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What Food Says About Class
November 27, 2010 7:31 PM   Subscribe

What Food Says About Class "As more of us indulge our passion for local, organic delicacies, a growing number of Americans don’t have enough nutritious food to eat."
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies (172 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Time is just part of the problem, Davis explains, as she prepares Sunday dinner in her cheerful kitchen. Tonight she’s making fried chicken wings with bottled barbecue sauce; yellow rice from a box; black beans from a can; broccoli; and carrots, cooked in olive oil and honey.

I'm elite, so I get my rice from the paddy at my urban garden.
posted by melissam at 7:41 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


brb getting the popcorn ... buttered with white truffle infused Plugras :D
posted by liza at 7:41 PM on November 27, 2010


A corollary to this recent post: Diseases of Affluence. Except that it turns out being poor is leading to disease. Perhaps we ought to revise it to "diseases of just a little too much but not enough affluence" or something.
posted by stoneweaver at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2010


Is squirrel the perfect austerity food?

cooking squirrel with SusieQ

It's not just for Mike Huckabee anymore. I have a NYS small game license, I'm going to try to bag some tree rats in prospect park.
posted by Ad hominem at 7:42 PM on November 27, 2010


bad food is bad:

“How is this going to be sustained with near-term rising energy costs when so much fossil energy is embedded in the pepperoni?”
posted by ServSci at 7:43 PM on November 27, 2010


Time is just part of the problem, Davis explains, as she prepares Sunday dinner in her cheerful kitchen. Tonight she’s making fried chicken wings with bottled barbecue sauce; yellow rice from a box; black beans from a can; broccoli; and carrots, cooked in olive oil and honey.


That sounds pretty darn tasty.

Meanwhile, I can certainly understand being a locavore, but so much of what the article describes as upper middle class eating choices strikes me as positively decadent. Do people REALLY eat like that?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:48 PM on November 27, 2010


Yes. Affluent people really do eat like that. Status symbols, you know.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2010


I know I'm in the minority but, frankly, this columnist has no fucking idea what it takes to eat anything other than packaged food in an urban poor environment. This article says nothing other than "I don't know what the fuck is going in most of the United States."
posted by ...possums at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2010 [21 favorites]


Right, because it's really one or the other, a quarter pounder and fries or "quinoa porridge sweetened with applesauce and laced with kale flakes"... It is a serious problem though, which probably would have had more impact not having been written about by some park slope foodie.
posted by rhyax at 7:52 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


I confess, the crushed tomatoes I used in tonight's ziti were from a can, not an earthenware vessel hand-thrown by a unicyclist named Pablo.
posted by fleetmouse at 7:56 PM on November 27, 2010 [27 favorites]


It's basically the Midas Plague, only with more corn and fewer robots.

This does hit close to home. Stories of how people eat like this might as well be sci-fi, from my personal experience; $1k pays all my bills for a month and if I spend $250 on food I feel like I'm being extraordinarily lavish. I love the books by Michael Pollan but it might as well be a foreign country he's talking about, not California. The people at the beginning of this could be in Park Slope or on Mars. I buy some local produce, but I would not be able to afford to eat if I did that all the time.

But compared to the people I know, I'm doing better than most. I've significantly cut back my soda consumption and I'm baking much of my own bread. Growing up, I ate a lot of unnaturally-colored foods with ingredients lists I couldn't pronounce, mostly prepared in the microwave, so this is an improvement. But I'm also trying very hard not to die in the economic class in which I was born. If I didn't have those aspirations... I probably wouldn't, to be honest, be spending my time and money on this sort of effort, when there would be other things I could do to make my life more immediately easier to cope with.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:59 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


I grew up rural poor in the US South and we grew both a garden and an orchard on our land. We had fresh vegetables - potatoes, squash, pumpkin, onions, okra, tomatoes, carrots, spinach, peppers, blahblahblah - from our garden and fresh apples and plums from our orchard. When we ate fish or chicken, it was usually fish or chicken we had raised or caught ourselves. We got pork and beef for cheap from a farmer living nearby. We were straight up living in poverty, but we ate DAMN WELL. I never even saw a Cheeto or a can of Mountain Dew until I went to high school.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 7:59 PM on November 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


Are hummingbird tongues considered locavore delicacies? They are seasonal... but are they prohibited if you're not on one of their migration paths?
posted by JB71 at 8:01 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes people eat like that. Stores in manhattan are full of $27 a pound Berkshire hog prosciutto and 30$ a lb parmigiana. The thing that is mind boggling to me is that the same can of tuna that costs me 5$ in manhattan my mom pays 25 cents a can for and feeds to her cats.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:01 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


Remember Meg and Hamilton Swan from Best in Show? The Fergusons are these people. They are obsessed with cheese provenance instead of J Crew sweaters. Their children fill the role of the Weimaraner Beatrice nicely, and I'm sure they are subject to just as much neurotic behavior.

Paying more than say $1,000 for a suit per month on food is not normal, even by Park Slope standards. Especially if your household income is only $60,000 per year, have two children, and live in one of the better neighborhoods in New York City. These people are obsessed with food only insomuch as it is a signifier for their Upper Middle Class aspiration. See also: poor people with nice cars.

“I can’t convince my brother to spend another dime on food,” adds Dave.

Food as the new luxury, indeed. It doesn't matter what you eat as long as it costs more than you can afford.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is squirrel the perfect austerity food?


Hmm, I'm a vegetarian but I do approve of killing animals based on the castle doctrine, for instance uninvited Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs in my house. Those squirrels seem like easy targets sitting in the bird feeder, taunting me, stealing my expensive black oil sunflower seeds...I will consider this.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I grew up rural poor in the US South and we grew both a garden and an orchard on our land. We had fresh vegetables - potatoes, squash, pumpkin...
Yeah... none of that helps if you don't have land.
posted by delmoi at 8:03 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


We didn't have a lot of land, but I do see your point.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:04 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I got to this:

“This is our charity. This is my giving to the world,” says Alexandra, finally, as she packs lunchboxes—organic peanut butter and jelly on grainy bread, a yogurt, and a clementine—for her two boys. “We contribute a lot.”

and wanted to punch someone in the face.

Don't get me wrong - we prioritize our grocery budget so that we can include organic foods, unprocessed foods, foods with fewer additives, especially for our kids. But to call trying to give our kids the best we can afford charity - that's nauseating. Charity is doing for OTHERS, not just for your own family. I. Just. Don't. Get. This.

I also understand where this woman's mother was coming from, taking offense at the whole apple thing. I grew up poor - not government cheese poor (though my cousins got government cheese and shared), but poor enough that my mom cooked more like a cross between Tiffiney Davis and Jabir Suluki. Money was tight, and she had to prioritize having *enough* over anything else.

Even now, though things are much better, she still shops on a budget. When we visit, she makes an effort to come close to how we feed the kids - lots of fresh fruit especially - and I am grateful for that. To turn my nose up at her, to judge her for doing her best then AND now, would be rude and obnoxious. If I happen to do the shopping while we're there, yeah, I'll pick up the organic apples because that's my habit. Otherwise, the conventional apples are just fine for a few weeks.

Gah. I need to stop, because I want to kick someone. Maybe I'll go make a donation to the foodbank instead.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 8:07 PM on November 27, 2010 [42 favorites]


The only reason I can afford fresh fruit and vegetables every day is because they are subsidized by my workplace's cafeteria. I work in a hospital. Even in a hospital cafeteria, there's one salad bar (and granted, it's an excellent salad bar) and a cabinet from which you can get yogurt, and then there's pizza, burritos, Southern soul food, Chinese mall food, and a hamburger place. About 90% of the available food is too high in fat or sugar. They put butter in the oatmeal, even.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:08 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


“This is our charity. This is my giving to the world,” says Alexandra, finally, as she packs lunchboxes—organic peanut butter and jelly on grainy bread, a yogurt, and a clementine—for her two boys. “We contribute a lot.”

You know who else thought self-righteousness was charity?
posted by hal_c_on at 8:08 PM on November 27, 2010


As a kid growing up in Nova Scotia, I read a memoir of a woman who'd grown up in a poor harbour town during the Depression. She said that the poor kids' school lunches were lobster while rich kids ate bologna. The poor kids ate what their families caught from the sea but the rich kids' families could afford to buy food. I imagine the same thing occurred in Maine and similar things happened wherever food could be raised/caught.

So now that so much of the population is urbanized and working in factories, stores, and offices, the fashionable thing is to have the space and leisure to farm/catch your own food. Since the urban poor usually have neither space nor leisure, if they can't afford stone-ground, whole-grain artisanal bread, they can just eat TastyKakes.
posted by angiep at 8:08 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


Our local Wal-Mart recently added a produce and meat section. You can buy heads of cauliflower for $1.50 (it costs $5 at the supermarket chain where we usually shop - we live on an island, so things can get more expensive here). I'm not buying this "elite vs. underclass" argument.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:09 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


"Do people REALLY eat like that?"

Some do. I have a couple of really douchey foodie acquaintances who not only eat like that, but are super-giant judgmental snobs about it. Nobody will eat out with them any more and certainly nobody will invite them over for food. (It is possible to be a foodie who loves food and loves introducing others to food and is fun to be around and eat food with, but they're not nearly as noticeable as the douchey judgey type.)

But most affluent people I know (who are mostly doctor/lawyer/executive types, not inherited wealth types or media-creative types) buy, say, organic meat, dairy, and kiddie snacks; shop at the farmer's market when the kids don't have early Saturday soccer games; order pizza now and then; drink Diet Coke; and try to prepare healthy (or at least healthy-ish) homemade food when they can (whether that's one night a week or whether that's seven nights a week). They often have one or two areas of food they get kinda foodie-ish about -- they really like cheeses, or they buy organic wine, or they go in for artisanal bread, or something like that. But I also live in the midwest where carrying things too far tends to earn you scorn.

In my experience, though, if there are children in the home, the focus of the organic buying is on the kids -- to the point that a lot of homes will have organic milk for the kids and conventional for the parents! I'd actually be curious to see a study about that; I know so many homes where "adult foods" extend not just to alcohol but soda, potato chips, etc. A lot of parents seem to be trying hard to give their kids a healthier "food culture" growing up even if the parents aren't quite able to give up the bad food habits of a lifetime.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:09 PM on November 27, 2010 [14 favorites]


I get really uncomfortable around people who self-identify as "foodies." It sounds like a cult. Or like they're cannibals. Or like they're a cannibal cult, all keeping in constant contact with their fucking iPhones.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


angiep, "She said that the poor kids' school lunches were lobster while rich kids ate bologna. The poor kids ate what their families caught from the sea but the rich kids' families could afford to buy food. [...] Since the urban poor usually have neither space nor leisure, if they can't afford stone-ground, whole-grain artisanal bread, they can just eat TastyKakes."

I'm reminded of the old canard about how when the poor eat brown bread, the rich eat white bread; and when the poor eat white bread, the rich switch to brown. (Also see: breast milk and formula; pale skin and tanning; thinness and fatness.) There's definitely an element of class differentiation in choosing what's difficult for the poor to acquire/accomplish as the morally or aesthetically "better" option.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:12 PM on November 27, 2010 [20 favorites]


Angiep nails it. Just like it was once déclassé to have tan. And long fingernails used to mean you didn't have to do manual labor. Food snobbery is the new "your favorite band sucks". You have the free time , and the resources, to find out about this stuff and to go to the dozen specialty shops you would need to go to to get all this stuff in NYC.
posted by Ad hominem at 8:16 PM on November 27, 2010


Periodical writers begin a dangerous game when they find their most annoying friend and troll the readership by acting like their friend's neuroses are an emergent and valid life-choice™.

It it considered good sport and a witty riposte for the readership to in turn cancel their subscriptions and claim the legitimacy of online only, blog-based journalism.
posted by 2bucksplus at 8:18 PM on November 27, 2010 [6 favorites]


Adam Drewnowski, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, has spent his career showing that Americans’ food choices correlate to social class. He argues that the most nutritious diet—lots of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, and grains—is beyond the reach of the poorest Americans, and it is economic elitism for nutritionists to uphold it as an ideal without broadly addressing issues of affordability.

I agree, and get tired of conversations with foodie/locavore/etc friends who can't see this disconnect.

Tonight she’s making fried chicken wings with bottled barbecue sauce; yellow rice from a box; black beans from a can; broccoli; and carrots, cooked in olive oil and honey.

Depending on the portion sizes and the proportions, this sounds like a perfect meal to me. (Well, except that sometimes the bottled sauces and rice mixes have MSG in them, which doesn't totally agree with me, but that's small potatoes.)
posted by Forktine at 8:21 PM on November 27, 2010


I'm really tired of people saying that Americans below the poverty line can't eat well. You can eat incredibly well for $2 per person per day at nearly any Walmart in the country. I know this because I've done it for quite some time now. If you increase your budget to $3/person/day, you can eat so well it's not funny. This works out to under $1000/year/person, well under the 13% that most people spend.

It might not be local or organic, and that certainly says something about class which I understand is the point of the article, but I can't stand to read people casually throwing around the idea that McDonalds is cheaper than "healthy" food.
posted by daboo at 8:24 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


I think the author slights the factor of TIME much more than she realizes. Making your own bread, stewing vegetables or meat, slicing, stirring, blending, tasting, etc. etc. takes time and energy.

And in the meantime you're late from work and the kids need to do their homework and you have the bills to pay and your sister to call back and you haven't done the laundry and your neighbor wants to come in and visit and then the baby dumps the last box of cereal on the floor and starts to eat it and then the phone rings again and it's your kid's teacher and the dishes from breakfast didn't get done . . .
posted by jfwlucy at 8:26 PM on November 27, 2010 [11 favorites]


Don't get me wrong - we prioritize our grocery budget so that we can include organic foods, unprocessed foods, foods with fewer additives, especially for our kids. But to call trying to give our kids the best we can afford charity - that's nauseating. Charity is doing for OTHERS, not just for your own family.

*squints* Maybe she....thinks her kids are going to trade with other kids, and so THAT'S how she expects it to happen? "Timmy, I'll swap you this organic peanut butter sandwich for that Twinkie...!"

....Yeah, I got nothin'.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Believe it or not, there are places in the inner city without a Walmart for miles around.
posted by naoko at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


I don't know how you can "eat incredibly well" at Walmart, but maybe that's because my nearest Walmart does not sell produce or meat?
posted by Danila at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


A lot of parents seem to be trying hard to give their kids a healthier "food culture" growing up even if the parents aren't quite able to give up the bad food habits of a lifetime.

Yep. I'm a diet coke addict, and that's actually an improvement over the cases of Coke, Pepsi, Sunkist, and generic supermarket sodas we drank as kids. Not to mention Koolaid and powdered "lemonades".

My kid doesn't drink that stuff--and at least to me, he's never expressed any interest in drinks beyond apple juice, milk (usually we have organic), or water. Which aside from Mommy's diet Coke, is all we have in the house anyway.

He made it to his first birthday before he had anything sweet enough to be called a dessert, and even now, mostly prefers fruit to other snacks, even ice cream. He's at the age where he'll only eat a few things for meals, but most of them are pretty healthy, though he still refuses all meat except occasional pieces of chicken and all vegetables except baby carrots. Based on our own experiences being forcefed meats and two veg plus bread every night, we're fine with that. He'll expand his repertoire when he's ready.

Foodwise, his childhood is radically different from my own. But that is a great thing.
posted by emjaybee at 8:33 PM on November 27, 2010


Yes people do really eat like this. With far less thought. When we last visited my uncles in NYC, we were sent out to do the weekend grocery shop with enough cab fare to cover Murray's Cheese for cheese, Chelsea Pier for fish, Russ & Daughters for brunch, and Dean & Deluca for everything else. The money provided to provision the weekend was a huge chunk of our monthly food budget. I was pretty much too stunned to be appalled at the time but I have no idea how to reconcile the cash on the table with the political values of this couple. I'm not sure they do either but I don't think they're asking, either.

It was interesting to me that the author focused on how much time her neighbour spent thinking about, planning, shopping for and preparing food. She didn't seem to question or examine how shopping works when you are eating in poverty. It is vastly time consuming, and that's not born of the luxury of time born of a part-time job, it's born of necessity. Paper products are cheapest at store A, meat at Store B, poultry at store C, diapers at store D - and you need the savings from every one of these stores to make your budget and food stamps work.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:40 PM on November 27, 2010 [7 favorites]


Maybe I am reading too much into the article, maybe I just know more about foodies in NYC.Sure anyone can get nutritious food at wal mart but I think this is not about nutrition. This is purely about cost and status.

This is about salt versus fleur de sel

The interest in local, or sustainable, or organic for some people is only an interest in exclusivity .
posted by Ad hominem at 8:40 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Do people REALLY eat like that?"

Well, sure. But this is just some good old rousing magazine trend-piece writing that does its best to make kind of mundane extraordinary. Here, let's look at this paragraph near the top:


"I eat two slices of imported cheese—Dutch Parrano, the label says, “the hippest cheese in New York” (no joke)—on homemade bread with butter. I am what you might call a food snob. My nutritionist neighbor drinks a protein shake while her 5-year-old son eats quinoa porridge sweetened with applesauce and laced with kale flakes."

I think calling Dutch Parrano "the hippest cheese in New York" almost certainly is a joke. I'll confess I haven't heard of this cheese before, but according to their website the cheese is sold not just at Whole Foods but at Trader Joe's, A&P, and Safeway. This article gives the price at Whole Foods (in 2007) at a reasonable $8.99/lb. Yeah, it's imported, but so is Laughing Cow.

OK, on to "homemade bread with butter." I don't make my own bread, but I don't think it's a bizarre affectation of the rich to do so. Nor is buttering said bread.

"Quinoa porridge sweetened with applesauce and laced with kale flakes." I sweeten my kid's oatmeal with frozen fruit out of a package. Is that weird? Mixing in applesauce doesn't seem that different. I don't really know what "quinoa porridge" is, but I'm guessing it's like oatmeal with quinoa instead of oats. They sell quinoa at Trader Joe's too. It's not particularly expensive and I use it sometimes.

Kale flakes? I don't really know what this is but I'm pretty sure it comes in a bag and it's a way to get their 5-year-old to eat some vegetables. As such I support it. Nice touch of the author to use the word "laced," as if the mom were putting rat poison in the cereal.

So nothing here makes me feel like these people are bizarre -- especially when you realize that the author no doubt picked the most obscure food item the family consumed that day. Safe to say that most of what that family eats is: chicken breasts, frozen vegetables, fish from a can, (organic) mac and cheese from a box, salsa from a jar, etc. But that doesn't make for a good trend piece.
posted by escabeche at 8:41 PM on November 27, 2010 [8 favorites]


@Ad hominem - No, 'angiep' doesn't nail anything. In fact, they're part of the problem.
posted by ...possums at 8:41 PM on November 27, 2010


I think the author slights the factor of TIME much more than she realizes. Making your own bread, stewing vegetables or meat, slicing, stirring, blending, tasting, etc. etc. takes time and energy.

And know-how. Unless someone shows you how to work in a kitchen, unless someone lets you try the very very basics of cooking, even reading a cookbook would be intimidating to you, and even all the time in the world wouldn't encourage you to cook a meal for yourself.

A lot of the "basic" dishes that are out there sound, to the unexperienced, like "gourmet" things. I remember the very first time I ever made beef stroganoff -- I'd always had it in my head that it was this elaborate, classic dish, and the first time I ever tried, I just blinked a few times midway through and thought, "this is it?" Same with eggs florentine, or jambalaya, or bouillebaisse, or pasta alfredo, or...any of the things I've made.

If your whole life you go just hearing about these classic dishes, but you've never actually been shown how to work in a kitchen, it's intimidating and you think "oh, I could never make that." But all it takes is someone showing you, "no, see, this is just cooked-up beef simmered in some sour cream," for you to realize "wait, I actually can cook."

I wonder how many of the people who don't cook are actually that way becuase they believe they can't.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:42 PM on November 27, 2010 [24 favorites]


It is easy for and educated literate person to eat well on a lot less. It isn't even that time consuming. You make regular menus, purchase and prepare in bulk, use a deep freeze. I bought a quarter of a cow off a local farm this year and it was way less than at the supermarket. Drop your reading level down to 8th grade, spend a few weeks with the power turned off because you couldn't pay the bill this month. Take away your easy acess to a grouchy store because you dot have reliable transportation. Now from this vantage point see what a mountain it is to climb.
posted by humanfont at 8:52 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I have been on both sides of the food dilemma. For a long time my first wife and I were making a lot of money. This was at the age of 21 for her an 18 for me. We had a corner apartment in Washington Heights NYC. We were hippies that had cash. And no, not from selling drugs.

Anyway, back then we ate at Beefsteak Charlie's a lot. We always had steaks, chicken and loads of packaged food. We had cash, but were stupid about food. Kids, ya know?

Then the jobs we had went south. We ended up making about 10 percent of what we used to. And we ate a lot of fried bread. But we still had to feed the two cats and the dog.

At that point, rent was job one. But you know, food was pretty much the same. Why? Because we didn't know any better. We were still ignorant of the concept of how to change our diets. There was no IDEA in our minds that there was another, better way to eat. We were kinda protected from the world by having to fight for the cash to pay for our apartment. At this point we were over our heads with rent issues.

So I can see how people who have limited cash can still waste their cash on shit. It's sort of a tunnel vision kind of thing. Oh, and we still bought weed. That was a staple.

You can tell me I'm not speaking to the point here. Fine. I will tell you to spend a week eating fried bread in margarine. Two meals. Every day. And feed your damn pets too.

We'd occasionally shoplift food when we were really hungry.

We were stupid. Nobody explained how to cook and eat better. We were estranged from our parents and people in general.

We didn't have the thought process's to get out of our rut. I am not saying it's right. But I understand it.
posted by Splunge at 8:53 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


What's the answer here for the urban poor who lack cars and who may live 5-6 miles from a store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables: more grocery stores in more neighborhoods? Cheaper fruit markets in more areas? You smart people tell me.
posted by SkylitDrawl at 8:59 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


As a kid growing up in Nova Scotia, I read a memoir of a woman who'd grown up in a poor harbour town during the Depression. She said that the poor kids' school lunches were lobster while rich kids ate bologna.
posted by angiep at 10:08 PM on November 27


I'm Nova Scotian, and my grandfather, who grew up in Port Greville, used to talk about trading his lobster sandwiches for peanut butter sandwiches from the townies.

I read somewhere that Massachusetts used to have a law limiting the amount of lobster that could be fed to felons, as more than two or three (or however many it was) meals per week was considered cruel and unusual.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:59 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think calling Dutch Parrano "the hippest cheese in New York" almost certainly is a joke.

Christ, I hope so. Or NYC is just waaaay behind San Francisco, cheese-wise. When I worked at WF, Parrano was what we sampled out to people who weren't sure if they liked cheese (beyond underripe Brie and Cracker Barrel Cheddar). /cheese snob
posted by rtha at 9:03 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


humanfont: "It is easy for and educated literate person to eat well on a lot less. It isn't even that time consuming. You make regular menus, purchase and prepare in bulk, use a deep freeze. "

No it isn't. Not without money it's not. I am both educated and literate but I'm barely functionally solvent. I'm living above the poverty line and I can't do the things you list. Last week I couldn't buy laundry detergent on buy two get one free offer because I didn't have the money to buy two. I certainly don't have the buying power to buy food in bulk. I also can't afford a deep freezer, nor can I afford a residence with enough room to accomodate one.

I'm not having a go at you and I agree with your larger theoretical point, I'm just pointing out that it isn't as simple as people who are not juggling the actual costs with an actual marginal budget seem to think it is. And if I know it is impossible for me, with my roundly middle class life, I know it's impossible for people far less well off.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:07 PM on November 27, 2010 [19 favorites]


Food is no longer trendy or fashionable. It is fashion.

This. This 1000x. These two sentences are exactly why I'm afraid to tell people about my veganism - most other vegans I know (or locavores or flexitarians) flaunt their diet as activism or fashion. Some of us want to make choices for privat reasons but the change in culture is eliminating keeping your diet apart from the sort of scrutiny your dressing habits get.
posted by Chipmazing at 9:10 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


A guy I know who grew up in Cape Breton in the sixties tells about how when the mackerel were running, the kids would take their buckets of mackerel down to sell. For a day's worth of fish, they'd get just enough money to buy...

a CHEF BOY-AR-DEE PIZZA KIT!
posted by tangerine at 9:13 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


more grocery stores in more neighborhoods? Cheaper fruit markets in more areas?

Yes, both of those things would be nice.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:14 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


I agree with escabeche: trend piece. I feel like we've had this discussion so many times here on MeFi. The author here makes the most important point in the story:

There have always been rich people and poor people in America and, in a capitalist economy, the well-to-do have always had the freedom to indulge themselves as they please. In hard times, food has always marked a bright border between the haves and the have-nots. In the earliest days of the Depression, as the poor waited on bread lines, the middle and upper classes in America became devoted to fad diets...

She's correct.

Where I think the discussion goes off the rails is in obsessing about the choices of the rich. The rich, or affluent if you prefer, and what they can do and choose and eat are a red herring. If it were not food to which their disposable income was going, it would be something else. The significant issues are ones like : the poor quality and hidden costs of food generated by the industrial food system; the lack of access to fresh whole foods in food deserts; lack of resources (cash and otherwise, such as transportation and cooking equipment) which might allow poor people a wider range of food choice); and the farm subsidy system, particularly as it impacts school nutrition. I would really, really, really, really, really like to start talking about those issues more often without setting up the rich as a contrasting stereotype. IF we believe that there are things that are important for everyone to have access to in the food supply -- affordable, fresh whole foods available around the clock, organics, good taste - then let's set about doing that and spend a lot less time using yuppies for archery practice. It's nothing but a distraction.
posted by Miko at 9:22 PM on November 27, 2010 [27 favorites]


The closest grocery store to me when I lived in a lower class suburb just west of West Philly was a place called "SuperFresh". I would sometimes get off the bus there on the way home from work to get fixings for dinner and breakfast. More often than not, the majority of the produce section was in some advanced state of mold/decay/nastiness. Sometimes I'd get an overripe banana or two because my boyfriend at the time liked them that way, but that is it. I would usually just get frozen or canned veggies/fruits instead. However, I had a car on weekends and could drive out to a nicer suburb to a better store or farmer market to stock up. I also had a decent paying job, the time to make an extra trip, and no kids to take care of. It would mainly piss me off that for the other people who shopped there, that sub-par store was probably their only choice, given time and resources available.
posted by medeine at 9:23 PM on November 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think the author slights the factor of TIME much more than she realizes. Making your own bread, stewing vegetables or meat, slicing, stirring, blending, tasting, etc. etc. takes time and energy.

+1. I have yet to read any food- or health-related article that addresses this issue. jfwlucy's post imagines a parent just home from work, but what I always think of is lunch. What do you do at your time-clock job when you get half an hour for lunch in a windowless break room that's halfway across the plant/factory/warehouse/shop? Composing, tossing, and eating a salad in that amount of time (don't forget to scrub the grease and dirt off your hands first!) is not quite as doable as, say, nomming a ham sandwich and a Snickers.
posted by scratch at 9:26 PM on November 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


My husband is a tres trendy chef, and we buy fruit, vegetables and cleaning products at the local Latin Super A. It's not the top quality, but it's very cheap and if you eat it fast, it doesn't go bad. The store is located in an area designated as a food desert by the LA Times, but I'm pretty sure the journalists never actually went to the neighborhood they so casually labeled.
I'm always amazed at the preciousness of people who write about food. We eat burgers from In and Out. barbacoa from some place on Soto, and meat from an expensive butcher, but you'd never know how much time or money we spend on food.
But, no one learns how to cook or plan meals. Schools don't teach this stuff (home ec? hardly) and for a lot of people, packaged mac 'n' cheese = home cookin'.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:27 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


@EmpressCallipygos: "I wonder how many of the people who don't cook are actually that way becuase they believe they can't."

I was like that -- I didn't know how to cook, and I didn't know how to learn. Eventually I did learn, and you left one thing out of your excellent account of how suddenly you're like, "Woah, food isn't that hard!" --

Learning to cook is kind-of expensive.

I made ridiculous, absurd, dinner-ruining mistakes trying to learn on my own from books. I didn't have any nearby friends who cooked to show me, and there wasn't the wealth of internet food resources there is now (and if there had been, I'm not sure I would have known to look for a video on how best to chop an onion!). It took a lot of time when I was learning -- time that I had in grad school, but might not have had in the working world or if I had a family. And I constantly made stupid "food supply management" errors -- buying more kale than one human could possibly eat, not knowing how to use up the other 3/4 of a green pepper if I only needed 1/4 for a recipe, not knowing how to preserve leftover onion, all kinds of things. So between wasting food because I had to learn how to run a kitchen supply chain and wasting food because I had utterly destroyed dinner through a stupid error, it was EXPENSIVE at first, much more expensive than the boxed microwave meals I had been buying.

Eventually I got decent at it and it got cheaper, but there was a HUGE learning curve, and it cost me not just a lot of time but a considerable amount of money to learn without help.

I also found it difficult and discouraging that most recipes were for four to six people, and at best I was cooking for two. Mostly for one. (And I'm a fan of leftovers, but some things make bad leftovers.) And a lot of the "cook for two!" recipes involved half-a-this, quarter-of-that, so that you'd end up with all the supply-chain leftovers anyway. What I found out is that it's not so much recipes as techniques ("here's how to make a pasta primavera, guesstimate portions for one or for twelve ..."), but that takes practice and know-how, which is hard to gain without following the recipes-for-four at least at first ...

I think many people who grew up with at least passing familiarity with cooking have no idea how hard it is to start from absolute zero, complete with a total lack of kitchen common sense!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:28 PM on November 27, 2010 [25 favorites]


Places to go to learn more/do something about the problem:
Food deserts
Community Food Security Coalition
Gearing Up for the Next Farm Bill
Healthy Food Financing Initiative
PolicyLink Toolkit: Improving Access to Healthy Local Food
Center for Food and Justice

As far as the access and food-desert problem goes, a lot of that is something that can be worked on very helpfully at the municipal level - so if you did get involved there, you could have a concrete impact. Initiatives as varied as providing free van or bus transport to grocery stores or farmer's markets at scheduled times, developing a community investment plan bringing food businesses to poor neighborhoods, or establishing school gardens or farm-to-school programs are ways a difference can be made on a town or district level.
posted by Miko at 9:30 PM on November 27, 2010 [25 favorites]


Thanks Miko!
posted by SkylitDrawl at 9:31 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I guess Beefsteak Charlie's will always be my ideal of a classy meal. Surf and turf, salad bar with French dressing, shrimp on ice, bottomless pitchers of beer.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:35 PM on November 27, 2010


@Miko: "Where I think the discussion goes off the rails is in obsessing about the choices of the rich."

But I think this is actually the key point: In American political discourse, the fastest way to remove something from actual policy discussion is to designate it a "choice." Working mom with excellent daycare vs. working mom with terrible daycare vs. stay at home mom? It's a choice. Except that for many, perhaps most, women, it's not remotely a choice. Just this weekend, Sarah Palin was berating Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign as "taking choices away from parents" and "insisting the federal government knows better than parents."

Many people simply don't understand that eating organic, local, whatever isn't a choice everyone gets to make; all of the serious issues you identify aren't things we can discuss if food is simply a "personal choice" rather than a societal issue. Indeed, one of the things that struck me about Palin's remarks were that government anti-obesity campaigns are governmental overreaching, but government subsidies of cheap, fattening food are not on the table for discussion. And as long as the myth of "it's a personal choice" persists, and particularly as long as elites thing that their choices are open to everyone and fail to understand how circumscribed the choices of most people are, we simply can't have a real policy discussion about these serious, serious issues. (Part of me suspects some of this is kowtowing to corporate interests who want the structural aspects of the system weighted in their favor -- corn subsidies for big ag, no veggie subsidies for small farmers -- while insisting by the time it gets to the individual citizen, it's "just" an individual choice and anything the government might do to protect citizens against corporations is a nanny state, while protecting corporations is business as usual.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:39 PM on November 27, 2010 [18 favorites]


I don't know how you can "eat incredibly well" at Walmart, but maybe that's because my nearest Walmart does not sell produce or meat?

50 lb bags of purina dog chow.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:04 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do think this is where Jamie Oliver's much-maligned Ministry of Food is a serious attempt to address some of the education problems around food. He teaches people how to chop onions and how to make dinner without half a capsicum left over, and makes them feel like they could attempt more. The real problem with it in my opinion is that it doesn't scale: it needs the attention that his celebrity brings, and he can't personally teach everyone how to cook. His idea was that he could teach a few people and they could teach their friends, which kind of falls apart when you get people who now know how to cook, but not how to teach. But the idea of creating a new baseline of knowledge is correct in itself.
posted by harriet vane at 10:04 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Ferguson family has a seriously dirty fridge. If I was being interviewed for some sort of food story at my home, I'd figure they'd want to peek inside my refrigerator-and maybe wipe it down a bit.
posted by atomicstone at 10:06 PM on November 27, 2010


That fridge is not that dirty, not even close to seriously dirty. You have obviously never seen a seriously dirty fridge. The fridge is question only has a little bit of something at the bottom, maybe dirt from fresh veggies? Looks like there's no containers of food that are turning into science experiments, no mold on the wires of the two upper shelves, nothing on the walls or the back. Looks like a pretty respectable fridge actually. Sometimes parents have better things to worry about than the perceived cleanliness of their fridge. I have seen fridges in my lifetime that would make even the seasoned dirty fridge owner cringe in absolute horror.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:34 PM on November 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


A lot of the problem is time.

When I was little, my mom was at home, getting by on a mixture of welfare and inhome daycare work. She cooked fresh breakfasts, lunches and dinners, bought vegetables by the bushel and made her own dill pickles. All of the fruit we ate all winter was cut up and frozen by us in the summer. Chips and pop were only for birthday parties; take-out happened once a month or less. Even our cookies were most likely to be homemade. (all this was to save money -- she's never been a foodie, and strongly dislikes cooking).

She now works full time in a skilled office profession. She earns 2-4 times as much per year as when I was a child. She still has one dependent child - my niece. And they eat take-out 2-3 times a week, or frozen dinners heavy on the fats and carbohydrates -- because working 9 hours and commutting for 2-3 more doesn't leave you with time to make your own chilli con carne, let alone much time to put down the plum tomatoes in the summer before.

Watching my mom, who knows how to do most of these things, not do them has shown me that it's such a complicated issue -- and not to be answered by pat generalizations or simple solutions. We need serious deep research into the situations and choices of people, to understand better what is happening, before we can just answer.
posted by jb at 10:45 PM on November 27, 2010 [5 favorites]


I wonder how this applies to people in very rural areas. I spent a summer working in a town of maybe 800, with two very overpriced grocery stores for the tourists. Cheaper and fresher stuff was an hour and a half away by car. "Going to town" was what everyone did for affordable food, gas...basically anything. The land was either under snow for 6-7 months a year, or wasn't even farmable. There's food deserts in urban areas, but it seems there's more attention paid to them since they are in cities. I truly don't know how this works out for rural counties, where only a few own much of the land.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:06 PM on November 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I got to this:

“This is our charity. This is my giving to the world,” says Alexandra, finally, as she packs lunchboxes—organic peanut butter and jelly on grainy bread, a yogurt, and a clementine—for her two boys. “We contribute a lot.”

and wanted to punch someone in the face.


When you buy conventionally grown food you are sponsoring the use of pesticides in yours and other peoples' environment. You are sponsoring a corporate monoculture which permanently degrades soil and overuses water. These actions have negative consequences apart from the direct health issues. Other people are paying the cost to provide you with cheap food. You are the benefit of their charity.

When you buy food that is produced organically and grown sustainability, your actions have positive benefits to yourself, people around you, and yours and their descendents. But obviously as many people have pointed out here and elsewhere, more of the cost involved in producing the food is paid by you, the purchaser and consumer.

So, yes, absolutely, by buying organic you are "giving to the world".
posted by euphorb at 11:24 PM on November 27, 2010 [9 favorites]


No it isn't. Not without money it's not. I am both educated and literate but I'm barely functionally solvent. I'm living above the poverty line and I can't do the things you list. Last week I couldn't buy laundry detergent on buy two get one free offer because I didn't have the money to buy two. I certainly don't have the buying power to buy food in bulk. I also can't afford a deep freezer, nor can I afford a residence with enough room to accomodate one.

I agree with you that income plays a role. I think though that your ability to stretch your food budget is an order of magnitude lower than a less well educated and literate person. Many folks I've seen at the food bank struggle with the concept of a budget, or are still blowing their money on lattes, booze and cigarettes.

I assume you have discovered dry rice, dry beans, peanut butter, jerky, frozen vegetables, powdered milk, etc. If not I'm sure you can find any number of recommendations on the Internet. Also many people don't realize that the measuring cup from the detergent manufacturer is designed for the heaviest soiled loads, you can use much less for equal results.
posted by humanfont at 11:34 PM on November 27, 2010


I wonder if one thing that would make a big impact on people's food budgets is just getting kids accustomed to drinking water, and using the money for better food instead. Soda? You don't need to drink that ever. Juice? A very small glass is a treat. You don't need to pour a big glass of soda/juice/juice drink/bottled tea/milk with every meal - just drink water. It's free and that's all you really need, and it's not going to make you fat either. When I think about how much money my mother spent buying us kids giant containers of orange juice, juice drinks, soda, etc.. such a waste, but we grew up thinking that it was gross to drink plain water and so did most of my friends. The dinner Ms. Davis cooked looks pretty delicious, I just notice that in her fridge she has a couple of containers of juice and juice drinks - those have to cost nearly $10 in NYC, and stuff like cranberry juice is loaded with sugar and not healthy.

I'm really tired of people saying that Americans below the poverty line can't eat well. You can eat incredibly well for $2 per person per day at nearly any Walmart in the country.

Things that make it harder in an urban environment, especially: no big stores nearby that sell cheap food items, very little storage space, relying only on public transportation, the fact that it can take a long time to get anywhere outside your own neighborhood even if you do have a car. If you don't have a car and live in a ward in DC with no real grocery store, what can you do? I can't imagine having the time and energy to take a crosstown bus a couple times a week to carry home enough to feed a family.
posted by citron at 12:53 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Eat your quinoa with wild frisee, Braydyn. Don'y you know there are children living on slurpees in Atlanta?
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 1:46 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I don't know how you can "eat incredibly well" at Walmart, but maybe that's because my nearest Walmart does not sell produce or meat?

Plenty of Walmarts have grocery sections these days. (Like, every one one I know of just because on some rare days I need to buy Spackle on the same day I need some lettuce.)

I still would like to see the what the "incredibly well" $2-a-day Walmart menu consists of, though.

(I mean, I have not doubt you can get full on $2-a-day. Two cans of Pringles can carry you through a day [So I've been told...] But then again, Full vs. Well seems to be the crux of most food fights around these parts.)
posted by Cyrano at 1:55 AM on November 28, 2010


So, yes, absolutely, by buying organic you are "giving to the world".

No. You are convincing yourself you are doing good, therefore absolving you of doing anything else which may benefit others.

'I dont give to panhandlers, my family shops at whole foods".

One can even say, that its an argument supporting a consumer culture...based on marketing.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:58 AM on November 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


So, yes, absolutely, by buying organic you are "giving to the world".

If all food was produced organically then there wouldn't be enough food in the world to feed everyone.
posted by atrazine at 2:47 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whole Foods sells fresh, beautiful tomatoes,” she says. “Here, they’re packaged and full of chemicals anyway. So I mostly buy canned foods.”

What does "full of chemicals" mean? Has the media convinced this woman that unless fresh produce is organic it's not fit to eat?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 2:56 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


If all food was produced organically then there wouldn't be enough food in the world to feed everyone.

Wrong.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:42 AM on November 28, 2010


A guy I know who grew up in Cape Breton in the sixties tells about how when the mackerel were running, the kids would take their buckets of mackerel down to sell. For a day's worth of fish, they'd get just enough money to buy...

a CHEF BOY-AR-DEE PIZZA KIT!


In the Maritimes "store-bought" still has vestiges of meaning 'the good kind'. Like, kids would rather have store-bought cookies than home made ones when I was growing up.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:43 AM on November 28, 2010


Time, money, food availability and cooking know-how is an increasingly unusual combination. The higher you score on these, the more "food ability" you have. What a pity that it is framed as a class-inflected privilege rather than as a symptom of a larger crisis of health, economics and education.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:06 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm assuming Food says the same thing about class that everything else does - "the poor gonna get fucked".
posted by fullerine at 6:13 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I live in a ghetto and I'm surrounded by tons of ethnic grocery stores selling all sorts of fresh and healthy food. I think the key is, if you're going to be poor, try to live in a Mexican or Asian neighborhood.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:48 AM on November 28, 2010



I'm really tired of people saying that Americans below the poverty line can't eat well. You can eat incredibly well for $2 per person per day at nearly any Walmart in the country.


I would also like to see that $2 menu. I'm sure it can be done; I'm always curious, though, what people mean when they write things like "eat well." For some people, that means plain lentils and rice; for others, it means the kind of variety and luxury that would be impossible on a limited budget.

More to the point, though, is the fact that Walmart has very, very few locations in dense urban areas. Union organizers in Chicago fought for years to prevent the Walmart opening there, for example.
posted by Forktine at 6:54 AM on November 28, 2010


I do agree that most cookbooks assume that one has a lot of time to spend cooking, shopping for fresh ingredients, etc. So I'm on a quest to find/develop a bunch of recipes that can be made from relatively inexpensive, shelf-stable ingredients and then just tossed in a crockpot for 8-10 hours. So far, Indian cuisine has shown the most promise for being adapted to this style of cooking.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:56 AM on November 28, 2010


I had a friend in college who was a bit of a foodie, but super nice and liked to cook. I like to cook, too, and make new things so we got along quite a bit. But the end came when she kept asking me why I never went to Trader Joe's. I mean Trader Joe's was only like a 30 minute drive from my house and had the *best* food.

Well, I had never been there so I imagined it like a Whole Foods: pretty, clean, and entirely out of my price range.

Somehow her pressure ended up with me telling her about my time in college where I was donating blood for gas money and food. And then I was talking about my $600 student loan payments.

For some reason, we are no longer friends.
posted by aetg at 7:07 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Where I think the discussion goes off the rails is in obsessing about the choices of the rich. The rich, or affluent if you prefer, and what they can do and choose and eat are a red herring. If it were not food to which their disposable income was going, it would be something else. ... I would really, really, really, really, really like to start talking about those issues more often without setting up the rich as a contrasting stereotype. IF we believe that there are things that are important for everyone to have access to in the food supply -- affordable, fresh whole foods available around the clock, organics, good taste - then let's set about doing that and spend a lot less time using yuppies for archery practice. It's nothing but a distraction.

I disagree. It's by contrasting the food options of the rich and the poor that we can see how good or bad the situation really is. Poverty is both absolute and relative, and the relative part is really important. If every person in the US during the Great Depression had had to cut back because there was less to go around, that would be one thing. But knowing that instead the rich were eating all the more lavishly (so much so that some were taking part in faddish "reducing diets") and they didn't have to cut back, at all, allows us to understand the starvation of the poor as social and political choices rather than "just the way it was."

Poor people have always eaten worse than the rich (except when they eat the rich, CLASS WAR AMIRITE?); how much worse is the critical question.

So while I agree with your list of critical issues, I think that part of how we get there is by looking at the diet options of the affluent, and understanding how that is connected to the dietary options of the non-affluent, and vice versa.
posted by Forktine at 7:12 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can eat incredibly well for $2 per person per day at nearly any Walmart in the country. I know this because I've done it for quite some time now. If you increase your budget to $3/person/day, you can eat so well it's not funny.

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Really? Can you tell me specifically what you buy? I'm a little incredulous here, as mac & cheese alone is $1.50/box, and I live in the 4th poorest city in the US.
posted by desjardins at 7:20 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the "$2-a-day" claims are based on "One loaf of bread for $2 divided by 30 slices = 6 cents a slice, so 4 slices a day = 24 cents a day" kinds of calculus. You buy the incredients for several meals upfront, and then spread it out over the course of a couple weeks.

Which is true -- the $2 you spend to buy bread, you're buying bread that you're NOT going to eat all in one sitting. But what that kind of calculus fails to take into account is whether you have space and resources to STORE the bread, whether you're going to have time to cook to do something WITH the bread, and the likelihood of your getting GOD-DAMN BLOODY SICK OF EATING NOTHING BUT BREAD for a week and a half. Much less, whether you actually DO have the big lump sum of money up front when you first buy it TO be able to get the food you'll be spreading out.

So this is probably true, but it's a truth that only looks at part of the equation.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


4 slices of white bread per day does not seem healthy. Good luck finding whole grain bread for $2.
posted by desjardins at 7:39 AM on November 28, 2010


And yeah I know the bread was just an example but still.
posted by desjardins at 7:40 AM on November 28, 2010


Eyebrows McGee: I was well into my 30's by the time I realized this: I think many people who grew up with at least passing familiarity with cooking have no idea how hard it is to start from absolute zero, complete with a total lack of kitchen common sense! I was full-grown adult out in the world before I realized that lots of people didn't know how to cook. Not that people weren't creative or good at cooking, but really, did not know how to cook. People who were shocked that you "could" add frozen peas to boxed macaroni n cheese if you wanted. Or that using stock in your instant rice added flavor. That's not even cooking, but that's how I started to realize that people thought cooking was mysterious. I suddenly noticed lots of people who were surprised by my adding ingredients to boxed food and thought such a step was complicated and mysterious. Or hard. And I began to think, well, if that's too advanced for you, how do you manage to cook? And then I realized that they didn't.

My mom comes from one of those Immigrant-American food cultures--where together time is often organized around food. Also, when we were young, my mom was always teaching and explaining. I spent so much of my life in a kitchen, casually, watching, being told what was going on and why, being drafted to chop this or stir that or monitor when such-and-such turned a particular color.

Cooking was never mysterious to me and it was never rigid. If someone asked me to chop some shallots and toss them in and there weren't any, then they'd just have me mince some red onion instead. If someone stuck a spoon in the sauce while it was cooking and decided to add some nutmeg, no-one blinked. I thought everyone grew up around that, so I thought "don't know how to boil water" was like a Blonde joke or a metaphor for not liking to cook or being lazy. Not an accurate assessment of cooking being alien. But as pointed out by lots of people upthread, Mom didn't work 8 hours a day and commute an hour a day every day while I was growing up. So on a regular work/school day, we still had dinner by 6:15, without anyone having had to spend all day Saturday and Sunday making a week's worth of food ahead of time.

It had never occurred to me that people couldn't or didn't just look in their pantries and fridge and make meals. It still surprises me sometimes.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:44 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


It was in August that the pestilence arrived at our farm. Hoards of flies, hungry for everything from the tears of cattle to the garden compost heap. They found their way into the houses to torment children and into the barn to bring misery to the cats. They came from the farm up the road, the one everyone knows by smell. I suppose lots of people buy from there without knowing when they buy unmarked jugs of milk labeled falsely as "Springfield Acres" at the local grocery store or gas station. There is no spring in those fields, only dirt and dust, which the dairy cows breath in on the few days they go outside. Otherwise, they are in a rank shed, their calves confined to small plastic igloos outside to become veal. A somewhat lucky fate given that American's taste for that meat has waned and many dairy farmers simply shoot the male calves.

I had a dream last time I stayed on the farm of marching over their in my red plastic boots across the muddy pastures with hundred dollar bills tucked in my jean pockets. I would ring the doorbell and buy all those calves. I would put them in my own green pastures, lush with morning dew and the sounds of small crickets. I know this is ridiculous, but I feel it would bring end to the pestilence that is part of the general drive of the young of the farms away to cities. Yes, there are economic matters at hand, but when people buy that milk they say tacitly that this is OK to do to the land, to animals, and to people. It's not just individuals buying such milk unfortunately, but school cafeterias and the USDA financed by my tax dollars. It makes me a little nauseous thinking about it.

I live in a city, but I dream of some day living on the farm again and sleeping beneath stars rather than streetlights. I'm going to save my money and buy all of that farm and bring the pastures back to their former glory.

I don't buy milk if I don't know where it came from. Many of us have the luxury to make this choice (or to not buy milk) and to vote for better things with our purchasing power, though in the end the milk industry is such a mess with government intervention that our economic "voting" powers are significantly distorted.

So, yes, absolutely, by buying organic you are "giving to the world".
Maybe, but this farm markets their milk as being "grass fed." Caveat emptor. There is an entire marketing machine out there trying to convince consumers that what they buy is good without giving them real information about it. See Horizon organic dairy, which still sells organic milk, despite its farms having been revealed as being much much worse than what I described above. They've improved recently only because organic regulations were changed.

And there are some really good farms that are not organic. I know of one conventional apple orchard that has been an excellent steward of the land and community in upstate NY. Their farm is diversified and provides wildlife habitat. They don't grow organic apples because it's very hard and ironically requires a factory-like mechanized operation utilizing an army of illegal immigrants.

While I'd like to eventually go back into agriculture, this article makes me feel hopeful because I organize agricultural education events in NYC and my goal is to really challenge assumptions like organic=better. I am also involved with what I feel is most important, but mundane, which is infrastructural products. We can't talk about having "good food" in schools until we have the ability to get it there, which we mostly don't since that requires things like certified commercial processing facilities and refrigerated trucks.

One thing I'll always be grateful for is the CSA farmer who gave me a share in exchange for volunteering a few hours a week, which involved sitting at a bar and giving out shares to others. At the time I was out of work and barely scraping by. I was able to do some freelance work there and I was so grateful for the healthy food I got. Now that I'm doing better and organizing my own CSAs, I aim to recruit people who care about food, but who are a little down on their luck like I was, for bartering arrangements.

I think free cooking classes and kitchen skillshares are also really really important.

But I do see a lot of well-meaning food activists promote things that just aren't going to fly in certain communities. I remember looking at one flier for a class in a low-income neighborhood and one of the recipes was for something like "buckwheat low-fat kale casserole." This is while all the locavores in Park Slope are dining on local pastured bacon butter lobster at their local bistro. I aim to support projects people actually want to do, not projects that look good to donors. That means things that might make some locavores blanch- like urban Halal slaughterhouses and the Mexican family in Brooklyn raising chickens and rabbits for meat. There is real demand for these things and people in many "low income" neighborhoods WANT them without prodding, but too many locavores are stuck on promoting kale, which I like, but admittedly only after having forced myself to eat it for a long time.
posted by melissam at 7:47 AM on November 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


To those calling bullshit on the idea that the poor have little access to fresh fruits and vegetables: you may be able to get them for cheap at your local Walmart, but stores like that don't exist in urban areas. For many people in cities like New York, you either shop at the local bodega (where produce is both expensive and often terrible) or you spend a lot of extra time and subway fare trying to buy groceries someplace else, which you then have to schlep home on the train or bus. A lot of people don't have that luxury.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 7:53 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The problem I always have with food articles is that food isn't about fashion nearly as much as it's about morality. If you eat organic, you're saving the world. If you eat crappy food and it makes you fat, it's because you're a bad selfish person. Etc. This is particularly toxic because the public demonstration of moral virtue somehow ends up looking like the behavior made fashionable by the rich.

It's a cliche that sex used to be about morality (scarlet women and all that) but now it's food. But it's a cliche because there's a lot of truth to it.
posted by immlass at 7:55 AM on November 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Where I think the discussion goes off the rails is in obsessing about the choices of the rich. The rich, or affluent if you prefer, and what they can do and choose and eat are a red herring. If it were not food to which their disposable income was going, it would be something else.

You make it sound like there is no relationship between the fact that this is how rich people like to eat, and the fact that this is how media and culture tell us everyone ought to eat to be a good person. I don't think it is a red herring at all. I think it's worth more closely examining cultural mores that happen to so nicely dovetail with the interests of rich people before blindly accepting them.

I buy a lot of this stuff, too. I buy it because I like nice things. But it is ludicrous to imagine that buying nice things for oneself is somehow an act of charity. Nobody who buys himself a nice car or expensive clothing or any other luxury good expects to be admired as a philanthropist for doing so, but somehow there is this large swathe of foodies who want a pat on the back for buying themselves expensive shit. And they want the rest of us to share in their moral opprobrium toward people who can't afford, or don't want, that same expensive shit. That's what people react to so negatively and I don't think they're wrong to do so.
posted by enn at 7:58 AM on November 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I get wrung out watching these conversations go by with various variations on the idea that if poor people just worked harder at being poor and did a better job of it, they wouldn't be in this mess. It's maddening. While many, many families across incomes levels in the US could use better nutrition information and hands-on help with the skills needed to feed a family well, the basic issue is money.

Averaged across the US, a family of four on welfare gets $900 cash plus $500 per month for food stamps. Run the numbers. Assume you live in an urban environment, do not own a car and depend on public transport. Assume one child is under the age of +/- 1, so you qualify for a monthly WIC food package.

Now, pay 30% of your cash income for the Section 8 housing you are lucky to have, buy 200 disposable diapers or supplies for cloth diapers, keep the heat and lights on, and calculate how much you have left over for food. Feed four people for a month on that.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:00 AM on November 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


Many people simply don't understand that eating organic, local, whatever isn't a choice everyone gets to make; all of the serious issues you identify aren't things we can discuss if food is simply a "personal choice" rather than a societal issue

Here's the thing: I don't disagree with anyone that this is a class issue. However, as a class issue, it goes beyond food. We could discuss something like what the rich wear, for instance. The rich can afford great insulated winter jackets and boots that don't fall apart and are truly warm. They can afford terrific shoes that fit them well, and have many pairs so they don't develop problems from wearing the same shoe every day. They can get warm wool socks and nice sweaters, good breathable summer clothing. They can have items in their wardrobe appropriate to many situations, so they never feel out of place - they can dress for a job interview and be confident that their clothes look good and send signals that they are capable and not desperate, or they can go to a kids' birthday party and feel like they belong with the other parents. And if they want they can have jewerly! And fancy dresses!

THey can do this because they're the elite class in a capitalist society. And similarly, they can have whatever food they want because they're the elite class in a capitalist society. Critiquing this is about much more than critiquing the problem of food or clothing access. The fact that six-year-olds in Lilly Pulitzer and teenagers in North Face and Uggs have much better and more clothing than poor people is a fact that isn't going to be changed by news articles about people clothes shopping and wearing fancy clothes.

IF we're going to critique the food issues, let's critique the class issues - that's all I'm saying. But if we're going to focus on food, which I believe is important, then we can't change the facts that whole, healthier foods are actually better for your health. The problem is that the rich have easier access to those than the poor do. They have easier access to eveyrthing than the poor do. Understanding that, let's try to find some ways to create those resources at more widespread levels, while at the same time looking at parts of the economic system like tax structure, health care, and wage inequality in order to address the framework itself - the fact that people's access to what they need to be healthy is disparate due to class.
posted by Miko at 8:31 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


4 slices of white bread per day does not seem healthy. Good luck finding whole grain bread for $2. And yeah I know the bread was just an example but still.

In the first place -- I was using the "pull a number out of my ass" serving portion size rather than the food pyramid.

In the second place -- your complaint is like if you have a math problem in front of you about "if the Northbound Acela leaves Washington at 4pm and the regular southbound Amtrak train leaves New York at 5 pm, when will they pass each other", and sneering that "I've checked the schedule, they don't have a train at that time on Sundays, this is bullshit".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Sixty cents of every dollar earned by American farmers is provided by the government.

Imagine if food prices reflected a living income for farmers. If the farm subsidies were eliminated.

Ouch.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:45 AM on November 28, 2010


But the same people who gush about the food in Europe never seem to mention that those farmers also get state subsidies. Some goes to family farms, true, but plenty go to agri-business.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


crush-onastick: "That's not even cooking"

I'm pretty sure this is the elitism referred to up thread. Cooking is the application of heat to food to produce a meal, period. Healthy does not have to equal complicated or refined.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:16 AM on November 28, 2010


It's nice to know from this thread that I actually CAN cook-- but the problem for me, is that all my kitchen supplies are in storage, and I'm subletting from this guy whose kitchen is absolutely filthy. I managed to swab down the floors, the refrigerator, did a deep clean of the microwave and the sinks, but I haven't touched the cabinets yet, or the stove. I'm afraid to even look.

So yeah, right now I'm just eating stuff that can be microwaved. At some point I'm going to try to disinfect his pots and the stove and get to the point where I can make my own mac and cheese, but this kitchen has not been nicknamed "the kitchen of DOOM" for nothing.

I live in Washington Heights in Manhattan, and I do sympathize with the people who have limited time and food choices (for example, the local grocery store in my neighborhood is definitely a step down from the Key Foods in Park Slope, in both price and selection). And prissy, snobby foodies (like Alexandra in the article) are beyond insufferable. Charity my ass. May she stuff her own precious organic sandwiches where the sun don't shine.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 10:58 AM on November 28, 2010


Here's what I don't get -- all the anger over food. An admission here: I didn't bother finishing the article -- felt like I got the point early on, so maybe I missed the part where folks here got so angry.

But agin -- my question: why so much anger over food? And why do folks carry on as if the only choices are effete foods or Cheez Wiz?

I eat mostly "whole" foods and I don't spend a fortune or fixate over doing so -- eg, it's not so hard to eat real oatmeal vs chocolate flavored sugar bomb for breakfast. You don't need to splash out for organic to improve your diet, especially if Mickey D's is a constant.

Now, in light of the fact that obesity is a real and (sorry) growing problem, that costs lives and money for our society -- why do we have to get upset over discussing the problem and potential solutions?

Is it elitist to not want to eat shit?
posted by JConUK at 11:03 AM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sixty cents of every dollar earned by American farmers is provided by the government.

Imagine if food prices reflected a living income for farmers. If the farm subsidies were eliminated.


This actually happened in NZ...and everyone expected an 'ouch' for the small farmers.

Something amazing happened though...many corporations who were profitting on those subsidies left the game...farmers profited from not having to compete with the walmarts of the farming world.

I would have never expected that...but it did make sense..and it worked.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:13 AM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Articles like this one baffle me, elite writers pandering to anti-elitism. It's precisely the kind of concern-trolling that conservatives use time and time again to win over voters, taking 5 carefully chosen and exaggerated examples ("arugula" is the classic) to paint solid, smart choices as anti-American, elite, and somehow painful to regular Joe working class people.

It's crap. How does anyone's quinoa hurt one poor person? How does championing soda, fast food and prepared boxes help any poor person?
posted by msalt at 11:43 AM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I didn't mean to be elitist. I meant that your average American does not consider making mac n cheese from a box to be "cooking" regardless of the side of the debate they fall on. My point--which I clearly did not make properly was--that it's not any different from cooking. Making mac n cheese from a box is no more or less cooking than making a bechamel and going from there. But people who don't grow up around "Cooking" think it's something far removed from what they are doing when they mix up Zatarains or Kraft or Taste of Thai.

It really isn't. It's not quite the same, but it's not an uncrossable chasm. I've just often been surprised to encounter adults who think it is. Time constraints aside.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2010


I guess my point, really, was if you can cook from a box, you can cook not from a box. It's not that harder to make basic food from source ingredients, rather than packets. Except for the root issues of time, access to the ingredients, kitchens larger than a phone booth and the relative costs of cheese and processed cheese food.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:22 PM on November 28, 2010


crush-onastick, that's more or less my point. Making macaroni and cheese from a box is not very much harder than making it from scratch. And everyone should be able to know how to make and enjoy the glory of home made mac & cheese. That doesn't change the fact that a store-brand box is $.99 at Kmart, or $1.99 if you want the Kraft brand. How much is the store-brand elbow macaroni, before you even buy cheese?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:49 PM on November 28, 2010


"my neighbor’s friend Alexandra Ferguson sipped politically correct Nicaraguan coffee"

"The Fergusons are known as locavores."

^#%@#$@^@#
posted by tehloki at 1:02 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


hal_c_on: "So, yes, absolutely, by buying organic you are "giving to the world".

No. You are convincing yourself you are doing good, therefore absolving you of doing anything else which may benefit others.

'I dont give to panhandlers, my family shops at whole foods".

One can even say, that its an argument supporting a consumer culture...based on marketing.
"

Thank you - yes.

By buying organic, I am doing more than feeding my children organic food. I acknowledge that I am supporting forms of farming that are better for the planet, and therefore for the whole world. Woo-hoo.

But doing that does not put food, organic or otherwise, into the bellies of the people who line up outside the foodbank around the corner from my kid's pre-school. You know what does? My donations of cash and foodstuffs. Me buying organic strawberries doesn't make those people less hungry TONIGHT. It might help save the planet in the long run, which is a bonus, sure. But that's not charity, by my definition, which tends more toward the "feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the afflicted" than anything else. I don't see the woman in the article doing any of those things; rather, she is looking for a way to justify not being outwardly charitable, probably because so much of their income goes toward their own consumables that they have no margin for actual charity.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 1:11 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course, plenty of affluent people eat mostly junk / fast / instant food. It's not like having money makes you necessarily want to spend the time or thought to eat better, or makes you magically like the taste of different foods. It just gives you the means if you want to, which is important but not the same thing. (There are many, many affluent engineers who eat junk)
posted by wildcrdj at 1:11 PM on November 28, 2010


Sorry, but where exactly is the evidence that poor people in the US aren't eating well? I mean, sure, there's an association with obesity (but that doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do with not eating enough vegetables-- it seems to have to do with childhood food insecurity). Are poor US adults suffering scurvy? Rickets? Pellagra?

Littered through this discussion is the assumption that expensive foods (locovore foods, organic foods) are somehow healthier, but I've never seen this verified.
posted by nathan v at 1:20 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whole foods are healthier than fast foods or frozen foods that have lots of sodium and HFCS. It's not that "organic" carrots are somehow healthier than non-organic carrots. It's that regularly eating a 2,000-calorie lunch from BK (in addition to your breakfast and your dinner) is worse than eating a sandwich from home. Poor nutritional and health outcomes are not limited to people with diagnosable scurvy or rickets. But you probably knew that.
posted by rtha at 1:40 PM on November 28, 2010


I admit I stopped reading the article halfway through, but it sounded like it was trying to say that people who care about local/organic/healthy/etc food don't care about providing it for poor people. I'm sure some people are just in it for the status or personal reasons, but that seems to go for any subject.

From my observations of the food scene in Philadelphia, though, the two topics seem completely blended together. One major organizer of farmer's markets uses those in more affluent neighborhoods to fund other markets in poor neighborhoods. Their markets usually take food stamps and WIC. They also provide a wide range of educational services in schools, and are working on policy changes to bring healthier food to school cafeterias. They have programs to encourage corner stores to carry produce. Articles about urban farms don't just talk about the specialness of their tomatoes or whatever, but making food available in poor areas, improving blighted neighborhoods, and providing much-needed jobs. I think several give a certain amount of their harvest to food banks, and some CSAs have low-income options (I don't know how they work). More links to programs here from the hoity-toity Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, including a group planting fruit trees around the city specifically to increase fresh fruit availability in neighborhoods that need it. Fair Food has an expensive farm stand in Reading Terminal Market, sure, but they are also working with numerous local institutions to bring local food to hospitals, schools, retirement homes and universities. If you are shopping at the farm stand with food stamps,for every $5 you spend they will give you another $5 to spend on more food.

So what if some yuppies get into it as a show of status?
posted by sepviva at 1:52 PM on November 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Breakfast, lunch, and dinner? Really? Can you tell me specifically what you buy? I'm a little incredulous here, as mac & cheese alone is $1.50/box, and I live in the 4th poorest city in the US.

That's true, and when I was on the $40/month budget for food, macaroni and cheese was sadly out of my price range. Instead, it was all about rice, beans (dried), bananas, apples, peanut butter, cornbread (mix), powdered milk, frozen vegetables, oatmeal (carboard container)... I never spent more than 10 minutes making a meal. (Though I admit I'm one of the world's least-picky eaters.)
posted by the jam at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


No. You are convincing yourself you are doing good, therefore absolving you of doing anything else which may benefit others.

Me buying organic strawberries doesn't make those people less hungry TONIGHT.

Ok, now I see where the confusion comes from. People are conflating two separate issues, problems in food production (conventional ag), and problems of food distribution (hunger). They are two separate problems which require separate solutions.

Addressing one does not in any way solve the other and I don't believe any one in the article or in this thread has suggested otherwise except as some sort of crude strawman characterization of people they disagree with:

'I dont give to panhandlers, my family shops at whole foods"

Again, in case it wasn't obvious, nobody thinks that by buying organic food, they are fixing the problem of people not having enough to eat and to think that they do is to take a very 'uncharitable' view of people's understanding of the issues involved.
posted by euphorb at 3:21 PM on November 28, 2010


A 9-year-old boy in her building recently died of an asthma attack, right in front of his mother. He was obese, she says, but his mom kept feeding him junk. “If these people don’t care at all about calorie counts, then the government should. People would live a lot longer,” she says.

Wait, what? Do we know that this kid's asthma had anything to do with his obesity? If he were a skinny kid--like my asthmatic sister, or my even more asthmatic now-husband--would people be focusing on the mom's food choices here and not the fact that, holy crap, this woman's kid died from an asthma attack?

Also, this lunch--organic peanut butter and jelly on grainy bread, a yogurt, and a clementine--is hardly even any different than those I see on those school lunch blogs. I mean, PB&J and an orange? This is what people are feeling superior about?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:05 PM on November 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I spent my childhood being chased out of the kitchen. Now I need to learn to cook. I have this Betty Crocker cookbook which looks pretty exhaustive (it explains and depicts all the cuts of beef, for example), but I think if I attack it piece by piece. Here's hoping I can find fresh produce in the corner of Harlem I'm moving to. I actually prefer the "old" approach of hitting the grocer's a few times a week. Not too long ago you used to do your shopping almost daily; to the butcher's, then the grocer's, and you had your milk delivered. Time consuming for the modern non-housewife, but not so bad if it's on your way home. It's when you have to travel 30 min. that it gets annoying.

[and thenkyew, tehloki. that was leaping out at me, too.]
posted by Eideteker at 8:35 PM on November 28, 2010


My advice to anyone learning to cook is to check out the many videos on YouTube. It is all there. Lots of stuff posted by Betty Crocker and even more by amateurs.
posted by humanfont at 8:57 PM on November 28, 2010


I think readers of this thread will find this Washington Post piece interesting.

The New Front in the Culture Wars: Food
...Many in this country who have access to good food and can afford it simply don't think it's important. To them, food has become a front in America's culture wars, and the crusade against fast and processed food is an obsession of "elites," not "real Americans."

Consider these shots from leading conservative voices in just the past month: Rush Limbaugh, responding to the report of a Kansas State nutrition professor who says he lost 27 pounds eating mainly Twinkies, said: "I know liberals lie, and if Michelle Obama's gonna be out there ripping into 'food deserts' and saying, 'This is why people are fat,' I know it's not true." Sarah Palin took cookies to a Pennsylvania school to register her disapproval of policies that forbid sweets. Glenn Beck suggested that food-safety legislation was a government plot to raise the prices for beef and chicken and thereby turn us all into vegetarians.
I think it's important to acknowledge that some of this food-movement backlash that focuses on the activities of the rich is fueled by populism, often ill-informed populism, and by those who continue to support an industrialized and corporately owned food system.

In my experience as a front-lines person in this movement, many of the people who care most about their own food are also those who care most about improved access to good food for all, as sepviva points out. Not all - some people have a fairly shallow level of involvement, and anyone's individual involvement is certainly up to them - but many. The people who are doing the footwork to improve food conditions for those with less money are more likely to also be people who themselves believe in, make an effort to find, and cook good food. Attacks on the fashionable rich and what they're up to tend to deny the serious activism going on at ground level, making an interest in an improved food system seem like another superificial, louche trend of the wealthy, like yoga or spa treatments or Botox.

If you dislike the idea that the wealthy have greater access to better everything, then your beef is not with the food system in particular, but with capitalism and with the present distribution of wealth and with wage and work inequality. If you are particularly interested in food as a cornerstone of health and an environmental and moral issue, there is much that can be done incrementally which will visibly improve food possibilities for poor people in your area and beyond, through the many organizations and ideas active in this movement right now.

What's definitely not going to improve anything is pointing at the resources of the rich in a derisive and condescending way, implying that their preoccupation with the quality of their food is something only the shallow rich would ever care about. Good food should be for everybody. What I detect is a message of contempt for anyone who might be interested in promoting alternatives in food, for everybody. No, everybody doesn't need expensive trendy cheeses and exotic fruit varieties, but that's not a necessary part of a fresh, healthy diet and never needs to be. Luxury goods will be luxury goods as long as there is such a thing as disposable income.

In part, it's because the market demand for organics has spread among the wealthier that we now have much greater access and affordability of organics nationwide (whether you think that's an unmitigated good is a more nuanced topic for debate). I think some among the affluent are prone to excess, and - like the non-affluent - easily influenced by their social surroundings, and prone to engage in consumption with not a lot of sophistication about what they are doing. And the media are prone to continually seek new angles on trends and current events. So we have story after story about "look what these crazy rich shallow foodies are doing while people starve." These are related but different stories. Crazy rich foodies may do whatever they want to do as long as they remain at the top tier of society, but meanwhile, nobody has to starve, and our industrial food system does not have to stay the same. What these stories do, to me, is alienate people from the idea that they can improve the food system locally and nationally, and brand people who care about food as shallow 'let them eat cake' types. It's easy to see how that will damage a nascent but powerful movement to change things.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on November 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Good news on the dairy front in NY

There was an approximate doubling of small dairy plants in New York over the last two years, to around 80 statewide. Thirty-four plant permits have been issued this year.

A small plant is typically a family-owned farm that uses a small herd of animals, sometimes even a handful of cows, goats or sheep, to churn out premium dairy products.


Bad news:
She sells her cheeses for $16 to $22 a pound and she makes an Arapawa caramel sauce that costs $8.50 for an eight-ounce jar.

Guess we have to start somewhere. I'll celebrate the day that schoolchildren are drinking good milk.
posted by melissam at 8:48 AM on November 29, 2010


Me too. For that we have to change the dairy price support. There's no way a small dairy can sell milk to the school supply without going under, because the dairy price supports are set at levels that reward only industrial production with poor-quality feed and herd maintenance, and those price supports basically determine the retail cost of industrial milk. And even with those existing prices, the profits on milk come at a very small margin. That's why value-added products like the cheese and caramel are really important for small dairies, especially organic ones: they're the only way you can get a return on your much greater investment of time (for the additional labor) and money (for the organic bedding and feed) over industrial dairies.

I will celebrate when we solve this, too. But it's not necessarily that farmer's don't want to sell good milk to schools - it's not necessarily that they're choosing to do so based on wanting to cultivate an elite clientele. It's that they can't afford to, or they'd lose their operations. It's important, though, that we use the establishment of markets right now to fuel the expansion of small local dairies, so that as things continue to change, we will have dairy infrastructure and know-how to start recreating a real, fresh, ideally organic regional milk supply that can make its way into stores, WIC, and schools. So the rich people who buy that caramel are, indeed, using a market choice to fund an infrastructure we are going to need. They can function as a bridge, and in some of the nation's most progressive agricultural economies, where small farms are expanding the most rapidly, that's exactly how the interest of the affluent in food is being used.
posted by Miko at 8:59 AM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The math is stark. Prices paid to farmers per hundredweight (about 12 gallons) have fallen from nearly $20 a year ago to less than $11 in June. Earlier this month, the Federal government raised the support price by $1.25, but that is only a drop in the proverbial bucket. It costs a farmer about $18 to produce a hundredweight of milk. In Vermont, where I live, that translates to a loss of $100 per cow per month. So far this year, 33 farms have ceased operation in this one tiny state.

Meanwhile, the price you and I pay for milk in the grocery store has stayed about the same. Someone is clearly pocketing the difference. Perhaps that explains why profits at Dean Foods—the nation’s largest processor and shipper of dairy products, with more than 50 regional brands—have skyrocketed. The company announced earnings of $75.3 million in the first quarter of 2009, more than twice the amount it made during the same quarter last year ($30.8 million). (Dean countered that “current supply and demand is contributing to the low price environment.”)

But rote statistics have a way of masking reality. So last week, I drove up to the village of West Glover for a firsthand look at the human side of the dairy crisis by attending the Borland auction. “You will be witnessing what is going to be the fate of all heritage farms,” Carol Borland told me.
posted by Miko at 9:01 AM on November 29, 2010


It's not that "organic" carrots are somehow healthier than non-organic carrots. It's that regularly eating a 2,000-calorie lunch from BK (in addition to your breakfast and your dinner) is worse than eating a sandwich from home. Poor nutritional and health outcomes are not limited to people with diagnosable scurvy or rickets. But you probably knew that.

Yeah, but a lot of people here are talking about that poor US adults can't afford to eat well. That's not talking about overconsumption, like your Whopper example, or the fact that poor people suffer high rates of vascular diseases-- that's talking about underconsumption. What exactly (in terms of nutrients) is being underconsumed, and how is that reflected in disease incidences for this population?
posted by nathan v at 2:17 PM on November 29, 2010


What exactly (in terms of nutrients) is being underconsumed

Vitamins. Fibre. "Good" foods have nutrients and fill you up without adding to your risk of heart disease and diabetes. There's nothing wrong with a Whopper every once in a while, but when your diet is Whopper + KFC + breakfast sandwich from McD's, that doesn't leave a lot of room for whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables, some fruit.
posted by rtha at 3:20 PM on November 29, 2010


Now I need to learn to cook. I have this Betty Crocker cookbook which looks pretty exhaustive (it explains and depicts all the cuts of beef, for example), but I think if I attack it piece by piece.

If Betty Crocker is too overwhelming, I recommend Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything". It's a bit more concise, is pretty straightforward, and gets into the "why you need to cook a steak THIS way and ground beef THAT way" a little bit, but keeps it seperate from the actual recipes so if you just want to say "I don't care WHY I cook a steak this way, just tell me what to do" you can skip it and go straight to that part.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:13 PM on November 29, 2010


A well-fed population is not desired by the wealthy people who run the nation. Ditto re: public healthcare and public education. And public food safety inspections, and environment monitoring.

It's all kept to exceedingly low standards. On purpose.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:22 PM on November 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's all kept to exceedingly low standards. On purpose.

I strongly doubt that. You honestly expect a government that can't even agree on a reasonable health care package to have the degree of organization and control required to intentionally inhibit food distribution?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:30 PM on November 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Clarifying:

I do not doubt that government mischegas has been a cause in how sorry the state of food distribution is here, but I doubt that this mischegas has been intentionally and purposefully created with the express goal of supressing the masses by a team of guys in a smoke-filled room. It's much more likely that a whole stew of one guy paying off a senator to keep farmers happy, and another guy turning a blind eye to keep the beef board happy, and a third guy hearing about how there are "food deserts" but the bottom line would be compromised so he shrugs and says "well, I'm doing the best I can..."

The guys in smoke-filled rooms are more ignorant and greedy than intentionally evil, is all I meant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 PM on November 29, 2010


I think it's possible that "the wealthy people who run the nation" are not synonymous with "the government" in the mind of five fresh fish.

The government in the US doesn't run the food industry single=handedly, but it certainly creates policy that is unbelievably favorable to it. And it doesn't necessarily happen in Congress directly during legislating activity, except for the occasional vote on a Farm Bill and for earmarks - it happens at agency level and in budgeting. It doesn't take a lot of digging to discover that there is a fair amount of intentional harm being done by people in the food and agriculture businesses in order to make money. They're the ones most keenly aware of the negative outcomes of their decisions, and they're the ones who continue to push for greater profits, bigger markets, and more subsidies. The more you learn, the more impossible it is to conclude anything other than that there are wealthy, powerful people in food, petroleum, and agriculture who have knowledge of the damage their industries are doing and are comfortable with it.
posted by Miko at 4:54 PM on November 29, 2010


This very recent story is a good example. So is the career of Earl Butz and its long-lasting legacy. So is the 1990s policy allowing meatpacking companies to inspect themselves on many health and food safety requirements, rather than placing the USDA in a true oversight position. It's not just government bumbling - all of these decisions had lots of money and interest from outside government riding on them.
posted by Miko at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2010


Even so, Miko, I'm still very skeptical that deliberate politically-motivated malevolence is the cause more so than garden-variety cussedness. In other words:

The more you learn, the more impossible it is to conclude anything other than that there are wealthy, powerful people in food, petroleum, and agriculture who have knowledge of the damage their industries are doing and are comfortable with it.

I'm only saying that the reason they're comfortable with it is because they're selfish and greedy, rather than saying that they're comfortable with it becuase It Is Part Of A Deliberate Plan To Suppress The Masses. That's all I mean.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on November 29, 2010


No, I don't think it's politically motivated malevolence. Politics are relatively unimportant to those in power other than as a tool that can be used for more access to profit. I think what motivates people making those decisions is profit potential (call it greed, sure) combined with indifference. But I also think profit motive combined with indifference is all it takes for people to do things that allow them to knowingly harm and take from other people; and also that there are people who do those things and, in addition, take pleasure in doing those things because it makes them feel smart and successful. For me, that trifecta (greed + indifference + pleasure at the outcome) is a reasonable definition of evil.
posted by Miko at 5:16 PM on November 29, 2010


I think what motivates people making those decisions is profit potential (call it greed, sure) combined with indifference. But I also think profit motive combined with indifference is all it takes for people to do things that allow them to knowingly harm and take from other people; and also that there are people who do those things and, in addition, take pleasure in doing those things because it makes them feel smart and successful.

No argument here. But that is still very different from "A well-fed population is not desired by the wealthy people who run the nation. ... It's all kept to exceedingly low standards. On purpose." It is that specific claim of motivation that I was challenging, that of a delilberate and intentional attempt to preserve the status of an entire ruling class.

In other words, there's a big difference between "I'm doing this because it's good for the bottom line, and as for those of you I screw over, well, that just sucks for you" and "I'm doing this because I am part of a cabal trying to preserve my elite status, and as for those of you I screw over, well, that's part of the plan to keep you in line".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:45 PM on November 29, 2010


Honestly, I don't perceive a difference.
posted by Miko at 8:02 PM on November 29, 2010


Good luck finding whole grain bread for $2.

This isn't 1974, when yogurt was freaky hippy natural food store stuff. At my local cheap grocery (Fred Meyer in Portland), the cheap brand of bread (Country Oven) is 3 loaves for $5 and 100% whole wheat is priced the same as the other 8 varieties.

Also don't understand why the one commenter above broke off with their Trader Joe's loving friend. Lots of healthy cheap stuff there too. People seem to have a weird attachment to unhealthy food, like it's unpretentious or authentically blue collar or something.
posted by msalt at 8:06 PM on November 29, 2010


...Not trying to sound snarky, Empress. But I think that by operating in business with a view toward trying to preserve one's elite status is responsible for the drive for the ever-enlarging bottom line, and that status is impossible to maintain as it is, and definitely impossible to grow, if more resources go toward the middle- and lower-income end of the scale and the profitability of agribusiness and industrial food production is reduced. The motivations are one and the same; the bottom line maintains the elite status.
posted by Miko at 8:11 PM on November 29, 2010


No, I know you're not trying to sound snarky.

The difference is whether the "the lower class stays down" part is THE goal, or just an unfortunate-but-unavoidable side effect. With the former, it implies that there is a deliberate "I am intentionally starving you because otherwise you would be strong enough to overthrow me" mindset, but the latter implies that they simply don't THINK about what's going on with the lower class so long as they are where they are -- what actually happens to the lower class is beside the point of them having their own status preserved.

It's kind of like asking whether Sean Penn was deliberately crafting his performance in Mystic River with the express goal of "If I do well enough in this role, I'll be able to beat Bill Murray at the Oscars." He wasn't thinking like that -- Bill Murray's performance wasn't even on his radar. He was just trying to do really good, and in the process he happened to beat Bill Murray.*

* Or so the Academy thought. I beg to differ, but to elaborate would trash my already-weird analogy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 PM on November 29, 2010


In order to believe that, I really would have to believe that the policies were enacted blindly, with ignorance and therefore innocence of their outcomes. There's too much evidence that such ignorance isn't present (just as in the tobacco industry).
posted by Miko at 5:58 AM on November 30, 2010


...and I know too many rich people who do think about the lower classes. Some of those people do think they're ignorant and stupid and that their position is justified - if they were smarter and had better characters, well, they'd be on top too. They say as much. It's just not possible to believe that the oppressive policies are an innocent byproduct of profitmaking. They're knowingly enacted, and often with contempt for the public.
posted by Miko at 6:01 AM on November 30, 2010


Sorry, I went to bed. Miko generally covers the gist of it.

I find it difficult to believe that the exceedingly poor state of all public services and interests is accidental.

Indeed, the problems are so pervasive and obvious that I have to conclude it is purposeful. TPTB want to keep the majority of the population uneducated, poor, and unhealthy. Especially when the solutions are relatively simple, yet not implemented.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:08 AM on November 30, 2010


There's no way to make much money in the solutions, which is one of the problems for the greedy. Responsibility makes less money than irresponsibility, so even when you know what you're doing is harmful, if the profit motive is more important to you than ethics, you can't choose to behave responsibly and still meet you personal goals.

But you don't want to admit responsibility for the social ills you cause, because that destroys your image of ignorant innocence that allows you to keep doing what you do, getting concessions from the government and a pass from the public. Thus we get rationales that divorce the people responsible for constructing the system from the effects of their systems. People are sick and fat because they lack "personal responsibility"and have weak, self-indulgent characters, not because the system is structured to make it far easier, cheaper, more practical and more rewarding to eat lousy food - in some cases, so far as to eliminate all other options. Those narratives seek to relocate responsibility from purveyors to consumers - just as in the banking system, those in power put forward the narrative that it was people who 'borrowed too much and bought homes they couldn't afford' who were at fault, rather than the financiers who used unethical practices to build and push bad loans and then construct shaky financial instruments to gamble on them with.
posted by Miko at 9:32 AM on November 30, 2010


I should probably mention that I believe most of us delude ourselves in thinking that we're well-off because we have a high five-figure or low six-figure salary. A hundred thousand dollars annual income is broke-ass poor. There's not a soul in the House or Senate that isn't being paid 10x that amount, and those are the people who are supposed to be representing you; and almost all of them are broke-ass when compared to the CEOs and financiers who actually run the country.

You don't end up with nearly half the nation owned by 1% of the population accidentally.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:42 AM on November 30, 2010


Yeah, the people I'm thinking and talking about are at the top end of the L Curve. Not your everyday rich, but supperrich, people who control fairly giant swaths of the economy.

Although, when comparing the consumer options for someone making upper five or six figures and someone making four figures, there are really important differences in what resources they can afford. There are people with disposable income, and people with no disposable income.
posted by Miko at 9:51 AM on November 30, 2010


It's not just income - we need to look at a person's debt for a better picture of their disposable income. If we (my husband and I) had no debt, we could afford to shop at Whole Foods all the time. We'd probably still choose not to, because we'd rather use our money for other things, and there is something in our backgrounds that makes the expense seem incredibly wasteful. It's like my grandparents growing up in the depression; even when they were relatively well-off, they'd still do things like water down their ketchup or swipe sugar packets from fast food restaurants. I think I'll always have this mentality that expensive food = wasteful luxury.
posted by desjardins at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2010


In the scheme of things though, they're the same: utterly powerless in every way that matters. "Consumer options" is another way to say "bread and circuses."
posted by five fresh fish at 10:08 AM on November 30, 2010


"Consumer options" is another way to say "bread and circuses."

Just personally, I don't believe that when it comes to food. Food does become a status marker and a pawn of markets, but it's also very complexly bound up with identity, region, culture, comfort, memory and spirituality in ways I find interesting and meaningful in deeply human ways. In addition to its connection with material physical health. It's because these uses and meanings of food are a little bit different from the uses and meanings of an iPod or cellphone or pair of tall boots that it becomes the subject of such passionate arguments. The good things that can be gotten from good food are so good, indeed, that they shouldn't be the province of the wealthy alone.

The kind of food that's now considered 'elite' is what my working-class, Texas grandmother, one of eight children born into poverty, ate regularly throughout her life. They gardened and ate fresh food, raised chickens, canned, harvested fresh seafood, and cooked at home. The food I ate at her table as a child has really never since been equalled by any I've had as an adult, at any price. The economics of her life and time were quite different than those of poor or working-class families today - she had time and equipment to cook and space to garden and a husband who bartered and harvested that seafood -, but I dream of a world in which this kind of good, fresh, satisfying, healthyand delicious food is available to people of every economic condition - because the reasons why it isn't are artificial creations of a poisonous industry, not some natural way of things that has always been so.
posted by Miko at 12:22 PM on November 30, 2010


Here's what I do for food:

I live in a co-op house with 15 people. Now, you don't have to live in a co-op house to do something similar to this -- I used to be part of an eatin' club where people who lived in different houses cooperated on food. However, we did decide that one person's house would be where we stored the ingredients and cooked and ate together, and we all got keys to that house.

ANYWAY, We all agree that we owe 5 hours of work per week to the house. We figure out what our schedules are like, and what sorts of things we like to do, and then somebody figures out a work schedule that works for all of us.

We have a lunch cleaner who comes after lunchtime and cleans the kitchen and makes sure it's ready to cook in. The lunch clean is expected to take 1hr. Then, the cook is expected to spend 3 hours cooking a delicious vegetarian meal from scratch. We have a set dinnertime (7pm), and we all eat together. I like that it provides structure to my day. Those who can't make it to dinner request that a save-plate be set aside for them, so they can pick it up later. Then, the assigned dinner-cleaner is expected to spend 2hrs cleaning the kitchen. For lunches, people take leftovers and maybe compile sandwiches and salads from the other random food we have around. We keep this work schedule 6 nights a week. On the seventh, we eat down the leftovers.

It's a good system because you don't have to spend all your time shopping, cooking, and cleaning every day. You do 5 hours of work, which is fit into your schedule and preferences. It feels like nothing. In exchange, your minions are bustling around for you the rest of the week.

(Since we're in a house together, the 5 hours also includes cleaning bathrooms and common rooms and handyman stuff. When I was in a non-resident eatin' club, the time obligation was less).

I do all my five hours for the house by being the all-time shopper. On Saturday mornings, I head down to the farmer's market and fill up on the local produce. Even though we're in Michigan, our farmer's market is a reliable source of local produce most of the year. January thru April I place bulk orders with a produce distributor who serves the restaurants in the area.

But that's just produce.

I have a local dairy deliver milk once a week. Another distributor delivers tofu, cheese, and eggs from a local farm. We also place bulk orders with "UNFI" for dry goods like flour, sugar, beans, soap, that I haven't found a feasible way to get locally. We get 25-lb bags of this stuff. Our basement is mostly given over to food storage.

All these distributors have minimum orders, but because we're buying collectively, we're able to meet them almost every week. If you have restaurants in your town, there are probably distributors you could order from.

So we're mostly eating local or organic. We're eating meals cooked from scratch every night (not even from cans).

And this isn't something that you have to be affluent to do.

We're spending $120 per person per month. If you need to spend less, you could do this by dropping the preference for organic in the UNFI stuff. Or you could decide you don't need a 25-lb bucket of almonds, cranberries, and chocolate chips all at the same time.

A lot of the people I live with work foodservice jobs with irregular scheules, but we've been able to accomodate. Sometimes we've had to move the 7pm dinnertime to accomodate the cooks' schedule, but the important thing is that everybody knows in advance what the dinnertime is, so we can all be there together.

We're all young people with no kids, but I'm sure you could work out something that works with kids.

Sometimes there is difficulty if somebody has to pay in food stamps, because most of these distributors we work with don't have a way to pay with food stamps. But the farmer's market takes food stamps, so we can usually just shuffle the money around and make it work.

As far as food storage, we're lucky that we have a whole basement we can dedicate to storage. And the nonresident eatin' club I was in before, the place we chose to be the nexus also had a lot of storage space. I bet anybody could work something out, though.

So that's my suggestion: Everybody live like me. Seriously. Good times.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 12:28 PM on November 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I find it difficult to believe that the exceedingly poor state of all public services and interests is accidental. Indeed, the problems are so pervasive and obvious that I have to conclude it is purposeful.

*shrug* Well, I find it difficult to believe that it's possible to organize the single, broad-ranging cohesive organization that you would need to deliberately do such a thing.

It just strikes me that since we all have the potential for being selfish dicksmacks, and that since in a capitalist structure one needs at least some selfishness to be able to succeed, that it's more likely that instead what we have is a bunch of unrelated selfish dicksmacks who are looking out for their own self interests, rather than a secret cabal seeking to preserve the oligarchy. I mean, such attempts at oligarchies do tend to tear themselves apart from within after a while, do they not? If so, why has this one not done so by now?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:54 PM on November 30, 2010


I think there's a lot of room between the idea of a "secret cabal," Superfriends-Hour-style, and the idea that there is an economic elite class in this country that's using the political system to make conditions more favorable for business and therefore their own profit, and knowingly running their businesses in ways that harm the public. It's true that oligarchies are subject to infighting, but that doesn't negate the fact that an elite ownership class exists that manipulates the business environment to their own ends. People may rise into and fall out of this class, but the class itself has never really lost ground and in recent decades has gained much ground. Also, I think it's yet to be shown that they ever completely tear themselves apart, since some of America's wealthiest families are also some of America's oldest wealthiest families -- wealth has been remarkably stable across generations,thanks to the power of compound interest and shareholding corporations and assisted by permissive inheritance tax policies that smooth the passage of money and investments from one generation to the next and a tax structure full of shelters and loopholes.
Forbes: America's Richest Families Of the 25 families we've identified, 44% owe their fortunes to companies founded in the 19th century. Another 36% trace their wealth to businesses started in the first half of the 20th century...One of the longest-running fortunes in American history belongs to the du Pont family, who rank eighth with a fortune of at least $15 billion. The du Ponts trace their ancestry to Pierre Samuel du Pont de Nemours (d. 1817), a French Physiocrat, who survived the Revolutionary Terror by immigrating to America in 1800.
...Wealth distribution has been extremely concentrated throughout American history, with the top 1% already owning 40-50% in large port cities like Boston, New York, and Charleston in the 19th century. It was very stable over the course of the 20th century, although there were small declines in the aftermath of the New Deal and World II, when most people were working and could save a little money. There were progressive income tax rates, too, which took some money from the rich to help with government services.

Then there was a further decline, or flattening, in the 1970s, but this time in good part due to a fall in stock prices, meaning that the rich lost some of the value in their stocks. By the late 1980s, however, the wealth distribution was almost as concentrated as it had been in 1929, when the top 1% had 44.2% of all wealth. It has continued to edge up since that time, with a slight decline from 1998 to 2001, before the economy crashed in the late 2000s and little people got pushed down again.
"The public vastly overestimates the prosperity of lower-income Americans" relative to the very wealthy.
So I don't believe there's a smoke-filled room where people figure out how the Conspiracy is going to work. Because you don't need it. Collectively, through political action, think tanks, policy groups, lobbying, and sweetheart deals, the benefits to the elite class are the same whether the conspiracy is official or not. A thousand aggregated actions in favor of the wealthy elite might be the result of a thousand separate conversations by a thousand different people who think a lot alike rather than one thousand-point agenda by one specific group, but regardless, in the aggregate, the effect is that wealth stops moving through the economy.

I'm not speaking as a paranoid person with a lot of nutty ideas. What I'm saying is not wacky conspiracy theory - it's a fairly neutral description of the interaction between wealth in the private economy and government in American history. I think what strains belief is not that there is a lot of agreement among the elite classes about how to keep wealth flowing upward to them, but the idea that so much concentration over only a few centuries could just happen...by accident.
posted by Miko at 7:52 PM on November 30, 2010


So I don't believe there's a smoke-filled room where people figure out how the Conspiracy is going to work. Because you don't need it. Collectively, through political action, think tanks, policy groups, lobbying, and sweetheart deals, the benefits to the elite class are the same whether the conspiracy is official or not.

This is...precisely what I was trying to say. In this case, the specific intent of the elites is "how do we get ours," period. It is not, however, a specific intent of "how do we keep others from getting theirs so we can continue to get ours." It's just 'how do we keep getting ours," period.

To return to my Academy Awards analogy for a moment: let's suppose that David Tennant takes on the lead in a film version of MacBeth. And that same year, Sean Penn takes the lead in a film version of Death Of A Salesman. Both really amp up their performances, because both are in pursuit of an Oscar. However -- it is not like Sean Penn deliberately took on the role because he dislikes David Tennant and thinks "if I do well enough, I can beat him at the Oscars and make him look stupid! Ha ha!" Sean Penn isn't sitting in his dressing room making David Tennant voodoo dolls before every shot thinking "must! Defeat! Tennant!" He is not paying off the Accounting Firm of Price, Waterhouse and Whoever, asking them to "toss out all of Tennant's nominations." He's just trying to do really good, and if Sean Penn gets nominated and David Tennant doesn't, Sean Penn would just shrug and say "sucks to be you, dude."

The implication that there is an elite class that is deliberately doing a sub-standard job at everything with the express purpose of hobbling a lower class sounds to me like Sean Penn taking on an acting role with the deliberate goal of making David Tennant look bad. Sean Penn is taking a role for the sake of taking a role, and if he beats out other people for the Oscar, them's the breaks.

Tangentially, I'm pretty sure that the only reason David Tennant hasn't been cast as Macbeth yet is because it'd be way too cliched a move.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:10 PM on November 30, 2010


In this case, the specific intent of the elites is "how do we get ours," period. It is not, however, a specific intent of "how do we keep others from getting theirs so we can continue to get ours." It's just 'how do we keep getting ours," period.

This just takes me back to the idea that it's just not possible to do one without doing the other - at least as it's done today. It's just not possible to "get ours" without the conscious decision to take the abiilty of others to get "theirs" away. It's not possible.
posted by Miko at 7:10 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


To underline my poiont, let's pick up on your Oscar analogy. The analogy assumes that the Oscars are a fair contest in which the nominees sit back with fingers crossed and let the chips fall where they may, having done the best they can, and may the best man win. They don't - far from it. Yes, their performance is been and done by the time of the awards. But an Oscar win is also something they begin hoping and dreaming of once their movie career begins, and once there is a real competition for the resource - the award- they begin actively manipulating the system to the degree possible in order to win the award or, failing that, win the most publicity for themselves around the award event.

I've read a bit about the politicking of Oscars behind the scenes. The actors and their managers begin attempting to influence the judging process in whatever ways they can, well before the day of the awards. These regulations exist to limit that influence, but it isn't hard to skirt the regulations, and agents, promoters, and managers routinely do - with, we have to recognize, the implicit or explicity approval of the actors themselves, who are quite aware they have the most to gain from the endeavor.
The Red Carpet Campaign: No effort or expense can make any of the Academy’s members vote for an actor, director, or screenplay they don’t like. But what a smart Oscar campaign (like a successful political campaign) can do is to make someone or something part of a larger story.... In the strange etiquette of Oscar competition, a hard-core, balls-out campaign to get Academy Award nominations is permissible, under the justification that everyone is just helping their movies, whereas pushing hard for an actual win not only looks narcissistically needy but also may be pointless, since most voters decide whom they want to win before the nominations are even announced. So the real work happens during a mid-January sprint, when actors, writers, and directors suspend their lives to embark on an ego-bruising bi-coastal nightmare carnival of awards and lunches, brunches and teas, screenings, Q&As and tributes, diving into the soul-depleting madness of what Evelyn Waugh long ago called Hollywood’s “continuous psalm of self-praise.” Movies that don’t join the fight get lost in the shuffle.
Academy rules ban filmmakers from giving parties for Academy members and forbid studios to hold screenings that “feature the live participation of the film’s artists before or after the screening” or include “receptions, buffets or other refreshments”—even a lousy bag of popcorn. But if somebody else throws the party, or if non-Academy riffraff are also invited to the screening, then bring on the caviar and the stars. In other words, “independent expenditures” are O.K. So is negative campaigning...Hollywood, it may seem, has learned all there is to learn from the world of “real” politics.
During Oscar season, studios heavily campaign for their films to win, spending large amounts of money in an attempt to influence Academy voters. Harvey Weinstein, of Miramax, was especially notorious for his campaigning.[4] Weinstein was alleged to have spread rumors that John Nash was antisemitic, to hurt the chances of A Beautiful Mind, a competing contender for the awards with the Miramax film, In the Bedroom.[5] It was also suspected, although unproven, that Weinstein was involved with the nomination of The Reader in 2009, a film that received mixed reviews from critics.[5]
The studio head is usually personally responsible in campaigning for the films. This comes in the form of hosting celebrity-filled private parties for "friends" before the Awards.[4] The CEO of Universal Studios, Ron Meyer, as an example, attempted to influence Academy members such as Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Frank Langella, by hosting a cocktail party at Nobu West.[4]
Actors involved in this do know that if they're successful in getting the win, the other nominees (perhaps more deserving) will not be successful. Their choice to accept the nomination and go forward is a knowing, active choice. Their choice to participate in activities designed to influence what is supposed to be an independent choice is a knowing, active choice.

This is actually a fine example of the way in which decisions with a lot of potential gain riding on them will be manipulated by those who have the power and resources to do so. Money and power are huge motivators, and when you're willing to bend and manipulate the rules and conditions to reduce the options and choices available to others for your own gain, you are responsible for those choices. In the case of the Oscars, I suppose it's somewhat benign, with the exception that it's most meaningful in terms of profit and power to studios who are often connected to megacorporations such as Time Warner or Fox, which are also involved in important sectors such as news media. In the case of food it's far less benign, because public health rides on it.

My point is simply this: it is just not possible to amass vast wealth and dominate large corporations and game the political system passively. Achieving that degree of influence in present society cannot be done without the active use of techniques designed to disenfranchise others. It is very visible in the food sector, where regulation and agency policy are so powerful in determining profits, markets, and access to raw materials for production. There is too much at stake for the CEOs and investors in food corporations to sit quietly by and hope things will work out in their best interest. Doesn't happen. They actively pursue policies favorable to their profit interest, even though they are well aware of the negative social outcomes. The very fact that they keep PR people quite busy spinning their decisions as "choices" and opportunities to practice "personal responsibility" is an indication that they are acutely aware of the need to manage their messaging and forestall direct critique. I'm sorry I'm not more naive about it; in some ways, I wish I were, but I've seen too much of it firsthand to imagine otherwise.
posted by Miko at 7:48 AM on December 1, 2010


Does anyone ELSE in the room understand the distinction I'm driving at?....
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:50 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


My point is simply this: it is just not possible to amass vast wealth and dominate large corporations and game the political system passively.

I'm not saying they're passive about it. I'm saying that what they're active about is "amassing wealth and power" period, full stop, as opposed to "amassing wealth and power EXPRESSLY TO subvert the lower class."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:52 PM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think where we're disagreeing is at what point the ethical line is crossed. You seem to require something like malice aforethought - as in, a freestanding, independent desire to do harm to some person or people, with no other incentive.

My contention is that malice aforethought is not only pretty rare, but is also not where our greatest problems with ethics and wrongdoing arise.

In my view, the greatest problem arises not from some random desire to do harm, but when someone in power encounters a human obstacle to their amassing more wealth, fame, or power, and makes the decision that their desire to amass that stuff is more important than the harm they'll do to the people involved.

In other words, few people have "oppress others" as their aim in life independent of all other considerations. But many people are more than willing to oppress others (and create spurious justifications for it), in order to gain what they want. But where I part with you is the idea that the harm to others is just an unfortunate and unforeseen outcome of the desire to pursue more power and wealth, and greater security in one's elite position. There's too much evidence that that's not true. It's not unforeseen and not done in ignorance - not at the level I'm speaking of. IT's not an unfortunate, surprising and pitiable outcome but, gee, there's no other way to make money. There is an awareness of the harms being done - plenty of documentation of such - and there is a willingness to do the harm.

The important point to me is that there is no claim of ignorance. While someone might just be pursuing wealth, that's fine, but at the instant where that person decides to do something in the pursuit of greater wealth even thought they possess knowledge that they're directly causing harms by doing so, the moral wrong has been committed. And where there are a goodly number of people who are comfortable taking those actions, and who are in touch with each other through political actions, think tanks, and associations, here's nothing else required in order to constitute a relatively focused and organized approach to public policy that ends up oppressing people. Not as unforeseen outcome, but as part of their approach to building lasting business success.
posted by Miko at 6:32 PM on December 1, 2010


George Carlin:
They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30...years ago. You know what they want? They want obedient workers...people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security money...They want it back so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street, and you know something? They’ll get it...they’ll get it all from you sooner or later cause they own this...place. It’s a big club and you ain't in it. You and I are not in The Big Club.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:40 PM on December 1, 2010


You seem to require something like malice aforethought - as in, a freestanding, independent desire to do harm to some person or people, with no other incentive.

Closer to my point.

The disconnect I see is kind of like the one I had over evolution with an old boyfriend -- we were marveling at how a particular animal had evolved in a particular way. But then he asked, "how did it know to evolve [that characteristic]?" And I said, "uh, that's...not the way evolution works." I explained that natural selection just threw a whole lot of stuff at the wall and that was what happened to stick. But it wasn't that the bug or whatever was consciously choosing this, that, or another thing -- it was just in a self-centered drive to survive.

And That's what I'm getting at -- that these people are on a self-centered drive to survive. You can't have "malice aforethought" over something that you're not even thinking of in the first place.

But that's not even my bigger problem with the notion FFF quotes George Carlin as claiming -- I can buy that "they" want obedient and poorly-paid workers, but what I don't buy is that "they" are deliberately gaming the system to create these obedient and poorly paid workers. Because the level of organization required to game the system in that way is nigh impossible to maintain for extended periods of time.

Do they want a lower class? Yeah, I'll buy that. Are they deliberately jerry-rigging the system from cradle to grave so as to create this lower class? That's where you lose me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 PM on December 1, 2010


They vote, and they fund political campaigns with certain goals - and those goals are not about maximising social mobility. This is concious action (and inaction).
posted by jb at 7:50 PM on December 1, 2010


(runs back in) I finally figured out how to phrase my argument. Yay!

Okay. I can buy a guy saying "I'm going to pay a charter school to educate my kid so he does better than the Johnson's kid." Or "I'm going to bribe a guy to let my kid into the charter school so he does better than the Johnson's kid." Or "I'm going to bribe a guy to get my kid better food so he's healthier than the Johnson's kid."

What I don't buy is, "I'm going to bribe a guy to make the Johnson's kid's school bad and I'm going to bribe a guy to get the food in the Johnson's supermarket bad so the Johnson kid grows up poor, because my kid will need a cashier and the Johnson's kid will need to do that."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 PM on December 1, 2010


US Congress: Healthy Food Denied.

"I'm going to vote against this bill, because I know my children's children will be going to private schools, and if I don't spend money on the lower class kids, it's more money in my pocket plus their kids are not going to be in competition with my kids' kids."
posted by five fresh fish at 8:07 PM on December 1, 2010


Are they deliberately jerry-rigging the system from cradle to grave so as to create this lower class?

I don't think it's perfectly organized in the extreme way you seem to be expecting, but it is organized and it's definitely intentional. And if it's "nigh impossible to maintain for extended periods of time," then it's really hard to understand how wealth has been concentrating in the same hands at increasing rates since the 1970s, and to some extrent, over the even longer period since the mid-to-late 19th century.

Have you been tracking political funding, like the ongoing story of the Koch brothers - superrich industrialists who have pretty much developed the Tea Party movement through their own efforts? If you read about the food industry, or about campaign finance, or about the associations and think tanks that develop and promote policy initiatives, it's clear that it's actually pretty damn organized. And it's not that out there to suggest so, when most economic theory points to the eventual establishment of vehicles like that.

One semi-unfortunate aspect of my job is that I need to spend a fair amount of time around wealthyish people, and they do share a common culture - they read the same periodicals, cluster together around political parties, and discuss and develop their worldviews together. They may not sit around boardrooms monching on cigars and cackling about how they're gonna stick it to John Q. Public, but they don't need to. (In fact, if we were going to get into more subtle nuance, I think what they are aiming for is not so much a totally disenfranchised working class, but one that's able to consume at a minimal level with almost no public investment. Therefore, there's no public option for healthcare - the state would have to bear some of that cost and there'd be a loss to business. The working classes generate more money for private industry with an all-private healthcare system, except for the most extreme poverty cases who couldn't afford such a system anyway. Funding for schools is localized, to prevent wasting money on poor kids, rather than equalized across the state or nation. Minimize costs to the public by removing social programs aimed at rectifying inequality, bit by bit, but still keep employment at a point where people have some disposable income to buy low-cost, cheaply made, branded consumer goods and food, but not enough to afford important, high-ticket things like higher or private education or healthcare. Without a domestic market for the cheap crap, opportunity for profit can't be maximized, so it's important to build a market that can afford a bunch of little junky things but not the big things that might allow them to make class leaps in large numbers. The funny thing is, to some degree the markets can move around the globe, so if people in the US get too poor to buy stuff, the developing markets around the world will take their place as consumers - so with increased globalism, even the small incentive industry has to keep the working classes at work is shrinking).

I feel like I'm trying to show that air exists. I think one issue is that you still seem to be imagining some big, highly organized science-fiction-esque Firm, The Cabal. What I (we?) have been saying is that such an entity really isn't necessary, because we already have the de facto version.
posted by Miko at 8:40 PM on December 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think one issue is that you still seem to be imagining some big, highly organized science-fiction-esque Firm, The Cabal.

No, I'm saying that others are claiming such a cabal is there. And I am saying that "such a Cabal is not realistic".

What I (we?) have been saying is that such an entity really isn't necessary, because we already have the de facto version.

That's exactly what I've been saying as well. That it is de facto. I took from five fresh fish's initial claim that it was notde facto, however, but rather that it was conscious and deliberate.

And if it's "nigh impossible to maintain for extended periods of time," then it's really hard to understand how wealth has been concentrating in the same hands at increasing rates since the 1970s, and to some extrent, over the even longer period since the mid-to-late 19th century.

People's own selfishness. What you're describing as a "de facto cabal," I see as people with money thinking "fuck y'all, I got mine, and I'm gonna make sure my kids get it too." Those things are similar.

But I'm saying that that's different from "we want a lower class, and we are going to pay off the FDA to keep a lower class poorly fed to make sure they stay lower class." That was the claim I felt FFF was making -- that they were saying "we will pay off the FDA to keep a lower class poorly fed to make sure they stay lower class". I felt he was saying that there was a back-room cabal, and I was disputing that specific thing.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 AM on December 2, 2010


You're really confusing me! I'm no longer sure what distinction you're trying to make.

I'm saying that that's different from "we want a lower class, and we are going to pay off the FDA to keep a lower class poorly fed to make sure they stay lower class."

What I've been saying, and trying to show, is that it's really not different. The latter view is a completely necessary outgrowth of pursuing the profit motive to the extreme point at which we see it today. You can't amass fortunes and powerful conglomerates of the kind we have today without thinking about ways to ensure that overall class structure solidifies in the direction favorable to your business.

I believe that FFF's claim that there's an intentional desire to maintain a lower class at a specific size and set of resources is totally consistent with the idea of a "de facto cabal." I don't see him saying that this "cabal" is a real, specific group of people with central authority or governance - that's the sort of comic-book caricature I was referring to before, like the guy on Get Smart fighting the organization Chaos. You seem to think he's saying it's something highly centrally controlled like that, and only he can clarify - I can't speak for him, only for me.

You seem to be looking for a way to recognize that there's a de facto elite class, with the intention of continuing class stratification and wealth aggregation at the top tiers (because that's part of the profit motive which you agree exists) AND not to have that be organized -- to be able to see it as just a natural, accidental result of the profit motive. That just beggars belief, based on current events and economic history. That's clearly, empiracally not what's happening.

We can agree that it's all based on "people's own selfishness," but I'm no longer sure what distinction you're trying to make beyond that. Because there is, without a doubt, lots of organization behind the interactions of megabusiness, finance and the economy, and public policy.

For me, it ends there - whether you imagine a specific backroom or a specific cabal is immaterial, since we have plenty of evidence that there are plenty of real backrooms, relationships, and organizations. I *think* that's what FFF was really saying, though I may be wrong. If he really believes there's one connected conspiracy with central authority, that's news to me - what I believe is that the elite is complex and multifacated, but interconnected, relatively small, keenly aware of the actions needed to protect their common interested and maintain the class structure as it is OR change it a bit more in their favor, and willing to set up structures and institutions that advance their goals in organized ways.

If you disagree with that, we might have a material argument, but if it's just about the idea of "cabal" it might be a semantic argument, and it would just be a matter of agreeing on terms.

If you aren't sure that the superrich at the heads of the major corporations and think tanks take a focused and organized approach that knowingly manipulates the class structure to ensure continued profitability, then I'd refer you to some great books and authors: Kevin Phillips, a former Republican financial strategist and Nixon aide who became alienated from the fiscal policy of that party when he started to see it threatening the middle class, andhas since written some fantastic books like Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich and Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism; Douglass Rushkoff's Life, Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation, which traces the development of the corporation form of organization from the Renaissance onward and then gets very specific about the knowingly harmful activities pursued by many contemporary American corporations; and a new author I've just learned about, Raj Patel, who wrote Stuffed and Starved: Markets, Power, and the Hidden Battle for the World's Food System. If you haven't seen the film Food, Inc., that might be an eyeopener, as would King Corn, especially the segment where the filmmakers interview a high-fructose corn syrup manufacturer's PR person. You might also find it intriguing to poke around the statements and whitepapers you find on labor and the economy conservative think tank web pages. Or even just read The Economist. As you take in information it becomes more and more impossible to make a rational, evidence-supported claim that the class structure, public policy, the food system, etc just happens as an unforeseeable and uncontrollable outgrowth of a relatively innocent profit motive uncomplicated by a willingness to knowingly harm individuals in order to maintain class stratification. Not at the level of organization that large corporations and the very rich operate.

But if you aren't challenging that point then we don't really have a disagreement.

posted by Miko at 8:04 AM on December 2, 2010


There's probably no formal cabal, although I wouldn't put it past the likes of Roger Ailes, the Koch brothers, and others of that nature.

But the ultra-wealthy must talk to one another, the deplorable state of the education and food inspection system must be known to them, and they must agree to not act on that knowledge.

Miko's on the money. Simple greed isn't quite enough to explain how we've come to this point. This has required deliberate decision-making.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:51 AM on December 2, 2010


Miko:

You're really confusing me! I'm no longer sure what distinction you're trying to make.

Let me show you by unpacking these sentences fff just posted:

There's probably no formal cabal,

I agree with this.

although I wouldn't put it past the likes of Roger Ailes, the Koch brothers, and others of that nature.

I disagree with this.

But the ultra-wealthy must talk to one another,

I agree with this.

the deplorable state of the education and food inspection system must be known to them,

I agree with this.

and they must agree to not act on that knowledge.

I disagree with this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:45 PM on December 2, 2010


Then we really disagree. There's evidence that "the likes of Roger Ailes, The Kochs" etc do work to establish a fairly powerful group of like-minded people who change policy, investing large sums in that endeavor; and there's plenty of evidence of agreed-upon non-action and open opposition to addressing the social problems, like food and health access, caused by income inequality.

I understand you are employing a smell test, and I honor that impulse. I know that people on political extremes tend to indulge in hyperbole, and I'm no fan of that stuff. However, the ideas I've advanced about organized management of the economy just aren't hyperbole; they're demonstrable fact. So maybe we've reached the end of the discussion, and all I can do is perhaps refer you back to the links I've given here if you're still in doubt about those two points.
posted by Miko at 8:29 PM on December 2, 2010


I think what we disagree about is WHY they collaborate, perhaps.

As simply as I can state the argument:

* FFF says that they collaborate to keep the lower class stupid because "we need dummies working on our cash registers and doing our manual labor." In this scenario, the lower class is DELIBERATELY CREATED, and if there were any rise in the status of the lower class, that would Be A Bad Thing.

* I am saying that they collaborate because "we need to protect ourselves, and whatever happens to the people who ain't us, is...just what happens." As long as they got what they got, the lower class could improve, devolve, or grow arms and fly to the moon. If there were any rise in the lower class in this scenario, they wouldn't give a shit as long as their own status wasn't threatened.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:12 AM on December 3, 2010


I'm seeing a few misconceptions above and don't understand why after multiple comments some people are not understanding some of the issues of being poor.
Have you read Nickel and Dimed? It is a pretty good representation of the problems of those who are barely making it.
Once upon a time, a partner and I were both on disability. Again, we were lucky we had a car and lived in an area that had a real grocery store @ 1/10 mile away. I was disabled early, and had just worked enough to qualify for SSDI, but I was supposed to live (in 1990's) on @ $300/month plus $100/month food stamps. We often split those instant side dishes that you can get for a buck and made sure her kids got meat and veggies. I learned from her how to stretch meals and make something from nothing, but a lot of people (as mentioned above) do not know how to do so. Again, we had lots of pasta and rice with whatever cheap fruit and veggies we could find on sale. Again, we were close to a real grocery store which helps tons.

Another year (after I went back to work, school and got off of SSDI) I was not poor enough for food stamps but had to work 3 jobs to barely make ends meet. I had no time or energy for cooking most days.
I was lucky enough to have a car (unlike many of the urban poor). But grocery shopping takes time. Those who say they prefer going to the store several times a week...when is a person who is schlepping between multiple jobs supposed to do that? I had to spend time on the road and time working. I would come home in pain and exhausted. I lived on p&j sandwiches (not the most healthy thing but for me, in the suburbs it was cheap enough (and I had relatives give me homemade jelly) that I could afford to do that instead of the dollar menu everyday.
One of my jobs was down from a (horrible) pizza place (CiCi's) that would let you eat all you can eat for really cheap. Again, not the best but filling. The point is that energy is an important factor even when cooking a 10 min oatmeal. We lived on a lot of rice and peas/mac and cheese and peas. (Box mac is much cheaper when you count in the cheese, milk and butter). Carbs and high carb veggies are not the same as fresh apples and broccoli. The canned fruits and veggies (esp store brand on sale) are cheaper than the fresh fruits and veggies. I was lucky, the economy (right after 9/11) improved a bit in 2002 and I was able to get back on my career path with a better job.
We have young friends now who are not poor, but live in a "not so good area" that does not have a grocery store nearby. They are not downtown, so they can get to a grocery store by bus (they do not have a car). However, it is difficult to get many groceries back to their apartment. They both work overnights at a local hospital and find it hard to shop. One time they went to a Walmart and the bus that was scheduled to go back to their area...never showed up. So, in many cities you can add unreliable public transportation to the mix. Again, they are more fortunate than those that are in the most Urban areas. But they do experience the sheer tiredness and live on quite a bit of takeout (which at least they can afford). Take out does not consist of the most healthy items.
These are my experiences, and they only touch on the worst cases. Others do not have time and energy and cannot get to a decent store without multiple bus/metro transfers.
This goes right along with people who exclaim "why don't these people just go to school?
(again, when? or get a better job? they aren't qualified...
I agree with some of the other posters that there is a level of moralizing going on about being poor and not eating well. To me, it is that aspect that bothers me about those who can afford the best foods. For me, it is not the fact that they can afford such things so much as they judge those whose experiences they do not share and deem them as "stupid" or "lazy".
Unfortunately, our capitalist economy relies on people at the bottom making less than a living wage :(
posted by Librarygeek at 5:01 AM on December 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


As long as they got what they got, the lower class could improve, devolve, or grow arms and fly to the moon

The problem I keep returning to with your argument is that this isn't the case. Because the elite class simply cannot get what they want without managing the lower classes, it's just not possible for the elite class to take a neutral stance on the lower classes.

The lower class has to be actively managed through policy and economic manipulation, or else there's no way for the elite class to reach their goals. FFF is not wrong that a lower class is actively desired -- in fact, required -- and deliberately created and maintained through policy and business decisions.

It's also not true that the very rich "wouldn't give a shit" what happened to others as long as they get theirs. That's because one component of their motivation is not just for money, but for a desire to wield relative power and control, not just be able to buy whatever they want, but to be in charge of how things play out. If everyone else became as powerful as they are, they would need to seek yet another level of power in order to maintain their advantage and would have to re-create the power gap. Even in your "simple greed" construction, this would be a necessary reaction of the superrich to increasing success from the middle and lower classes. Their "simple greed" would necessarily drive them to create structures that re-create the gaps between them and everyone else so that they could have more, or else their greed would be unsatisfied.
posted by Miko at 6:05 AM on December 3, 2010


Here's a really solid writeup from the text Who Rules America?.
posted by Miko at 7:22 AM on December 3, 2010


The problem I keep returning to with your argument is that this isn't the case. Because the elite class simply cannot get what they want without managing the lower classes, it's just not possible for the elite class to take a neutral stance on the lower classes.

Well, the problem I keep having with the idea that the elites are deliberately creating a lower class is that there have been too many people throughout history working to combat that process, and the fact that you would need an actual Cabal -- of the type you say there isn't -- in order to do that.

And i'm not saying they're taking a "neutral" stance -- I'm saying that they're not trying to actively create a lower class. What I'm saying that their attitude is not like something out of Brave New World, where everyone's fate was ordained from conception and genetically engineered -- I'm saying that their attitude about "the lower class" is "well, someone's gotta work the cash registers, and as long as that person isn't me, then we're good. "

Their attitude is not "let me pay off the FDA to keep a supermarket out of Washington Heights because those people need to be kept repressed." it's "....why should I care whether they have supermarkets in Washington Heights? The bodega should be good enough."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 PM on December 3, 2010


that there have been too many people throughout history working to combat that process

Right, that's Marx's central dialectic. Of course lots of people combat this process. It doesn't mean the combat is ultimately successful, it means only that is will be ongoing as long as there is an economic elite, resulting in a continual struggle for control. The Who Rules America? piece talks about this, if you read it.

you would need an actual Cabal -- of the type you say there isn't -- in order to do that.

I thought you agreed that we didn't need an actual cabal, that a de facto cabal already exists and is enough to institutionalize attempts to control the class structure. You agreed to that earlier. You don't need an "actual" cabal if you have a de facto cabal. This is semantics.

they're not trying to actively create a lower class

Yes, they are. They have to. Because in order to maximize profit and thus satisfy their greed, something you agree they want to do, they need to identify surplus resources and develop methods of making sure those resources end up in their hands, not in the hands of their workers, or in the broader class of workers. A simple thought experiment in which you imagine how a single company would need to be managed to satisfy the owner's desire for greater profit will illustrate this.

You're trying to have a cause (greed) without an effect (maximization of profit). It's not possible for the cause conditions to exist without creating the effect.

It seems like you're not reading any of the links. I chose them because they tend to provide loads of evidence of intentional work to control the class structure. It would make more sense to just read them than for me to reiterate the information here.

There's not much more to say in my argument. I'm drawing on more than a century of analysis of class stratification and economics, based in evidentiary reality, not making up paranoid shit. You may have a critique of all that economic theory, but if so it's not contained in the arguments here.

I understand your doubt of a Cabal, and I agree there's no single monolithic cabal and that there are plenty of differences of opinion in the economic elite and plenty of ways to combat it and even change the social order (or the world would have no Socialist governments, of course!)... but even people who totally oppose me politically, and who are part of this elite or aspiring to be, readily admit that the economic elite has to maximize profit and to do so they have to control the relative resources of the various class strata to the degree possible.
posted by Miko at 8:19 PM on December 3, 2010


It's hard to work with your supermarket analogy, because the FDA isn't involved in deciding where supermarkets go. So more likely it'd be an issue like this: The CEO of a chain like Duane Reade might order an employee to pay off a city councilman or two to vote down a zoning appeal filed by a supermarket developer who wants to go into a poor neighborhood. The greatest profit can be had when the poor in that neighborhood have the fewest options and are forced to shop for grocery items at the Duane Reade. So it's in the Duane Reade owner's best interest to reduce the options available to the neighborhood poor in order to draw the most shoppers, and he will actively work to prevent the competition coming in, even though that would be a direct quality of life improvement for the residents. Duane Reade needs people who live nearby to have less money and fewer choices; if their income increases or if they have more choices, they are very likely to shop elsewhere. Actively working to prevent that choice becoming available is one small-scale, micro example of a knowing attempt at class control. When a CEO like that joins with other CEOs in business and retail associations, and they work together on policy statements and start making mutual agreements on worker pay or the availability of health care to employees or divvying up the market area block by block, you begin moving toward a more macro scenario.
posted by Miko at 8:45 PM on December 3, 2010


This isn't getting us anywhere. I'm out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 PM on December 3, 2010


I'd say it went exactly to the heart of it. But, then, I feel validated. What Miko describes is much closer to my intent.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:28 AM on December 4, 2010


it's not getting us anywhere, so all I can suggest is reading the links from my last few comments. They describe it better than I can here.
posted by Miko at 7:35 AM on December 4, 2010


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