Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Groceries for "The Masses"

“Historically, people of limited means have tended to scrape by on what’s locally available, while the wealthy have used their resources to draw in fancy food from far away. Now, that situation has turned upside down.” --from an article in Grist by Tom Philpott

Dawn (Frugal for Life) has picked up the discussion about low incomes and healthy food. Since I feed my family on a tight budget, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I thought the Grist article had a few good points, but its discussion about low income nutrition is as far from reality as the $90 Farmer's Dinners it describes.

Yes, people with motivation can find healthy food on any budget. All kinds of creative people online have demonstrated that fact. However, many people on a poverty level income lack adequate resources for healthy shopping. (And I am not including the families who have chosen to live below poverty level as a form of self-sufficiency or downsizing here.) Let's face it, if your family is hungry, a loaf of white bread is not so objectionable. If you get most of your information from television, you don't stand a chance in the grocery. Reading skills may be poor or nonexistent; picking up a copy of Superfoods at the library is not an option. If you don't have a computer or you work while the library is open, you can't just click away at the thousands of whole foods recipes online. If you lack transportation, the grocery with good produce may be reachable only once a month. Even if you have a yard to grow your own food, you need tools and energy to make a garden happen.

People in poverty can overcome these obstacles. I'm simply trying to point out that it's not as easy as the organic-fed, well-educated liberals would have you believe. At least not for everyone, and certainly not for an economic class of Americans whose healthy survival skills have been bred out by generations of "helpful" social programs. Let them eat cake, right?


mothersong said...

I am a huge advocate for healthy and organic foods, but I totally agree with this post. There is plenty of research that shows that inner city groceries have higher prices and less selection than suburban groceries, making it even more difficult for many low income families to feed themselves, whether healthy foods or not.

Even if people knew what to eat and better ways to shop, it is still extremely difficult to eat a mostly organic diet on a small income.

La Leche League offers some nutritional advice at their meetings, and they concentrate on the basics of shopping. They advocate shopping mainly the outside aisles of the store (that's where the meat, dairy and veggies usually are). They also advocate trying to eat foods in as close to their natural state as possible. I think those are basic, doable ideas for improving family nutrition regardless of income.

Meredith said...

I think our agricultural extension service offers some classes in community centers within low income neighborhoods, too. I'm not sure my LLL group ever discussed healthy shopping in the year I attended, but since all the other moms were of similar backgrounds, why bother?

mothersong said...

I wanted to add that La Leche League has a cookbook, called Whole Foods For The Whole Family that is very good for eating a healthier diet.

The recipes all come from LLL families, so they are "family tested" so to speak. They do use healthy ingredients, including wgole grains, tofu and soy flour, but nothing unusual or exotic. there are also lots of chicken and meat recipes, and lots of variations given for some recipes/

It's been one of my go-to recipe books for over 15 years, and it's still useful.

Laura Talbert said...

Very interesting post, Meredith. As someone who is at the poverty level ON PAPER, this is also a subject that is dear to me.

I think one of the hardest things to overcome for many people is habit. Many people eat what they grew up eating, and they cook they way they've seen it cooked. Even people who aren't poor are this way. My dad, who is an RN, still uses tons of butter, lard, and salt in everything he cooks. He loves white bread, white pasta, and lots of potatoes. He knows what he should be eating, but thinks his diet tastes "so much better". To learn to think about food, and cook it, differently (if nothing else!)is "too hard".

I see the same thing with my farmer relatives. They grow alot of their own food and raise their own beef. But the way they prepare it for eating? Well, if the green beans are black and floating in bacon grease, and there's gravy on just about everything, it doesn't really matter if it is organic. I once commented about it (nicely). They are convinced that they ARE eating healthy, it's homegrown after all.

All that to say, that even if you do buy super-healthy foods, organic and all that, it is just as important to know what to do with it once you've got it. That involves more than availability. It involves a new set of skills. When you're in survival mode, that may be the last thing on your mind. Even when you're not, its sometimes daunting.