Privilege

As we spread the message about good food, one push back we commonly get is that eating fresh whole foods is a privilege of the affluent. While we’re eating locally-grown produce, the argument goes, poor people are forced to eat junk food.

I have a lot to say about this claim, of course. I’ve responded to it frequently on this blog. But yesterday I was struck by something as I pondered it–something that suggests a significant cultural change in our lifetimes (at least in my part of the world).

When I was growing up, we grew or raised most of our food. That was evidence that we were “poor.” The folks who lived in town, who I envied, ate “store-bought” food.

So the food we ate as poor country folks (it was part of what gave us that identity) is now considered a privilege of the affluent, and the food that culture says is what the poor are forced to eat (fast food, frozen dinners, processed sweet foods, potato chips, etc.) were luxuries that we thought were reserved for people with money.

A strange reversal.

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31 comments on “Privilege

  1. lbeth1950 says:

    I have often thought the same thing.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Glad I’m not the only one. 🙂 When I hear people say that poor people are forced to eat fast food and junk food I can’t help but remember a time when we were told we couldn’t afford to eat like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. daphnegould says:

    I think it really depends upon where you are. When I grew up (in the 1970s), I considered myself upper middle class. We weren’t rich by any means, but very comfortable. We lived in the Colorado mountains. My mom had a large vegetable garden and by the time I left for college she was raising ducks, geese, and turkeys. DIY was very strong in that culture. My mom ground her wheat and made sourdough bread. She bought fruit in bulk and canned them and made fruit leather. My dad hunted. They didn’t have to do anything. They had the money to buy premade food but the area had a culture of such things.

    Here in Boston we moved to a very well off suburb for the schools. Barely anyone had a vegetable garden. I was pretty unusual. When I moved here five years ago into more of a mixed neighborhood I was shocked at how many gardens there were. Some people had taken over their whole back yards to grow food. East Arlington has always been a bit mixed in class, but it is also known as the place where people make things. I guess that translates to vegetable gardens too.

    So I guess my personal experience bucks the trend, but I think in general I see that trend too, just not in the neighborhoods I’ve chosen to live. Though I wonder if it is more of a fad. I’m hoping at least the trend toward the CSAs and farmers markets sticks. Even my old posh town finally got a farmers market.

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    • BeeHappee says:

      I was not in this country back then, but from what I heard from my husband, I agree. . . In the suburbs, in the 1970s he grew up with both parents working 2 jobs each and eating mainly either at neighbors houses or angel food cake and hostess cupcakes at home.. Nobody cared about gardens here, in fact all farms were sold out to subdivisions that built a bunch of boxes and endless lawns. Truthfully, his stories from those days give me horror shivers, and unfortunately, we are having hard time finding a common language now having grown up in such radically different cultures when it comes to food and food growing. Thankfully now farmers markets are considered posh and trendy and doing incredibly well here in the suburbs. Local food co-ops are really gaining traction. Perhaps what is lacking is still more education for people, as many simply do not know about more affordable options (it is not all Whole Foods $$$), like work shares, or going to pick your own stuff on many farms, or even foraging (or dumpster diving if still not outlawed..:) ) and of course growing your own. There are some great organizations popping up around here that educate the public. And it is really encouraging.

      Liked by 1 person

      • daphnegould says:

        Yeah I didn’t grow up in a typical household of the era. I wasn’t allowed to eat things like hostess cupcakes. But we fit right into the Colorado mountain culture which isn’t always like the majority of the country. And yes farmers markets have gotten posh. And they aren’t cheap here in Boston. But I have noticed a trend at some of them to give half off to those who use SNAP cards (a state program to encourage better eating). So they can be affordable to those who need it. You just have to find ones that participate.

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    • Bill says:

      We were definitely part of a DIY culture too. I’m glad to see those values returning.

      Farmers markets and backyard gardening seem to be fashionable now, but I think they’ll stick. Good food is hard to give up once you develop a taste for it.

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  3. Buffy says:

    You are right! Here in Arkansas people can use food stamps at the farmers markets and they get bonus spending money at the farmers market. Good food should be available to everyone.

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    • Bill says:

      Excellent. We’re about to launch a program that will double the value of food stamps at farmers markets, which is a win-win for farmers and poor folks. We just need to get people to understand that good food is not more expensive than junk food. Our food bank has been taking donations at the farmers market–shoppers can buy extra from the farmers to donate and farmers can donate their extra at the end of the day. But getting the food bank patrons to eat fresh produce is another matter. A friend who is running the program even tried offering samples and recipes at the food bank and she says few were even willing to taste it. We’re entering into multi-generational ignorance of what food is. Hopefully that will start changing soon.

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  4. shoreacres says:

    You’re exactly right. That’s why having the Omar Man stop his truck at your house to leave a couple of loaves of sliced, white bread was such a status symbol. “Better than sliced bread” used to be a phrase that was filled with cultural meaning. Pre-sliced meant store-bought meant you had some disposable cash.

    That’s about the same time that store-bought cookies gained caché. There had to be other things. One I remember is Mary Kitchen canned hash. We considered that a real treat, even though Mom’s hash, made with real potatoes and onions together with leftover roast, was so much better.

    We weren’t country folk, but the same dynamic held even for townies, who had carried rural habits with them as they moved up the ladder. Of course, in my day the Depression still was a fresh memory. When I saw Daphne’s comment about growing up in the 1970s, I just smiled. Even in the 1970’s, things were becoming unrecognizable to a child of the 1940s.

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    • Bill says:

      In the spring the cows would sometimes eat wild onions, so the milk didn’t taste good. When that happened we got to drink store-bought milk and we considered it a great treat. My mother made homemade biscuits nearly every day (she still makes them and they are amazingly delicious). But sometimes (rarely) she’d buy rolls from the grocery store or those biscuits that came from a can. We considered those to be special treats. I can only chuckle and shake my head at those things now.

      A few times a year we ate at Hardee’s. Now that was a really great treat.

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  5. avwalters says:

    In the early 80s, as a young lawyer from the country, I immediately set up gardens in the back yard of my inner-city home.This was the day of the grocery store, cardboard tomato. Everyone thought I was crazy but I ate better than any of them.

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  6. nebraskadave says:

    7:26 AM 7/16/2015
    Bill, it’s true that culture has changed. From ten years old until a junior in high school, the city life was for me. The newspaper was placed with care on the front porch, the milk man delivered milk to the door and if we were home would put it in the refrigerator. Cokes were a dime at the “Five and Dime” Woolworth store. Every thing came from the “Hinky Dinky” or the “Piggly Wiggly” grocery store. Even in the middle of the city, crowing roosters were common place. Rabbit cages were in some back yards. Many had gardens for the kitchen table but not for winter storage. Time zoomed along into the 1960s when backyard animal cages were outlawed and gardens were too much work when store bought peas were 15 cents a can. By the 1980s the art of gardening was lost for all but an eccentric few in urban living. Clean weed free lawns that were groomed almost daily were the pride and joy of home owners. Chemicals were praised to eradicate unwanted weeds and steroid up the grass growth. After Y2K, the phrase was coined going off the grid and some decided to return to the pioneer days of living with some high tech. The idea was fascinating but seldom worked for a family to be totally self sufficient. Today the trend is slowly returning to days of victory gardens in the back yard. At least in my neighborhood a patch, even if only four foot by four foot, resides tucked in the corner of many backyards. The blending of today’s culture and yesterday’s practical simple living has struggled it’s way through decades of turmoil and I suspect it will struggle on. There is hope as more people are going back to growing at least some of their own food. Keep up the educating of people about the myths of good food costs and growing our own food.

    Have a great privileged affluent food day.

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    • Bill says:

      That’s a good summary of the cultural journey we’ve been on. It’s great to see us rediscovering the goodness of such simple things as a backyard garden and a home-grown tomato. I choose to believe that we’re turning away from the culture of dependency that was pushed on us by those who would prefer us to be dependent upon them. Urban gardening is essential if we are to escape that trap, which makes your example more important than ours. But no matter what a person’s circumstance, we insist that nearly everyone can grow at least some of their own food. I’m encouraged that more and more people are seeing the good sense in that.

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  7. bobraxton says:

    Experience shared by my family of origin – 1950’s (mostly). in rural NC. Near relatives (both sides).

    Like

  8. Marianna says:

    I would say the claim that fresh whole foods being a privilege if the affluent is a factor of access. Yes, many farmers markets accept food stamps. However, that’s only valid for those receiving food stamps if they have a viable means of transportation to get to the farmers market. I live in the D/FW metro and know of only one market that is easily accessible via public transportation, and for those in the poorest zip codes the trip would be difficult and time consuming. as for poor people having their own gardens….it’s a little difficult to garden when you live in public housing or make frequent moves as many do. Then of course there is the issue of food deserts in lower income neighborhoods. One bright spot I’ve seen locally is the rise of community gardens, although these tend to be more common in immigrant neighborhoods. Basically, like so many other things the plight of the poor having access to decent food is a often a result of public policy.

    One other observation: I volunteer in a local, suburban food pantry. We always have an abundance of fresh produce (thanks to Whole Foods and Sprouts), much of which still goes to waste because the only clients who take it are our immigrant families. Every week I hear a variation on the same reason for why people aren’t choosing fresh….I don’t know how to cook that stuff. Life skills are being lost.

    Finally, a book recommendation for you: Finding God in a Bag of Groceries by Laura Lapins Willis.

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    • Joanna says:

      I think you raise some important points there Marianna, access and knowledge are often what makes the difference to whether people can make use of cheaper but wholesome food.

      I was in a rental home (above standard probably, but still rental) and I noticed the oven didn’t really seem set up just for what I considered normal home cooking – I am from the UK originally – it only seemed to be appropriate for a huge meal to be cooked, like Thanksgiving I suppose. I do wonder what the lower priced rental homes would have for cooking? Would it be suitable?

      One foodbank I read about started teaching people how to cook, as well as raise their own fresh produce for the foodbank, which sounds like a sensible idea and a way of drawing the community together

      Like

    • Bill says:

      Thanks for the book recommendation. It looks great and I will add it to my list!
      We have food deserts here too. In our nearby town the poor have to get their food from “convenience” stores where they are overcharged for crappy “food.” And we’ve experienced the same thing you mention–even when good food is available many of them don’t know how to cook it or won’t eat it because they’ve become accustomed to salty, fatty, sugary, greasy junk food. Life skills are definitely being lost.
      But community gardens are popping up and our farmers market is partnering with the food bank to try to help overcome the food ignorance that is so prevalent. I see reasons for hope.

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  9. Sue says:

    People don’t eat well because they are uneducated or lazy.
    Hubby and I live BELOW the poverty level. We DO NOT take ANY handouts and do quite well for ourselves. Of course, to us, a huge meal of vegetables is heavenly.
    Those eating Cheetos , pepsi, and fast food do so because they WANT to eat that way. To say it’s because they can’t afford to is baloney. If we can live like we do on 17K a year, take no handouts of ANY sort, and eat all organic, any one can IF THEY WANT. And that’s the key phrase! ( We are retired and drive a 12 year old truck, don’t have a fancy “smartphone” or cable)

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    • allisonmohr says:

      Sue – you live in a house, with land. People who live in places like Oakland, or East St. Louis, or housing projects don’t have land. Many of them live in areas where there are no grocery stores, period. What is available to them is fast food. Tomatoes at our local farmer’s market are $5 to $6 a pound. How many low income people can afford that?

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      • Bill says:

        The problem is that they live in a food desert, not that fast food seems cheaper than farmers market tomatoes. Flash-frozen vegetables (which are more nutrient-dense than the so-called “fresh” produce in supermarkets) are $1/pound here. A bag of rice (11 servings) is less than $1. Dried beans, the same. A 10 pound bag of potatoes costs $7. How many McDonald’s french fries will that buy? Fast food is vastly more expensive than whole foods.

        It is just not true that bad food is cheaper than good food. Good food is much less expensive. But many people either don’t have the option (because they have no access to a grocery store) or they don’t know how to cook and don’t appreciate the nutritional issues. That must change. I met a woman last year who started a nonprofit that drives a mobile grocery store into impoverished areas, to provide them with fresh produce at reduced prices. She was astonished that even with that option most people still went to the convenience store to buy their food.

        Of course better yet would be to plant a couple of tomato plants in pots in the backyard. Food stamps pays for seeds and seeds are very cheap. I know people on food stamps who are growing a significant amount of their own food and eating very well.

        The important thing is to educate people about food (we do a lot with our local food bank and I can tell you that here the level of food ignorance is shocking) and to improve access to quality food.

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    • Bill says:

      I’m so tired of hearing the bogus claim that junk food is cheaper than real food. Yet it is commonly believed. If people on tight budgets quit buying junk food and start buying real whole foods their food spending will go down, not up. I’ve taken people to a grocery store and proven it to them. To compare the price of chicken nuggets to organic peaches (or any such similar comparison) is nonsense. I show them the price of potato chips versus the price of potatoes. Or the price of fast food versus the price of dried beans and rice. Or the price of Mt. Dew versus the price of flash-frozen vegetables. It’s just maddening that people believe processed food is cheaper than real food. Sigh.

      We’re in the same boat as you. We’re well under the poverty level now and we eat like royalty. We grow our own food, which I realize isn’t an option for everyone, but we’ve edited out a lot of expensive nonsense in our lives too. We live better now than we did when we had a high income.

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  10. ain't for city gals says:

    Well, I do think about this quite a bit. There are just the two of us and we are trying to buy all of our food at the farmers market this year. Yes, we could grow more of our own but right now we choose not to for a couple of reasons. We begrudge none of the money we spend at the farmers market (in fact we feel lucky to have this resource) but it is not cheap. It is sometimes hard to spend $3.50 for 3 beets or $3.50 for a bunch of maybe 6 carrots…..especially when we are buying for the freezer. I estimate we spend an average of $150 a week there. We are not affluent but we care about what we eat…but I do think it is very important not to judge….it is a process of thinking.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      It is people like you who make it possible for farmers like us to survive. Thanks for caring enough about food to do that.

      You’re right about the importance of not being judgmental. It wasn’t that long ago that I was happily chowing down on Doritos and fast food. We like to tell people that changing the way we choose food is a journey. It will be different for everyone.

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  11. EllaDee says:

    The G.O. relates proudly how his mother makes the best sponge cake he ever tasted. Sadly no longer. This is the same woman who now delights in and prefers food from packet or container. And cannot understand why in her words I “go to so much trouble” of fresh and home cooked food from scratch. She worked very hard not to have to spend her days cooking as she did as a young woman. So many of previous generations worked hard to afford us afford the perceived privilege and lifestyle of easy food, to get their kids educated and off the land that grows our food. It’s cost us dearly as a society in terms of health and culture.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      True. Part of the promise of the “atomic age” was that we would be relieved of such drudgery as growing and cooking food. One of the problems we run into when trying to promote urban gardening is the stigma that is associated with farm work, from a time when it was considered demeaning or inferior to other kinds of work. I think we’re coming to realize that surrendering our food supply to the industrial food complex was a bad idea.

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  12. allisonmohr says:

    I’m curious. What do you guys eat in the winter? I went to school at Averett, and the winters there were cold. So, what do you eat then?

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    • Bill says:

      We put up food during the summer and fall to eat in the winter (by canning, freezing, dehydrating, pickling, etc.). We try to orient our meals around the seasons and winter is the time for stored crops like potatoes and winter squash. It is also traditionally a time for meat, as it is the season for hunting and butchering farm animals. But I don’t mean to suggest that we raise all of our own food. I’d guess we raise about 80% of it but there are still things we have to buy of course.

      On the subject of food deserts, the grocery store at Ballou Park shopping center (which you’ll probably recall from your Averett days) is the closest one to the downtown impoverished area where some of our friends live. The bus service to it is difficult, especially if you’re trying to carry bags of groceries, so many of them have to buy their food from the convenience store that overcharges them for bad food. A classic food desert.

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  13. But it is absolutely true. I work at the local food pantry and we give out food I would never buy. — not that we are affluent, but healthy food has always been a priority for me.
    We’re messing up in schools by not teaching that. Or by making good tasting junk food too available. There were no convenience stores when I was growing up. (A long time ago…)

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    • Bill says:

      I fully agree. It bugs me that we give out food that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. But again today a friend who works at our local food bank was expressing her frustration at trying to get the folks who come there to eat healthy food. It’s a cycle that has to be broken or we’re going to keep paying a very high price as a society.

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