Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Do the poor eat badly because #realfood is too expensive?

Ahh ... the age old question.

On of my Twitter Tweeps (@keithnorris of Theory to Practice thank you for the link! *mwah!*) tweeted a link to this article: "eating nutritiously a struggle when money is scarce".

In it they highlight a family in PA who live "well below the poverty level" and have $600 in food stamps to feed 5 people. They go on to talk about the 8 year old boy, Alex, and how he's "one of 17 million children who live in U.S. households where getting enough food is a challenge."

I call total boolsheet on the whole affair.

(For the record, we here at the Secret hidden Lair make just a hair's bredth above the 2010 federal poverty line for a family of 7)

Let's take a look at some items in the article:

Oh, before we start, number one, the 8 year old pictured can't be too hungry; he's overweight. (He's also fishbelly pale. Probably never goes outside and plays and is severely vitamin D deficient but all that's just conjecture on my part.)

Go back and take a look at Alex.

Now here's my own son, Boy, also age 8 (notice the base tan - he's very fair skinned normally):

Here's all my boys just in case you're unfamiliar with my blog and think I'm hiding a chunky one:

(Apologies for the severe croppage - both baby boys were buck arse nekkid!)

OK, on with the debunking.

"Alex's mom, Connie Williamson, says she tries to give her son healthy food but doesn't always succeed.
"When he gets up on his own, he'll go find what he wants," she says. "He'll get a hot dog bun, or get a piece of bread. He'll get an ice pop or something."
And that's exactly what he did early one morning, before his family headed out to the local food pantry. Alex ate a blue ice pop for breakfast."

OK, uhm ... mommy FAIL.  Why is Alex getting up on his own?  I make it a point to wake up before any of my family so that breakfast is getting started when they wake.  Perhaps his mom works nights. Fair enough. Does dad, as well?  Also, my children have been taught by me to NEVER get food without asking first. Even if I did sleep late, my 8 year old would never dream of grabbing a chunk of frozen sugar as his first meal!  My kids get out of bed and begin getting set up for a healthy day by getting out plates, peeling bananas, passing out daily vitamins, etc, whilst I'm checking my email!

Oh and if the family got up to go to the food pantry why didn't mom make her son a good breakfast?  If you can afford hotdog buns (HFCS white bread bundles of death) and ice pops then why didn't you buy some FOOD instead?

"Connie Williamson says it's not easy on a tight budget. She spends hours driving around each month looking for deals."

Well that's a huge waste of petrol.  Wouldn't that petrol be better spent on food?  If you watch the sales papers and plan your trips you don't HAVE to do this. hey, better yet, since she has a car, why doesn't she go to one of the eighteen Wal Mart stores in her own town?!  They match prices so you don't have to shop anywhere else.

""You can get leaner cuts of meat, but then they're more expensive," she says. "You can get fresh fruit every couple of days and blow half of your budget on fresh fruits and vegetables in a week's time, easy.""

... says mom.  "Oh, horseshit!", says Blue.  Get the cheap, fatty chunks of meat - they are better for you. Buy produce in season, buy locally (o hai, howzabout the Carlisle Farmer's Market?)  The family even has a garden for Cthulhu's sake:

"For example, the Williamsons have a garden behind their apartment in downtown Carlisle. They grow lots of healthy food — zucchini, peppers and Brussels sprouts. But when Alex was thirsty after a walk, his mother gave him a plastic water bottle filled with orange soda."

FAIL much there, mom?  What's wrong with, oh, WATER?  Oh sob, sob, I have to feed my baby boy orange soda and make him fat and unhealthy because I am soooo pooooooor and can't afford ... tap water?

It gets better (or worse):

"Elaine Livas, who runs Project SHARE, the local food pantry, says she sees it all time.
"A gallon of milk is $3-something. A bottle of orange soda is 89 cents," she says. "Do the math.""

Do you have kids, Ms Livas?  No human over the age of 2 needs milk!  We do need water and ... wait for it ... it's FREAKIN' FREE!

"(in)the Williamsons' kitchen in Carlisle ... contradictions swirl about like stew. The refrigerator and pantry are often filled with food — but the family sometimes has to go to the local soup kitchen to make ends meet."

Oh!  Oh!  I can answer this conundrum: it's easier to spend your 600 quid of food stamps on junk like popsicles and chocolate and then get your 'real' food at the local food pantry and soup kitchen.

"Alex ... admits he has enough to eat. It's just not always what he wants. He says he especially doesn't like it when his mother makes Brussels sprouts for dinner.

His 14-year-old sister, Beanna, tries to explain.
"He more or less just worries about if there's going to be enough food that he likes or if we have something that he likes," she says. "He's really picky about what he wants."
As Beanna talks, Alex goes to the refrigerator for some chocolate. He gets upset when his sister tells him he can only have one piece."

He's picky about what he eats?  Uhm, hungry people are not picky about what they eat.  They are grateful to have food.  

So I find this whole article bogus and not a little enraging. Do I think there are no hungry people in America?  Absolutely not.  I know there are.  There are kids who really don't get anything to eat before school because there is no food in the house either due to poverty or because mom bought drugs, cigarettes, or alcohol instead.

Do I think that all this poor health should be blamed on poor moms? Absolutely not. There are good women out there who are forced to work 2 and 3 jobs just to pay the bills.  They have to leave their kids in the charge of others, or worse, on their own for hours a day.  For some of them this state of affairs in not their fault and they are doing the best they can.

But people like the Williamsons?  I can't be absolutely positive given the info in the article but they sure seem to me like the dozens of families I've known in my life who choose to lounge about and live off the system and then cry "poor" for every handout they can get giving NO thought to the health of their children.

I work very hard every day.  I am a self employed graphic designer, I keep my house, do all the grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, cleaning, etc for all 7 of us, plus I work on our small farm. Yet I manage to cook three good meals a day because it is so important for my children's health.

How do I do it?  I can't afford grass-fed beef or organic vegetables but we have fresh eggs, put  pig in the freezer each year, plus I buy most of our produce from local farmers. I take leftovers and extras from anyone who's willing, I dumpster dive, never pass up garden overflows, and even trade if I can.

I feed my family whole, real food three times a day and I do it on less than $600 per month - the amount of foodstamps the Williamsons get.

For seven of us.

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posted by MrsEvilGenius @ 4:35 pm   5 comments


At 5:52 pm, Anonymous Katherine said...

From the article:

"I have no doubt there are kids that go to school hungry," he said. "But I have to admit, every time I hear that we have an obesity problem and everybody's going hungry, how do you reconcile the two?"

Well, they need to reanalyze the sugar content of what they're feeding people, for starters. While I'm not Paleo like Blue or a "syn-counter" like Becky, I have a pretty good idea of healthy and unhealthy eating, and orange soda and popsicles should NEVER be a diet staple. Shouldn't be anywhere near that house if they're surviving on food stamps and soup kitchens unless it's a surprised donated treat from the pantry.

One thing I like about the WIC program in CA (dunno about other states) is that unlike food stamps, WIC coupons only go to certain healthy foods (tuna, milk, cheese, carrots, etc) . I REALLY think food stamps should go the same way.

When I was 16 or 17, my aunt got laid off from her nursing job. A single mom with a 12 year old son, she fell to taking food stamps while she picked up a min wage temp job and had me come hang out with my cousin a couple times a week, check his homework and make sure he didn't burn the house down at dinner.

One ridiculously hot summer day, all there was in the kitchen was cooking type food. There wasn't even bread for a peanut butter sandwich. After some pondering, I called my aunt for permission to walk 10 blocks to the small family grocery to pick up some fruit salad or SOMETHING we didn't have to put in the oven. Her response?

"I have $4 in food stamps left. Just go down to 7-11 and buy some slurpees. That should hold you until dark, which will make the oven less of a hassle."

Slurpees, for dinner? OMG.

Luckily for me, 7-11 won't let you buy slurpees with food stamps. We bought a pack of american cheese instead, disgruntled and swearing next time to bring cold food and maybe hang out at the air conditioned library instead of the baseball park.

Now, granted, my aunt has had terrible eating habits since she left the Army in 1982, but still. I feel this type of thing is all too common. Poor people aren't necessarily too poor to buy healthy food; they just tend to eat what they know. Everybody does.
But those who can't afford to shop on their own need more than just classes where they advise healthy choices. They also need to be handed the ingredients for these meals. Food stamps should have directives: X dollars for vegetables, fresh, frozen or canned. X for fruit, not including canned with heavy syrup. X for meat, dairy and grains, maybe a small miscellaneous amount for an occasional treat or spices or condiments, but let's face it, it's not an entitlement, and will probably be used for crap food, but there's hope that at least some of them will use it properly.

It's common knowledge that half the aisles (or more! depending on the store) in your average grocery store are full of unhealthy, processed, useless chemicals marginally classified as "food". For short periods of time, this stuff may not kill you. I for one remember a month or two when Top Ramen, white rice, and hot dogs were present in at least 2 meals a day while my mother tried to stabilize the budget. But these should not be staples. They may keep people from dying, but you can't really thrive on them. But more and more are relying on them, and places like McDonald's and Taco Bell, for their health, which is clearly evident in the growing obesity epidemic and the sad effects it's having on everything from health care to airline seats.

I fear that the human race is edging ever closer to the fat blobs in that Wall E movie. :( A major overhaul of government assistance is only one of many steps needed to bring America back to their senses.

At 5:54 pm, Blogger moonduster said...

I have to agree with everything you wrote! I think sometimes buying junk is really just the lazy way to feed our kids. I absolutely believe that, while it's okay for a child to have something sweet once in a while, the bulk of their food should be healthy, fresh and as close to the way mother-nature created it as possible.

At 5:57 pm, Blogger moonduster said...

P.S. Excellent comment posted by Katherine! Well-thought out and worth reading.

At 7:10 am, Blogger MrsEvilGenius said...

Brilliant comment, Katherine! I agree with you and Rebecca entirely.

Food stamps SHOULD be specific, like WIC checks. WIC now issues checks specifically for farm fresh produce and the 'farmer's market' comes right to the WIC office once a week. They also now do regular WIC checks for produce from the store.

Sadly, most WIC recipients around here just throw them away, or, at best, use every one of them for sugar-bomb fruit like bananas and watermelon. :(

At 11:04 pm, Anonymous Katherine said...

Oh, so check this out...

I went to walmart to kill time bc I was bored and stuck in rush hour traffic... figured it'd be better to walk around than burn gas for an hour. Anyhoo....

I wind up finding those habenero bbq almonds DH has been asking me to mail him, so I grab 2 cans, and then Squeak starts whining bc she's hungry, so I pop over to grocery (it still weirds me out to see groceries in Walmart. They weren't allowed to do that in CA until recently) and grab her an apple, and after watching the fish swim around in pets for 30 min or so, we go to check out, so she can eat her apple in the truck bed.

Got in the "speedy checkout" lane (HA!) behind a family of 3. After standing in line 15 min, I catalogued their cart out of boredom, thinking of this post. I saved it to my phone memos. LOL

4 liters of soda (1 bottle of coke, 1 orange soda)

1 bottle of apple juice (WIC coupon)

2 containers of gerber graduates cookies/crackers

1 head of cabbage

1 bag of spicy cheetos

3 packs of hotdogs

1 packs of top ramen (3 shrimp, 1 beef)

1 cans of progresso chunky soup

1 bag of ruffles chips

total: More than $30, less than $40. I REALLY hope that juice coupon was like their last WIC coupon bc it's the end of the month, and that they didn't toss the healthy ones. OMFG. The only stuff I'd touch out of there is hot dogs, cabbage, and the coke, which I don't have often bc I am SUPER caffeine sensitive. Most of that crap I wouldn't touch with a 20 foot pole. *gag*

Then I saw the guy at the register next to me. He had 5 cases of Slimfast and a bag of sunflower seeds. Only at Walmart, I tell ya. Sheesh.

I spent $30 or so at Fresh and Easy last week... I bought 6 roma tomatoes, a bag of spinach leaves, 6 cedar planks for my BBQ ($2 per 2 pack! great deal!) A couple packs of salmon, a tub of greek yogurt, a big fat 4lb family pack of bone in pork chops, and 2 cases of water (I DO drink a lot of bottled water- SoCal water tastes SO nasty, and it has a chlorine taste in the summer. Even my Brita filter doesn't get all the funk out of the flavor. :( Still looking for alternatives!)

I still have about 4 pork chops left (ate 6 already), the salmon was great, I still have 3/4 case of water and 5 planks left, and the salmon was great. I realize that wasn't a week's worth of food, but it fed me and the kid for about 3 days, and then another dinner with BF over, just add potatoes and some fruit from the backyard.

Am I that far off in saying I think my money went further? Walmart is supposed to have WAY lower prices than my F&E. But IMO it depends on what you buy. I can't get 6 tomatoes for 98 cents anywhere else, including my farmer's market. My plants have about 10 more days (maybe longer if there's more overcast beautiful days like today)until the tomatoes are ready, but I understand not many people like growing them (the plants DO stink, I won't argue) or even eating them, but they're sooo yummy! LOL


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