We have moved to a locale with specific health issues that become apparent almost the minute we slushed into our driveway. Parents seem as a whole less involved in providing their children with healthy food (my own recent example precipitated more comments from my readers than any blog entry in recent history). Diabetics shoot up insulin then consume soda and candy for dinner. Shoppers “save money” at Walmart but are forced to do so by driving motorized carts, their visible disability being obesity and no, not all of it is “glandular”. Naturally, Ralph and I are concerned with both the health and well-being of our community and the influences on our own family’s habits.
Compare this to the culture of the town we moved from – a populace that seemed more progressive and active about eating locally, organically, sustainably, macrobiotic(ally?), and responsibly. Along with the education, concerns, and passion came a fair bit of smugness, often bolstered by economic advantages that helped foster abilities and attitudes that the working poor simply don’t have the luxury of. I remember a comment by a parenting group peer – in a single-income lifestyle with an at-home parent, a comfortable income, living in a brand-spankin’-new house in a lovely neighborhood with two working cars – completely flummoxed at why “some people” (poor) would eat such processed and horrible-for-you foods. “I mean, it isn’t cheaper to eat that kind of food… apples are 39 cents a pound, potatoes are a couple bucks for five pounds…” I didn’t even know where to start with this comment but I knew it was unfair. Perhaps I should have at least pointed out that single-income families have one person at home who can peel and boil potatoes, and yes providing three healthy squares does take considerable more time, planning, and work than Kraft Mac ‘N’ Cheese does – or gee, what the fuck takes up half my life these days? I also remember feeling very sad as this person was reflecting an attitude many of us share; we who can and do stave off junk food and empty calories either silently or vocally judge those who have neither the education or ability to do so, carving ourselves off as separate / smarter / more moral than, well, the white-trash fatties.
Fortunately, this article (by Michael Pollan, author of the well-received book The Omnivore’s Dilemma) does a more elegant and helpful job approaching the subject*. I feel his explanations for how we really screw over the poor is ultimately undeveloped – mostly likely simply in the interests of brevity, since it’s already a lengthy article. One quote that summed up a bit for me and the responsibilities of people in my socio-economic slot:
“Yes, there are eaters who think it in their interest that food just be as cheap as possible, no matter how poor the quality. But there are many more who recognize the real cost of artificially cheap food â€” to their health, to the land, to the animals, to the public purse.”
Thank you, MK for the link.
* P.S. This peer was also incorrect: as we see in Mr. Pollan’s breakdown, calorie-for-calorie, it is cheaper to eat processed and unhealthy foods – not to mention often more convenient than fresh-prepared. Couple this with how overeating can be one form of “entertainment” most Americans can afford (as opposed to entertainments some Americans can afford, like oversea vacations or a boat or a weekend at a B&B) and the drug-like addiction and short-term soothing nature of corn syrup, saturated fats, and high-salt snack foods. Still. Michael Pollan is doubtless smarter and more well-researched than I and I encourage you to finish the article if you can; read his book(s) if you’re so inclined.