upper-middle-class white mostly men mostly straight people and talk as if somehow they represent a generation of struggle. Frankly, without the women of the baby boom, without the queers, without the union activists, I don't even know what my life would be like. I'd probably be closeted, trapped in a miserable marriage with a kid I didn't want, broke as hell and tied to my husband. I'd be going crazy or I'd be a suicide.

This idea that there was a growing opposition to capitalism which foundered on the rocks of the baby boom, also, I do not think that is born out by data - particularly not in this country. There have been brief moments of anti-capitalist commitment - the greatest of which, IYAM, was actually in the early seventies - but the best you can point to in terms of People In Authority is FDR, and you wouldn't have FDR if you didn't have the Soviet Union in the background.
posted by Frowner at 7:59 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]


Frowner: I agree! I think that particular sliver of upper-middle-class mostly straight male republican "I got mine, fuck you" crew formed their moral compass during a particular time period when the returns on labor were greater than the returns on capital and that lead poisoning, crime, and social unrest were unusually rampant in the US.

I agree, I painted far to wide a swath with the "baby boomers". I'm trying to understand a thought process if find morally abhorrent (modern conservative thought) from the most generous perspective I can find.
posted by Freen at 6:49 AM on August 5, 2014


To understand the modern conservative thought you find icky from the most generous perspective you can, I think it's really important to understand that for certain segments of the population, living in the 1950s was really nice. The (white) schools they sent their children to were good schools. Due in part to racist and anti-immigrant policies, they were able to have simple, good jobs that paid the bills and fed their families. Women were (largely) able to stay home if they wanted to, without worrying about how to pay the bills. Because illegitimacy was such a moral stain (often reinforced by discriminatory housing policies), marriage rates were high. Because divorce was illegal or hard to obtain, divorce rates were low. It was easy to obtain cheap domestic service

Already I can hear a lot of you screaming - even me in some places - that these things weren't actually good! But it's important to understand that for some people, they absolutely, one hundred percent, were better off then, and more easily able to live the kind of life they wanted to. The improvement of conditions for the disenfranchised has actually made their lives worse. School systems with enough money to have a few nice schools did not have enough money to have all the schools nice, and with integration, they were no longer able to cordon their children off in the nice ones. Due to anti-discrimination labor law, there was a lot more competition for positions. Because there was more competition, wages were lower and more families needed to have two parents earning. Due to anti-discrimination in housing, you could no longer intimidate your pregnant teenager into getting married with nearly the same ease, leaving you feeling unsettled and scared about her life choices. And ease in divorce law increased a more constant fear of it.

So it's more a case of a fall from grace - having something, a life they loved slowly taken away from them by policies that gave more to other people who were not them. Yes, the life was propped up on a lot of awful things - but that doesn't affect their yearning for it, because it's a feeling. And I think it's really easy, when you've lost something and it looks like it's been given to someone else, to be angry and upset and callous when things happen.
posted by corb at 8:40 AM on August 5, 2014 [3 favorites]


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