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Do kids need to learn gardening or more algebra?
January 12, 2010 7:55 PM   Subscribe


 
...how about both, Katie?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:57 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


, and for the love of God can someone please pry the pen out of the hand of this false-dichotomizing, controversy-seeking, faux-traditionalist hack before she sullies the pages of The Atlantic with any more of her dreck. I want more James Fallows.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:02 PM on January 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


Plenty of lower-class people eat well. You may not be able to find fresh fruits and vegetables in the ghetto, but you sure can in the bario. Latin-Americans know how to cook. That's the difference. I sort of agree with Waters on this one. We need better education. Most Americans simply don't know how to cook.
posted by cman at 8:05 PM on January 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


yeah because earning more money and spending it just doesnt compare to learning about the agroCorps that have displaced millions of farmers across the American Hemisphere, created mystery meat with "do all harm" bioengineering, whacked out the hormonal health of our kids with chicken-nuggets on steroids and basically bought themselves the right to patent biology, zoology and agronomy for their shareholders bottom lines.

i mean, there's a reason why ConAGRA, thanks to NAFTA, is as responsible for the drug cartel wars in Colombia and Mexico as the random guy doing the obligatory bowl of blow in Wall Street.
posted by liza at 8:11 PM on January 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


In my high school I learned how to cook in home ec, and they found time for algebra, too. Also dodgeball. I fail to see the problem here.
posted by escabeche at 8:12 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ditto what cman says for Chinatowns all over the world. I could feed my entire house (five people) on about €6 per meal using what I found in Chinatown.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:20 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


Waters, described by her biographer, Thomas McNamee, as “arguably the most famous restaurateur in the United States,” is, of course, the founder of Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, an eatery where the right-on, “yes we can,” ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people can tuck into a nice table d’hôte menu of scallops, guinea hen, and tarte tatin for a modest 95 clams—wine, tax, and oppressively sanctimonious and relentlessly conversation-busting service not included. (I’ve had major surgeries in which I was less scrupulously informed about what was about to happen to me, what was happening to me, and what had just happened to me than I’ve been during a dinner there.)

Jesus Christ. What is happening in these sentences? Repeat after me, Flanagan: Atlantic readers are not to be used as a substitute for your therapist.
posted by chinston at 8:20 PM on January 12, 2010 [35 favorites]


Teaching them the values of the middle class is part of that process, so that when they see the word "organic" on the label they go, "yay, nature!" and not "6 goddamn dollars for a goddamn bag of lettuce? Oh, hell no." Alice Waters comes at these lessons from a very earnest and heartfelt series of beliefs centering upon supporting the local terroir and all that foderol, but the second order effect is inculcating the children in an upper-middle class value system. To be sure, of course, growing a field's worth of potatoes does in fact teach you that growing stuff is goddamn hard work which nevertheless has certain unique satisfactions.

But ah, Caitlin Flanagan. One of those writers where I get about three paragraphs in and the red mist clouds fogs all before me. Oddly enough, I can get through Sandra Sing Loh screed with a whistle on my lips and a song in my heart, but Caitlin Flanagan is, and merrily, every revanchist thing that I am not and yet have not quite cured myself of ever desiring to be, and oh, do I loathe her for it.
posted by Diablevert at 8:23 PM on January 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Why are obesity and Type 2 diabetes so closely related to low incomes in this country? Surely a good part of the answer lies in a heartrending truth about the experience of poverty that many conservatives (and not a few liberals) either don’t know or choose not to know, and it is something I see at my volunteer job in a Los Angeles food bank, where the clients scoop as many candies out of the basket on my desk as I’ll let them have (if I didn’t set a limit, only the first person would get any) before glumly turning to the matter of filling out their food order form, which offers such basic and unexciting items as tuna, rice, and (yes) fresh fruits and vegetables, often including delicious oranges, pears, and peaches that people with fruit trees donate the day they’re picked. The simple truth is expressed clearly by George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, his book about the grinding poverty experienced in the North of England in the 1930s.

OK, let's ignore the embarrassing attempt at generalizing from a few observations to explain the socioeconomic determinants of two complex health problems. Let's ignore the tortured logic by which a few poor people wanting candy is transformed into a culture of "suicidal dietary choices." Let's not mention the predictable, outdated Orwell reference. Let's also ignore the blatant play for philanthropic street cred through the not-so-subtle mention of her volunteer work, coupled with a clumsy attempt to cast herself as the lone independent thinker, far above the partisan fray that consumes liberals and conservatives alike. Finally, we'll ignore the three parenthetical remarks, and multiple unnecessary adjectives. All that aside, this is the most awful, convoluted, run-on sentence I have read in a major publication in a long, long time.
posted by googly at 8:33 PM on January 12, 2010 [22 favorites]


You know, I've had my arguments with Waters -- she can be sometimes naive about economic and time issues. But her school garden/lunch program is a stroke of brilliance.

Flanagan's drivel is so stomach-turningly ignorant that I couldn't even make it all the way though.
posted by jb at 8:36 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


uuugghhhh. I am not even going to try to read this because I am so biased (yes, biased) against this kind of thinking. money can't by you love, or intelligence, or empathy, or experience, or any understanding of how hopelessly screwed our food systems are. sheeesssh.
posted by tarantula at 8:37 PM on January 12, 2010


robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might other wise have spent reading important books or learning higher math

Yeah, and those frou-frou music and art classes are fucking stupid, too, right? Good grief. If she's going to make any legit points, she might want to start off with a slightly more expansive view of how education works.
posted by desuetude at 8:38 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Teaching them the values of the middle class is part of that process, so that when they see the word "organic" on the label they go, "yay, nature!" and not "6 goddamn dollars for a goddamn bag of lettuce? Oh, hell no."

Surely, encouraging people to buy lettuce rather than deep-fried-crap or candy is the first step, and we can worry about the virtues of organic home-grown versus non-organic lettuce later, no?

I was given a very useful book on organic gardening and self-sufficiency. But that book, in particular, assumes you've got the full use of a large Australian suburban block, and use every inch of it, including the strip of land between the sidewalk and the road, and even then concedes that, depending on your climate, there are a number of items you'll have to source from conventional agriculture. While I think lessons on "where food comes from", and experience with gardening is extremely valuable, I agree there's a complete cultural disconnect here. These kids aren't going to be able to feed themselves with organic food grown in their homes. And how large a "community garden" would you actually need to feed a community?

Talking about the community gardens, I'm noticing that, in Australia at least, they're popping up in trendy, wealthy inner-suburbs while out here in the public housing 'burbs Fish and Chips shops and McDonalds are expanding instead.
posted by Jimbob at 8:40 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow. Just wow. Why did I read that? This is a writer with an ax to grind and very little else. For one thing theres a vast difference between being migrant labor and being a school kid learning about science, math, english, history and etc through the use of a school garden.

Also, I love how 'living 20 miles from Compton' shows how real she is. Represent!

This article is garbage not even fit for composting.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:41 PM on January 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Because people in a higher economic class are better.
posted by phliar at 8:41 PM on January 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Also, and this is really nothing to do with Flanagan, but surely Alice Waters is not even arguably the most famous restaurateur in the U.S. I mean, it's got to be somebody like Emeril or that Bobby Flay dude, I would think.
posted by chinston at 8:44 PM on January 12, 2010


Poor people know that the shit they eat is bad for them, but they eat it anyway. For the same reason that poor people commit more crime-- they don't have any reason to plan long term or otherwise give a shit. Give them a reason to care, give them enough freedom from want that they can forgo immediacy and they'll actually think a couple steps ahead.

Typical upper class patronizing: "They just don't understand. No one has made it clear to these poor beasts that a diet of Burger King, Funyons and Popov vodka is bad for them. I will shine a light on their cave wall and then they will build a monument to me!"
posted by Mayor Curley at 8:45 PM on January 12, 2010 [23 favorites]


in math they measured the garden beds

Learning about geometry by measuring sections of the earth? Disgusting and outrageous!
posted by eatyourcellphone at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2010 [18 favorites]


These kids aren't going to be able to feed themselves with organic food grown in their homes. And how large a "community garden" would you actually need to feed a community?

The point of the exercise is not to becoming wholly self-sufficient, but to understand what goes into the production of food, as well as understand cultural impact food production has. In addition to these lessons, a child may learn about science, history and communication.

To criticize community gardening for failing to "feed a community" misses the point.
posted by elwoodwiles at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


When is the idea that at some point not everyone on earth, regardless of how hard they work in school, can end up in a 'higher class', going to end?? I mean, there are a limited amount of jobs in the universe that will support a 'higher class' lifestyle simply through a salary. There are always gonna be po people. How about we stop using the 'pull yourself up by your boot strings' excuse for turning a cold shoulder to all those fucking slackers who refuse to educate themselves out of poverty.
posted by spicynuts at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2010 [13 favorites]


I’ve had major surgeries in which I was less scrupulously informed about what was about to happen to me, what was happening to me, and what had just happened to me than I’ve been during a dinner there.

OK, that was really fucking funny.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:47 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The organic thing isn't about "ooh...it's natural!". It's about "ohhh, the production of this food does not involve reliance on petroleum based chemicals and the poisoning of local water."

Modern agriculture is shitting in its own drinking water. Complain all you want about how they sell it (organic food is not much better for you, though the good stuff does taste better), the reality is that all of us who care about our planet ought to be buying organic.

Not that's it's easy to go reaching for something 2-3 times more expensive, even when you know you ought to. It's like free-range eggs, that way, or like eating non-cannibalistic beef. Which is why that if a gov't insists on having agricultural subsidies (which it ought not to), they should at least use those subsidies to support agriculture to promote better health and reduce environmental damage by subsidizing vegetables and fruit rather than factory farmed corn and soy.

And caring about your food didn't USED to be upper class. Don't go claiming that Waters is trying to bourgeois people. She's trying to re-pioneer them, get them back to the way that country people cooked 100 years ago. (Not city people 100 years ago - that crap was way more disgusting than anything we can imagine). As far as I can tell, it's never the upper class who buy tomatoes by the bushel to put down in their massive chest freezers -- they don't have time to do that kind of canning. Sadly, the working and lower-middle class women who used to have time to do that sort of stuff now have to work outside the house to support their families, so they don't either. (Though canned diced tomatoes do make a good substitute -- and are just as good for you and nearly as cheap).
posted by jb at 8:49 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


The entire premise is all wrong. Jumping into a different socioeconomic status is even tougher now than it was in the past. Stolen from someone who seems to have done a little bit of research (or at least knows how to quote numbers):

The education reformers also tend to ignore the question of what kinds of jobs will ultimately be available to California students who get through high school and college. When Clark Kerr designed the Master Plan, he could imagine a steady progression of income and occupation from day laborer to industrial worker to white-collar professional to manager. And school reformers still buy into this dream. But California's workforce has become highly segmented between low-wage service, construction, and farm labor at the bottom and white-collar professionals and managers at the top; and that segmentation of the workforce is reflected in the schools and colleges.

Yes, only 30 percent of the state's 19-year-olds are now in college, but, if you look at the jobs that California's Employment Development Department thinks will be available over the next decade, the greatest numbers by far are among those that require short-term on-the-job training--retail sales, cashiers, waiters, clerks, home care aides, and laborers--many of which pay less than $10 per hour. All that college prep seems pretty useless if it's not going to pay off in the job market.


From End State: Is California Finished? (previously) which, by the way, contains a well thought out analysis of California's (and the country's) education system.
posted by zonem at 8:50 PM on January 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, I hit post too soon, I forgot about this part when I skimmed it the first time:

In English class students composed recipes, in math they measured the garden beds, and in history they ground corn as a way of studying pre-Columbian civilizations. Students’ grades quickly improved at King, which makes sense given that a recipe is much easier to write than a coherent paragraph on The Crucible.


Because memorizing lectures and doing worksheets makes a stronger impression on kids, of course, which they carry that sort of pure book-learning with them throughout their lives. I so fondly remember that one set of problems in my ninth-grade algebra book! It so connected concepts across disciplines and made math seem useful!
posted by desuetude at 8:51 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


Learning about geometry by measuring sections of the earth? Disgusting and outrageous!
posted by eatyourcellphone


okay, i'm favoriting that so hard.
posted by jb at 8:52 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


er, i mean, here's another reason (of several already mentioned) why her premise is wrong.
posted by zonem at 8:53 PM on January 12, 2010


Much as our up-the-bootstraps betters proselytize, education isn't a sure-fire rocket to the middle class. Instead, it makes more sense to work with a policy goal of making sure every American can afford to eat well—jobs, health care reform, and a shift in agricultural policy will do more than simply inflating the number of folks with a middle-class education. This is especially true when you take a moment to think about the market, something that is forgotten by Flanagan—education is a competing good, where more kids with a better education simply raises the lowest common denominator, providing each with a diminishing return on the market. I think that education is valuable irrespective of the market, in that I think I live a richer and happier life due to my education than I would have if I'd not had those opportunities, but the market return is, well, sorely wanting at the moment. But that's not true with broad investments like those in health care reform or large-scale works projects, or even a shift in subsidies to support local farmers rather than industrialized agri-business, will have more of a long-term benefit.
posted by klangklangston at 8:59 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting

Stopped reading here. That was far enough to know, though, that she really knows nothing about how showing children how to grow food works in a school.
posted by Huck500 at 9:00 PM on January 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


People from lower socio-economic backgrounds buying bad food is not as simple as saying "Oh, it's education" or "Oh, it's because they don't grow it themselves" or whatever. As with most social problems, it can't be boiled down to a simple answer. It's a whole bunch of different things.

Infact, to say that a lack of education is the main or leading cause of obesity in "poor people" is really arrogant and condescending. It smacks of a "I'm educated and read about poor people in my University textbook so I know best" attitude. It suggests that "they" (which in articles like the linked one means people from lower socio-economic situations, not the author who of course if not one of "them") can't tell the difference between a hamburger and a carrot. Pretty much everyone knows what the healthier choice is. Less stop to think about what drives someone to choose the hamburger and not the carrot.

It's the fact that bad food costs less to buy than healthy food. So a poor family with 4 or 5 kids can feed the whole family with $20 worth of food from KFC.

And if you're working long hours just to make ends meet, a cheap meal with bad food is not only cheaper, it's also quicker to get on the table than it is to cook a meal for 3 or more.

And if you're working long hours to make ends meet and eating bad food, who has time to exercise to work it off? You might be able to go to the gym on your way home, but who can afford that with hungry mouths to feed and clothe?

And if this is the life you had as a kid, and you're in a family who are stuck in generational low socio-economic circumstances, this is the way you were raised, and you turned out OK, so why not teach the same stuff to your kids? What, are you saying my parents didn't teach me right? Fuck you!

It's that Maccas, Hungry Jacks, KFC and Pizza Hut are on the TV all the time selling their junk direct into the home. When was the last time you saw an ad for an apple? And did it come with a free kids toy?

And it's really sort of dumb to say that only people from low socio-economic backgrounds live this way. I grew up in a "poor" family and my parents tried to feed me well. They were lucky in the sense that only Dad worked so Mum had the time to cook us healthy meals, when money allowed. Then when I grew up, left home, went to Uni and became 'successful', I had more money than they had but now I eat crap and have gained a tonne of weight. Some of it is lack of will power. Most of it is lack of time to cook and exercise as much as I should.

To give the author their due, Education can help, sure. If a person knows that a slightly more expensive and potentially healthier meal you make yourself can result in leftovers meaning lunches and more dinners, that'll go a long way. If people learn how to cook, they might be inclined to find ways to do so, planning meals in advance and cooking when time allows.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:02 PM on January 12, 2010 [25 favorites]


Jesus Christ, she really doesn't want anyone to learn anything that isn't about how We Love Our Corporate Overlords, does she?

Also, am I wrong in thinking that Caitlin Flanagan is one of those women who has a full time job telling other women they shouldn't work outside the home?
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:03 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


To criticize community gardening for failing to "feed a community" misses the point.

Well, I didn't mean to criticize community gardens - as I suggested, I'm a little bit peeved they don't seem to exist in the parts of my community that could do with them, and have been vaguely wondering what it would take to organize one. I note that I discovered my local school had a garden at one point, that has now decayed to weeds and graffiti.

I just worry about how this practice actually achieves results. So a kid in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood learns about growing organic vegetables and tries to take that knowledge home to her family, to find that it's just not going to be possible in their little apartment. So she tries to encourage her parents to go buy healthy organic vegetables, to find that they're too expensive and hard to come by where they live. There may be something positive going on at school, but there's no structural change going on in the wider community.

Not to suggest I oppose all this, or agree with Caitlin Flanagan - it just seems, depressingly, to not go nearly far enough.
posted by Jimbob at 9:06 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think part of the problem is that even if you talk kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds to cook, they don't actually have access to healthy food in their own neighbourhoods. There are no stores.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:12 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


am I wrong in thinking that Caitlin Flanagan is one of those women who has a full time job telling other women they shouldn't work outside the home?

Ha - no you aren't wrong. I absolutely loathe Caitlin Flanagan, whose role is just as you describe, and who throws in (bonus!) all manner of weird detail as to her mommy and daddy issues.
posted by moxiedoll at 9:12 PM on January 12, 2010


This may not be the most on-topic comment of the day, but I am dying to hear a rational explanation why every lower-middle-class or simply poor family of my generation never ever ate garlic (or even noticed it at the store, or knew it existed as a distinct plant) while always having “garlic salt” in the house.

Theories?

Still true today?
posted by joeclark at 9:18 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


That's pretty ridiculous. I mean, lets say wealthy people eat better then poor people. OK. Because good food costs more money then bulk Icecream and Doritos. But if it was possible to give everyone a good education, we would be doing that, and there are plenty of reasons to do so already. It's not working.

On the other hand, educating students about food choices will allow them to make good choices as adults without also being wealthy. There is no reason to ignore that second option, since it's not very expensive and won't take up much time.

But that said, I think most people understand where food comes from.
posted by delmoi at 9:19 PM on January 12, 2010


So's I hate to criticize the the point of the article by criticizing the writer, but... ah hell. I've never heard of this person until now so I loked her up on google. Here is a choise quote from her wikipedia page:

Her essays underscore the emotional rewards and social value of a traditional housewife's role, and she herself works from home, albeit with the help of a nanny and a housekeeper.

Awesome.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:21 PM on January 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


um, loked = looked

and

choise = choice

and

elwoodwiles = going to bed
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:22 PM on January 12, 2010


But that said, I think most people understand where food comes from.

I think that's true only to an extent. Over the last couple of Michael Pollan-spattered years, an awful lot of my well-educated, raised-by-educated-parents, food-conscious friends have been openly shocked by some of the revelations about food production raised by Pollan's work and films like "Food, INC".

Whereas my grandparents were farmers and I spent my summers eating from their gardens and listening to them bitch about the industrial agricultural machine, so this stuff was all "well, DUH" to me for the most part, and I have been really surprised at how for my friends, their understanding of factory farming has come to them in bits and pieces rather than being a part of their understanding all along. You miss a lot when you don't drive past feed lots on the way to visit your great-aunt, I guess.
posted by padraigin at 9:31 PM on January 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


I confess that I didn't read any of the links, but I quickly figured out that we were discussing a common eating disorder, and the proposed solutions were both supply-side moon walks, one featuring the extensive education of the candy rotten offspring of very poor choosers, and the other instituting short-term communist gardens before they become the next killing fields. So how did the authors justify ignoring a stiff tax on fat and sugar?
posted by Brian B. at 9:45 PM on January 12, 2010


before she sullies the pages of The Atlantic

Way too late, there's not an unsullied page left. Not since Michael Kelly (BIH) dragged it down into the sewer.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:48 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Well, as I see it, it's all about the money. Being poor means you can't afford "good" food as often as you can afford "bad" food. You look for deals, cheap eats, anything that will fill you up for the least amount of money so that you can afford other things, gas, rent, mortgage, utilities payments, whatever else competes for money. And though cheap food isn't healthy, it gets the job done (you don't starve). Education is fine, but unless the prices of the "good" food become competitive with fast, cheap, easy junk food, not much will change - this is changing e.g. organic food is coming closer to conventional around here, restaurants are offering more than the usual crap they've offered for years.

As for gardening classes pointlessly competing for time with algebra classes and other more important subjects, I kind of agree. If we want more people to be prepared to go to college in general, we must admit that most professors will blame YOU for the lack of preparation by any of the educational institutions that lead to any slack in YOUR grades. They blame the students not the system (at least around here where 30% is considering passing in College General Chemistry 101). You either compete at the level of your peers, or you're replaced - this society is still in the "darwinian" survival of the fittest mode, at least in California. Until that changes and we become enlightened enough to make education free at all times to anyone who wants it, then yes, gardening classes are a waste of time for children in K-12 public school if the goal is a college educated student. You can read Pollan and watch Food Inc. once you've graduated (or anytime actually, that would be a lot easier than a gardening class).
posted by peppito at 9:49 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The organic thing isn't about "ooh...it's natural!". It's about "ohhh, the production of this food does not involve reliance on petroleum based chemicals and the poisoning of local water."

Right. It's lovely and natural, produced by a rumpled farmer in dirty bluejeans with furrows in his cheeks deeper than the ones in his fields, as opposed to the dirty nasty lettuce produced in the horrible giant monoculture field with the migrant laborers and the giant pesticide sprinklers. I know because the sign in the aisle at Whole Foods tells me so.

Modern agriculture is shitting in its own drinking water. Complain all you want about how they sell it (organic food is not much better for you, though the good stuff does taste better), the reality is that all of us who care about our planet ought to be buying organic.

Giving a shit about the environment, or at least talking about giving a shit about the environment while feelingly mildly guilty about how little one does to live up to one's purported ideals, is a very, very important bourgeois value.

Not that's it's easy to go reaching for something 2-3 times more expensive, even when you know you ought to. It's like free-range eggs, that way, or like eating non-cannibalistic beef.

Yes, that's why poor people don't do it. Because they spend a bigger chunk of their total income on food, and you can get a lot more calories, and more pleasure, out of a lot less than it costs to live on organic, humanely and sustainably-raised food.

And caring about your food didn't USED to be upper class. Don't go claiming that Waters is trying to bourgeois people.

Perhaps not consciously. But, like I said, in 21st-century America, caring about the provenance of one's vegetables and whether or not the farmer was a decent fellow to one's burger is very, very bourgie. The other week the New Yorker ran a profile on John Mackey; one of the many interesting bits is they they choose where to locate Whole Foods outlets based on the proportion of college-educated residents within a set radius.

She's trying to re-pioneer them, get them back to the way that country people cooked 100 years ago. (Not city people 100 years ago - that crap was way more disgusting than anything we can imagine). As far as I can tell, it's never the upper class who buy tomatoes by the bushel to put down in their massive chest freezers -- they don't have time to do that kind of canning. Sadly, the working and lower-middle class women who used to have time to do that sort of stuff now have to work outside the house to support their families, so they don't either. (Though canned diced tomatoes do make a good substitute -- and are just as good for you and nearly as cheap).

Dude, our foremothers didn't spend whole weeks in August napalming themselves with boiling jam because they got a kick out of it or because it made them feel virtuous; they did it because they were poor and they needed to make use of every scrap they could wrench from the dirt in order to get by. I remember reading one of those old fashioned children's classics when I was a kid --- the Boxcar children? The apple cart gang? Something like that --- where one of the kids lusted after store-bought, white flour cakes. I remember completely not getting what the big deal was, when I was nine --- these longed-for treats weren't even frosted! Yeah, back in the day country people often ate better and healthier than city people, because there was no such thing as refrigeration, and travel times were a lot longer. But that doesn't mean that it was virtue that drove them to it; rather it was poverty itself. Now the shoe's on the other foot; we've succeeded beyond our wildest dreams at figuring out how to cheaply produce food on scale inconceivable to those pioneers, to where we can feed a population 5 or 6 times bigger than it was back then with 1/100th of the manpower, for considerably less money. People are now waking up to the downsides of this revolution --- and I'm right there with them at the farmer's market. But historically, the rich have always had pretensions to excellence in cookery, ever since Cathrine Di Medici taught the French how to cook, and right on through Diamond Jim Brady and on to the late Gourmet magazine.
posted by Diablevert at 9:49 PM on January 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


But that said, I think most people understand where food comes from.

I think that's true only to an extent.

Driving past a chicken farm, with a double layer of chickens threw out all notions that I knew where my food came from. (And if anyone's been to Imperial County in California, it's just not right to grow fields of corn and hay in the desert).
posted by shinyshiny at 9:55 PM on January 12, 2010


So a kid in a poverty-stricken neighbourhood learns about growing organic vegetables and tries to take that knowledge home to her family, to find that it's just not going to be possible in their little apartment. So she tries to encourage her parents to go buy healthy organic vegetables, to find that they're too expensive and hard to come by where they live.

I think that this is overlaying the value of teaching kids about gardening with all the marketing lobbed at adults from Whole Foods. The point isn't "only organic vegetables should be purchased," it's "this is how plants grow for real," and "green beans taste amazing."

Dude, our foremothers didn't spend whole weeks in August napalming themselves with boiling jam because they got a kick out of it or because it made them feel virtuous; they did it because they were poor and they needed to make use of every scrap they could wrench from the dirt in order to get by.

Well, it's not either/or. You can value making something more delicious while also consciously pinching pennies.
posted by desuetude at 10:01 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow sorry, I love this article. Is it not true that there are countless lefty types that are totally into the sublime delights of food/spirituality/sex/nature/traveling/technology/whatever and then spend their time telling us that we can only solve the world's problems by reorganizing society such that their favorite hobby gets more attention and resources? This shows how desperate and out of ideas the left is today--we seriously consider the idea that community gardens and organic food will help.
posted by AlsoMike at 10:01 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have this image of Caitlin Flanagan getting revved up to write her column of the week by kicking puppies.
posted by jokeefe at 10:06 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, am I wrong in thinking that Caitlin Flanagan is one of those women who has a full time job telling other women they shouldn't work outside the home?

She's written entire books around that premise, following an article alleging that working women are invidious oppressors of the working class. She tells interviewers they're rotten mothers for choosing to interview her over dealing with a family pet's death. So several signs point to yes.
posted by sobell at 10:10 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pretty much everything that you need to know about Caitlin Flanagan is contained in the essay in which she sings the praises of Twilight.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:12 PM on January 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


This reminds me of people who boycott Target. It sounds great in theory, but in practice you just out yourself as being irrelevant and privileged enough to be able to afford to go someplace else.
posted by autoclavicle at 10:17 PM on January 12, 2010


As for gardening classes pointlessly competing for time with algebra classes and other more important subjects, I kind of agree.

What if we call the gardening class "biology" and the class with all the math "wood shop"?

I've met people with PhDs in biology who were a little vague on where mammal begins and ends, and people who knew calculus but couldn't have figured out the angles in an octagonal frame if their life depended on it. I'm all for children knowing stuff but it's amazing how disconnected from reality education is these days.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:17 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Despite being drenched in snark, the article makes a good point. Does anyone really think class time spent gardening is time well spent, when a school's test scores are poor?

Thinking back on what I was like as a kid, compulsory anything was like aversion therapy. The surefire way to make me hate gardening would be to make me do it. Especially being an urban kid. I thought we lived in the city so we wouldn't have to grow our own food. Didn't those country kids go to 4H or something to learn how to do that stuff?
posted by 2N2222 at 10:33 PM on January 12, 2010


Wow sorry, I love this article. Is it not true that there are countless lefty types that are totally into the sublime delights of food/spirituality/sex/nature/traveling/technology/whatever and then spend their time telling us that we can only solve the world's problems by reorganizing society such that their favorite hobby gets more attention and resources? This shows how desperate and out of ideas the left is today--we seriously consider the idea that community gardens and organic food will help.

Oh yes all these people are "the left" and "the left" in it's entirety. There are no other people besides the ones you described on "the left"
I've met people with PhDs in biology who were a little vague on where mammal begins and ends
Okay where does "mammal" begin and end? Can you tell us without looking at Wikipedia?
and people who knew calculus but couldn't have figured out the angles in an octagonal frame if their life depended on it.
I find that kind of hard to believe.
posted by delmoi at 10:36 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Public education is completely failing to prepare people for living in modern civilization. Half the population doesn't even know how to read a "nutritional facts" label, think that ads always tell the truth, and that eating McDonalds will turn you into an olympic athlete.

Our ideas of what "should be taught" in schools are decades out of date. All kids really need to know is how to think critically in a digital age, and they are definitely not learning that in school.
posted by mek at 10:42 PM on January 12, 2010


As for gardening classes pointlessly competing for time with algebra classes and other more important subjects, I kind of agree.

What if we call the gardening class "biology" and the class with all the math "wood shop"?


That's fine, as long as such courses don't remove the math and science concepts needed for doing well in 1st year college courses.


I've met people with PhDs in biology who were a little vague on where mammal begins and ends, and people who knew calculus but couldn't have figured out the angles in an octagonal frame if their life depended on it. I'm all for children knowing stuff but it's amazing how disconnected from reality education is these days.


I agree, and that's the underlying global social problem isn't it? We pour a tremendous amount of resources into and compete internationally over things that usually (for the majority of us) aren't very useful, it's simply to prove that we can learn something about something in order to rank us from "most promising" to "least promising" - at least that seems to be the point of the majority of K-12 and undergraduate education, and I'd say about half of graduate school education. We do it because those are the rules, not because the rules make sense on a social level. On the other hand, I'd rather not have education simply become job training specifically for company X.
posted by peppito at 10:43 PM on January 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


The local middle school, about a mile from Chez Panisse, participates in this program. It rocks. You've got kids seeing that food comes from the ground rather than from a McDonalds, and thinking about nutrition, engaged in the topic like I've never seen.

Yes, it's home ec. And it's also gardening. And math. And science. It's integrated the way subjects should be - each one connecting with the next.

This program is an example of an individual American doing something incredibly civic - getting the gumption and bucks together to help steer an entire public school to teach something interesting and well.
posted by zippy at 11:12 PM on January 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


"Does anyone really think class time spent gardening is time well spent, when a school's test scores are poor?"

If you were paying attention you'd have read that the Alice Waters thing isn't just about gardening but developing a cross-subject curriculum that ties the outdoor activities in with math, history, and other things.

Personally I feel that it's as good a plan as any for a school. It's the execution that would matter. Having tought ancient history (shift from paleolithic to neolithic culture) I personally spent a lot of time trying to explain how long it took for rice and wheat to be domesticated from their wild ancestors, whereas a project like this would have made my job a lot easier, fun, and exciting.

But hey what do I know, I teach for a living.

That said, do schools do Future Farmers of America any longer? I went to a pretty elitish private high school that had a chapter, and it seemed like a lot of fun (although I was never a member). It was run by a really good, aging hippy history teacher type. I imagine he's still fighting the good fight, getting the rich city kids to think a little more about agriculture and the environment.
posted by bardic at 11:31 PM on January 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


"That's fine, as long as such courses don't remove the math and science concepts needed for doing well in 1st year college courses."

FFS are you even trying to pay any attention?
posted by bardic at 11:31 PM on January 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


"That's fine, as long as such courses don't remove the math and science concepts needed for doing well in 1st year college courses."

FFS are you even trying to pay any attention?


Sorry, did that not make sense or was it too obvious? You can call the course whatever you'd like, angle the course however you'd like, Pre-calc used for counting sheep, geometry of domesticated animals' horns, trig of bean stalks, fine, but if the course is not rigorous enough to prepare a student for courses required for 1st year, basic undergraduate science work, then it's a failure and a waste of time if the intention of the student is to go on and be successful in college.
posted by peppito at 11:47 PM on January 12, 2010


I think society needs to get together and address the need for reasonably healthy and cheap instant or prepared foods. It just isn't reasonable to expect everyone to cook, any more than it is reasonable to expect everyone to be their own auto mechanic or computer technician. A lot of people don't know how, or hate it, and it eats up a lot of time a lot of people don't have. I mean, if you combine the time-debt with the equally mandatory exercise, you're talking about 2-4 hours out of every day - which is a lot!

If we could just get together and make fast food that's not terribly unhealthy, that'd be a hell of an achievement. I'm not just talking salads and crap, either - you can make a reasonably healthy version of nearly anything if you use ingredients that aren't intentionally designed around being super-fattening. I mean, there's nothing magical about home cooking - there's no reason we couldn't have places doing it for us and get the efficiencies of scale and not having to train every last person in cooking. It just doesn't seem to have happened yet.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:19 AM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


ACORN-loving, public-option-supporting man or woman of the people

ACORN : conservative :: filthy, dirty, sensual smut : televangelist
posted by benzenedream at 12:47 AM on January 13, 2010


If you were paying attention you'd have read that the Alice Waters thing isn't just about gardening but developing a cross-subject curriculum that ties the outdoor activities in with math, history, and other things.

Which may not have a measurable effect on students. In which case, it's kind of wasted time and effort.


If we could just get together and make fast food that's not terribly unhealthy, that'd be a hell of an achievement. I'm not just talking salads and crap, either - you can make a reasonably healthy version of nearly anything if you use ingredients that aren't intentionally designed around being super-fattening. I mean, there's nothing magical about home cooking


I tend to think there's nothing magically healthy about home cooking, either. And even if it is healthy, by whatever measure you care to take, there's no guarantee that we won't simply eat too much of it, or sit at the computer too long in between meals. Part of the health problem is that modern American lifestyles are largely sedentary. Couple with low food prices, the results are not really surprising.

This overall approach to public schooling, that it can be tailored to fix society's ills, is common and an easy outgrowth from the view that education is a universal good. But it's all too tempting to simply pile on more and more stuff, which draws resources from the kind of education that prepares students for higher learning, and sometimes has no objective or proven value in creating students capable of actually succeeding in higher education and beyond. Good intentions are simply not enough if they don't produce good results.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:56 AM on January 13, 2010


All of this is why i am eagerly awaiting Poorcraft: A guide to Urban And Suburban Living
posted by The Whelk at 1:43 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Which may not have a measurable effect on students. In which case, it's kind of wasted time and effort. "

As opposed to what's happening in failing public schools now?

I'm not saying the "Garden Curriculum" or what have you would work necessarily. Like any curriculum it would stand or fall on the skill and efforts of the teachers behind it. But given obesity rates in America it's no worse than any number of "realistic" approaches that have failed horribly over the past few decades. And resorting to unfounded statements like "LOL COUNT SHEEP 2 LRN CALCULUS" is disingenuous at best. To be honest, it's kind of a shitty maneuver.
posted by bardic at 3:04 AM on January 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Two stories: a colleague was teaching early child nutrition classes to a kindergarten class. As a teaching tool, she had brought a bag of baby carrots, as they were small and good for sharing. She held a baby carrot up above her head and said "Who knows what this is is?" The resounding reply "Cheetos!" A little scary.

I know a guy in the corporate food industry and he said that they would not map particular junk food products to a neighborhood, but rather would map fat, sugar and salt. If fat was selling in neighborhood A--they'd flood it and own the fat market there. Whatever the product--didn't matter--just had to have a lot of fat. So, they had their margins down to only needing to understand the commodity. The product was just a vehicle to deliver the commodity against which they had factored their pay out. Again, scary.

Any program that can help people understand food choices is great. Any program that can teach people to advocate for themselves (in how they buy food, where they buy food, what they can expect when they buy food) will be terrific too.
posted by zerobyproxy at 3:06 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


All of this is why i am eagerly awaiting Poorcraft: A guide to Urban And Suburban Living

Oh my god, that's Spike! I love her work.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:32 AM on January 13, 2010


Seriously? Someone upthread contrasted something with slavish devotion to standardized tests and then complained of its being wasted time and effort?

I am without words.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:01 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Let me get this straight: the solution to poor people eating badly is no more poor people?

GLWT.
posted by unSane at 4:57 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love that people here are coming out against something as wholesome as teaching kids gardening.

Maybe you guys will get behind my campaign to outlaw puppies. Those little demon balls of fluff are out there distracting our children when they should be preparing for algebra camp!
posted by afu at 5:12 AM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


(see The Edible Schoolyard).

I tried that once in grade school. Found some boletus under the pines. Was asked what I was doing by other kids, told them how this was a wild edible mushroom and when others expressed doubt I proceeded to eat one.

For some reason, the administration found out. Eventually mom showed up. Seemed the kids on the schoolyard weren't the only people who doubted my ability to know what mushrooms are good to eat. Its like my education on the subject was in doubt.

All kids really need to know is how to think critically in a digital age, and they are definitely not learning that in school.

Go hang out with the home schoolers - they have books on how the education system was created to provide a certain base level of factory workers. Assuming that data is correct, when was the education system EVER going to produce 'how to think critically' students?

Such conformity efforts were observed LONG before the "digital age" however:
The little boy went first day of school
He got some crayons and started to draw
He put colors all over the paper
For colors was what he saw
And the teacher said.. What you doin' young man
I'm paintin' flowers he said
She said... It's not the time for art young man
And anyway flowers are green and red
There's a time for everything young man
And a way it should be done

posted by rough ashlar at 5:17 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone really think class time spent gardening is time well spent, when a school's test scores are poor? Thinking back on what I was like as a kid, compulsory anything was like aversion therapy. The surefire way to make me hate gardening would be to make me do it.

Then I guess we should devote the whole school day to gardening, cancel algebra class, and watch math scores skyrocket!
posted by escabeche at 5:32 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dude, our foremothers didn't spend whole weeks in August napalming themselves with boiling jam because they got a kick out of it or because it made them feel virtuous; they did it because they were poor and they needed to make use of every scrap they could wrench from the dirt in order to get by.

Dude, they did that because that is how one "made it through the winter" - it was food preservation. And "back then" the average part of the budget was 30% for food - which makes a different economic sense than when food is 5-10% of the budget and one can just 'go to the store'. Making jam was energy rich (due to the sugar) and was able to be preserved with simple hot water (again, due to sugar). Once pressure cookers came into existance along with mass making of glass you didn't need to 'napalm' yourself...just had to worry about your canner exploding. (By the time WWII was done, the exploding canner issue due to manufacturing flaws had mostly faded and the industry had consolidated. ) Pressure cookers are a great technology - cut WAY back on death by bad preservation.

The fact I can get all the canning jars AND pressure cookers I'm needed from dying grandmas for just my time to take 'em outta the estates shows how little food preservation matters to most people these days.

Remember the mocking of the Bush admin when they suggested 'keep some tuna in storage'? One only needs to look to the England fuel strike of 2001 and what it did to the shelf stocking levels to begin thinking about learning the skills and having the tools of food preservation.

That said, do schools do Future Farmers of America any longer?

Mostly no. Ever been a farmer? Dangerous work, expensive insurance, long hard hours. You could always join The National Grange $25 a year.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:38 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


My issue with Alice Waters is that she is sort of a mystic. Her recommendations seem grounded in the prettiness of the narrative rather than pursuing good utilitarian outcomes. It's pretty unclear that organic food is so much better for you or so much better for the environment. If you are poor getting organic food is unlikely to be a good use of your money. At the same time getting real fresh food isn't so terribly expensive compared to packaged food. It does require a non-trivial amount of work but ultimately it would be much more realistic to combine non-politicized diet recommendations (ie not the food pyramid) with knowledge of cooking and budgeting.

The poor have a lot of problems diet is just one of them. And there are a lot of poor people so solutions that depend on large donations are almost certainly not scalable. I find little objectionable with what Waters is doing except for the idea that this is somehow the way it can be spread across the country. It is an idea hamstrung by the vary romance that makes it seem so appealing.
posted by I Foody at 5:39 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of people who boycott Target. It sounds great in theory, but in practice you just out yourself as being irrelevant and privileged enough to be able to afford to go someplace else.


Errr, that someplace else would be Wal-Mart? Didn't know that was a 'place of privilege'.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:40 AM on January 13, 2010


we seriously consider the idea that community gardens and organic food will help.

Changing the food - Seems that data exists that this makes a difference. A cited by a Congressman (so you know its authoratative!)
Grades are up, truancy is no longer a problem, arguments are rare, and teachers are able to spend their time teaching.

Community gardens helped Cuba through the 'special period'. Victory Gardens helped provide up to 40% of the nations food during WWII.


So - what evidence do you have to support your position of:
how desperate and out of ideas the left is today

As oil becomes less of a factor in the economy and food as a %age of budget costs returns to a historic 30% - what will be the solution then? Soylant poor?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:52 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


The poor have a lot of problems diet is just one of them.

And there is grant money in them thar hills. Look toward the Indian nations and the skyrocketing rates of health issues there and the diet.

The Tohono O'odham (Papago) classify diabetes, cancer, and most infections as belonging to the category of "white man's disease".
posted by rough ashlar at 5:57 AM on January 13, 2010


That said, do schools do Future Farmers of America any longer?

My high school did, through the early part of the '00s, and it had a regionally-renowned vocational agriculture program, too. My grandmother had been a guidance counselor at that same school, many years before I came through, and used to speak speak proudly of how it provided an alternate path from the de-rigeur 'college is for everyone!' grind that was coming into vogue by the late 70's, and how it fed back into the town's economic and social mores. By the time I was in high school, though, the vo-ag program was just a feeder for veterinary medicine and agri-business, was using the college enrollment numbers of its graduating seniors as a success metric, and had the same apparent contempt for farmers that the rest of the town (itself a traditional tobacco-farming community) did. It was an incredibly weird, cognitively-dissonant offshoot of the school, and it died soon after I graduated. I never took an agriculture class, because it would have conflicted with the push to take as many college-prep courses as could be squeezed into a seven-hour day, but in retrospect, it would have been incredibly useful.
posted by Mayor West at 6:06 AM on January 13, 2010


As someone who works on the frontlines of urban poverty everyday, I'm not exactly looking to Caitlin Flanagan for input on these issues.
posted by The Straightener at 6:10 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's pretty unclear that organic food is so much better for you or so much better for the environment.

Last Decade:
PERSISTENT HERBICIDES IN COMPOST This analysis of the Dow chemical products that caused problems at two Washington state composting facilities, proves that protective steps need to be taken.

Last 5 years:
Biologist Dr Irina Ermakova said it showed that the GM potatoes damaged the kidneys, liver, large gut, blood serum, testes and prostate.


And this week a new study (vs the old ones showing the same):
Australian report suggests the GMO corn made by Monsanto causes significant fertility problems in mice ... Monsanto corn impairs rats' kidneys and livers. The "data strongly suggests" that after just 90 days of eating GM corn, rats experienced kidney toxicity and showed effects to their hearts, adrenal glands, spleen and blood cells.

So while "organic food" and "organic methods" are not show to be "better" - sure does seem plenty of non-organic "foods" and "methods" are suspect or require a label change that says "do not compost what this chemical was applied to'.
posted by rough ashlar at 6:14 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think society needs to get together and address the need for reasonably healthy and cheap instant or prepared foods. It just isn't reasonable to expect everyone to cook, any more than it is reasonable to expect everyone to be their own auto mechanic or computer technician. A lot of people don't know how, or hate it, and it eats up a lot of time a lot of people don't have. I mean, if you combine the time-debt with the equally mandatory exercise, you're talking about 2-4 hours out of every day - which is a lot!

Soup kitchens already do this. I am one of the rare people in sustainable agriculture who thinks that having everyone cook every day is unrealistic. Heck, I work with people who are the most educated about food and agriculture that you can possibly be, and still they struggle to have time to cook and shop. Modern jobs simply don't provide enough time for it.

And here I am with a degree in agriculture and a completely empty fridge because by the time I get home every day, the grocery store is closed (NYC is a little like rural Sweden in many ways) and it's only the crap-selling bodega that is open. When I do buy fresh food, it often goes bad because I stay late doing stuff for work and end up having to eat out. Not cooking is a habit shared by both rich and poor in cities, it's just rich people can afford to shove Midtown SaladOrama in their maw while sitting alone at a deli counter.

Efforts to get bodegas to sell decent food are worthy, but I often dream about a soup kitchen for everyone. Many people in NYC eat alone...and that's no fun. Imagine: communal tables, simple soup/salad/sandwich-based meals, operating as a co-op (in order to eat there, you have to work there once a month), and open late. Maybe I'm just being idealistic.
posted by melissam at 6:29 AM on January 13, 2010 [19 favorites]


I also want to point out that there are plenty of jobs in agriculture that require a college degree from animal sciences to agricultural economics. Flanagan probably knows 0 people who went to ag school and assumes all jobs in agriculture are menial.
posted by melissam at 6:31 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but she talked to this one guy who works in a public school!
posted by The Straightener at 6:38 AM on January 13, 2010


Don't upper-middle class folks spend WAY more time whining about food than doing higher math? If the goal is to propel kids upward economically, I'd say Alice Waters is on the right track.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:11 AM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Efforts to get bodegas to sell decent food are worthy, but I often dream about a soup kitchen for everyone. Many people in NYC eat alone...and that's no fun. Imagine: communal tables, simple soup/salad/sandwich-based meals, operating as a co-op (in order to eat there, you have to work there once a month), and open late. Maybe I'm just being idealistic.
posted by melissam


One thing I've noticed over here in Europe is that this need is met. France has late-night bistros and cafes where lots of single people meet to have cheap and decent food. My wife's family in Lisbon, Portugal has a place just down the block with big communal tables where a small staff, of women cooking and men serving, dish out cheap and delicious food.

In the US, I grew up in an extremely poor family - my mom was one of those people grabbing free government cheese - but that didn't stop us from eating well. We never went out to eat at McDonalds or KFC. That was a luxury. So, the food was simple - rice, beans, tortillas, freshly cooked meat, boiled vegetables, pasta - but it was generally healthy too. And, yes, my mom did this despite also working a job. It was cultural, I guess. Latino moms cook.

Here in London we eat extremely well but I realize thats because my wife loves to cook and is always going out to fresh food markets and visiting local butchers and bakers and whatnot everyday to put together our meal. Its not expensive - much cheaper than eating out - but it is time-consuming.
posted by vacapinta at 7:14 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I could say more, but Voltaire said it best:
"Il faut cultiver notre jardin."
posted by emhutchinson at 7:30 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


As it happens, I live fewer than 20 miles from the most famous American hood, Compton, and on a recent Wednesday morning I drove over there to do a little grocery shopping.

TWENTY MILES OUTTA COMPTON, crazy muthafucka name Flanagan,
Berkeley brat, slingin shit in A.M. again
With my fine look, and my MacBook,
A feature story with some hooks 'bout dumb schnooks

Harper's can't fuck with me
And my insightful fuckin essay about poverty
Damn, it hit HuffPo, now I'm showin out:
"FUCK GARDENS!" That what C-Flanny is blowin out
her ass, like the shit I talk about ACORN -
hoes shoulda married rich or just done porn

So when I'm at Ralph's, bountifully stocked,
Haters of C-Flanny getting fuckin dropped,
Peeling out in my Volvo, not stoppin,
Going back to TWENTY MILES OUTTA COMPTON
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:21 AM on January 13, 2010 [37 favorites]


To be honest with you, I doubt that people -- particularly children -- learn to eat "better" by learning about food.

I'm not saying that learning about food is a waste of time, but to assume that information and gardening will change someone's eating behaviour is kind of dubious.

I agree with Flanagan insomuch as she says that improving poor people's nutrition might require changing some of the social determinants of health (like education) -- but the way she says it, and the way her argument is framed, comes of as rather douchey.

It might interest people to take a look at the Hierarchy of Food Needs, which is patterned on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The idea that ENOUGH FOOD is needed before one begins to worry much about nutrition might explain the reason why poor people at Flanagan's foodbank gig grab for candy before the more "nutritious" food -- not because they are bad, stupid, ignorant people, but because when you're hungry, calorically-dense food (particularly sweets and fatty things) is far more appealing.

People need calories before anything else. Those of us who look down our noses at poor people for making "uninformed" choices about food have our vision clouded by our own privilege.

"Is it our role to teach the poor how to live quietly on less than minimum standards of health and decency and how to starve on minimum wage? Do we teach them how to budget malnutrition more neatly? Or is it our job to struggle for those minimum standards?"

You want poor people to eat better? Give them enough money, a place to cook, and access to a decent variety of food. Then worry about teaching them the finer points of nutrition.
posted by Ouisch at 8:38 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Give them enough money, a place to cook, and access to a decent variety of food.

Don't forget a way and place to store the food. Even an inability to store leftovers makes a difference.
posted by rough ashlar at 8:43 AM on January 13, 2010


just too annoying; I couldn't read more than a few paragraphs
posted by mary8nne at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2010


Poor people know that the shit they eat is bad for them, but they eat it anyway. For the same reason that poor people commit more crime-- they don't have any reason to plan long term or otherwise give a shit.

I don't think this is the reason. They eat what they do for the same reason I eat what I do: They like it & think it tastes good.
posted by coolguymichael at 8:46 AM on January 13, 2010


Yes, very true. And that's one part of the reason why buying food when you're poor can be, ironically, very very expensive.

Other reasons include: don't have a car? Can't buy in bulk, and you're limited to which grocery store (or bodega or whatever) you can walk to; don't have a place to cook? You're limited to prepared/fast foods, which are more expensive than staples; same if you have no dishes and no place to sit down and eat, i.e. if you're homeless.

Corner stores in my neighbourhood sell individual bottles of Ensure and Boost for about $2. Why do you think that is? Hint: not because there are a lot of joggers looking for a nutritional supplement. But because it's the only viable, affordable, portable source of nutrition for lots of the food-insecure people who are my neighbours. And it tastes like ass.
posted by Ouisch at 8:50 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Poor people know that the shit they eat is bad for them, but they eat it anyway. For the same reason that poor people commit more crime-- they don't have any reason to plan long term or otherwise give a shit.

This reeks of misanthropy. What a sad opinion to have of other people.
posted by Ouisch at 8:52 AM on January 13, 2010


Also, I love how 'living 20 miles from Compton' shows how real she is. Represent!
Ok, for those of you who don't live in LA, almost every rich part of town you've every heard of (Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Hancock Park) is within 20 miles of Compton.
posted by sideshow at 9:29 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


this was quite possibly one of the longest, most painful articles i've read in weeks. somewhere up in some of the first comments posted someone suggested to pry the pen out of this woman's hand. i am inclined to agree. despite the overbearing content, has anyone recommended a back-to-basics grammar lesson for her?
posted by terrirodriguez at 9:36 AM on January 13, 2010


I don't think this is the reason. They eat what they do for the same reason I eat what I do: They like it & think it tastes good.

That and.. hell, I don't even know what's healthy anymore.

Do you think the average person does? There are _constant_ _contradictory_ messages in the media.

Who can keep track?

A lot of "good for you" is basically stuff-white-people-like trend following.

Apparently legumes, dairy (causes "inflammation" but .. provides calcium?), potatoes (on which a generation+ of my ancestors survived) are bad for you, grains are bad for you (but they were hella good for you with the "good for your heart!" for the entirety of the 80s and 90s when fats where evil), HFCS is bad for you (but it's nearly identical cousins, sucrose --"the good stuff" -- and fruit juice are somehow not bad for you, let alone 100% fructose agave sweetener and "natural" honey [produced with apistan]). High protein is good for you except that it is bad for you.

Even spinach (once "one of the best iron rich vegetables") has fallen on hard times (in raw form: ecoli, in any form: the iron richness is not valuable since it is bound up in a complex humans cannot digest, rendering it about as useful as romaine lettuce).

Vegetarian is good for you but almost all of the vegetarians I know are fat, which is apparently bad for you, and I'm not talking about the "mac&cheese and Enterman's pastry" variety of vegetarian.

Veganism is supposed to be good for you if you're willing to put an incredible amount of effort into eating properly -- in my experience, excepting one athelete, all of the vegans didn't really want to put the effort in and quickly fell apart, indicating it's not all that good for you in practice.

Speaking of fat, nuts of various forms are full of it, and thus bad for you, but apparently good for you according to the anti-grain folks who powder them and use them as a substitute for flour when making paleo pizza [which is apparently good for you, but not pizza since it has no cheese]. I should correct that and note that fat is bad for you except the good fat, like olive oil, which is good for you except bad for you in quantity. Saturated fat is bad, but even bacon can apparently be healthy since it is a mainstay of the paleo/caveman crowd as long as it is nitrate free.

Lard (a mainstay of my grandmother's cooking, but of course not my mother's) is absolutely horrific for you... but it has less saturated fat than butter. So it's better for you than butter. Butter was so bad that we replaced it for nearly 20 years with a completely synthetic almost-food called margarine, but whoops, margarine and vegetable shortening (which replaced the evil lard) are full of trans fats which pretty much makes them the cardiovascular equivalent of flame retardants.

Honestly, the message of what is healthy is so completely and utterly fucked at this point that no one can make heads or tails of it, even if they think they can. Current research is across the board poor and contaminated by corporate involvement, yet despite that it is absolutely better than it has ever been.

I know lots of extremely educated, relatively upper middle class to wealthy white americans with BS, MS, PhD degrees who are educated in the sciences, fat and thin, who eat complete crap [at least as far as I personally understand it], and in most cases know it and in other cases are just operating on out of date facts.

Education is impossible if there are no facts to educate.
posted by rr at 9:37 AM on January 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


Poor people know that the shit they eat is bad for them, but they eat it anyway. For the same reason that poor people commit more crime-- they don't have any reason to plan long term or otherwise give a shit.

I don't think this is the reason. They eat what they do for the same reason I eat what I do: They like it & think it tastes good.


Well, buying a twenty-dollar frou frou cheese encrusted filet sure is tasty, but a big mac will do in a pinch if you can't afford it.

Fast food is the perfect intersection between palatability and affordability. If you're poor, why wouldn't you eat the calorically dense, tasty, cheap shit, that can be picked up in ten minutes on your way home from work?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:46 AM on January 13, 2010


Fast food is the perfect intersection between palatability and affordability. If you're poor, why wouldn't you eat the calorically dense, tasty, cheap shit, that can be picked up in ten minutes on your way home from work?

Suppose there was a pill that made McDonalds completely fine from a health standpoint. It would then become the sensible answer. If we agree on that, then the only consideration is the long term consequences. Human beings in general, of all types and backgrounds, are _incredibly bad_ at making decisions based on long term consequences.

The only solution is to make the option less sensible in the immediate term. One side effect of taxing the hell out of fast food, sugary foods, salty snacks and the like is that it will likely bouy up the cost of ALL food to the point where the taxation is neutral.
posted by rr at 10:01 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


You all sure are being hard on Caitlin Flanagan, who is just, after all, trying to share the lessons of pragmatic public education she learned teaching at Harvard Westlake School, and how they relate to the issues of practical home economics she has learned as an at-home parent.

With a nanny

and a housekeeper

posted by nanojath at 10:19 AM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, do schools do Future Farmers of America any longer? I went to a pretty elitish private high school that had a chapter, and it seemed like a lot of fun (although I was never a member). It was run by a really good, aging hippy history teacher type. I imagine he's still fighting the good fight, getting the rich city kids to think a little more about agriculture and the environment.

here in the rural South, it is second only to football as the most important extra- (or intra-) curricular program in middle and high school. the college of agriculture is one of the largest, best funded and most prestigious schools at the university of florida. and ffa is not all about ag-crops or large animal veterinarian-ing. timber cruising (estimating forestry harvests), land judging (soil analysis for farming, development or whatever) and aquaculture are big as hell down here.
posted by toodleydoodley at 11:33 AM on January 13, 2010


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument. Or was it her oppression of the Glorious Working Classes via hiring them that brought her down? My interest is solely from a usability perspective as I'm willing to design a new comment form that requires posters to indicate they are either not now (nor have ever been) female or have a job outside the home before it allows them to post a comment.

Of course no one in here has ever allowed their homes to be cleaned, their grass to be cut or any other job they find demeaning to be done by someone else.
posted by yerfatma at 12:21 PM on January 13, 2010


I'm not saying the "Garden Curriculum" or what have you would work necessarily. Like any curriculum it would stand or fall on the skill and efforts of the teachers behind it. But given obesity rates in America it's no worse than any number of "realistic" approaches that have failed horribly over the past few decades. And resorting to unfounded statements like "LOL COUNT SHEEP 2 LRN CALCULUS" is disingenuous at best. To be honest, it's kind of a shitty maneuver.

Sigh. Gardening added on top of the curriculum is absolutely fine - even integrating it into other subjects, I'm not even disagreeing with you.

My point is that it does not matter how you teach the rigorous math and science, just that it must be taught if the point is that the student is to go on to college - because when they finally get here as undergraduates, I can tell you which ones will make it and which ones won't solely on the basis of who has been through the wringer and survived the more difficult courses before. And when that 30% fail Chem 1A, or the 60% are walloped and become depressed that their efforts in K-12 aren't good enough anymore, they'll realize how much time they've wasted at school doing things that did not prepare them adequately for the challenge they face now - this certainly happened to me and other scientists I know.

Go look at the people that win the international math and science competitions and go on to MIT, Caltech, etc. While gardening might be an interest to some of them, I doubt most of them bother with gardening, organic foods, etc. They prepare for exams, read textbooks, get tutors, and study by solving problems out of a book (and usually have parents who are scientists, mathematicians or engineers, which I'm sure helps) and then go on to become the majority of the professors at the top 10. The imbalance in preparation levels is what then leads to the differences in grades at the university level.

Community colleges also prepare some of the best students I have seen, is there a gardening element to courses taught there? I doubt it. But that's not that I think you shouldn't try to include it in K-12, it's definitely a good thing. And I don't think the way we teach and test in college is very useful to a career in math or science, but that's just the way it is. The nature of science, math and engineering disciplines in the US is mostly conservative and conformist when it doesn't have to be. Is this any clearer?
posted by peppito at 12:25 PM on January 13, 2010


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument. Or was it her oppression of the Glorious Working Classes via hiring them that brought her down? My interest is solely from a usability perspective as I'm willing to design a new comment form that requires posters to indicate they are either not now (nor have ever been) female or have a job outside the home before it allows them to post a comment.

I think the rule is don't pretend you're a Badass-Know-It-All Supermom- and-P.S.-Everyone-Else-is-a-Fuck-Up Especially-Poor-People-Who-Are-Dumb when you have a whole army of people doing shit for you.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:31 PM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Go look at the people that win the international math and science competitions and go on to MIT, Caltech, etc. While gardening might be an interest to some of them, I doubt most of them bother with gardening, organic foods, etc.

But they bother with band and karate and yearbook and (okay, I'll throw down some serious stereotyping) WoW and whatever other extracurriculars they've got going on, some of which they've probably worked into their academic schedule as well.

And considering that most of the kids who go to the top tier universities come from at least upper-middle-class backgrounds, yeah, they are probably raised in families who "bother" with organic food.

It's a shame that "organic" food has become the shorthand for "certified non-chemically-treated food." Because the lesson that's being taught by isn't to favor Organic-with-a-capital-O (precious, expensive, blessed-by-the-saints), it's to teach children about organic (not over-processed junk.) Too bad that the monkier "natural foods" is so heavily associated with the 70s and carob, because it's really a clearer description.
posted by desuetude at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2010


I think the rule is . . .

That's quite the slippery slope for those of us posting without making our own electricity. Enjoy life living off the grid.
posted by yerfatma at 12:47 PM on January 13, 2010


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument. Or was it her oppression of the Glorious Working Classes via hiring them that brought her down? My interest is solely from a usability perspective as I'm willing to design a new comment form that requires posters to indicate they are either not now (nor have ever been) female or have a job outside the home before it allows them to post a comment.

Of course no one in here has ever allowed their homes to be cleaned, their grass to be cut or any other job they find demeaning to be done by someone else.


It's not that she is on the other side of an argument or that she has employed other people to do her chores, it's that she comes off as such a self-righteous hypocrite about it. And then tops it off with ludicrous "proof" like since they have veggies in Compton, and Compton is famously ghetto, access to fresh food must not really be a problem in poor neighborhoods.

/FWIW, I've never hired anyone to clean my house, tend my garden, or do my canning.
posted by desuetude at 12:48 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument.

I think the greater problem is with the Atlantic consistently assigning softball horseshit to the inhabitants of their women's writer ghetto while allowing the men on staff to handle the Serious Issues. Also possibly because they are straight facedly advancing an article on urban poverty by a woman who spent exactly 20 minutes in Compton when there are many women writers who actually know what they fuck they are talking about on this issue though their input is apparently not getting the attention of the Atlantic's editorial staff.
posted by The Straightener at 1:08 PM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Revise your search: Ehrenreich
From the Magazine
In print and online
No results found.
posted by The Straightener at 1:11 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


An especially off-pissing bit from Caitlin who-works-at-home-with-staff Flanagan's piece:

"the scope of her [garden] operation—which is fueled not only by the skill of its founder, but also by the weird, almost erotic power she wields over a certain kind of educated, professional-class, middle-aged woman (the same kind of woman who tends to light, midway through life’s journey, on school voluntarism as a locus of her fathomless energies..."

I know professional-class middle-aged women can be annoying (that's why we have broad shoulders AND thin skin) but what's this "almost erotic" impulse that's tickled by spare time volunteering?

Is it a displaced sexual impulse - because we're otherwise past all that?
And what is so suspiciously "fathomless" about some spare time energies?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 2:05 PM on January 13, 2010


That's quite the slippery slope for those of us posting without making our own electricity. Enjoy life living off the grid.
posted by yerfatma


Your misuse of "slippery slope" makes your would-be rebuttal both ironic and tragic.

She did not lose her No-Boyzone Protection. Merely being a woman does not, should not, and will not grant one complete immunity from judgment when one is a ridiculous hypocrite. Check out this shit:

"Fair enough, and perfectly delicious, but the scope of her operation—which is fueled not only by the skill of its founder, but also by the weird, almost erotic power she wields over a certain kind of educated, professional-class, middle-aged woman"

You want fucked-up, sexist language? There it is, in Flanagan's own article. Certainly not in this thread. And there is nothing wrong with pointing out that it's easy as hell to raise kids when you have employees to whom you delegate work. It's self-evident. If it didn't make it easier, no one would hire nannies or housekeepers.

And I don't have a problem with anyone doing that, but I do have a problem with such a people acting as if they are superior parents and human beings because they have both the time and money to feed the kids free-range chicken and organic vegetables.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:27 PM on January 13, 2010


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument.

What the FUCK? Are you suggesting that those of us who are feminists think all women should be given a free pass to write toxic nonsense?

That's not how feminism works. I see no "boyzone" nonsense here--if anyone was calling Flanagan a "bitch" or a "cunt" or otherwise being sexist toward her, I would be all GRAR FLAIL.

Calling her out on her hypocrisy for working full time as an advocate of women not having paid work is not sexism, it's common sense. Calling out her shitty, facile writing is again not sexism--women on the whole write better than exactly as well as men, but Flanagan isn't a good writer regardless of her gender self-identification.

I am a woman who also works from my home. The difference between me and Flanagan is that I'm not lecturing other women about what they're doing with their lives or shaming them for doing paid work outside the home.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I know professional-class middle-aged women can be annoying (that's why we have broad shoulders AND thin skin)

Hey, speak for yourself, I was annoying long before I got to this age.

You point out another thing I hate about Caitlin Flanagan--her constant bashing of other women. Which is a fine way to get ahead in a sexist society, of course.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:38 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I should say re: Flanagan that I mean "her constant bashing of other women for being women rather than for the issues she has with their individual work or statements." Saying "I think Alice Waters's idea is stupid" is one thing--hypothesizing some elaborate women's pathology (with which Flanagan herself is magically untainted) is shitty.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2010


yerfatma, could you please provide a thesis statement? Your drive-by snarking has all the logical coherence of randomly rearranged refrigerator-magnet poetry.
posted by chinston at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting to me how women lose their protection under the Metafilter No-Boyzone Women's Bill of Rights for the simple crime of being on the other side of the argument. Or was it her oppression of the Glorious Working Classes via hiring them that brought her down? My interest is solely from a usability perspective as I'm willing to design a new comment form that requires posters to indicate they are either not now (nor have ever been) female or have a job outside the home before it allows them to post a comment.

Of course no one in here has ever allowed their homes to be cleaned, their grass to be cut or any other job they find demeaning to be done by someone else.
posted by yerfatma at 2:21 PM on January 13


I get to characterize myself as an at-home father and homemaker and perhaps claim some personal insight into that situation because I've spent the last 5 year being the sole daytime caretaker for my child and doing the majority of the housekeeping. If a nanny had been taking care of my child and a housekeeper had been keeping my house while I pursued a writing career, this would not make me a bad person. As long as the terms I hired these individuals under were not oppressive I would not be oppressing anyone. I certainly do not find any of these roles demeaning. But any claims I might be tempted to make about my special insights into the lot of the stay-at-home parent and homemaker would be hooey.

That's quite the slippery slope for those of us posting without making our own electricity. Enjoy life living off the grid.

That doesn't make a lick of sense.
posted by nanojath at 3:42 PM on January 13, 2010


I am actually convinced that the Atlantic's heavy reliance on Flanagan as their primary woman's writer voice is a piece of crypto-misogynist messaging from their male dominated editorial board. It's like they're trying to signal to other publications that they really don't need to exert much effort developing serious women contributors, because, hey, look at us, we're the most serious publication out there and the best woman we could find is basically a high-brow mommy blogger.
posted by The Straightener at 3:44 PM on January 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


couldn't have figured out the angles in an octagonal frame if their life depended on it.

Trivial if you use polar coordinates...oh, you don't know polar coordinates? I guess you haven't quite gotten around to calculus, then.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:07 PM on January 13, 2010


people who boycott Target

I'd never heard of a "boycott Target" movement, so I went looking. From what I found, the calls to boycott Target seem to be coming from the teabagging side of the aisle.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 4:45 PM on January 13, 2010


"Mostly no. Ever been a farmer?"

The FFA kids I went to high school with are all doctors and lawyers now. I didn't think of it as a pre-farmer club, but more of an agriculture/environmental interest thing.

FWIW I went to high school in DC, so maybe FFA is different in other places.
posted by bardic at 6:24 PM on January 13, 2010


That said, do schools do Future Farmers of America any longer?

There are chapters of FFA, 4-H, and Grange at my UC. It's an ag school, natch.

I'm actually speechless after reading the article. Caitlyn Flanagan has proved she doesn't know fukkall about gardening education programs, food equality, poor people, public education, making logical argument, or writing a pleasing, grammatical sentence. As someone who gardens for a living, her notion that getting your hands in the soil is inherently demeaning is offensive. I guess her grandparents never grew a Victory Garden during WWII. Isn't self-sufficiency a core conservative value?

Her little trip to Compton to disprove the existence of food deserts is completely absurd. In my old neighborhood of West Oakland, there are no longer any supermarkets; however there is plenty of sun and soil. And now there is also organic food, grown in the neighborhood by local people and sold at a sliding scale, thanks to a number of grassroots education and outreach organizations. I don't know why everyone seems to think organic food is the province only of the bourgeoisie- it's really, really easy to grow organically on a backyard scale. Poor people have been doing it for centuries. Teaching people that they don't have to rely on some supermarket deciding that their neighborhood is worth investing in in order to eat decent food can be a liberating notion- that's peopbably what Flanagan is really worried about.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:28 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Big ups to Sidhedevil and OC for responding to yerfatma's bullshit. Had me all a-twitch, but y'all kept me from adding yet another metaphorical upside-the-head.
posted by klangklangston at 7:05 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know why everyone seems to think organic food is the province only of the bourgeoisie- it's really, really easy to grow organically on a backyard scale.

This is a great point. The bourgeois, expensive issue with "organic food" is making it available consistently and in volume to the public.

Backyard gardening is really easy to do with no or minimal pesticides, and the stakes obviously are quite different. Doesn't matter if the edges of my chard get a little nibbled by bugs, I know exactly what caused that damaged part and I can cut it off if it bothers me. And if a crop totally fails? Eh, so what, so I wasted five bucks on a seedling or a few bucks on a packet of seeds. No need for me to turn a profit.
posted by desuetude at 9:18 AM on January 14, 2010


Honestly the problem with the nutrition of poor and working class people is simply time and money, as has been stated several times in these comments.

Some of the fault lies with American culture in taking a great emphasis off of basic life skills--like cooking--and placing all the emphasis on making money and getting educated to make more money. It's a symptom of materialistic, disposable culture. We don't know how to sew or mend clothes anymore because they're cheap, plentiful and disposable in our culture. The same is holding true for cooking. It's faster, cheaper and easier to buy bad food than it is to cook good food, so why even learn?

Is teaching gardening to poor youth going to make them eat better? Not unless the raw materials are cheap enough for them to procure and they have the time to cook them. It's a bit of a case of getting the cart before the horse.
Teach them to cook. Quickly, healthily with readily available produce that can be had for next to nothing. We'll work on the "organic, sustainable" thing later.

Personal anecdote time:
I am a professional chef who has cooked almost exclusively in restaurants serving local, sustainable and organic cuisine for the last ten years. You might think that this would lead to me having a much better diet than even middle or upper-middle class Americans.
You'd be wrong. Because I have the same problem they do, namely that I work ungodly hours for little or no overtime. Not to harp on it, but I arrive at work the same time most Americans do (8 a.m.) and I don't leave until well after 10 p.m., on weekends midnight or later. I have time for coffee and some bread product on the way to work, a quick snack from the reach-in just before dinner service and then it's time to do the cleaning, ordering and scheduling.
In the past year I would regularly eat at Wendy's late nite drive-thru at least three times a week. I actually make pretty good money, I just have no time to spend it on good food.

And I have only one job! Unlike my dishwasher or my busboy/foodrunner who has two. Everytime I see those guys (they arrive together from their previous jobs) they have a bag of doritos and one of those "monster" energy drinks. They don't have time for anything else.

Final little nitpicky thing:
I'm sick to my back teeth of hearing about how Alice Waters founded "California Cuisine". She is not, nor has she ever been the chef at Chez Panisse. She is the owner and promoter.
posted by kaiseki at 6:30 PM on January 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Diablevert, jb here, and I'll come right out and say that is anyone who wants to call me bourgeois can stick it up their ad hominin ass. I grew up on welfare, in public housing, and have lived for my whole adult life while making less than $20,000 a year. This gives me all the I-wish-my-family-were-as-well-off-as-the-working-class cred that I need. I haven't just watched the roaches climb the wall; I did a high school project on them, and how many I could catch with differently baited traps.

Now to addressing the nonsense in your comments.
Right. It's lovely and natural, produced by a rumpled farmer in dirty bluejeans with furrows in his cheeks deeper than the ones in his fields, as opposed to the dirty nasty lettuce produced in the horrible giant monoculture field with the migrant laborers and the giant pesticide sprinklers. I know because the sign in the aisle at Whole Foods tells me so.
No, I know because I study agricultural history for a living and I attend seminars by agricultural scientists. I've never actually set foot in a Whole Foods, since I don't know how to drive (not ever having a car to learn in, what with being on welfare). I have worked for an apple farmer, and discussed the trade-offs of spraying versus not-spraying and the use of migrant labour with her.

Contemporary agriculture is very highly dependent on petroleum based energy and chemicals, and it is destructive to the soil and water which is the ultimate source of all food. We can't photosynthesize -- we need crops. And our use of fossil fuels in food production is, of course, contributing substantially to global warming. And the ironic thing is while farmers in places like West Africa have been criticized for turning their land into desert with unsustainable practices, it's looking more and more like their practices were not damaging -- their land is subject to desertification because of our farming practices (and transportation and consumption of fuels in general).
Giving a shit about the environment, or at least talking about giving a shit about the environment while feelingly mildly guilty about how little one does to live up to one's purported ideals, is a very, very important bourgeois value.
I would have hoped that worrying about our planet was something for all of us to do -- especially since it's the poor who suffer from things like landlords who ignore insulation. Being green should, in the words of that really cool guy who used to be the environment czar, should bring more green (money) into poor people's hands.
Not that's it's easy to go reaching for something 2-3 times more expensive, even when you know you ought to. It's like free-range eggs, that way, or like eating non-cannibalistic beef.

Yes, that's why poor people don't do it. Because they spend a bigger chunk of their total income on food, and you can get a lot more calories, and more pleasure, out of a lot less than it costs to live on organic, humanely and sustainably-raised food.
Yes, I'm fully aware of this. I've been on both sides of the counter at a food bank, and I did stop buying free range eggs when I was in the states and paying more than 50% of my income on rent alone. I was addressing the fact that even those of us who can afford to don't buy more sustainable produce -- and that it's much harder when money is an issue. That said, I was thinking of myself when I wrote those comments, and how I ought to be buying more sustainable food even if it meant having to do without other things, because my planet does mean a lot to me. It's the only one I have.
But, like I said, in 21st-century America, caring about the provenance of one's vegetables and whether or not the farmer was a decent fellow to one's burger is very, very bourgie.
And this is where your stereotype windbagging went on full blast. Did I say that I cared about whether a farmer was nice to his cows? I don't like undue mistreatment, because I believe that animals feel pain and inflicting undue pain is immoral, but I don't care about nice treatment. I care about non-cannibalistic cows because cannibalism is a major vectory for disease. And I care about factory farming because close confinement of animals also increases disease, increasing the use of anti-biotics and producing massive amounts of polluting manure; mixed farming as practiced in places like New Zealand and Argentina is more environmentally sustainable. It does mean that meat would be more expensive -- but we have to have a serious discussion about sustainability and food policy that means letting some things get more expensive if producing them cheaply means that we won't be able to produce anything in the future.
Dude, our foremothers didn't spend whole weeks in August napalming themselves with boiling jam because they got a kick out of it or because it made them feel virtuous; they did it because they were poor and they needed to make use of every scrap they could wrench from the dirt in order to get by.
Yes, I know this. I put down the strawberries myself (and peaches, and tomatoes, and pickles...) -- back when I was on welfare. For 10 years on welfare. And because we were on welfare, we had time to can -- much as my stay-at-home grandmother had time to can. When I went to a seminar on food given by Alice Waters,* I commented to her that I thought that she was being unrealistic to expect the working poor (as opposed to the non-working poor) to have time to do this kind of food prep -- that it was not education alone that was lacking, but time. My mother knows how to can, but has never had time since she finally made it back into the workforce.

But that said, education could help people learn that they can cook a nutritious and filling meal with a can of tomatoes, a can of chick peas and a bit of garlic -- something I had to teach myself, because my mother does not know how to. And it is what has allowed me to cook for my husband and I despite our way-less-than-bourgeois income.

*Is that name-droppy enough to show that I don't just idly comment in threads on food, agriculture and social policy?

-------------------

on preview: kaiseki, don't they feed your employees at your restaurant? I've never been a chef, just an undertrained line cook, and we were given a free meal every shift. It doesn't cost that much, and does so much for morale.
posted by jb at 6:42 PM on January 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


jb,

I feed my entire staff every night, and always have. It's not just the morale factor, it's the human thing to do. Related to what I said in my post, for many of them it will be the healthiest meal they get all day, and maybe the only one.
However, also related to my post, that means that I have to cook the staff meal, which means even less time for me to potentially eat.
posted by kaiseki at 6:53 PM on January 14, 2010


True story: Back when jb and I first started dating, I couldn't get over the misery and squalor of her subsidised building. Callow as I was, I had never thought such a thing could exist in a developed country, and I was genuinely shocked and outraged. Understandably, jb was not impressed: 'oh you're so bourgeois,' she said, 'you can't expect to have running water all day!'
posted by Dreadnought at 7:00 PM on January 14, 2010


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