Food and Poverty

With the national debate on poverty, social programs, food stamps, welfare, all being brought up again, I’ve been thinking about my own relationship with food, and poverty. Here are two (or three, depending on how you count them) articles about poor people and food:


I suggest that you read Larry’s rather excellent fisking first, and follow up with the second. Both authors speak from experience, but both have very different tones. I think it is one thing to grow up poor where everyone grows up poor versus growing up in a culturally stratified city that has both generational wealth and poverty firmly entrenched into the makeup of its citizenry.

If you’ve read both articles, here’s my take on the matter. Poor people who are ashamed to be poor are suffering from their own pride, as Eleanor Roosevelt observed, no one can make you feel bad without your permission. However, poor people with no desire to better themselves and are content to be a drain on social services actually are morally contemptible in nearly every moral framework. However, we also live in a society where “generational welfare” and “generational poverty” are real issues, where “working the system” to “get your benefits” has become a cultural norm in some subsets of American society. And it is important to address that the “social safety net” which is meant to address “situational poverty” to help people who are “down on their luck” either through random chance or even as a consequence of their own decisions, versus “generational poverty” which views the social safety net as a lifestyle.

Believe it or not, wikipedia has a very succinct explanation between “situational poverty” and “generational poverty.”

The impact of “generational poverty” and “generational welfare” doesn’t discriminate, it has negative effects on generations of whites and blacks: even the Norwegians with their stereotypical independent and hardworking culture have noticed multi-generational welfare reliance:

So in this context of the social safety net, aka welfare, and all of the problems associated with multi-generational welfare culture, it isn’t surprising that people don’t want to support welfare as a lifestyle choice with steak, lobster, and Boston Cream Pie. After all, the association between “food stamp” assistance and obesity and diabetes is well documented so adding even more rich, fatty, “empty calories” to their diet is a disservice to the poor as well as the taxpayer: and

However, processed food makers lobby to keep their products available for purchase by food stamp, because that is big business.

Not surprisingly in a situation where corporations are working hard to earn that sweet, sweet food stamp income, being poor isn’t easy. Being poor and consuming a diet of consistently nutritionally healthy meals is also not easy. And by “not easy” I mean that it takes a certain amount of knowledge about physiology, nutrition, and cooking skills combined with intense discipline to consistently choose the more nutritionally sound option for caloric intake rather than eating convenient, processed food items. Larry is exactly correct that food stamps go a long way, as long as you use them to buy bags of potatoes, carrots, the cheapest canned tomatoes and chicken meat on the bone with skin (minimally processed, literally the cheapest protein you can purchase dang near anywhere in the US). And then you have to invest the time and effort to turn ingredients into food, but in doing so you can eat pretty good.

So yes, someone who is in a “situational poverty” experience probably should enjoy a steak or Boston Cream Pie as a special treat every once in a while. A person in a “generational poverty” situation should probably not, and do their absolute damndest to get an education that allows them to make consistently better choices that allow them to break the cycle of poverty, even if it means moving away from the culture and area that raised them.

One of my great fears in life is that I would have some type of accident, or situation, which denied me the ability to provide for my family. Thankfully my formative years were spent in the economically horrendous years of the 1980s, when my parents had to work under the table and rely on family, just to make ends meet. I remember dad sitting at his home desk and balancing the checkbook, paying bills, and discussing with mom how they were going to make things work out. I remember mom saying one night that she cooked dinner for 80 cents per person, and that there was meat, potatoes, and two vegetables on the table. I remember my dad sitting me down in one time and telling me, “Let the adults worry about the money” as he knew that a kid worrying about family finances didn’t help anyone, adult or child.

Poverty doesn’t have to be a life sentence. And no one should be shamed by others for being poor, that sort of judging isn’t helpful to actually getting people out of poverty. What is helpful is education, a little assistance, and a culture that celebrates people who do make it out of poverty.

When I started this blog, I did so with a series of articles about cooking. Every once in a while I still share a recipe, and I may go back to that with some sort of equipment buying guide and equipment maintenance from time time time. Honestly because of all the things I write about, the articles that pass on knowledge that can become a skill are the ones that are truly important.

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