A public service announcement about shaming people for what they eat and some common misconceptions about what it actually costs to eat well:
This pic has been going around facebook, I guess? My very naturalist foodie cousin posted it. And that’s cool for her, you know, I happen to enjoy cooking my meals too, but I do it in the full knowledge that I and my cousin are sitting a top a mountain of moneyed privilege that is inaccessible for a great many people. And those people don’t deserve to get shamed for that.
Let’s talk about what’s wrong with this picture. First, can you spot the dishonesty? It’s actually kind of breathtaking. Things like olive oil and seasonings have been marked at much less than a dollar. Of course, I understand that this person is probably just marking the cost of the actual portion..and I hear you saying, “but wait… doesn’t that still mean you’re saving money in the long run?” But I want you to think about it for a minute, and try to grasp the very simple fact that being poor means you don’t have enough money to save money in the long run.
Confusing? Not really. If you’re poor and you’ve got five dollars in your pocket, what is the better bet, spending that outright on one or two or three cheap meals for you and your loved ones, because you’re hungry now and you need food now, and maybe you’ve already been skipping meals this day or week…. orrrr…. you can buy a bottle of olive oil. Great! Now you’ve got a bottle of olive oil. It will impart slight amounts of flavor to your food and last for a while but it’s not really doing anything for you or your loved ones in the near term.
This applies to oils and seasonings the most of all, I think, but it also applies to packages of meat, blocks of cheese, and even bags of beans or rice (my usual 5 kilo bag of rice lasts my one person household a couple of months or more but costs 15-20$ outright) Not to mention many vegetables as well, which along with costing more up front, don’t keep as long as cheaper dry/instant foodstuffs. All those healthy Leafy things wilt pretty quickly, and don’t even get me started on the price of fresh fruit. Psh, fruit?
Often, I see these same types of criticism around lodging. Asking why would someone live in and out of cheap hostels and 24hr internet cafe’s, when they could totally afford a small apartment with the money they spend on those things in a month, is ignoring the fact that the person in question probably never has that much money all at one time. What landlord is going to let you drip the rent in as you get it? To say nothing of deposits! And you’re just not in a position to get yourself a month ahead of everything. You’re pretty much stuck.
And it’s the same thing with the groceries. You need to have the money up front to just buy that stuff you need to cook. It all needs to be bought and then gradually used. If you don’t already have oil and spices, or hell, saucepans and baking sheets, then the initial outlay of acquiring all you need to actually cook at home for less is going to be pretty hefty.
Fast food and quick meals like mac and cheese at the grocery store are ‘cheaper’ in that sense because if all you ever have on hand is a dollar or two for food, then at least you get to eat outright, instead of gradually buying ingredients to ‘one day’ make a meal or four.
But money is only part of it.
There’s time, too. I work one job and I’m done in the evenings. The worse thing that happens if I decide to spend an hour making soup for the week is that I don’t get to play video games as much that night. Maybe that pretty much describes your experience, too, but it’s time to open your eyes and realize that some people don’t just have ‘a job,’ they have two, or three, because they have to, because they need that many just to keep thing barely held together. Maybe they also have children or elderly relatives to care for. You can’t underestimate how much time a decent paying job buys you, or how much lacking that time can impact someone’s life for the worse.
Next, location, location, location. Have you considered that these people in question just don’t have a grocery store they can get to? Many locations have become food deserts, especially in poor rural or urban areas. Grocery stores have removed themselves to the suburbs and the only places available to actually buy food are fast food joints and convenience stores. Take a look at the USDA’s map to get a rough idea of how widespread the problem is.
And finally, because it deserves at least some mention, when poor people do manage to get assistance to be able to buy decent food at a grocery store, whether from food stamps or another program, they are almost guaranteed to face horrible attitudes and insults from other people in the store, even cashiers, who gripe about the quality of the food being purchased with food stamps.
And one really can’t win for losing when it comes to this kind of bitching either. If you buy decent food then you’re “wasting” “my taxpayer dollars” on more than you deserve and if you don’t, well, then you’re “wasting” them on junk. I recommend you read this post for more about that particular problem.
In conclusion, basically just sit down and think about what might actually be going on before you unreservedly bash someone for their eating habits, and especially before you put down entire groups (you know, ‘those people’), for not meeting standards that have been placed entirely out of their reach for the most part.