The Privilege of Real Food

When I first published that thing I wrote about why poor people might not be able to just grow their own food (part 1 & part 2 ), I received some very passionate input. Most of it was a positive resounding cyber high five. These people came from a few different places. Most had been there themselves. Some had worked with poor people in some capacity, usually as a social worker or nutritionist, and had seen what I was talking about. Others… gardeners or foodies who themselves had wondered, “How would poor people do this?” but had never gone so far as to find the answer to that.

There were a few negative responses and that it what I want to talk about here. The wonderful non-private thing that the Internet is, I was also made privy to conversations about my posts from the negative point of view. They were rather enlightening to me.(sorry to all those homesteading and real food pages on Facebook .I admit to spying).
I swear, it’s not just to complain about people who disagree with me. There’s an important point I want to make about why it’s important that they get it. Not that they agree with me.I don’t care about that. It’s just important that they see the reality of what people in poverty are up against ,so they can help change the balance of privilege.

The people who didn’t like what I said felt that I was just making excuses for poor people who are making bad choices. They just weren’t grasping that there actually are people in America who don’t have a choice ,or if they do have choices, none of them are the ideal things to choose from. These responses came from people who would describe  themselves as being politically liberal and “real food advocates”. I needed to throw that out there in case you got the idea that only Conservative Republicans are the only ones out of touch with people in poverty. They aren’t.  In fact, some of the positive responses I got were from people who admitted they leaned quite to the right politically and completely understood what I was getting at…usually because they were gardeners and know firsthand that it ain’t no walk in the park.

Even after all of the reasons given about why people can’t grow their own food, I still got…”But there is no reason these people can’t go to Farmer’s Markets or buy better food at the store!”

See also: The Reasons Poor People Might Not Eat Healthy

Farmers’ Markets in particular are a perfect example of the privilege of real food. Only half the Farmers’ Markets in the United States even accept EBT. Even then, SNAP recipients have said that they still cannot afford to buy at the Farmer’s Market, unless that market is one that “doubles”. Some markets ,like my local one, will double your food stamp dollars, which makes it much for affordable but still, not very many markets do this.  Forgive me the easy imagery here but not everyone can hop in their Prius with their resusable grocery totes made from organic cotton and jaunt off to the Farmers’ Market for the afternoon.1069935_530376703696291_950144214_n

Real food and non-GMO advocates espouse a concern for our future, our health, the environment. I share this love of real food and from a low income perspective, I see that this advocacy doesn’t go much further than their own kitchens or blogs. Very little is said about the poor people who benefit the most from an overhaul of the current food system.
They are devoting the way they eat as a testament to the problems in our food system without recognizing that to do so is a privilege that poor people do not have.
Not being inclusive of the one group of people who is the most subjected to GMOs and unclean food is not complete activism.

They even openly scoff and laugh at the idea that there are people who don’t know how to cook. I could tell you stories about my time working at Head Start. Have you ever watched Jamie Oliver’s show Food Revolution? There’s this part where he’s showing children different vegetables and they have no idea. None. This isn’t just TV-life that it happens. It’s real. If people don’t know what a real food looks like, then how are they supposed to know what to do with it?

The one thing I know is this…
Making fun of people who don’t know something never taught them anything new. It also doesn’t make them want to know. Who wants to learn anything from a pretentious jerk who thinks they’re better than you? There is no shame in being ignorant. It just means you haven’t learned something yet. The person who knows something and chooses to laugh at the person who doesn’t know something is not a good person.

So, from where I’m sitting…in my kitchen, sipping my cheap, non-fair trade coffee that I bought with food stamps (an actual luxury when your food allowance is $2.00 per person a day), there are real food advocates out there who need to get off their ethically bred high horses and be real advocates. Make phone calls to farmers’ markets that don’t accept EBT and encourage them to do so. Teach a cooking class at a community center for low income people. Grow food specifically for the food pantry. Help start community gardens or CSAs with a sliding scale fee for low income people. Teach a basic gardening class. Find out what your local grocery stores do with the food they throw out and start a program that helps rescue that food from going into the trash and into people’s bellies.  Get involved politically.

And for the love of  the almighty kale, stop judging people for not buying local and organic produce or grass fed beef. Maybe they can’t. Consider your privilege and be grateful for the choices you have. It might help you gain a better perspective and become a better, real advocate.

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8 thoughts on “The Privilege of Real Food

  1. amen.

    and don’t even get me started on the “why is it that everyone on food stamps is so FAT!” bullshit. with the snickers and the sneers and the “We’d be doing them a FAVOR if they had to skip a few meals” crap. Cheap food is often all you can get. And to be honest, sometimes food is the only indulgence or pleasure you get when you’re poor. I can’t buy my son every lego set he wants, but I can make him his favorite meals, the home made pizza he loves.

  2. I’m an ethical vegan. Most of the vegans I know are middle-class folk who are very judgemental about carnist poor folk. They don’t consider all of the factors that you have mentioned. Additionally, they don’t consider TIME & STRESS factors. The logistics of managing without a car, depending on public transportation, also the stress of simply being poor; living in a rough neighborhood, dealing with friends&family drama, etc. Fast food is cheap AND convenient. When you have time limitation and increased stress, you’re not as likely to slice and dice and simmer over a crock pot of veggies and beans, when you’re tired and simply want to eat. Eat tasty and fast.
    Middle class folks have the LUXURY of time and are relatively stress free. The privilege image you have on this post sums it up perfectly.

  3. I hate when people say, “just take the bus to a Farmers Market!” It costs $2.50 to ride the bus. On my food stamp budget I’m only allowed to spend $2.22 on a meal. The frickin’ BUS costs more to rise than I’m allowed on a meal. Why would I waste that money on bus fare that costs more than the meal I’m trying to make?

  4. Here in the Uk my friend found that when he was on benefits he had to stop being vegan and then vegi as he simply did not have the money 😦 Eating badly is cheap and fills you up – the effects are long term but you can’t see that beyond the hunger in your belly. Allotments have become a middle class thing – time, effort and money are needed for them – if both parents work full time then there is not the energy or time to work one etc.. And they might still be needed assistance to live and feed themselves if those full time jobs are both min wage. 😦 It’s all so very broken and no one can judge from the outside as they can not know the ins and outs of a situation.

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