It's not all that easy to 'just cook healthier meals'
October 2, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Three North Carolina researchers spend 18 months learning about the food and cooking choices of almost 200 households. They learned, perhaps unsurprisingly, that simply encouraging households to cook healthier meals at home was unlikely to address the challenges to healthy eating most families face.

Researchers concerned about strong messaging suggesting that poor families can save money and eat healthfully by simply choosing to cook at home undertook a long-term research project to discover the real barriers to healthy eating for low-income households. Researchers learned that many poor households actually cook at home very frequently, but struggle with constraints on their food choices and cooking options caused by larger issues-- time pressures, lack of transportation, lack of equipment, etc. Inability to afford "good" food and organic food was an issue, but middle-class households were the ones who worried more about "ideal" meals.

One of TreeHugger's food writers (who has written about the inherent healthiness of home cooking) reacts by recognizing that "the problem lies not with home cooking itself, but with a system that doesn’t support it sufficiently".

Link to paywalled Contexts article.
posted by Kpele (166 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Some of the families didn’t have a kitchen table, or enough chairs for everyone, or lacked basic kitchen utensils, so that was another obstacle." :(
posted by epersonae at 12:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [17 favorites]


For the poor and working class families, many of them had unpredictable or non-standard schedules that might change week to week. Quite a few had service industry jobs. Their schedule would change, and they might not know until a day or two in advance.
I'm immediately reminded of this previously about how scheduling software is used to squeeze the most profit possible out of workers in precarious positions. I'm glad that people in public health are getting more insistent that you can't blame the health problems of the poor on their own eating choices when our economic system as it is takes most of that choice away from them.

Bad worker scheduling and low wages are a public health problem, just like dirty drinking water and improper sewage disposal.
posted by clawsoon at 12:55 PM on October 2, 2014 [108 favorites]


"We observed a lot of meals, and there were very few where at least someone didn’t complain. Negotiating people’s preferences was a challenge for everyone."

That's hard for me to get my head around because it's so foreign to my upbringing. There was no negotiation. If you wanted to not be hungry, you sat down to the dinner table and ate whatever was there. If it was not one of Mom's culinary triumphs, well, too bad. Of course Mom was aware of what generated enthusiasm, and that factored into her menu planning. But you ate what she cooked. End of story.
posted by Longtime Listener at 1:02 PM on October 2, 2014 [37 favorites]


I felt that way too, Longtime Listener, and mealtime at my house was a constant battle with my daughter. I don't care if you like it! It's what's for dinner! Eat it or don't! Then it turned out that all my delicious healthy meals were making her incredibly sick and causing her terrible, terrible pain, and now I don't push the issue so much.
posted by KathrynT at 1:05 PM on October 2, 2014 [36 favorites]


I hadn't thought about the impact of just-in-time scheduling on cooking.

I also hadn't thought about the need to cook something that everyone will eat, and how this reduces cooking to the least common denominator - if you can't afford much food, you can't really afford to cook several sides on the assumption that everyone will eat some of something, and you can't afford to try something if you aren't sure how it will turn out. I imagine, too, that if you've gotten home after a long day working for very little money, the last thing you want to do is spend your time cooking a meal and then fighting over getting everyone to eat it.

I infer from some novels I've read that in the past, lots of poor city folks also ate the fast food of the day - eel pie, for instance, or bacon on a slab of bread.

In the other cooking thread, I was saying that Orwell had made this proposal that food be dished out (along with dishes, actually) from a central depot to anyone who cared to sign up for it as a basic social service on a par with running water. He just tosses this idea off in one of his pamplets (and I'm sure there are other socialist writers who talk about the same thing) but it really is a solid, good idea if we lived in a just society - basically, an improved version of Meals On Wheels for anyone who needed it. You could have local food depots, for instance, which would create jobs in a neighborhood, and people could do things like "oh, I will sign up for food delivery on a Tuesday because that's the night I work late". For everyone under a certain income threshhold it's free, maybe, and then sliding scale. Places like that could afford to buy bulk local produce, too, which would create an environmentally sustainable market for regional food. (That is, fewer stops to get the food to its destination.)

Of course, that would require not extracting the maximum profit from every vulnerable human being, so it will never happen.
posted by Frowner at 1:05 PM on October 2, 2014 [97 favorites]


Longtime Listener, perhaps you have not considered the fear of what will happen if your child tells their teacher that they didn't get any dinner last night, and they already know your kid is low-income.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 1:08 PM on October 2, 2014 [32 favorites]


Of course Mom was aware of what generated enthusiasm, and that factored into her menu planning. But you ate what she cooked. End of story.

That's an easier rule to implement when one or two people are reliably cooking dinner for the family every single night. When kids are used to randomly fending for themselves - of having nights when they can eat Eggos because Mom's working an afternoon shift, or when a non-custodial parent takes them out for fast food every weekend because s/he doesn't have any kitchen equipment, or when the babysitter or Grandma is taking over meal duty twice a week, and the kids are buying themselves a $2 burger or slice of pizza while they wait for the city bus home after school or sports - it's harder to hold firm. And when that meal time might be the only chance a parent has to see their kids all day (or to sit down an enjoy a hot meal themselves), there's more pressure to make sure everyone's happy.
posted by northernish at 1:11 PM on October 2, 2014 [42 favorites]


I'm glad that people in public health are getting more insistent that you can't blame the health problems of the poor on their own eating choices when our economic system as it is takes most of that choice away from them.

Bad worker scheduling and low wages are a public health problem, just like dirty drinking water and improper sewage disposal.


The pernicious thing about behavior is that there is always the element of choice, and it's a lot easier to measure that choice than it is to measure the effect of environmental (including economic) pressures.

It's a pretty significant challenge in public health; we know, from social-ecological models and social cognitive theory, that there are effects from much broader influences like economic and social-environmental factors.

But because it's hard to measure those in the same concrete ways that we measure things like incidence, prevalence, and behavior, it sometimes gets lost.

It's important to keep parts of the behavioral theory that are beyond the 'measurement horizon' still part of the conversation.

These researchers did so in a good way.
posted by entropone at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


I though it was interesting that even the middle class people couldn't make it work. It always comes down to money and time. I wish we didn't shame middle class and poor people into thinking they aren't doing right by their family if they don't waste money on organic food. It isn't going to make a single difference in their lives but the organic marketing out there makes them feel bad.

We observed a lot of meals, and there were very few where at least someone didn’t complain. Negotiating people’s preferences was a challenge for everyone.

Middle-class moms felt it was important to try new foods, so they were working hard to develop their children’s palates, even if this was stressful and time-consuming.


This is a huge challenge. First you have to worry about finding something everybody will eat that is also nutritionally sound. That's hard enough if you stick with a few reliable recipes. But when you want to add new recipes and tastes constantly? Argh, that has to be difficult. I'd rather stick with experimenting on the weekend and leaving the school/work week to the path of least resistance.

People were cooking a lot and that surprised me a little, because of how much we hear that the opposite is true. At the same time, they felt they weren’t cooking well enough. They felt like they didn’t have enough money and weren’t able to cook the right way or the way they should be.

My personal view is I would like to see an effort to develop and popularize more healthy, affordable convenience foods. I'd like to see less looking down on those sorts of options. The most valuable part of a meal with family to me is enjoying being with the family. Cooking can often be stressful work that actually reduces that time.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:12 PM on October 2, 2014 [20 favorites]


Before I make my point, I want to say that food is incredibly important in my life, I make a (small) part of my living talking and writing about eating. I love eating and drinking.

That said, this whole idea that food will heal us as a society and improve our lives in a myriad of ways is nonsensical. The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad. It has replaced suburban moms taking est courses in the 70`s and new age spirituality in the 80`s. It`s a fad that time will pass and will look just as laughable as the the previous examples do now.

Janie Oliver and Micheal Pollan and Mark Bitmann will look quaintly dated in a decade.

Handmade cheese is the 00`s equivalent of a hand made macrame owl in 1978. Or those dolls with the old lady shriveled faces made with apples.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2014 [34 favorites]


I remember trying to cook when I was (relatively) poor, and it was awful. You always are out of some critical ingredient or don't have time to take the bus to the store or are missing some critical kitchen utensil. Not to mention the time requirement and additional stress. I like to cook now that I have a car and disposable income, but I will never, ever lecture anyone else that they should do so.
posted by miyabo at 1:14 PM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


I just think that if your life is really stressful and tiring and there's no meaningful possibility of it ever being any different because you'll always be stuck in low-wage insecure work and shitty housing and unreliable transit options and only ever getting to buy/use/wear whatever is the cheapest, then you simply might not have the heart to fight to get your kids to eat the kale or whatever. You might need to use up all your fight just to get through the day as it stands.

Even the middle class mothers in the study talk about how much they hate fighting with their kids over food and how difficult it can be to get a picky child to eat, and those are people who have much more stability and better living conditions.

It's easy to say that someone who has it much worse than you do should have an iron will and absolute self-discipline and bootstraps of steel and so on and should keep their kids in line and so on, but consider how many even of us more privileged people are not perfectly disciplined. If I - relatively financially stable, know how to cook, decent kitchen - can have a really lousy day and dine upon cookies and marzipan or completely forget my lunch and end up eating bad pizza because it was free even though I know better, I can't really expect someone whose life is much harder to be able to muster up the willpower to fight twenty times my battles every day.
posted by Frowner at 1:15 PM on October 2, 2014 [68 favorites]


Cue a line of readers to opine on how these mothers are just Doing It Wrong. Complete with instructions on how to Do It Like Me.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:15 PM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


I have a pretty normal schedule and one kid, and sometimes I still find myself making stuff at 10pm because it's about to go bad and I don't want to waste money and there was no time to cook it for dinner. If I had to work two jobs on crazy-making schedules, forget it. It would be all convenience food out of the freezer or fast food place.
posted by emjaybee at 1:16 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


This obviously goes hand-in-hand with access to quality health care, as well. This country cannot understand that we don't live in isolation, and yes you are your brother's keeper in the sense that what is good for all is good for themselves. Instead, we construct barriers to being healthy while slashing taxes for the richest people. It is appalling and shameful.
posted by basicchannel at 1:16 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad. It has replaced suburban moms taking est courses in the 70`s and new age spirituality in the 80`s. It`s a fad that time will pass and will look just as laughable as the the previous examples do now.

I hear you, but I don't think that the "cook healthier meals" squad is necessarily advocating "all-organic artisinal cheese" so much as they're advocating "something other than Happy Meals and Beef-a-Roni every night".

Agreed that society is sometimes too fucked to even have "something other than Happy Meals" be a realistic possibility.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:17 PM on October 2, 2014 [13 favorites]


That's hard for me to get my head around because it's so foreign to my upbringing. There was no negotiation. If you wanted to not be hungry, you sat down to the dinner table and ate whatever was there.

I get your point, I really do, but I think this is missing a few points. The first two that occur to me are:

1) This might sound dumb but a lot of the time hungry kids will NOT eat because they don't actually make the connection between the feeling "hungry" and just EATING. I had a bunch of low-income students many of whom did not get much (if anything) to eat at home who would still refuse to eat the school-provided breakfasts and lunches. They were hungry! They were VERY hungry! And they were cranky and tired and irritable. It was awful. They were also at a developmental point where they really didn't have a good grasp on cause and effect and so they'd get hungrier and hungrier and crankier and crankier and still refuse to eat and the hungrier they got the more stubborn they got. It's not as simple as "if they get hungry enough, they'll eat".

2) It's easy to say "there was no negotiation" but enforcing that still takes effort. It's not a matter of putting food on the table and then ignoring your children if they don't eat, you really do have to set that standard. What if your child starts screaming? Crying? Trying to steal food from the kitchen? I know it's important to stand up to your children but enforcing that rule every day and maintaining that line every day is really not easy, especially if you yourself are tired and stressed and hungry and anxious.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:18 PM on October 2, 2014 [48 favorites]


I hadn't thought about the impact of just-in-time scheduling on cooking.

My husband works in tech and his schedule varies (whoops, emergency bug that must be tracked down right now = home two hours later than expected). It's a major problem for us and we don't have kids to worry about. I can only imagine what it's like for a parent who's not as lucky as we are in terms of finances and flexibility.
posted by immlass at 1:19 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


But they have teevees! And refrigerators! Clearly, they just aren't taking personal responsibility and pulling themselves up their TV&refrigerator bootstraps.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:21 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad.

I agree, but you include Pollan under your very broad umbrella, and his whole food mantra is "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much." That's very different from fetishizing local/artisinal/handmade/homecooked etc.

And if you take away a bunch of the marketing bullshit I think you get food-advocates who just want to see better, simpler, healthier food eaten by more people.
posted by entropone at 1:22 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


I remember trying to cook when I was (relatively) poor, and it was awful.

It's not just the being poor or not having enough time, it's the combination of the two that hurts the most, I think. I was able to cook pretty well being on a very low income by having the incredible good fortune to live somewhere where local produce was close and cheap and bountiful, and we had a great social network of friends and farmer neighbors that made cheap rural living a fuckton easier than I imagine it would have been in the US. Plus, we literally had nothing else to do all day long except shop/trade/garden/forage for food and figure out new interesting things to do with it. Time is as much a privilege as money and is very often overlooked or dismissed when it comes to food prep and life in general.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:23 PM on October 2, 2014 [36 favorites]


Longtime Listener, perhaps you have not considered the fear of what will happen if your child tells their teacher that they didn't get any dinner last night, and they already know your kid is low-income.

I'm not following you. I didn't say we didn't get dinner. I said we didn't get to negotiate what the dinner was. I'm also not claiming that my experience was superior to the way other families handle meals. I'm simply saying that I have no personal experience that I can relate to what the article is describing.
posted by Longtime Listener at 1:24 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Probably doesn't help that KFC/Pizza Hut/etc. aggressively market "family meals" a zillion times a day on tv/billboards.

"Heeey... we know acquiring and making food every night is bullshit. We got you handled for $12!!"
posted by basicchannel at 1:24 PM on October 2, 2014


The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad. It has replaced suburban moms taking est courses in the 70`s and new age spirituality in the 80`s. It`s a fad that time will pass and will look just as laughable as the the previous examples do now.

Nah, food's too basic. Arguing about the best/most healthful way to eat has been one of America's favorite pastimes since the 19th century, at least --- John Harvey Kellogg? Them chuckleheads who chewed everything 900 million times? Bacon is fad, but for every era there's always a Food Authority to stand in for the mores of the time --- from Fannie Farmer though Julia Child up to Alice Waters.

The extremity of the farm to table thing may die back a bit, of course, but organic-everything taps too deeply into our health anxieties, that's got staying power. And I think you might be surprised about how long valuing artisan-ness for its own sake stays --- I have a whole theory about how the proclivities of the hipster are the canery in the coal mine of global capitalism, part of a long project of restructuring the class signals around manual labor to convince the bourgeoisie it's okay for their kids to be farmers and waitresses. But that's a rant for another day.
posted by Diablevert at 1:25 PM on October 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


Pay the poors in SoyLent. Problem solutioneered.
posted by nerdler at 1:27 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


brb, printing out hundreds of copies of these articles so I can hand them out to any and everyone who ever utters the phrase "Why don't they just [time and/or resource-consuming pseudo-helpful suggestion]?" in a conversation about food insecurity, particularly as experienced by low-income households. So much to quote!
"The idea that home cooking is inherently ideal reflects an elite foodie standpoint," they write in the journal Contexts. "Romantic depictions of cooking assume that everyone has a home, that family members are home eating at the same time, and that kitchens and dining spaces are equipped and safe. This is not necessarily the case for the families we met."
YES. It is unbelievably difficult to get people to understand this. As a kid, my house did not look like any of my friends' houses. We didn't have a table, we didn't have anything remotely like family mealtime. We had exactly one knife, butter or otherwise. Neither of my parents worked or cooked and neither of them were around very often so everything we ate was prepared in a microwave (soup, Pizza Rolls) or the toaster (toast, frozen waffles), and we ate when and wherever we felt like it, usually sitting on the floor in front of the TV or standing up at the kitchen counter. The food banks weren't exactly overflowing with organics, and it would have been a ridiculous waste to use our scant WIC or SNAP funds on produce when exactly none of us had the time or skill to prepare it. Fortunately, I can attest that regular consumption of Dole fruit in lite syrup can and will fend off scurvy for at least 20 years.

It took me almost a quarter of a century to eat a vegetable on purpose, to eat anything green that didn't come out of a can. Since then, I've managed to become one of those damned vegans who cooks every last meal from scratch using the finest organic backyard-grown ingredients, one of those assholes who doesn't even own a microwave -- but at 32, I still gag whenever I try to make myself eat salad because my tastebuds are still crying out for Chef Boyardee. If you would've approached me at age 15 and told me that all my family and I needed to markedly improve our respective stations in life was for one of us to learn how to cook, I would have chuckled and booted your ass out onto the street, popped open a tin of Raviolios, shlorped that shit into a bowl, and hit the 30 Second Cook button thrice before you even had the chance to realize what had just transpired.

So this sentence neatly sums up the torrents of expletives I am given to spewing whenever I'm told that my parents or I should have cooked or at least cared about food more: "When we hear about how we all need home-cooked meals, there are a lot of assumptions of what that looks like."

People who tell you that you Just Need ToTM cook at home seem to be utterly stymied by the notion that your home life might look absolutely nothing like theirs, or that the constricts of your very existence might have ruled out their just-so solution years before they ever came onto the scene. It's crazy-making.

Thanks for posting, Kpele.
posted by divined by radio at 1:31 PM on October 2, 2014 [83 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl: This might sound dumb but a lot of the time hungry kids will NOT eat because they don't actually make the connection between the feeling "hungry" and just EATING.

That's a great point. I'd say it took about five years to teach this to my daughter, who is developmentally delayed. "You are grumpy because you're hungry. You need to eat, then you'll feel better!", or variations thereof, must've come out of my mouth a few hundred times in total before she got it.

That has its own dangers, of course, because I don't want her to think of food as the cure for all grumpiness.
posted by clawsoon at 1:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Nah, food's too basic. Arguing about the best/most healthful way to eat has been one of America's favorite pastimes since the 19th century, at least --- John Harvey Kellogg? Them chuckleheads who chewed everything 900 million times? Bacon is fad, but for every era there's always a Food Authority to stand in for the mores of the time --- from Fannie Farmer though Julia Child up to Alice Waters.

I agree, but think it`ll revert to being a fringe activity. The mainstreaming of the fad is what will die. Lots of us that cared before about food, will care after it`s not trendy. Right now, (or at least five years ago, we may already be on the downward part of the curve,) everyone was an expert.
posted by Keith Talent at 1:35 PM on October 2, 2014


I wish we didn't shame middle class and poor people

Shame is a spectacularly effective mechanism for keeping the servitor classes, well, servile. OK, granted, it is not the be-all-end-all, and certainly you cannot dispense with some of the more ... shall we say ... "energetic" means of oppression, but shame is just marvelously useful. Plus it's easily deniable too!

The best weapon is one your enemies use on themselves.
posted by aramaic at 1:41 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


People who tell you that you Just Need ToTM cook at home seem to be utterly stymied by the notion that your home life might look absolutely nothing like theirs

Oh yes this.

My wife works 12 hour shifts in an ICU, sometimes I am driving her to work at 1830 and other times I am picking her up at 1915. Neither of these conditions is conducive to my being able to prepare a sit down meal at a regular time. Sometimes she gets called in and I wind up putting our dinner in Tupperware for later. I can count the number of sit-down, home-cooked meals we successfully ate together in September on the fingers of my hands. According to my parents this means we Live Like Children and need to Grow The Hell Up immediately. I mean after all they managed to cook meals for us when we grew up, how hard can it be???
posted by Sternmeyer at 1:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [19 favorites]


The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad. It has replaced suburban moms taking est courses in the 70`s and new age spirituality in the 80`s. It`s a fad that time will pass and will look just as laughable as the the previous examples do now.

The future of food is Soylent, isn't it, Keith? Sorry, I'm one of those bitter folks clinging to his homemade bread, heirloom apples, and fresh eggs. And you can have 'em when you pry 'em from my cold. dead hands.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:47 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


I recall the anecdote from Super Size Me where the filmmaker realizes that his family literally doesn't have a photograph of his mother where she's NOT in the kitchen.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:52 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Growing up my mom didn't work until I was 10 or so. So of course we had home-cooked meals every night because my mom had the time to make them. But once she did start working, we had Chicken Delight or Wetson's (a Long Island burger chain similar to McD's) or maybe pizza at least one meal a week. It doesn't surprise me in the least that a household with working parents has difficulty finding the time, energy and money to "eat healthy". It was tough in the 60s, it's even tougher now.
posted by tommasz at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


People who tell you that you Just Need ToTM cook at home seem to be utterly stymied by the notion that your home life might look absolutely nothing like theirs, or that the constricts of your very existence might have ruled out their just-so solution years before they ever came onto the scene. It's crazy-making.

I can't favorite DbR's comment enough. As someone who loves cooking and happily cooks a lot, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to have people react so negatively and viscerally to the fact that some people Just Don't Cook. Whether it be time, income, or a combination of both, or even a dislike of cooking, it really isn't any of your business. I wish my sister would learn to cook what with having two daughters and all, but I learned that my input is not wanted. Now I can get sore and brandish my "No, look, it's super easy to make your own {whatever}!" recipes at her, but simply put, she is too exhausted and disinterested. That does not make her any less of a grown up, but makes other people gross Judgy McJudgepants. Not everyone has time to make their own tomato sauce, or grown their own veg, or can food. (I do all these things but realize I am damn lucky to be able to.) The least we can do is understand the problem lies less with them than a world that we've created that emphasizes convenience over taste, speed over nutrition, and working a shit ton of hours to make ends meet over a living wage.
posted by Kitteh at 1:59 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm not following you. I didn't say we didn't get dinner. I said we didn't get to negotiate what the dinner was.

A kid who doesn't eat what he's given because he's picky and put-upon isn't going to make any distinction in how he talks about it. As far as he's concerned, he didn't have any dinner. And as far as mandated reporters are concerned, he might be a neglected child. And, cue CPS.
posted by dlugoczaj at 1:59 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


Being diabetic often means I have to delay meals or change the menu almost every day. I've worked out some good recipes which make two or three days of leftovers, but even though I have a lifetime love of food, sometimes I wish I could just take a handful of Jetsons-style food pills.

The reason to eat 'foodie' or local for me isn't health, it's value. If I want cheap food there's rice and beans or pb&j. If I'm paying for fruit I'm going to be pissed at any of my local market's never-ripen selection; meanwhile my local farmer's market has much, much tastier fruit for very little more money, and a lot less if I'm careful. There are a multitude of other reasons, but suffice it to say the majority of extra cost for me in better food is in time spent rather than straight cash. I recognize the amount of control I have over my time is a privilege though.

I kind of wish there were a better buy-shredded-produce system than the current by-the-bag premix. Maybe a giant vending machine that lets you mix and match and save recipe profiles.
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:08 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


YES like those coke freestyle machines except without the diabetes.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:10 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


But because it's hard to measure those in the same concrete ways that we measure things like incidence, prevalence, and behavior, it sometimes gets lost.

I like what you say here, entropone. I work in health systems research, surrounded by public health folks, and I have a background as a therapist (who is much more informed by the humanities than psychology) and the discourse of "behavior change" is appalling. It's a red flag everytime I hear it, because it's always focused on the absolutely wrong target every single time. I've been known to pipe up in meeting and say "if our focus is on behavior change, why aren't we changing the behaviors of corporate raiders, or groceries stores, or food profiteers who push "food" that isn't actually food, that has no nutritional value?" For now, my outbursts are tolerated, or they consider me a clown, I'm not really sure.

And then I remember that health and medical and psychological researchers are generally only interested in making Subjects of the poor, people of color, and women, so that they can figure out just what is wrong with them And tell them to behave differently because they're not smart enough, they're inferior, and we're superior and if you had any doubt about our superiority just look at us, we're smart and not suffering economically and understand how the scientific method produces Knowledge. Now let's get back to that brilliant idea I had about how to get inferior people to change, for their own good.

Nobody I work with would recognize themselves in what I've just said. But our discourses are so limiting, and predicated, unknowingly, on some really shitty assumptions, rooted in our beliefs about our own superiority.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:12 PM on October 2, 2014 [69 favorites]


clawsoon: I'm immediately reminded of this previously about how scheduling software is used to squeeze the most profit possible out of workers in precarious positions. […] Bad worker scheduling and low wages are a public health problem, just like dirty drinking water and improper sewage disposal.
It has been my thesis for years that economic coercion is precisely as immoral as physical coercion. The fact that neo-liberals call it a free market doesn't actually make it one.


When I was cooking for six, including a toddler and a kindergartner, it was often a struggle, and I wasn't worried about where the groceries were coming from. I tried to mostly stick with a, "This is what's for dinner. Eat it or don't," policy, but I did try to take the children's tastes into account, e.g. they didn't like pesto, so I'd heat up a cup of red sauce for theirs. On other things, like different shapes of pasta essentially prepared identically to my usual vermicelli recipe or chili that wasn't materially different than my usual tacos, I'd put my foot down.

On the other hand, sometimes I did have to bend over backwards to keep the peace. For example, the toddler wouldn't eat any meat with any kind of browning whatsoever. My brother won't eat meat that isn't both well-done and charred. So if we had hot dogs, I'd have to boil a couple for the toddler, and all-but burn some on the grill for my brother.

The net effect was that I wound up with maybe ten menus that I'd cook on rotation. Naturally the children's favorites weren't really healthy, like breaded-chicken patty sandwiches. At least we all ate at the kitchen table, which was an improvement for the kids.

Anyway, I'm sick of judgmental assholes demonizing the poor. Most people are just trying to get by as best they can, and the usual suspects heaping their scorn upon them doesn't make it any easier. I know a woman who works as a nurse but still has to get food from a food bank. She cries because she feels like a failure. The fault is her dumbass, Limbaugh dittohead neighbors, not hers.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:19 PM on October 2, 2014 [19 favorites]


Thanks for that, vitabellosi. I've suspected as much for a while, but I don't have enough direct contact with those researchers to confirm my suspicion. Sometimes it seems like most of the research is a desperate search for any possible way to stop poor people from being poor except giving them money. Anything, anything but that.

That's why this research is such a refreshing change.
posted by clawsoon at 2:19 PM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


Maybe a giant vending machine that lets you mix and match and save recipe profiles.

We'd probably all die of salmonella or e.coli, or something equally exciting, but goddamn I would use the hell out of that machine before I went.
posted by aramaic at 2:20 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Another thing is the fact that learning to cook is surprisingly hard. To actually get good at it you're going to have a lot of fuck ups with the wasted ingredients that come along with that; not a luxury that people who are scrimping by have. Knife skills, how to sear, what temperatures things are done at, how to treat different ingredients, all these things come about from trial and error, extremely time consuming trial and error.
posted by Ferreous at 2:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I must link this in every thread about home cooking.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:38 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am 37 and childless, and recently spent a week taking care of a friend's 12-year old while she was away at a conference. Figuring out what to feed this kid was by far the most difficult part of the experience. Why can't we just have cereal for dinner every night? Or popcorn? Perhaps this is just my failure at being a grownup, but keeping a family fed is a lot more difficult than I realized.

I welcome the day when we can have all our nutritional needs met by taking a pill. Planning a menu, shopping for food, preparing it, cleaning up the mess afterwards--it's more hassle than it's worth.
posted by orrnyereg at 2:43 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Many people get weirdly upset when you say cooking is hard. But it is. Like driving a car or learning how to buy the right clothes and learning how to wear makeup and learning how to manage money or, Jesus god, breastfeeding. These are all hard things to do. Some people have natural abilities with them, or good luck, or parents who taught them how to do them. So for those people, they aren't that difficult. But without natural ability or luck or familial support, or even just enough sleep, they can seem like impossible goals.
posted by emjaybee at 2:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


Picky eaters isn't the problem. Hell, even differing schedules isn't the problem. The problem is easy access to basic produce/meats and what to do with them/how to stretch them. This is done routinely by lower and middle class folks who have that access and knowledge.

A friend of mine just moved to nowheresville Arizona and likes it for the most part, but bemoans the lack of produce availability compared to where he lived in California. That shouldn't happen in 2014 fer chrissakes.
posted by basicchannel at 2:55 PM on October 2, 2014


A friend of mine just moved to nowheresville Arizona and likes it for the most part, but bemoans the lack of produce availability compared to where he lived in California. That shouldn't happen in 2014 fer chrissakes.
Amen. I have heard the same from people who moved from California to North Dakota. This would probably cause my Plains states neighbors to get out the pitchforks, but it would be a lot better if more subsidies went to fruits and veggies and less to grains and animal feed.
posted by weathergal at 3:06 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I've suspected as much for a while, but I don't have enough direct contact with those researchers to confirm my suspicion. Sometimes it seems like most of the research is a desperate search for any possible way to stop poor people from being poor except giving them money. Anything, anything but that.

A couple of points on this:

First, a layperson's view of the research is usually shaped by the same media machine that brings us all the rest of our pro-capitalist news. Most of us do not have a very clear picture of the actual research that is being performed and published in academic journals in any field unless we're actually working on similar research. While I don't doubt your impression, it's worth noting that we probably have a highly biased sample; the media basically only reports pro-capitalist research, so many people think that only pro-capitalist (AKA poor-blaming) research is performed. This article is a very nice exception.

Second, researchers are subject to the same capitalist structural constraints as the rest of us peons. It's not like an individual researcher is personally choosing to take money from the mouths of poor people, which is sort of how this is framed; they apply for funding that the US government or other groups have set aside for research. The pool of available funds is not limited to "research or poor people" - by that logic, everything the government funds except the social safety net is directly taking money from poor people. I'd rather see us go after military spending before basic research. If you still have a problem with allocating money toward research that's fine, but I don't think it's necessary to vilify researchers as though they were the ones making these decisions. In the vast majority of cases, the initial funding allocation is out of their hands - they just apply for the funds once they have been allocated.

A friend of mine just moved to nowheresville Arizona and likes it for the most part, but bemoans the lack of produce availability compared to where he lived in California. That shouldn't happen in 2014 fer chrissakes.

Where are they going to grow all that produce in Arizona, though? It honestly shouldn't be surprising - California produces the majority of the produce for the entire country, of course it will have better produce offerings. As "great" as our food transportation system is, you still can't completely beat bioclimatic factors, and there is just very little water in Arizona.
posted by dialetheia at 3:07 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


Mexico, where a huge portion of the southwest's produce comes from. I suspect, but do not know, that Arizona's *ahem* contentious relationship with its southern neighbor may play a role.
posted by basicchannel at 3:15 PM on October 2, 2014


Actually, I think one of the points of this research (and research like it) is to let people who have relevant lived experience tell you what the problem(s) are, rather than assuming that you know what the problem is because X was your experience/you think Y/you could do Z if you just had A. The main conclusion of these researchers is that this is a complex issue that doesn't have a single quick-fix "oh just do [thing]!" solution. Access and knowledge is a barrier. People live in places that do not have access to low-cost food, and that is a problem. People who live in places with low-cost food don't know how to cook it, and that is a problem. People who have access to low-cost food and know how to cook it don't have time to do so, and that is a problem. This research doesn't actually support your assertion that middle and low-income households do this "routinely"-- this research says that those households cook at home a lot, but not necessarily very healthily, cheaply, or well.

And growing out-of-season produce and transporting it has costs-- in dollars, in damaging agribusiness practices and reliance on cheap labor, in reliance on truck and cargo transportation that produce pollution, etc. Food access is also not a simple problem with a quick obvious fix.
posted by Kpele at 3:20 PM on October 2, 2014 [11 favorites]


Honestly, I just don't believe that it's true that cooking homemade meals is going to save low-income families any money. What meals are actually cheaper than the cheapest store-bought equivalents? Macaroni and cheese? No. Chicken fingers? No. Pizza? Lasagna? No, no. Possibly soup, since soup has gotten really expensive. I don't know; I'd love to be proven wrong. Every time these claims that home cooking is cheaper come up, though, it just makes me so mad.
posted by kitcat at 3:24 PM on October 2, 2014 [18 favorites]


Picky eaters isn't the problem. Hell, even differing schedules isn't the problem.

There are a lot of people in this very thread reporting that yes, these are indeed the problems they have. I suspect they know their own lives well enough to reach their own conclusions, and those conclusions are even borne out by the article, which is based on actual data.

I suspect, but do not know, that Arizona's *ahem* contentious relationship with its southern neighbor may play a role.

I don't know why that would be - as far as I know, trade agreements are federal, not administered by individual states.
posted by dialetheia at 3:25 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Picky eaters and differing schedules are both issues that are resolvable. If you have to travel a great distance to get basic, healthy food (if it's even available) then you may not be able to resolve to eat better even if you want to. EBT/SNAP offices in California have someone who hands out booklets on what to buy, how to prepare it simply and how to stretch it/use leftovers smartly. It's troubling that people think low-income folks don't have the ability instead of not having proper access.
posted by basicchannel at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2014




I'd love to be proven wrong. Every time these claims that home cooking is cheaper come up, though, it just makes me so mad.

If someone is there and has the time to plan everything out and do all the prep work, and store it, and cook it, yes it can be much cheaper over time.

This, of course assumes the existence of someone with both the knowledge, skills, ability, and most importantly , time to do all this unpaid labor and if it really adds up in the end.
posted by The Whelk at 3:35 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's possible (I don't think it's likely, but it's possible) that the cost-per-meal for some homemade meals could be lower-- but only if ingredients were purchased in sufficient bulk from the lowest-cost sources and meals were storeable in bulk or would be consumed in quantity. Which would require households to have the funds to, say, buy $200 of groceries all at once to make 100 meals or whatever, as well as having the transportation to go to X number of stores to get the very cheapest rice and beans and produce and whatever, and haul all that stuff home, and have the skills, space, and equipment to make big batches of [whatever], AND have the space to store leftovers.

It's like a lot of "if only people would just make better choices!" things-- it only works if folks have the luxury of a lot of available choices, and many low-income households do not. If you only have $5 to feed your kids today, you're going to buy Happy Meals and get them fed, not buy 10% of the ingredients you need to make a big batch of soup or something.
posted by Kpele at 3:37 PM on October 2, 2014 [8 favorites]


Food preferences are established at a very young age. Until we start educating people about that AND making it possible to slow down living in stress-laden America to the point where people have time, and enabling easy and cheap access to good food, change simply will not happen.

A few years ago, for the first time, the $ amount of pre-prepared food sold from supermarkets passed up the $ amount of food that required home preparation. More salt, more processed junk, more fructose, etc. Add to that stress from just trying to make it and you see one aspect of the partial decline of an American culture that was represented by the cry "Mom, I'm home - what's for dinner!", followed by a shared meal of wholesome food that everyone liked - follow by helping out in the kitchen to clean things up.
posted by Vibrissae at 3:39 PM on October 2, 2014


The articles telling people to cook at home more and not eat fast food yadda yadda appear to be written by people who have absolutely no concept of actual, real, grinding poverty. The articles I've read assume a lot -- working stoves, reliable fridges (with no electrical service interruption), access to a well-stocked grocery store, the presence of pots and pans in the kitchen, tupperware/ziplocks for storage of bought-in-bulk food and for freezing leftovers from big-batch meals. They assume enough slack in the budget to "buy extra".

It's true that if a person starts with a fairly well-equipped kitchen (utensils, containers, spices, major staple ingredients like sugar, salt, flour, rice, beans) AND reliable electric for the stover/freezer AND access to a grocery store with reasonable selection and prices AND a pretty fair amount of time to devote to cooking, meal planning, and meal storage, that person can get by on surprisingly little for a grocery budget. Thing is, that's rather a lot of planets that have to align and, typically, people are pressed on more than one of the requirements. Like, the person may live far away from a decent grocery AND experience interruptions in electrical service which would make freezing food for later foolhardy. Or the person has limited time (due to working two part-time jobs) AND is working with a hot plate in a rented-by-the-month hotel room instead of a nicely-equipped kitchen.

I get frustrated with the articles telling people to do better when the writers of the articles seem unaware of the challenges their alleged target audience faces. Maybe the articles are not really written for the alleged target audience. Maybe the articles exist so that the struggling middle-class people and the better-than-middle-class people can feel superior to the struggling poor who, natch, should be trying harder.
posted by which_chick at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2014 [17 favorites]


I'm still kind of in love with the Orwell by way of Frowner idea of publicly owned mass kitchens like the water company that you signed up certain nights or plans cause kitchens benefit so well from economies of scale and creative waste reduction.

I mean in the Victorian era there used to be takeaway places for people without kitchens that where basically industrial kitchens that served meat and stew, you could rent a pot or bring one in to be filled and get your Bread And Stew of the day, with optional sides. I think Orwell was taking that idea rand nationalizing it so it wouldn't have a profit motive, but a "meet taste and nutrition guidelines" motive.

If you insisted the food from these services had to be reasonably local and or greenish, you'd basically be cutting a check to a lot of mid sized farms in the area.
posted by The Whelk at 3:43 PM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


Make the focus on better, cheaper, healthier preface food? Available to everyone?

( the interesting thing is that a lot of these substitute kitchen solutions still exist in bigger, older cities, but the countryside and suburbs where the poor are increasingly living are shit outta luck.)
posted by The Whelk at 3:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Picky eaters and differing schedules are both issues that are resolvable.

I think you should really read or re-read the article. You're right that transportation is a major problem, but the problem isn't just "differing schedules" as in people working different shifts, it's an unpredictable schedule which makes it very difficult to do meal planning. This type of extremely variable scheduling has become very popular among employers over the last several years, as clawsoon linked above. From the researchers' article (emphasis mine):
Wanda and her husband Marquan, working-class black parents of two young girls, were constantly pressed for time. Both were employed by the same fast food chain, but in different rural locations 45 minutes apart. They depended on Wanda’s mother, who lived 30 minutes away, for childcare. During the five weeks we spent with them, their car was broken down and since they did not have enough money to repair it, they relied on a complex network of friends and family members for rides. Their lives were further complicated by the fact that they didn’t know their weekly schedules—what hours, shifts, or even days they would be working—until they were posted, sometimes only the night before. Once they learned their shifts, they scrambled to figure out transportation and childcare arrangements.

...Wanda and Leanne’s situation is increasingly common. As real wages have stagnated, many households depend on every adult family member working, sometimes in multiple jobs and jobs with nonstandard and unpredictable hours, to make ends meet.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:46 PM on October 2, 2014 [17 favorites]


Any meal which is attended by someone between the ages of two and five is going to contain someone who complains about the meal. Literally the only meals my preschooler doesn't complain about are hot dogs and hamburgers. And usually he doesn't even eat the hamburgers.

Perhaps not coincidentally, about once every week or two we are like, "Fuck it, let's just have hot dogs for dinner." We are people who can and do cook legitimately healthy meals most of the time, but good lord it is hard to come up with something that is all three of these: healthy, easy/quick, not boring. As working parents sometimes we are just overwhelmed and cannot deal with making dinner, and we don't even work super-long hours or have terrible commutes.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:48 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


And also, re: picky eaters, from the same article:
Rather than risk trying new and expensive foods that might prove unpopular, many low-income mothers opted to cook the same foods again and again. They reasoned that it was better to stick with foods (often processed) that they knew their families would eat, rather than risk wasting money and food.
So these researchers do actually identify this as a significant barrier to eating less-processed foods, particularly among low-income families.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Honestly, I just don't believe that it's true that cooking homemade meals is going to save low-income families any money.

It can be, but the money saving presupposes 1) the time to make large batches of things, and 2) the initial costs of buying enough ingredients. If your biweekly food budget is, spitballing, $80 (assuming paycheques 2x/month), you can't afford to tie up half of that in ingredients that aren't going to be eaten within that time period.

Picky eaters and differing schedules are both issues that are resolvable.

Not necessarily. Picky eating can arise from medical problems that you may not be able to afford to get diagnosed and/or treated. Disordered eating can arise from kids being in bad situations where the only control they can exert is over what goes into their mouths. (Lots of other causes, too). Neither of those are trivial to resolve... nor is just straight up standard kid "I'm not eating that" if you've just spent eight hours at one job and you're home for an hour to feed them before going to your other job. So much easier to take the path of least resistance. As for scheduling, already been mentioned above how companies use nasty scheduling tactics to keep people under their thumb. Not easy to resolve that.

I love Frowner's notion of free food for everyone. Small-scale versions are popping up; community kitchens.

I won't pretend here; I do believe that everyone should be able to cook some basic nutritious things. But'able' doesn't just mean the skill, it also means ensuring that everyone has the time and energy, not shaming anyone for not being able to, and the really clear understanding that interest and energy and ability are not homogenous. Which is part of why I like what Frowner was talking about. If people could come together to timeshare food preparation, everyone wins--people eat healthier, less stress involved on a day to day basis, and the cost savings of banding together and purchasing in bulk. But again, there are big upfront costs to this, which is where government needs to step in.

Mandatory home ec classes in school would also help, and be a good backdoor to making sure kids living in poverty get a meal every day without any stigma.

Also, if you have the time and/or money, help out your local food organizations somehow. Donate to a food bank, sort food for them, whatever. Even better (biased bc I volunteer for one) are food rescue organizations: they intercept food from supermarkets and restaurants that is otherwise edible, but would be thrown out. The org I volunteer for saved something like 8 million pounds of food last year from the garbage, all of which went to food banks and community kitchens and shelters. Approximately 50% of it went to children and youth, which is horrifying.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 3:55 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


en forme de poire: Those are good and valid points. We, as a society, have failed those with the least. The counter to that is that programs* are available to assist in this, but they're underfunded and inefficient and struggle to serve those they are supposed to help.

*such as assistance for continuity of basic services (gas/electric/phone) as well as help for acquiring basic tools for making one's own food.
posted by basicchannel at 3:58 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


They reasoned that it was better to stick with foods (often processed) that they knew their families would eat, rather than risk wasting money and food.

Also, it takes a lot of time and energy to get a preschooler to eat food he/she does not want to eat. With my daughter, who gets mac n' cheese one supper a week and gulps it down quickly and without fuss, these means a half hour, every other night, of guiding her through every. single. bite. Struggling families are extra short on time and energy.
posted by kitcat at 3:59 PM on October 2, 2014


but they're underfunded and inefficient and struggle to serve those they are supposed to help.

And frequently they're only open during standard business hours. My local food bank is open Monday-Thursday from 10 AM to 3 PM, and is at least two buses (one of which only runs once an hour) away from anywhere.
posted by KathrynT at 4:01 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Speaking on behalf of the poor, yes, the primary challenge to eating healthily is a systematic economic problem. The system really pushes crap. I remember a long time ago, I read an essay that claimed healthy food would soon be a luxury item that only the rich can afford. I didn't believe it but now it's true. Let me give an example.

My local grocery store is undergoing a huge expansion, it is trying to be a boutique foods mall rather than a grocery store. I have been complaining to them constantly that they are price gouging ever since the remodeling started. 85% hamburger used to be $3.99, but it went as high as $5.49 and is now usually around $4.69. And this is in the middle of beef country, it's not like they couldn't buy hamburger locally.

There is another grocery store across town that consistently sells 85 for $3.99, and often has specials as low as $3.29. I always go there to buy meat, they're cheap and they even grind their own hamburger (which can't be legally labelled by percent, but is claimed to be around 85) for about $3.69. I always tell the cheap butchers what the expensive store price is, and they have a good laugh.

So the other day I went to the expensive store. They had big signs up, "New lower prices on hamburger!" I went to the meat department and saw tubes of prepackaged burger for $3.69. I picked one up, it was mushy and liquid, it was 73%!! I didn't know anyone made hamburger with that low a meat content. I just checked 73% online and it actually is a thing. I found a recommendation for 73% that you actually rinse the cooked burger in a colander to reduce the fat.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:13 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


The Ideal worker that these employers want: interchangeable, without family ties or responsibilities, uncomplaining, always available, never sick, and performing simple functions already exist.

They're called robots.
posted by The Whelk at 4:24 PM on October 2, 2014 [14 favorites]


Taking the most mechanistic approach, affordability could be calculated based on cost per calorie (or a more complex metric that takes whatever flavor of RDA you support into account). But since I suspect that simple satiety is likely the metric most parents / families use, given the high calorie counts (and sugar and fat content) of most fast and/or processed foods, I'm thinking it may well be that fast foods are almost always more affordable.

And that's somewhat logical, since scale is the necessary to reduce unit cost, an individual household is going to have a hard time competing with the hyper-engineered methods of Big Agra.
posted by 99_ at 5:14 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]



The Ideal worker that these employers want: interchangeable, without family ties or responsibilities, uncomplaining, always available, never sick, and performing simple functions already exist.

They're called robots.


The idea of the "robot" has more to do with Fritz Lang and etc. than any actual machines. There's nothing fundamentally different now about the application of capital to replace and "rationalize" labor in manufacturing than there was in the 19th century.

They're called the proletariat.


In the other cooking thread, I was saying that Orwell had made this proposal that food be dished out (along with dishes, actually) from a central depot to anyone who cared to sign up for it as a basic social service on a par with running water.

We already have this, it's called McDonalds, TV dinners, Lunchables, etc. Now stare at this graph.

Labor participation rate for married white women.

What we did was put women to work in the general labor force(the total graph for non-whites has participation starting about ten points higher) and used their income to support the manufacture of food products more efficiently than women could do piece-meal in the kitchen. If you are hungry, you can get 400 calories at McDonalds for around a dollar, and a napkin and a fork and knife if you are civilized. Of course, the profit achieved from this efficiency is capitalized and employed (invested) in the general economy.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:15 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Picky child struggles are real, y'all. My stepkids will eat about three foods each that don't come from a proprietor with a cartoon mascot. I am determined not to feed them fast food, and am fortunate enough to have good income and work schedule predictability, making it feasible for me to cook every night. But like the mothers in this article, the stress of trying to create meals that will be reliably consumed by all diners is something that has me following the chicken tenderloin of least resistance. If I had low income and longer work hours (which was my reality for many years), I honestly believe my home cooking efforts would mostly cease. I do it because I believe it's a good thing to sit at the table together, and I want to model healthy food behaviors for my stepkids. But I recognize that it takes a substantial level of privilege to be able to cook every night, AND so far there's little evidence in my house that it's making much of a difference in anyone's overall health or food preferences.
posted by little mouth at 5:19 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


OMG, this brings me back to my single mother days. I actually made a decent salary, $16,000, in 1988. I had to pay 1/2 rent (I had a roommate) and daycare, plus a car payment, gas for commuting, and laundry at the laundromat, debts. In that order.

Fishsticks were a big thing, and I tried to get fresh fish once in a while, Oreo Dory was big back then, and cooked it in butter (margarine) with lemon pepper. That was something my daughter would eat (she was in kindergarten).

Vegetables were mostly frozen, as produce would spoil, so we all bought frozen.

One year, I made a mistake in my checkbook (added a $50 payment instead of subtracting), and the bank withdrew an extra car payment (unbeknownst to me, and then a series of bounced checks ensued and the bank was not nice about it, despite their mistake), and then my car broke down twice in one month, and I put the repairs on my American Express card (at that time due full in one month) and later in the year, declared bankruptcy because my wages were being garnished, despite having taken on a second job, because I then went into the hospital over an infection (working 7 days a week) and couldn't meet the credit card bill, so they started action on my wages and that was at Christmas. I only got it stopped because a co-worker gave me the $300 to pay a student lawyer to oversee my bankruptcy. I think I was 25.

I grew up in a middle class household and I know how to cook. Cooking is my main hobby, now that I am a grandmother. Yet at the time, it was such a chore and shopping was something done once a week, tossing the cheapest thing into the basket, something you could throw onto a cookie sheet and serve with the dismally boiled frozen veg on the side. Maybe some reconstituted mashed potatoes. A real meal at Easter and Thanksgiving, lucky to be invited to your sister's because she made real pumpkin bread and it was a treat to be sent home with leftovers.

When I got married, and had a second child, it was easier, yet not. I couldn't wait to get home and take off my pantyhose, and often threw a box of cheese crackers at my kids, and turned the TV onto Rugrats, just so I could change out of my work clothes. Husband coming home and flipping off the TV so he could snap open the newspaper and read in silence (cue screaming kids).

You don't understand the pressure on women. To constantly be thinking about how to feed everyone. And if you're poor, to figure that out too. And then to have someone tell you to buy organic. Tough shit, Sherlock, I can't even afford fresh apples, let alone organic ones. But I can afford applesauce and boxed mashed potatoes.

It's fucking exhausting, when you have kids and work and have to do all of this, and put up with a stressful job and discrimination in pay and other things. Goddamn would I like to see equal pay! And GODDAMN would I like to see a living wage!!! Because this is just wrong. People need to be able to just buy food, let alone be shamed into buying rich people's food. For shit's sake, this is just wrong, and shaming poor people on their food choices is a big fuck you to all of them. I hated the SHIT out of Little Debbie's, but they were cheap and my kids did go to school with them at one point or another. Tough shit for food shamers, at least we survived.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:29 PM on October 2, 2014 [41 favorites]


also, that 'Treehugger" link is a testimony to the power of false consciousness:
As someone who still believes in the power of home cooking to transform our broken food system, it’s upsetting to read the results of such a study; but it also underlines the desperate need for widespread change more than ever.

What if we took some of the pressure off low-income parents to feed their kids properly and instituted gardening, cooking, and meal programs in all schools across the country?
What you mean "we," Katherine? Literally no fact will ever change Katherine Martinko's beliefs.
posted by ennui.bz at 5:30 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Of course Mom was aware of what generated enthusiasm, and that factored into her menu planning.

The ability to factor that into her planning -- to consistently and repeatedly be able to buy and cook what her family liked to eat -- is precisely one of the things that poor people are going to be less able to do.

It's easy to say that someone who has it much worse than you do should have an iron will and absolute self-discipline and bootstraps of steel and so on and should keep their kids in line and so on, but consider how many even of us more privileged people are not perfectly disciplined. If I - relatively financially stable, know how to cook, decent kitchen - can have a really lousy day and dine upon cookies and marzipan or completely forget my lunch and end up eating bad pizza because it was free even though I know better, I can't really expect someone whose life is much harder to be able to muster up the willpower to fight twenty times my battles every day.

No kidding. I like cooking and have no structural constraints (I have an ok kitchen, a healthy food budget, and a reasonable amount of free time plus a very predictable schedule). And yet, in the last week, we ate out twice for date nights; every weekday I went out for lunch with coworkers (where important work conversations happen, of course, so they aren't really all that optional); there was at least one work dinner so far and there might be another; and friends invited me over to dinner another night. So here I am, a person who likes to cook and has found myself saying "those poor people should cook more healthy food!" in the past, and yet I'll probably only cook four meals all week (not counting breakfasts because cold cereal isn't cooking). I would venture to guess that many, if not most, middle and upper middle class families eat out (or order delivery or takeout) with a similar frequency, but the judginess is never aimed at people like me.

I'm still kind of in love with the Orwell by way of Frowner idea of publicly owned mass kitchens like the water company that you signed up certain nights or plans cause kitchens benefit so well from economies of scale and creative waste reduction.

Collective kitchens (eg ollas comunes, comedores populares, cocinas comunes, etc) were implemented in various ways in several parts of Latin America, some state-run and others based more on grassroots organizing, decades ago. (Two english-language Google Books links: A; B.) I'm only familiar with the Latin American examples, but I'm sure it has been tried in other places as well.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [10 favorites]


We already have this, it's called McDonalds, TV dinners, Lunchables, etc.

Except that those are explicitly for-profit and thus have market incentives to make food hyper-palatable without considering nutrition, which contributes to the central problem of the article, that it's hard for low-income people to eat healthfully. I'm not saying that the government has a great track record in promoting healthy food (ahem, corn subsidies) but rather that it would at least be feasible to set and enforce a nutritional baseline for a municipal service, where it wouldn't be for a fast food company.

(There is even a little precedent here as people are trying to do exactly that for public school lunches, mentioned on MeFi previously, though it seems like there are significant obstacles including both predictable opposition from the right wing and condescending Jamie Oliver-style naiveté.)
posted by en forme de poire at 5:36 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am a (unfunded) single grad student. Before, I was making just over minimum wage at a full-time job. I do not know how families even live on that kind of income. I had no luxuries. I did not go to the movies or out to a restaurant or anything.

Right now I have $12.50 a week to spend on food, which works out to about 11.50 pretax. That is less than $1.65 a day. I don't eat three meals a day anymore because I can't afford to. I definitely don't eat 2.5 cups of vegetables a day. It's not even a possibility. The only fruit that's affordable is bananas. I don't get to choose what vegetables I'd like to eat that week, I choose what's cheapest. If I can fit meat in that week, there's a 100% chance it's chicken because it's the only meat that's affordable. And definitely not the ubiquitous chicken breasts. Still too expensive.

I don't have luxuries now either. My entertainment/fun budget per month is $8. I don't have cable. I have a really low electricity bill because I'm fastidious about keeping everything unplugged and I rarely use my air conditioner. I can't drive due to vision, but I rarely take the bus even when it is easier because it's cheaper to ride my bike. I don't ever have a meal out.

My situation is not bad. I say this only to illustrate if it's hard for me, someone with a good amount of free time and no partner or kids, and someone to fall back on if I get in a rough spot, it is way rougher for someone trying to support a whole family without support.

I know how to stretch food, but there are limits. All the tricks in the world can't make something out of nothing. And kids? Kids don't understand any of this. They don't know why they can't have seconds, or why they have to eat the exact same meal multiple times through a week.

So you can make some boxed macaroni that you know everyone will eat and that you can afford. Because for all the hoobla I hear about how healthy food is cheaper, that's never really panned out for me. unless I'm eating a raw zucchini for dinner, it's not actually cheaper. If you actually want to do some variations, the costs really add up.
posted by Aranquis at 5:44 PM on October 2, 2014 [14 favorites]


I'm still kind of in love with the Orwell by way of Frowner idea of publicly owned mass kitchens like the water company that you signed up certain nights or plans cause kitchens benefit so well from economies of scale and creative waste reduction.

During WWII, here in Portland, and in the other Portland along with a few other places, Kaiser built child care centers (in partnership with the US Government) that came to be known as shipyard centers. The facilities were state of the art, and many operated 24 hours a day to accomodate women working all three shifts. The centers fed the children and also provided pre-cooked, packaged meals for .50 per that contained enough to feed the mother and her child. These were available for pick up when she picked up her child and made it much easier to get dinner on the table.

I have never been able to understand why someone hasn't updated this model, perhaps combined with Head Start funding or other available child-care funding - heck, even a large national employer (say, Wal-Mart) could jump on this as a way to boost employee productivity while seeming like a good guy (which is the major reason kaiser did it). Its a great idea, and would greatly benefit so very many of today's parents.
posted by anastasiav at 5:47 PM on October 2, 2014 [18 favorites]


(There is even a little precedent here as people are trying to do exactly that for public school lunches, mentioned on MeFi previously, though it seems like there are significant obstacles including both predictable opposition from the right wing and condescending Jamie Oliver-style naiveté.)

A good example of how it goes wrong is the reaction to a few schools introducing Meatless Mondays. You have the combination of standard American, "But if I don't eat meat every 30 minutes I will immediately die of protein deficiency!" and the industry lobbyist, "But our profits!" and the whole thing gets bogged down.
posted by Drinky Die at 5:50 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


(And of course, Meatless Monday itself, when framed as part of solution to obesity is part of the food naiveté. A bean and cheese burrito or cheese pizza isn't a much better option health-wise than a meat based burrito or pizza with pepperoni. You can't really fix obesity for other people's children with your cafeteria offerings. Meatless menus should be available sometimes just to encourage trying new things, in my opinion. And of course the environmental impact of meat is a whole different can of beans.)
posted by Drinky Die at 6:01 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


at 32, I still gag whenever I try to make myself eat salad because my tastebuds are still crying out for Chef Boyardee.

Oh, so much this. I think this is key above all else--what our baseline of a what a good meal is. My mother cooked a fair amount, but we had TV dinners just as often. I was raised on junk food, and at forty, I still crave crappy but oh so tasty pizza and cola and the like. I have a sweet tooth and buy candy like I did when I was ten. I have control over it now and do it less and less, but still.

When my son was born, my wife was really instrumental in tightly controlling his diet. We fed him only healthy food, lots of veggies, and as much variety as possible. For his first birthday, we made a "cake" out of pancakes covered in yoghurt. Because a one-year-old doesn't need that sugar. Of course, as he's gotten older he can make more and more of his own choices with food, and at five, he has a quite healthy and wide-ranging diet.

There are foods that he doesn't like--mushrooms are a big hurdle for him---but for every single food he doesn't like, I almost certainly wouldn't eat that as a kid. He eats a far broader diet than me at that age, and significantly, he eats a far broader diet than my parents do, now.

And he doesn't have my sweet tooth. He loves candy, but is content with a fraction of the amount other kids eat. In short, the first few years of a child's diet are crucial and set the stage for what that kid will eat in the future, maybe for life. I marvel at the 18 month old kids eating chocolate and potato chips and other junk that will set them on that path.
posted by zardoz at 6:12 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


A "meatless Monday" could be marginally healthier because red meat and processed meat consumption are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers independent of total calorie consumption, IIRC, but yeah, there are a lot more important interventions from a health perspective, and it's certainly not a hill I'd die on. I'd disagree a little about obesity; you might not be able to "fix" any individual kid's obesity, but that doesn't mean that you can't have some epidemiologically-significant positive effect by setting and enabling higher standards for nutrition in school lunches.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:17 PM on October 2, 2014


Yeah, the time to plan and ability to shop thing -- you really can't overlook that. I'm a stay at home mom who knows how to cook, I have a car in great working order. I pretty much HAVE to cook all our meals at home, because my daughter can't tolerate high fructose corn syrup or excess sugars. (Or fruit, or too many vegetables, for that matter.) Let me tell you, it's a pain in the ass, and it's expensive. And I know where to shop -- I know where to buy 40 lbs of chicken thighs for $60, 50 lbs of potatoes for $6, 20 lbs of onions for $11. That's at the restaurant supply store, which is an hour away by bus (but only twenty minutes by car!), assuming that you had a way to carry 110 lbs of groceries home with you on the bus. Oh, and they don't take food stamps. I have ethnic grocery stores available (but not by bus!) where i can buy vegetables for pennies compared to more standard American chains, I know of the super-sekrit seafood dock sale where I can buy fish for a dollar a pound -- but only once a month, at 7:30 in the morning. I have a place to store a 50 lb sack of potatoes where pests won't devour it, and a chest freezer. I buy beef by the side from a local producer, where it costs us about $4 a pound cut and wrapped, except that you have to cough up the $700 all at once, and be able to get down to the ranch to pick it up.

I spend two or three hours a week grocery shopping (more if I have to hit Cash and Carry or the dock sale), probably an hour a week doing the meal planning, and 30-45 minutes a day cooking. I won't even get into how much money we spend, except to say that it's about double the maximum food stamp allotment for a family our size in our state, despite all my tricks.
posted by KathrynT at 6:39 PM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


"Robot" was, as I understand it, a Czech word that simply means "worker," so we've come full circle here.... We are the robots.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:10 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's possible (I don't think it's likely, but it's possible) that the cost-per-meal for some homemade meals could be lower-- but only if ingredients were purchased in sufficient bulk from the lowest-cost sources and meals were storeable in bulk or would be consumed in quantity. Which would require households to have the funds to, say, buy $200 of groceries all at once to make 100 meals or whatever, as well as having the transportation to go to X number of stores to get the very cheapest rice and beans and produce and whatever, and haul all that stuff home, and have the skills, space, and equipment to make big batches of [whatever], AND have the space to store leftovers.

Exactly! Which is what makes threads about cooking/food/food poverty/poor eating and more very upsetting for me on the Blue. Tons of people simply cannot do this, but this doesn't stop the threads of people telling you how they manage to can/prep/store food for their lifestyles--I'm thinking of the ramen thread and a poster mentioning as to how you can grow your own green onions! (again, great idea if you can manage it but so many folks can't) as a recent example--and how they're not calling you or the subjects of the article lazy, but hey, if they can hack it on their schedules, why can't you?

No one is saying that we cannot talk about food and how we love it and how we do all the cool things (I just quick pickled peppers for lunches in the coming weeks), but we should also make sure to have empathy for people who need fresh fruit and veg at affordable prices. We should figure out how to make sure everyone can eat as healthily as they need to on whatever skillsets they have. Fresh food, affordable food is a right, not a reason to drag out "but I'm doing it why can't others" sort of talk.
posted by Kitteh at 7:20 PM on October 2, 2014 [9 favorites]


> During WWII, here in Portland, and in the other Portland along with a few other places, Kaiser built child care centers (in partnership with the US Government) that came to be known as shipyard centers.

Similarly, there were the British Restaurants.

> I have never been able to understand why someone hasn't updated this model, perhaps combined with Head Start funding or other available child-care funding

Probably the closest we come is the free-or-reduced-price lunches at public schools. They serve breakfast and lunch at some schools, and also have lunch during the summer. They're not enough.

Re pickiness: oh my goodness, you should see the conversations that come up on the autism parenting e-mail lists. I have a friend whose son, for a while, would eat nothing but sandwiches. Sounds fine... but they had to be cream cheese sandwiches. And the bread had to be oyster crackers, split open. My friend deserves a medal.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:22 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


That said, this whole idea that food will heal us as a society and improve our lives in a myriad of ways is nonsensical. The fetish for local, artisnal, handmade, homecooked etc. is a fad. It has replaced suburban moms taking est courses in the 70`s and new age spirituality in the 80`s. It`s a fad that time will pass and will look just as laughable as the the previous examples do now.


Poor people doctor here. I hear what you're saying about the Portlandia faddish ness, but the way we consume food really has changed fundamentally, and the obesity and diabetes epidemics are really real. And the poor people know that they are now dying way faster because of the way they eat. And yet, "Eat better, stupid!" doesn't work and I think it is helpful to try and understand why. Some people think it's because we've got away from local and home cooked and I think that's a reasonable idea. I've always said to my patients that relying on processed foods and fast foods is a symptom of a life out of balance and a spiritual sickness because I think it is basically true. The reason we give our kids chicken nuggets every night isn't because we are lazy or don't care, it's because that genuinely seems like the best choice. I don't think its controversial to say that maybe we are dying from obesity and diabetes because chicken nuggets are the best choice too many nights and maybe the reason they are the best choice every night is really deep and profound and raises big questions about how we are living and I really applaud Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan, not because artisanal cheese is cute, but because it really feels like maybe we are all working too hard, value family and relationships too little, and maybe, just maybe convenience equals death.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:31 PM on October 2, 2014 [18 favorites]


I'm surprised that no one has linked back to the Cooking is really stupid thread that started on Sept. 30 (I can recognize a few posters here as having posted there, too). That thread is kind of messy and all over the place, so I hesitate to generalize, but it basically boils down to a bunch of the commenters falling into what Darling Bri summarized here as, "Cue a line of readers to opine on how these mothers are just Doing It Wrong. Complete with instructions on how to Do It Like Me." The other large group of commenters fell into the camp of enumerating the million reasons that cooking *is* really stupid. The contrast is, the FPP link for "Cooking is really stupid" is from a best selling author and few of the comments touch on economics. My point? That at least half the comments in "Cooking is really stupid" make a convincing argument that cooking things from scratch is hard. I can't see how being poor is going to make that any easier, and as a bunch of commenters have argued, it probably makes it a whole lot harder.
posted by BlueTongueLizard at 7:44 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


Shhh shhhh if we ignore that other thread it'll go away shhhh
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:56 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


It will be interesting to see if this article gains any traction in the "food movement". It's in a similar vein to this piece in Guernica from July. My background is in the labor movement and I'm fascinated by the potential that food has as an organizing tool. But for almost 2 years I've sat through countless meetings, seminars and conferences of white, middle /upper class people wondering why things are the way they are, be it food deserts, lack of gardens, poor school food, childhood obesity, diabetes , you name it. Invariably, when I raise my hand to discuss capitalism as the driver for these ills, and building power as the best answer, the room splits. Some number of people are thrilled that the issue has been raised, while the balance sort of looks away awkwardly.
I'm in the middle class, garden, am in a CSA and a co-op and go to farmers markets. I'm a food activist. But my marriage blew up this year and when I'm a single parent 3.5 days a week, I cook way less than I used to. I have a deep seated weakness for fast food. The only real answer is to organize, build power locally, and push back. Until the food movement understand that and begins reaching out past the small circle of people who agree already, and blaming everyone else while decrying the status quo, it's not really much of a movement. That's what I'm working on changing. Stay tuned.
posted by Unioncat at 8:16 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


I could rant, but i'll keep it simple: It's a crime that public television broadcasts forty different flavors of watch-me-cook-really-expensive-shit. And exactly zero start-with-a-working-poor-budget-and-schedule-then-make-something-awesome shows.

  • some recipes/shows *might* vaguely apply, but the emphasis isn't actually on cooking in the real poverty land
  • also, fucking This Old House? How about 'fix my 10 yo garbage disposal'?

posted by j_curiouser at 8:39 PM on October 2, 2014 [5 favorites]


It sounds like half the battle would be won by just giving hourly workers consistent schedules. It seems that this would be beneficial for the employer too - a person with a regular schedule is someone who knows when they work and has a commitment to be there.

Why don't they?
posted by bendy at 8:52 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


A person with regular hours is able to plan time to look for another job. Also, they're less wholly dependent on the employer.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:56 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


My experience has often been that they are basing the schedule on making sure nobody works enough hours to be full time (or god forbid make overtime) and with constant turnover that means constant shifting of schedules.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:57 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


Reform comes down to cultivating taste, and learning to appreciate certain foods for the right reasons, then build from there. If someone doesn't like seasonal fruits or simple salads, then their kids will typically learn to avoid them, and we'll always be wondering how to save them from themselves. It's not a supply problem (apart from drowning in bad options).
posted by Brian B. at 8:59 PM on October 2, 2014


On the contrary, according to the linked article, there does actually seem to be in a sense a supply problem. Seasonal fruits and simple salads are highly perishable compared to pantry staples, and it's not always possible for low-income families to buy and store perishable items, for reasons that are enumerated more fully in the Contexts piece but which include lack of access to reliable transit and unpredictable, over-packed work schedules.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't think public food centers are a good idea. My experience is that public anything gets progressively more stressed and less desirable, unless it's used by the middle classes. See: public hospitals, public transport, public toilets.

What I'd rather see is a decent level of welfare payments that would let people buy the ready-made food they damn well want. If you want to change their tastes, have an advertising campaign or regulate the food outlets directly.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:33 PM on October 2, 2014 [3 favorites]


Why don't they?

My understanding is that it lets employers minimize the number of people you have to pay full-time and/or overtime, and also allows them to pay extra workers when they expect business to be slow and bring in more when they expect it to be fast, on the scale of days or even hours rather than say, seasons. There was a previous FPP about it that clawsoon mentioned above.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:40 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Seasonal fruits and simple salads are highly perishable compared to pantry staples, and it's not always possible for low-income families to buy and store perishable items,

Then don't store them for long, eat them right away for a few days. The article made no excuse for never having them. Other options include freezing, canning, drying.
posted by Brian B. at 10:19 PM on October 2, 2014


When you buy perishable foods that you don't eat, they spoil and you throw it away and you feel bad about wasting food. So you just stop buying them and just get shelf-stable stuff instead.
posted by Small Dollar at 10:30 PM on October 2, 2014 [2 favorites]


Then don't store them for long, eat them right away for a few days.

If you can get to a store or market that sells them; look up the term 'food desert.' If you can afford to buy them; convenience foods are cheaper, less work, and more satisfying insamuch as they're laden with fat and sugar, which our brains respond to. If you can afford to store them; what if your electricity's been cut off because your choice was paying the electric bill or putting food on the table? What if your fridge and/or freezer is just busted and you can't afford to replace or repair?

Other options include freezing, canning, drying.

If you have the equipment for preserving. If you have the skills. If you have the time. If you have the energy. Guess what a lot of people don't have? Those things.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:31 PM on October 2, 2014 [12 favorites]


When you buy perishable foods that you don't eat, they spoil and you throw it away and you feel bad about wasting food. So you just stop buying them and just get shelf-stable stuff instead.

I realize this, but also know that kids dictate what is often served for the same reason. It's still a a learning thing.

If you have the equipment for preserving. If you have the skills. If you have the time. If you have the energy. Guess what a lot of people don't have? Those things.

Either they are working, and typically pass by markets on the way, or they are home, and have time. There will always be someone with no options, though not generally.
posted by Brian B. at 10:35 PM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Either they are working, and typically pass by markets on the way, or they are home, and have time.

There are a lot of unfounded assumptions in that sentence. Do you know what a food desert is?

And you're just handwaving away, oh, everything that is said in those articles and people are articulating here. Are we all, somehow, completely wrong?
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:38 PM on October 2, 2014 [7 favorites]


I could rant, but i'll keep it simple: It's a crime that public television broadcasts forty different flavors of watch-me-cook-really-expensive-shit. And exactly zero start-with-a-working-poor-budget-and-schedule-then-make-something-awesome shows.

They tried that once, and it was quite literally a crime. It was a crappy show anyway.

You can cook quite cheaply even using techniques from top grade chefs like Julia Child or Jacques Pepin. It just takes a lot of time at the grocery store buying fresh ingredients, a ton of prep labor, lots of cooking utensils, and a good stove. Not many people can do that. I am an excellent chef (runs in the family, my mom ran restaurants) but I just don't bother for myself.

For poor people like me, an elaborate home-cooked meal is something like a cheap frozen pizza, I usually see them for $3 but I have seen them on sale as low as $1.50, and there are even cheaper, crappier brands under $1 that are not really worth eating. Pizza bakes in an oven in 13 minutes, optionally broil for 2 min for a crusty surface. Contains a somewhat balanced meal of carbs, fats, and protein (although a little too much fat). Can be prepared and served with only one utensil, a knife to cut it, and served on the cardboard packaging so no dishes to wash. Minimal cleanup, minimal effort, minimum required nutrient value, resulting in minimal pleasure. I have eaten the exact same frozen pizza for dinner for as long as I can remember. It has to be at least 3 or 4 weeks since I ate anything else, but I have forgotten what it was, or when. I tend to get in a rut and eat the exact same foods every day for months. With that sort of poor diet, it will probably not surprise you that I once developed a vitamin B1 deficiency: beriberi.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:48 PM on October 2, 2014 [4 favorites]


Are we all, somehow, completely wrong?

Not my problem. I maintain that eating good food means learning to like it first, related more to creating demand, because the supply is not the weakest link, but poorly food-trained kids are. I haven't read anything to believe otherwise.
posted by Brian B. at 10:50 PM on October 2, 2014


Commuters don't necessarily pass by food stores, and if they depend on car pools they may not be able to stop. Even with public transport: if stopping on the way means missing a connection it can turn a one-hour commute into a two-hour one, or a two-hour commute into three or more.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


You know, there was a lot of snark leveled at the Soylent guy, but this is what he was trying to address. Fresh homecooked food is great, but not everyone has the time, inclination, or resources to prepare it for every single meal. We need healthy alternatives to cooking. Or, at least, not unhealthy alternatives.

Of course, we also need decent labor laws. Paying someone for part time labor but demanding they be "available" 40+ hours a week as a condition of employment seems functionally indistinguishable from indentured servitude. It should be, like, really illegal.
posted by heathkit at 11:09 PM on October 2, 2014 [6 favorites]


I haven't read anything to believe otherwise.

You mean like an article summarizing interviews with 120 low-income families and observation of their households over the course of 18 months, in which they determined that reliable transportation was a major obstacle to buying perishable items?

Either they are working, and typically pass by markets on the way

As Joe in Australia pointed out, "pass by" and "on the way" have a very different meaning if you're, for example, car-pooling or on a bus with headways every 30m, compared to if you're in your own car. I'd also be surprised if there was a market with fresh produce "on the way" between every person's home and job, particularly if they have to live somewhere with a low cost of living and commute by mass transit.

More to the point, though, the authors of this article found, based on observing and interviewing >100 low-income families, that there were obstacles to buying and using fresh produce that went way beyond "poorly food-trained kids." It doesn't sound as though you have any evidence that contradicts this. To insist on reducing this to literally a matter of taste alone, when there is substantial evidence that there are major practical barriers to effective meal-planning and grocery shopping for low-income families, seems strange.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:54 PM on October 2, 2014 [16 favorites]


Paying someone for part time labor but demanding they be "available" 40+ hours a week as a condition of employment seems functionally indistinguishable from indentured servitude. It should be, like, really illegal.

Yeah, IMHO one of the most pernicious parts of this type of part-time labor is that it precludes you from having another job - both practically and IIRC in some cases explicitly (as in, you can be fired merely for taking another job at all). It puts you in a really terrible position.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:00 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Do you know what a food desert is?

I don't live in a food desert. There's a grocery store just a little over a mile from me.

If I want to go to the grocery store on the way home, it still means I get home about an hour later than I had planned. If I walk, it takes about 50 minutes both ways. If I take the bus, I have to change buses.

I don't have kids. There is no particular reason that I need to be home at a certain hour. Yet, I still hardly ever shop during the weekday because I'd rather be home at 6:00 than at 7:00.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:57 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


"Some of the families didn’t have a kitchen table, or enough chairs for everyone, or lacked basic kitchen utensils..."

I live in a crowded apartment which doesn't have room for a dining table. I don't have a food scale, as they mentioned in the article as being a basic thing... and I prepare extremely healthy vegan food, with nearly no processed foods. Lots of poor people do close to the same. (A large percentage of poor southeast Asian immigrants do, certainly.)

The truth of the problem is that you can complain about busy parents who work and don't get home until 6 -- kind of like my mother, who got home at 6:30 or so, but cooked for us practically every day, when I was growing uip -- but ultimately, the biggest factors are cultural, regional, knowledge-based, and economic, with economic being arguably the least important of these factors.

There are a lot of good, healthy, inexpensive foods out there, many which last a long time or are easily frozen, reheated, etc. The difference in diets and schedules, though, between most Black Americans and Ethiopian-Americans, though, is striking... and that's not because Ethiopian-Americans make much more than black Americans, have better work schedules, etc. In fact, Ethiopian-Americans are probably more likely to simply cook greens, peas, inexpensive root vegetables, etc., the kind of foods that black Americans used to cook all the time. I eat organics very rarely. I eat frozen veggies -- or cut and freeze my own -- all the time. I also make a lot of things that are simple "throw it in the crockpot or rice cooker and forget it" kind of foods.

Location be damned, frankly. There are vegans living in rural parts of Minnesota, unable to get easy access to food, or to grow their own food over winter. They have actually posted online about buying up cheap bags of sunflowers and other bird seed, sprouting them, and eating the sprouts!

Lack of access to fresh, healthy food would be far less of an issue in rural America if the demand for fresh, healthy food was there. But they are oftentimes so far removed from eating food that didn't come pre-prepared in a box, that they don't know how to cook, prepare healthy foods... or what is healthy in the first place. Their kids often turn their nose up at vegetables, across the board, with the parents doing nothing to change this.

Oh, and while one person posted the horrors of forcing their kid to eat food, only to find that it was making them seriously, physically ill... that's not most kids. I am so grateful that my parents made me eat my veggies. Wish they had done more of it, frankly, and cut back on the milk, carbs, and sugars.

Ultimately, there's an easy way to solve many of these problems... subsidize vegetables. Not meat (and definitely not their water usage), not grains that are used to feed animals. Subsidize vegetables... and maybe fruits and soy,so long as the fruits are used fresh or for whole, unsweetened juices, and the soy isn't used for feeding cattle.

Of the 300-million-plus acres planted with food (other than grass, hay and forage for animals) in this country, half are corn and soy. Another 50 million are wheat. Only 14 million are devoted to fruits and vegetables That is ultimately why veggies are off the tables of Americans. Produce *lots* of veggies, drive down their cost, and then let's see if the poor have any good excuses to not cook and eat them...
posted by markkraft at 4:36 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Either they are working, and typically pass by markets on the way, or they are home, and have time.
That was really not my experience when I lived in a low-income neighborhood, which was true until two months ago. There was literally no place between work and home to buy fresh food (or anything else, actually, other than a gas station with a convenience store.) Getting to a grocery store on the bus was a several-hour ordeal, and there was no way I could do that after work. I could only do it on Saturdays, because the buses don't run on Sundays. There is a bodega-type-thing within walking distance of work, but the produce isn't very good, and in order to go there I would have to miss my bus and get home a half-hour later. There's an expensive organic-food store within further walking distance of work, but it's really pricey, and by the time I'd walked there and back I'd be getting home an hour later, and if I missed that bus I would have to wait for another hour.

I moved on August 1st, and I now live across the street from a grocery store and within walking distance of work. I noticed my pants were fitting more loosely and weighed myself the other day: I've lost three pounds in the past two months without trying at all. I'm definitely eating more healthily, without putting in any effort. I don't think I've suddenly become more virtuous in the past two months. I think it's a whole hell of a lot easier to be virtuous when being virtuous is convenient.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:53 AM on October 3, 2014 [13 favorites]


With that sort of poor diet, it will probably not surprise you that I once developed a vitamin B1 deficiency: beriberi.

I knew a guy in college who did that to himself by eating an almost entirely pizza diet also. That's a poor-as-in-bad diet, not poor-as-in-no-money. It would not take more money to avoid basic nutrient deficiencies (particularly given the foods that are required to be enriched with vitamins, specifically to avoid this kind of thing), though it would of course take significantly more money to eat the kind of diet writers like Pollan advocate or that wealthier commenters here tend to describe.

Either they are working, and typically pass by markets on the way, or they are home, and have time.

This sentence has a palpable lack of empathy for the real constraints a lot of people face. Even with money, it can be hard to lengthen a long commute to both shop and then cook. The one time in my life that I had a 1.5 hour commute each way, I almost never cooked dinner because the combination of shopping and cooking pushed eating ridiculously late in the evening. And that was with driving -- as others have mentioned, relying on public transportation or on begging rides from friends and family means that you may not be able to stop at a store and you also may not be able to predict when you will arrive at home. (Getting rides is the worst for that, because people are always stopping somewhere "just for a minute" and you have to smile and wait because they are giving you a free ride.)

There was a good article in I think the Times the other week about the constraints on eating "healthy" while also dealing with a lack of money and irregular work hours. One of the families profiled did all the things people keep mentioning here -- grew a garden, canned, etc -- and while it was working for them, the only reason it worked was that the wife was able to make growing, preserving, and preparing the food pretty much her full-time job. It keeps getting said but maybe it just needs to be repeated again that the key constraint is money -- with enough money, people have options that they don't when they are poor and then can make choices unconstrained by the limitations of grinding poverty. Whether that comes in the form of better paid jobs, more realistic welfare, or some kind of "basic minimum income" probably doesn't matter all that much in the end, as long as those resources are there.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:19 AM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


You mean like an article summarizing interviews with 120 low-income families and observation of their households over the course of 18 months, in which they determined that reliable transportation was a major obstacle to buying perishable items?

Actually, my argument was a common theme, related to demands.

Quote: And they found that, while many enjoyed cooking, the time pressures and desire to please all family members made home-cooked meals a tiring, stressful experience. For these families, tossing a salad wasn’t simple at all. Those who lacked reliable transportation only grocery shopped once each month, making perishable foods impractical. Scrambled eggs might not please all family members; roasting a chicken requires time between finishing work and serving dinner.

What is also remarkable here in discussion is the insistence that values are determined by convenience, rather than by inconvenience. When you digest personal preferences of food, and accept casual excuses for a reason, then the research is only reporting what people like or dislike, and what they may say in defense of it. It isn't the underlying reality of bad habits and mass marketed junk food specially made to appeal to kids over alternatives.
posted by Brian B. at 5:37 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


This sentence has a palpable lack of empathy for the real constraints a lot of people face.

It was showing a major hole in an argument actually.
posted by Brian B. at 5:47 AM on October 3, 2014


It isn't showing a hole in the argument, because it's not true. At least, you don't offer any evidence for it, and I don't think people here are inclined to believe you just because you're emphatic and kind of pompous.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:50 AM on October 3, 2014 [10 favorites]


It was showing a major hole in an argument actually.

No it doesn't. You are asserting (with no evidence that I saw, but perhaps I missed it) that the problem is entirely that of children's food preferences (and by implication, the fault of parents and society for creating and supporting those preferences):

I maintain that eating good food means learning to like it first, related more to creating demand, because the supply is not the weakest link, but poorly food-trained kids are.

But that ignores all of the very real structural constraints identified in the research and reiterated here of irregular schedules, lack of money, lack of transportation, etc, in order to focus on the one specific issue of children's preferences -- which was of course also identified as a constraint in the research, and one that ties into the other constraints in complex ways. (For example, picky kids create a big incentive to buy shelf-stable foods that you know they will like, rather than experimenting with new foods that they may reject, and an irregular schedule reinforces exactly that pattern -- if you get switched to evenings this week, you will feel smart for having bought shelf-stable foods that your daughter can microwave instead of a fridge full of raw veggies that she can't cook and that then spoil.)

I was a picky kid as well, but it wasn't a big deal and doesn't get written about in these kinds of articles because my parents weren't dealing with these interlocking constraints, and instead had the resources and time such that healthy and varied food was just a normal part of my life. That's not the reality for millions of people in the US, and it's more useful and more interesting to look at the underlying reasons why than it is to make simplistic assertions.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:13 AM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


It isn't showing a hole in the argument, because it's not true. At least, you don't offer any evidence for it, and I don't think people here are inclined to believe you just because you're emphatic and kind of pompous.

If someone wants to argue that it's impossible for some to teach good eating habits, let them, it doesn't remove the premise of learning good habits, and it doesn't address the majority of poor eating cases. And structural circumstances only go so far after it is assumed that someone did the shopping anyway and made those choices. I wouldn't think most people agree on what constitutes healthy food anyway.

No it doesn't. You are asserting (with no evidence that I saw, but perhaps I missed it) that the problem is entirely that of children's food preferences (and by implication, the fault of parents and society for creating and supporting those preferences):

Fault is problematic, freedom of choice and all that business. How it must sound to some that to explain our famously poor eating habits, we are prisoners on freeways or victims of inadequate refrigeration in America.
posted by Brian B. at 6:49 AM on October 3, 2014


The pizza diet isn't going to give you a vitamin deficiency if you simply toss in a multivitamin. It's not an ideal diet, but it's probably fine. We seem to put way too much judgmental emphasis on achieving an ideal diet. To pursue it in some cases is going to lead to imperfections in other areas of our lives. We have to prioritize. So, in order to make sure you teach your children some lesson about food you get home an hour later so they can have fresh spinach instead of canned. Did you sacrifice an hour in which you could have helped with a science project? An hour in which you could have helped with a social problem your kid is having at school? An hour in which you could have played a game together and bonded more closely with the whole family? We don't have the time to be perfect at everything.

We are so far from being perfect on food that we need to work on it, sure, but we put the focus on the wrong things in my view. We need to learn basics like how much protein and calories we should be getting and how to get them for an affordable price. Cooking may be a part of that, but it doesn't have to be. Variety may be a part of that, but it doesn't have to be. These are all very personal and family choices and nobody has a catch-all solution.

One of the big problems is that managing a family household really requires the skills, knowledge, and dedication of a full time job. We used to have Mom's train daughters for it and we forced them into the role. Now we often to a half assed job of training anybody for it and let them struggle through to figure it out as they go. It's an extremely complex problem. I support the idea of bringing back home economics classes for everybody to teach things like the most basic cooking skills, personal finance, basic home maintenance, and basic gardening. I wish our schools were more focused on life skills in general.

Even so, I don't think lack of skills is the biggest problem. People just don't have the time, and they don't have the money to pay someone else to do the work. Incomes are stagnating so everybody is treading water or getting poorer. You should be able to reasonably support a family on a single parent income in this country. The minimum wage should be set to that level or the social services should cover what personal income can't. We put people in a mostly impossible situation. I'm not going to judge their personal choices until we actually give them a fighting shot.
posted by Drinky Die at 7:13 AM on October 3, 2014 [14 favorites]


I have never been able to understand why someone hasn't updated this model, perhaps combined with Head Start funding or other available child-care funding

The last time a non governmental entity tried it was denounced by the FBI as communist propaganda.
posted by poffin boffin at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


Produce *lots* of veggies, drive down their cost, and then let's see if the poor have any good excuses to not cook and eat them...

I'm not going to judge their personal choices until we actually give them a fighting shot.

It might need mentioning that the food stamp program is available to most poor families in America, and perhaps should be calculated into minimum or living wage proposals for those with kids, as was done in the Clinton era routinely. Healthy food should also go untaxed, which is still debated in America.
posted by Brian B. at 7:17 AM on October 3, 2014


This seems like really well done ethnographic work. My university doesn't have access, but I'm looking forward to reading the full article at some point.

The interesting thing is that the families actually are cooking a lot, and in fact it appears that cooking skills weren't the problem,
I’m thinking of one mom who was going to community college and commuting back and forth by bus. She and the kids would get home at 8 p.m. She said that if she could just get home at 6, she might have time to cook like she wanted to, but when she got home at 8 she had to put something together fast. She had grown up cooking with her grandma and talked about how she liked cooking. There were lots of women like that. They liked showing their families they cared, and they liked cooking. But during the week it was really hard to do that.
And, at the same time, it appears to be a complicated issue that ranges from context to context,
These are things that range from food access, to where the grocery store is located, to wages, to having jobs with predictable hours. If this is important that people be able to eat home-cooked, healthy meals, we have to think about what we need to do to get there.

I wonder if they did any sort of quantitative supporting work to assess what were frequent barriers to ideal meal production.

I like the inclusion of the 30 middle class families. Providing contrasting cases that still have the same problems indicates, to me, that this is a systemic issue that doesn't have a singular magic bullet solution. They hint at some possibilities in the article,
we have a few ideas, like healthy food trucks or community kitchens or to-go meals at schools that kids can take home. It’s good that people are talking about food, but we should start thinking about how can we support families in ways that aren’t just in the kitchen.

Does anyone have full access to the article? I'd be curious what their full-length discussion section is like, and what sort of recommendations they make.
posted by codacorolla at 7:52 AM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


As far as cost and home cooking goes, depending on how you define things it can be a lot cheaper. And here lies the path of Republican madness.

It is possible, for example, to cook up a giant mess of beans at extremely low cost. You can even make them pretty tasty for only a bit more. A two pound bag of pinto beans will run about $3 or less. Add $2 of onions and a few cents worth of salt, pepper, cumin, and chili powder and the beans will be quite good. Rice is even cheaper.

See, say the Republicans, problem solved. You can feed yourself for **DAYS** on barely $6 worth of food. And they're technically correct, if you define "home cooking" as "beans and rice" [1] then "home cooking" is quite cheap.

The problem is that after eating beans and rice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for even three days in a row find yourself seriously considering suicide rather than eating another damn bowl of the stuff.

But, for the Republicans, the problem is solved. Poor people, as always, are to blame for their own problems. They can easily get 2,000 calories per day worth of beans and rice for less than $0.50 per serving, if they're hungry then it's their own damn fault for being too stupid to know that beans and rice are cheap.

For actual human beings with empathy, the problem is quite a bit deeper.

I'll also note that the cost comparisons for home cooking don't include the labor cost of the person doing the cooking. I love to cook, I'm a foodie, and I cook a lot. But cooking is a time intensive process, my sister once commented on how good my cooking was versus her's and I noted that flavor can largely be defined as crystallized and distilled time.

I can easily spend 20 to 30 minutes cooking even a relatively simple meal. For me that's fine, cooking is something I do for pleasure. But for a person who isn't into cooking for fun, that's 20 to 30 minutes they have to pay to get the food. Even if we assume that homemade mac and cheese is less expensive than a box of Kraft mac and cheese (which it probably isn't), money is time and time money. That's time that could be spent helping kids with homework, playing with kids, reading, whatever. And that's a real consideration as well.

I'll also Nth all the people who observe that cooking is hard, and learning to cook can be expensive in terms of waste. I'm lucky, part of my constillation of privilege is that I grew up with two parents who both cooked professionally at various times in their lives and who cooked at home. I learned how to cook via osmosis. I can't imagine how difficult it might be for someone who starts as an adult trying to learn from books or youtube videos.

[1] Or other similarly dirt cheap things.
posted by sotonohito at 7:58 AM on October 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


Produce *lots* of veggies, drive down their cost, and then let's see if the poor have any good excuses to not cook and eat them...

markkraft, I'm vegan, too, and I've been vegan for a third of my life now, so I hear you when it comes to wanting people to eat more vegetables, but with this kind of comment, I feel it behooves me to note that you're making us look bad. For one, it comes across as utterly tone-deaf to argue that economic factors are the least important factor when it comes to eating healthily, not to mention outright stating that poor people are somehow more obligated to develop a taste for vegetables than middle- or upper-class people. I did find it curious that you didn't call the latter groups out for providing inadequate excuses, only "the poor."

Fortunately, "the poor" are not obligated to provide any excuses at all, let alone "good excuses not to cook and eat [vegetables]," i.e. excuses that would adequately fulfill your personal standards and requirements. "The poor" are also not a monolithic entity. The poor folks you know are not like the poor folks I know, and they don't need to be; telling me and mine that we Just Need To [X] because that's how other, more noble/admirable/resilient/hard-working poor people in Minnesota do it is misguided at best. I grew up under the ostensible tutelage of adults who were, even on their most highly-functioning days, not around very much. In the projects, my peers were very busy dealing with the same. Many of us had parents and guardians who were incarcerated and/or deep in the throes of mental illness or substance abuse. More than a few of us developed PTSD and other health problems as a result of our euphemistically insecure upbringings. Some of us did not make it out alive.

I mean, for god's sakes, we couldn't even get the adults in our lives to take us to the doctor or dentist, so the idea that we were supposed to, I guess, get ourselves all set up on the internet so we could post messages about sprouting and eating bird seed (?!!?!), which would apparently negate the need to microwave yet another plate of chicken nuggets to ensure we had some kind of protein intake that day -- it's so far beyond the scope of my comprehension as to be downright comical. Not all parents care about what their kids are eating. Not all parents care about their kids. Not all parents are around at all. What's your just-so solution for us?

Purchasing, sprouting, and feeding yourself and your family with bird seed is simply not feasible for large swaths of America's low- and no-income population, and there is no quick fix that results the nationwide embrace of vegetable-eating by poor folks that you're after. You're suggesting that the entire agronomic activity of the United States needs to turn on a dime in order to refocus on growing vegetables for human consumption rather than grain for livestock consumption. Referring to such a massive, historic undertaking with zero legislative support as "the easy way," as though it's meant to be a realistic solution to the problems poor and middle-class people continue to experience every single day, is utterly bewildering to me.

"Duh, just do it like I do"-style handwaving is detached from the reality on the ground for a whole hell of a lot of people, and it is not a helpful attitude. We need to meet people where they're at instead of telling them to jump and waiting for them to ask how high. That's kind of what the entire FPP is about.
posted by divined by radio at 8:20 AM on October 3, 2014 [21 favorites]


There are also some issues with switching from subsidizing calorie dense food to foods that are not so calorie dense. We are eating too many calories now, but the fear of famine is not something that is readily going to vanish.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:30 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, and while one person posted the horrors of forcing their kid to eat food, only to find that it was making them seriously, physically ill... that's not most kids.

It's more kids than you think. Although data is spotty and hard to come by, food allergies and intolerances are getting a lot more common, and nobody really seems to know why. I'm not even just talking about self-diagnosis; in the UK, admissions to the hospital for anaphylaxis are up 500% since 1990. My kid's gastroenterologists think that her condition is radically underdiagnosed in the population at large, because the test that diagnoses it is pretty new and not offered everywhere.

My daughter wasn't able to tell me "I don't want to eat that because it makes my tummy hurt," because she'd been in GI pain literally her entire life -- she had no basis for comparison, she thought that was a normal condition of life. We were "lucky," in that she had a crisis that was too severe to ignore or brush off as normal kid stuff, AND we had health insurance, AND we lived within driving distance of one of the two hospitals in the state that offers the test, AND I was able to take her to that hospital every three weeks while we were figuring out what the hell was wrong with her. I cannot imagine that there aren't a lot of children with similar problems whose parents aren't in a position to pursue a diagnosis.
posted by KathrynT at 9:14 AM on October 3, 2014 [8 favorites]


There are also some issues with switching from subsidizing calorie dense food to foods that are not so calorie dense.

Yeah, there is definitely a sort of adjustment period where your body feels confused at getting more healthy calories in place of fat/sugar calories, and I imagine it's a point where a fair to good number of people give up immediately and revert to food that they understand better.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:30 AM on October 3, 2014


In complete agreement with divined by radio's comment. It's quite distressing to see how a lot of my fellow vegans display classist tendencies when it comes to the diet.
posted by Kitteh at 10:11 AM on October 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


Other options include freezing, canning, drying.

If you have the equipment for preserving. If you have the skills. If you have the time. If you have the energy. Guess what a lot of people don't have? Those things.


You forgot one. If you have the desire.

It's hard, freezing, canning and drying. So is cooking in general, for anyone with time, income or transportation issues. The easier choice is always going to be pre-prepared.

But while there's ire in this thread directed at anyone who would dare say people "should" cook, the rebuttal argument I see seems to be that "society" "should" provide some alternatives for those who, for whatever reason, don't, can't or don't want to cook at home.

From the interview:

"We haven’t figured that out, but we have a few ideas, like healthy food trucks or community kitchens or to-go meals at schools that kids can take home. It’s good that people are talking about food, but we should start thinking about how can we support families in ways that aren’t just in the kitchen."

So how much is this "support" going to cost, and in a world where existing "supports" are already threatened, where's the money going to come from?
posted by kgasmart at 10:12 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Seems relevant, just saw on Facebook:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

- FDR
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:30 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


where's the money going to come from?

1% of total US defence spending would be approximately $6 billion dollars. I should think that would be enough to establish food programs across the country, on an ongoing basis. Perhaps a little more for upfront costs.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:55 AM on October 3, 2014 [6 favorites]


"to argue that economic factors are the least important factor when it comes to eating healthily"

I didn't say they were the least important factor. I said that out of the major factors (cultural, regional, knowledge-based, and economic), they were the least important and least determinative.

Take a look at Ethiopian-Americans and you simply won't see the huge problems we see in the rural black communities in the South, even though their income is comparable. Likewise, there are a lot of Vietnamese immigrants in the South who do not have the same issues. However, research also shows that as immigrant communities integrate more and more into the existing region and American culture, they start to pick up more aspects of the same crappy diet. (i.e. cultural and regional differences)

What this says, basically, is that those who immigrate to this country have a culture of food that isn't as convenience-based. So, yeah... they're going to work long, irregular hours... live in inconvenient places... and they're *still* going to make the time to eat traditional foods. In fact, they will tend to group together around specific places, and will create the demand that makes small markets for selling their ethnic foods possible.

This, basically, is a matter of culture. Indeed, I would argue that there is very much a growing health culture that exists, where people focused upon vegetarianism or eating healthy tend to gather around similarly supportive places.

I live in a poor part of the Tenderloin in S.F., where ethnographers make these kinds of arguments all the time... and I'm not saying they are invalid arguments as far as the difficulties that minorities often have in convenient access to healthy food... but I still feel blessed with how much good, inexpensive food I have access to... though it does require a bus ride or a long walk to get to. There is nothing convenient about it, frankly, but it's what I need to eat in order to be healthy.

The basic core of the argument being made is that healthy and homemade needs to be more convenient. I'm all for that, but I also recognize that the bigger issue needs to be that convenience isn't the most important aspect of having healthy, home-cooked meals. In Japan, it's commonplace for dinners to be served at 7:30, after grueling commutes. In my neighborhood, it's commonplace to see large Southeast Asian families eating large, communal dinners together at around 8. And in India, it's common to eat as late as 9.

One's food culture makes all the difference. Region, somewhat less so. And knowledge of how to cook and prepare a healthy meal matters more than money. But I think it's important that when people point out these problems, where the culture of convenience has supplanted basic nutritional knowledge, with kids who have never seen their parents cook food, we shouldn't reflexively label them as elitists or privileged, especially if they are essentially correct, and their ideas have had measurable impacts on public health.

And no, I didn't "outright state" that poor people were obligated to eat vegetables... certainly no more so than wealthy people, who would also have less expensive veggies to eat if the subsidies were changed. Not having "good excuses to not cook and eat them" is absolutely not the same thing as being obligated to eat them... but hey, you should know that. I absolutely didn't say they were, any more than the middle class would be, who would also have access to less expensive produce. Certainly, they would be no more obligated to eat veggies than they are currently obligated to eat the conveniently processed, unhealthy foods that are currently subsidized.

That, to me, is the real sin. We are spending billions, to feed unhealthy foods to Americans... and the rural and poor are particularly likely to be the victims of this. There are huge problems in rural America, not so much in the potential to have fresh foods available, but more as to the lack of demand for them. This is compounded by the price of vegetables being too high, due to the subsidies, largely geared towards meat and processed foods.

If Americans don't find something inherently wrong, though, with spending tax dollars to produce more foods that kill people... or that convenience -- and the factory-style processing that usually comes with it -- should be viewed as the #1 most desirable trait for the American diet, with nutrition way down the list... well, that's the problem right there. You can have an army of people, hand delivering healthy meals... but it won't make it affordable, it won't necessarily bring families together around healthy food, it won't teach them what is healthy or how to prepare it, give them the tools to evaluate whether what they are putting into their bodies is actually healthy or not... it's the same culture of convenience, most likely for a profit.

Frankly, there's something to teaching people a healthier culture of slight inconveniences, in exchange for tangible benefits. In the same way that the solution to our energy problems isn't "drill, drill, drill" and "burn, baby, burn", the solution to our food crisis isn't the most convenient solution.
posted by markkraft at 11:36 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and while one person posted the horrors of forcing their kid to eat food, only to find that it was making them seriously, physically ill... that's not most kids.

Mr. Vitabellosi went to catholic school as a kid. The nuns used to check the kids' milk cartons at the exit to make sure they weren't wasting any milk. (You know, sinning and not being grateful.) They checked each carton before the kids could dump their trays in the garbage.

Milk gave Mr. Vitabellosi cramps and diarrhea. But the nuns operated under the "milk is good for you" principle. So he spent most afternoons huddled in the bathrooms at school, often accused of dawdling to get out of class. And he spent most lunch periods desperately trying to get other kids to drink his milk, ideally through a trade, because Mr Vitabellosi also grew up in the projects and often didn't have enough to eat.

This was in the seventies.

The worst part of this story isn't the daily experience of explosive diarrhea, which is bad enough. The worst part of this is the authority and control the nuns exercised over a child, against his best interests, and the definitional discourse they created about what a bad kid he was.

A lot of the people who have authority over children operate on the underlying assumption that children are sly, lazy liars who ought not to be able to exercise any personal agency or have a voice in decisions about the conditions in which they live.

And they often try to recruit parents into being bullies on their behalf. They expect parents to participate in those definitional discourses that label their kids as troublemakers. And a lot of parents don't want to bully their kids. They don't view their kids as sly little liars; they just want to love them. And protect them. From "authorities".
posted by vitabellosi at 11:44 AM on October 3, 2014 [9 favorites]


I didn't say they were the least important factor. I said that out of the major factors (cultural, regional, knowledge-based, and economic), they were the least important and least determinative.

The people studying the issue seem to disagree.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:48 AM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


"The people studying the issue seem to disagree."

That is because they are looking at the statistical averages, and not paying attention to the actual food cultures people are eating.

Their study says little to all the poor immigrants in America who brought with them a habit of preparing healthy, simple meals together as a family every day.

The average life expectancy in the US is 78.74 years. The average life expectancy for Asian Americans in the United States is 87.

Gee, it's almost as if they are doing something right -- if perhaps inconvenient -- that the rest of us aren't doing...
posted by markkraft at 11:58 AM on October 3, 2014


By definition, the statistical averages--and all the anecdotal evidence they obtained--apply to more people.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:01 PM on October 3, 2014


Also note:

The annual median income for older Asian American households was $16,757, less than the median $26,177 for older white households.

... and yet, they live almost nine years longer.

You're right. Stats are wonderful, magical truthy things, and really great ways to generalize without actually getting to the root of the problem!
posted by markkraft at 12:09 PM on October 3, 2014


There are a ton of differences between immigrant and non-immigrant communities. For instance,

New America Media found that only 13 percent of immigrant women work as professionals in the United States, even though 32 percent of them worked as such in their home country. The study concludes, “Women may well be putting devotion to the wellbeing of their families ahead of personal pride in choosing the journey to America.”

When you have someone at home taking care of the family, the family can do more with the resources it does have access to. Does this change over generations because of the siren song of convenience, or is it the siren song of personal independence and choice? Immigrant women start businesses more than native women, as one data point.

It all comes down to the same tradeoffs. The money and time to have it all isn't there for the poor and middle class. We should be looking for ways to provide healthy convenient food that doesn't require people to invest hours of labor on top of their employment which should be paying for that sort of thing. It's not impossible. You can lose weight and/or get adequate nutrition if you want eating nothing but McDonald's and Subway but I know we can do better than those options if we give people the resources to help make the right choices for their circumstances.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:11 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


" We should be looking for ways to provide healthy convenient food that doesn't require people to invest hours of labor on top of their employment"

Yes, but what constitutes "healthy, convenient" food?

Gee... I'm sure the government will do a good job deciding for us... They're great at this kind of thing! Just look at what they feed our kids!

... or maybe the free market. Clearly, if we let the free market loose, unfettered by regulations, they will feed us healthy food, no problem! And maybe the poor will be able to afford it, if they use only the least expensive mass produced food preparation techniques.

Frankly, though, we'd all be better off -- and save a helluva lot -- if we imported a small army of dabbawalas to make the deliveries, with a bunch of old ladies from India doing the cooking for us.
posted by markkraft at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2014


Yes, but what constitutes "healthy, convenient" food?

Prepackaged salads with simple dressings would be a pretty obvious start.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2014


Oh, salads! Gee... why didn't Jamie Oliver think of that, when he tried changing the foods fed to school children in the US?

Oh, that's right...

"The cost per student is too high! They don't want to eat their salads! They already have their vegetable with this meal... see the ketchup with the fries? Oh, and the USDA keeps sending us these cheap containers full of processed cheese and breaded mystery meat, so we've got to make them available. Oh, and studies say that people drink heavily sweetened chocolate milk more than whole milk, so we're going with the chocolate... and we'll put milk in the pudding too! Thereyago... USDA approved!"
posted by markkraft at 12:35 PM on October 3, 2014


I really don't get where your apparent hostility is coming from. Could you back off a bit please? You asked a question and I answered it.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:39 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Frankly, though, we'd all be better off -- and save a helluva lot -- if we imported a small army of dabbawalas to make the deliveries, with a bunch of old ladies from India doing the cooking for us.

Are you serious
posted by dialetheia at 12:45 PM on October 3, 2014 [3 favorites]


I am not being hostile to you. I am pointing out that the obvious answer is not the one that the government is routinely willing to approve, or pay for.

They're the ones who serve kids pizza and chocolate milk for breakfast and processed cheese nachos and soda for lunch, while still being able to argue that all the food groups were covered, as expeditiously as possible.

Am I serious about how we'd be better off having old ladies from Mumbai cooking us Indian food, rather than eating the crap that the USDA would approve for us? Absolutely. It would be healthier.
posted by markkraft at 12:55 PM on October 3, 2014


Gee, it's almost as if they are doing something right -- if perhaps inconvenient -- that the rest of us aren't doing...

It's an awful lot less inconvenient to carry on a cooking culture in which you're immersed than it is to adopt one as an adult with too many claims on your own limited resources.
posted by ambrosen at 12:55 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I am pointing out that the obvious answer is not the one that the government is routinely willing to approve, or pay for.

That needs to change. That change is what we are talking about here.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:57 PM on October 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Am I serious about how we'd be better off having old ladies from Mumbai cooking us Indian food, rather than eating the crap that the USDA would approve for us? Absolutely. It would be healthier.

Do you have a solution that doesn't rely on the labor of imported brown women?
posted by KathrynT at 1:01 PM on October 3, 2014 [24 favorites]


Am I serious about how we'd be better off having old ladies from Mumbai cooking us Indian food, rather than eating the crap that the USDA would approve for us? Absolutely. It would be healthier.

Holy balls, that's it. Metafilter food threads are dead to me.
posted by like_a_friend at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2014 [7 favorites]


Yes, but what constitutes "healthy, convenient" food?

Gee... I'm sure the government will do a good job deciding for us


It's a complex personal question, basically any food can be at least a part of a well planned diet. Focusing on, "Food that is not convenient" is not a particularly good answer.
posted by Drinky Die at 1:11 PM on October 3, 2014



Am I serious about how we'd be better off having old ladies from Mumbai cooking us Indian food, rather than eating the crap that the USDA would approve for us? Absolutely. It would be healthier.


Well, if what we mean is "some regions have a culture of healthy, popular street food, and we will hire some of the people who cook this food as consultants and perhaps as skilled staff/program directors, providing appropriate compensation, relocation expenses, etc in the full understanding that we are asking to learn a valuable set of skills" this could make sense. Just like it could make sense to recruit some of the people who run French school lunch programs - there's no reason not to recruit skilled consultants, as long as we're clear on the fact that they are skilled consultants.
posted by Frowner at 1:30 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


Bacon is fad

TAKE THAT BACK!
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:37 PM on October 3, 2014


You're right. Stats are wonderful, magical truthy things, and really great ways to generalize without actually getting to the root of the problem!

Says the commenter using stats to support a position.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:54 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


This is one of the strangest, and worst, derails I've seen on here in quite some time.
posted by codacorolla at 2:13 PM on October 3, 2014 [5 favorites]


Well that was weird. Unfortunately I think there was something worth considering in the "food culture" question, if it could be addressed a little less... weirdly.

By definition, the statistical averages--and all the anecdotal evidence they obtained--apply to more people.

The info about the immigration population is providing statistics too, just for a more focused population that could reveal what our real problem is. If everyone looked at is poor but one poor population eats more healthy food, it might not just be about the convenience. I think the notion of food culture is more important than we realize, because we're just enmeshed within whatever food culture we're in, and don't see how it's shaping the choices we make.

Someone above said they'd rather kill themselves than eat a well-seasoned bowl of rice and beans regularly, but then went on to talk about whether kraft macaroni and cheese would be cheaper than homemade mac n cheese. THe way I think of food, the rice and beans would be way more preferable than either of those, and kraft mac n cheese really doesn't even register as "food" in my mind. I only ever ate it as a late night dorm snack, and it belongs in the same category as movie popcorn or maybe new york pizza to me - indulgent, kind of gross, kind of yummy (especially if you're drunk and starving) but not real food... whereas rice and beans can be a perfectly good meal, if it's not overcooked and is seasoned to taste.

In fact I wonder if maybe three-quarters of the dinners I make aren't essentially in this category - a bowl of some kind of grain or noodle, with some kind of mix of protein & vegetables, and then the seasoning, which I usually do in the form of a sauce or curry (you can buy a lot of these in jars). To me, this is totally satisfying, easy, cheap and takes very little planning. But you have to want to eat it.

And I don't know if this can be blamed entirely on upbringing - often siblings disagree to some extent about what kind of food is preferable. I have suffered through THanksgivings where people destroy perfectly good yams with marshmallow, or string beans with condensed soup, and I have had Thanksgiving guests look mildly pained by elements of my ideal feast. I dunno if it's nature, nurture, self-identity, habit, addiction, or what, but basically, even if there were some just way to produce healthy indian food for everyone, why would we assume people would eat it? My in-law experience tells me otherwise.
posted by mdn at 2:42 PM on October 3, 2014


That is because they are looking at the statistical averages, and not paying attention to the actual food cultures people are eating.

No, in fact, the authors of the linked article are not using statistical averages. They have done detailed ethnographies of 12 low-income families and have interviewed over a hundred others. Their research is qualitative. It is also focused exactly on the "actual food cultures" of their interviewees.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:59 PM on October 3, 2014 [4 favorites]


That post was talking about eating Rice and Beans for pretty much every meal because of a restricted budget. That could definitely get boring. Most of the cultures that use rice and beans as a staple dish generally do include meat in some form, even if it's just a ham bone from last night's dinner dropped in with the beans. It does a lot to add flavor, but when you add meat to the equation it starts to challenge the budget issues.

a bowl of some kind of grain or noodle, with some kind of mix of protein & vegetables, and then the seasoning


Anyway, I'm gonna try and add a can of black beans to some box Mac and Cheese, I think it's going to work well.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:00 PM on October 3, 2014


the point was just, rice and beans is as cheap as mac and cheese. We all agree there should be a basic level of human rights in that the food shouldn't make you sad, but we disagree about what kinds of food are more likely to make you feel bad if you're forced to eat them on a semi-regular basis. That seems cultural rather than economic.

I get that the exact same thing every night can get old, but rotating a few options that you like is acceptable for a while, and it can be very easy if you're making the kind of simple bowl that rice n beans - just like kraft's mac n cheese - is.
posted by mdn at 5:53 PM on October 3, 2014


[Markkraft, immediately back off the weird ultra-sarcastic and bizarre ironic racist/sexist (or just plain racist/sexist) threadshitting. I'm not deleting all the comments stemming from this ridiculous derail, but folks, flagging sooner than later would be a very good thing. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 11:51 PM on October 3, 2014


Tangentially, adding a can of black beans to Mac and cheese from a box sounds delicious.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:54 AM on October 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


we have a few ideas, like healthy food trucks or community kitchens or to-go meals at schools that kids can take home. It’s good that people are talking about food, but we should start thinking about how can we support families in ways that aren’t just in the kitchen.

Community kitchens is a weird church liberal solution for kids with kitchens and food at home. We could simply offer to keep kids after school with tutors and sports, and feed them before sending them home, on a volunteer basis. It would address other problems too, but if soda or sugar is never taxed nationally there will be no will and no easy funding. If some people are going to dream of supply-side solutions and giving people what they won't go out of their way for, they should cancel the free zucchini trucks, or kids waiting in line to haul home a healthy meal they don't like. It's more fodder for nanny-state critics, especially if parents gave up too, and the trucks will end up with pizza anyway, before they are sold to ice cream vendors. Snow cones are marketed like street drugs because there is an addiction factor, and parental limits, and kids run after them to get them to stop. The model doesn't translate to fresh vegetables.
posted by Brian B. at 12:08 PM on October 4, 2014


I think it's at least equally naive to imagine that the time and money spent on cooking healthy meals for children could come from the already-beleaguered public school system. That solution also doesn't sound like it would help parents of younger children very much, since most pre-K education in the USA is still tuition-based and thus hard to access for low-income families. Feeding children at school also wouldn't help the parents to eat more healthfully themselves (cooking for two is, after all, not substantially easier than cooking for three, which when turned around is a major advantage of communal cooking).
posted by en forme de poire at 3:14 PM on October 5, 2014


I think it's at least equally naive to imagine that the time and money spent on cooking healthy meals for children could come from the already-beleaguered public school system.

That's why none of it would fly and why take home meals, trucks, and community mealtime is a political self-parody. If a minimal small step program (with education goals) can't succeed within existing structures, none of it will.
posted by Brian B. at 3:32 PM on October 5, 2014


My point is that I disagree that it is actually any more incremental, minimal, or feasible (politically) to sneak in more social services under the umbrella of the public school system. It could actually make any such service much more vulnerable, since in many states school budgets are one of the few government expenditures that are regularly put up for individual public referenda. And, as previously mentioned, piggybacking on the school system means that any such program would leave out non-school-age children and their families.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:01 PM on October 5, 2014


And, as previously mentioned, piggybacking on the school system means that any such program would leave out non-school-age children and their families.

I repeat, none of it will fly if the targeted few are rejected by voters. And including "too busy" parents with kitchens and food at home to go down to eat at a massive government center for free would be something like a SNL skit of communist America. I know there is a need for some to have other people eat out of their hand, so to speak, but going to political extremes to solve a lazy or busy parent problem is rather weird.
posted by Brian B. at 4:26 PM on October 5, 2014


Tangentially, adding a can of black beans to Mac and cheese from a box sounds delicious

I can also recommend dipping Doritos in a bowl of black beans or refried beans instead of salsa.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:53 PM on October 5, 2014


This has absolutely nothing, as in nothing, to do with 'lazy' parents.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:16 PM on October 5, 2014 [4 favorites]


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