Pensioneering

29 Jan

It’s pension day and I’m grocery shopping. My brain, leaking from my shoes, battered by this new onset of crippling depression and angry, neglected to think through my visit.

Annoyed and buggy slammed, cornered in the soup aisle, I make it to the long line at the cash, where lots of stories about Michelle telling Oprah to “Back off!” lie, where breathlessly is asked “Where are the twins!!!”, an article obviously written by childless folk who don’t understand that new babies in a house full of kids get.sick.period.

No sign of my usual cooking magazines however. Pout.

The people ahead of me, a mother daughter combo it appears, split their order in two. One, a variety of items, the usual suspects in a grocery cart-milk, bread, fruit. The other, the older, the one tightly clutching her money in her hand, only has specifics. Ground beef, medium. Stew Beef. Sausage. Cheap cuts that go far.

And about 20 .79 cent pot pies.

She’s rung through, and carefully counts out even pennies from her wallet, putting a much smaller number of bills back in. It doesn’t look like much, and I’d wager it’s going to need to last her all month.

It doesn’t look like much at all. I glance down at my buggy, thinking still of all the things I didn’t buy because we don’t need them, or just plain can’t afford them, still irritated by how I’m likely blowing through 4 times her monthly food budget for 2 weeks at my house.

Mine suddenly looks like too much, even though I know it’s not that much at all. Even though I know the treats are few, the protein limited, the produce sparse this time of year.

It’s really not much at all.

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I read the studies. I read the books. I know the story-eat well, be well. Be kind to the wee chicks and piggies. Be a good consumer, study those labels, choose fair labour, hormone free, organic, local food.

On the eve of losing my current job, it amuses me that this kind of “choice” is one that is privileged. Choice is given only to those able to afford 5.39 for a dozen eggs for 25.00 for a broiler chicken. Choice is for people ready, able and willing to spend the extra on those local organic potatoes. Choice is only for those will the dollars to back their conscience up.

I’ve spent years running from my lower class upbringing. Running from casseroles and ground beef, running from begging my Dad for some money for a few groceries, bread, cereal. I thought I had finally found a comfort zone, finally begun to move into middle class territory. Perhaps take a trip, fix the house. Be solidly reliable and avoid HFCS.

It was obviously a lie. Now I face the spectre of meat pies and frozen corn yet again. Now I face the knowledge that I’m eating crap but can’t avoid it because I cannot afford it. I’ll face the lecturing of spaces where people can afford all the gadgets, all the things, the cars the phones the toys, I’ll face the reproaching of those who can’t understand how I can’t afford to feed my children only the best. How I can possibly stomach eating that apples, possibly covered in something.

Worse still, it will all be veiled in “help” and “suggestion”. It’s never aimed at chastising the lower class since, well, we all know the lower class doesn’t exist online. Being online in the first place-that’s privilege! Reading those posts, those studies, it’ means you’re literate, and you MUST not be lower class! How could you be?!

But there will be smiles and cupcakes and panda bears. It won’t be meant meanly. Just to educate.

I’ve been tired for awhile of the sanctimony connected to food, to class. I’ve done it myself, and it’s wrong, as I’ll quickly realize while lying awake recounting the deeds of the day. As I grow closer to lower class, to the fear of a buggy filled more with junk than with health, I feel it more. How dare I!

I don’t like things. I don’t like stuff. We don’t own a car, most of our larger belongings are old, and wear out before we replace them. Surrounded by a world, even online, of MORE MORE MORE!!!! stuff but then at the same time MORE MORE MORE!!! “healthy” foods, I feel bereft, I feel cheap and I feel like I shouldn’t be here.  Like the voices of those who must, even unwillingly, open and use that casserole book, who can only afford the free run eggs occasionally, that they aren’t heard, aren’t spoken, and can’t be, because the privilege of new cars and homes, optimal food choices, even if bought on borrowed time and dollars, they speak louder than I ever could.

I know better they’d say. I’m smart (but not educated-can’t quote that B.A. I never finished after my name) I read and I know the difference between the bleached white and the whole wheat flour, I know the difference between buying local and buying from Chile. I know better.

The implication that class done gone made me smarter, or would, is what only deepens my frustration. Because I may never rise above where we are financially.

But does it matter, at the end of the day? The money in your pocket, the food in your hand, the car that you drive, does it REALLY make it as you as day to day life might make it seem?

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It’s one of the last grocery trips on paychecks from this job, the buggy is interspersed with fair trade grapes, Canataloupe from Guatemala, local bread, chips from who knows where. I can be choosy, still. I can make decisions based on conscience, to a degree.

But the pot pies….they loom. Along with a healthy dose of shame.

43 Responses to “Pensioneering”

  1. Molly January 29, 2009 at 10:14 am #

    I wrote about a similar topic after reading a blog on the NY Times last year by cookbook author Mark Bittman. He was discussing an article he’d read by another cookbook author who had some fairly unorthodox ideas for how poor people should eat. The comments on his blog–and there were a lot of them–ran the gamut between “the poor should stop eating meat, bake their own bread and grow their own vegetables! They’re a drain on society and the environment with their processed foods!” to “the cultural bias of the poor is to eat badly! They can’t be helped!”

    I think the expectations we place on poor people to abide by a standard that is, quite frankly, almost impossible for those of us with five or six times their budget, are beyond ludacrous. As someone who’s interested in food and in a relevant discussion of how we can address a world food crisis which is almost inevitable, I appreciate your take on this very much.

  2. Jennifer January 29, 2009 at 10:25 am #

    Did you loose your job? Did I miss something.

    It is expensive to eat well, unfortunately. The HFCS has to be purged from our house, its in a lot of bread, tomato soup, ketchup, miracle whip, fruit snacks – most childrens snacks in general. Organic? Organic certification is extremely expensive here in Canada, so I talk to the farmer and trust in him. I buy local when I can find it.

    Our fridge is getting very empty, as is the pantry during this HFCS purge.

    I feed our family of 4 on $ 125.00 per week. I realize that for some people this may be much more than they can afford, but frankly we don’t go anywhere, or do anything to be able to eat well. We have 25 dollars a week for gas, 25 for spending and 25 for “extras” that come up like hair cuts, perscriptions etc. The extra left over (from the spending) usually goes towards a Costco run because meat and milk is much cheaper there. Luckily there are a lot of free activities provided for military families. I can use the gym for free, the pool for free and they have lots of mom and tot programs.

    We cannot live on Glens salary alone, but there are no jobs here, even with a degree, I am one of thousands applying for jobs. Literally. I’ve even considered working in retail or fast food, but what happens when Glen goes to Alberta for his deployment training for two months? Employers don’t like you taking a leave of absense after you started to work. If I work evenings, I have to pay a sitter more. Employers also don’t like you telling them what hours you can and cannot work.

    Thordora: Yep. Losing my job, if they ever get their shit together to give me the paperwork.

  3. sweetsalty kate January 29, 2009 at 10:31 am #

    Great post, thor. It’s interesting – I think the problem is that people such as the commenters on Mark Bittman’s blog (his books are vegetarian bibles, by the way, indispensible) are confusing the micro with the macro.

    From a macro view, they’re absolutely right. In general, ideally, “we” (meaning developed nations) should spend less effort feeding cattle than we do. Producing meat is expensive and toxic. That’s just the truth, no matter how you feel about eating it. Vegetarian protein *is* cheaper. By a fucking longshot. Buying meat for Justin and the boys is a shocker – adding a week’s worth of meat to our groceries increases our bill by 50%. Just for meat – and gutter meat, too. A small tray of chicken thighs that’s almost $20? Are you kidding me? Craaazy.

    Anyway.

    So sure. As a society we’d feed more people if we ate less meat, and we’d all be healthier for it. Not unreasonable, and not untrue. No condemnation but just *less*. It’s a dirty industry rife that costs too much to run, and that props itself up by perpetuating myths.

    But you can’t translate that ideal to judgement when you’re in line at the grocery store. It doesn’t transfer to a micro view. Because it’s a whole different kind of eating, and let’s face it. People who struggle for money are unlikely, at a stressful time in life, to adopt a new way of cooking and eating. As Molly notes it’s ridiculous and condescending to say “the poor should stop eating meat!”. We all could be doing lots of things differently, y’know?

  4. Kelly O January 29, 2009 at 10:31 am #

    I have a friend who was saying how she didn’t understand why people without much money buy such cheap food. For example, a whole chicken is less expensive than chicken nuggets. Why don’t they just buy a whole chicken?

    As someone who has been part of the working poor most of my life, I looked at her incredulously and said, “Because it takes an hour to roast a chicken. When I get home from work with the kids, I have 15 minutes to get dinner on the table before they start melting down. You’re damn right I buy chicken nuggets.”

  5. thordora January 29, 2009 at 10:35 am #

    We’d eat little to no meat if it was up to me. It’s not. I’ve cut the damn stuff back to maybe 30-40$ worth of the bill. But there’s milk and yoghurt and veggies and everything else people eat….

    Food is also just plain more EXPENSIVE here. We almost DIED when we moved here-we’d average maybe 50-60$ a week in Toronto. Now, we’re 150-200 a week, feeding 2-3 adults and 2 kids.

    I cannot WAIT to plant my garden, despite knowing it’s only warm here for like, a month a year.

  6. Bon January 29, 2009 at 10:52 am #

    the class stuff is the messiest stuff. i grew up like you did, poor and eating poor (though the fact that we HAD meat was something my mother took pride in). i still make tomato soup casserole.

    but mostly, yeh, i try to eat differently now. partly b/c the health stuff matters to me, but if that were the sole reason i wouldn’t be eating all those damn cookies and chocolate, let’s face it. mostly, i think, it’s class aspiration if i’m honest with myself…i don’t want to be one of the Walmart hordes making mindless choices and disavowing responsibility. it’s funny, b/c we make about half what most of our friends do here, but we’re the ones who eat like hipsters. this is the Maritimes, though…even the “upper classes” aren’t really.

    food has gotten way more expensive in the past couple of months, and with me on mat leave and all the appliance deaths we’re feeling a significant pinch. i’ve been cleaning out my freezer and learning to stretch foods in a way i haven’t had to since college…but i’m still buying organic produce b/c i want organic farming to succeed. and i’m trying to continue educating myself about how my choices actually impact.

  7. Mad January 29, 2009 at 11:12 am #

    I ate poor as a kid and I still eat poor. We don’t buy organic anything other than milk b/c as MadDad once said, “that’s the tipping point. That’s when we lose who we are and were.” My relative affluence now compared to when I was a kid is channeled towards convenience: cartons of juice rather than concentrate, that kind of thing.

    The problem with the class wars when it comes to food these days, is that everything seems to exist in an urban, large grocery store context. When we were kids, being poor meant eating leaf lettuce from you own garden and never affording fancy, imported ice berg lettuce. That’s changed entirely b/c so many people have been stripped of the ability to supplement their food supply through gardening. I don’t buy organic, but my freezer is still chock full of organic food from my own garden just as my own mother’s would have been 35 years ago. I have a larder of home made pickles and jam. But therein lies the rub: my middle class status has afforded me both the time and the real estate to live this way. It’s a complete reversal from 50 years ago.

  8. thordora January 29, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Dude-that’s what drives me insane, and I was thinking about that the other day. 50 years ago, processed cookies were da bomb because they were special. EVERYONE had homemade (whomever “everyone” was) Now, it’s a badge of honor as a mom to make something home made.

  9. bromac January 29, 2009 at 11:17 am #

    What is HFCS?

    Why are you not eating meat? I also heard you say little to no proteins?

    I must have missed some research because I was under the impression you NEED protein. I know it doesn’t have to come from red meat, I rarely eat it just b/c I don’t like meat. I am just quite confused.

    I am very healthy and eat pot pies and casseroles. I am within my weight range, have a healthy complexion and bones, and I exercise. I also eat a lot of fruit and get a daily dose of whey protein.

  10. thordora January 29, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    Sorry-I meant meat itself, as in RED RED MEAT.

    I eat lean chicken, legumes, the odd bit of tofu or soy protein. Everyone else likes red meat-so I try and get the cheaper items that go a little farther.

    I’m actually enjoing my casseroles. I just hate the implications that go with them.

  11. Aurelia January 29, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    HFCS is high fructose corn syrup, right? Sigh, yeah, it is in everything.

    Anyway, I’m sorry to hear about the job stuff, it does suck. And food should not cost that much right now, but from what I gather, the recent spike has occurred because the stuff on the shelves began production a year to 18 months ago and even if you buy locally, the price of oil impacts on food production because farmers have to use to operate farm machinery. It was high back then, and so it is high now.

    Oil has come down since, but that won’t help until later.

    Food is just ridiculous in Canada. Because of short seasons and because we have to ship it so far, it really is cheaper in big cities.

    I have relatives in the far north, and I am always stunned by what they have to pay for the same items. And they have no way of ever growing food there.

    There should be a tax subsidy for food based on income, you know? sigh..then again, I’m just a bit too much of a socialist I guess.

  12. Aurelia January 29, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    And dude, I don’t have to make casseroles, but I still do and i know people who do because they save time after work/school and are healthier, so maybe the implication is changing slowly.

    Maybe?

  13. Bon January 29, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    @Mad do you see buying organic food as stepping out of solidarity with roots?

    i see it more as supporting efforts – in some cases global efforts – to do decent things with soil and foil giants like Montsanto in their efforts to implement laws that force poor farmers to buy new seed every year, etc. locally, i’m not so fussy about organic, though i prefer to try to find potato farmers who don’t flood the soil with pesticides as it’s seriously fucking up the PEI water table. but i do eat stuff that comes from around the world…and so i pay the extra few cents for organic (if it’s only a few cents, some stuff i just won’t buy, esp. out of season) b/c even if we peel bananas and the pesticides don’t get to MY kids they do impact the kids in other areas significantly. but again, i’m still at a pretty naive stage in studying all this food chain stuff and figuring out what choices make what difference.

    i figure i stay true to my roots by living across from the liquor store. :) sometimes i think the real question for those of us who grew up poor is can we really retain class identity? i respect a lot of what i grew up with, but current class markers, as you point out in terms of cookies, are not necessarily what i grew up with.

    anyway, all my going on is probably exactly the position Thor wrote this in reaction to…so apologies for the soap box. food’s been a place i’ve chosen to prioritize making conscious choices, and so therefore, of course, i think it’s possible. but for the rest of my extended family, the sense of agency i get from this effort doesn’t seem to ring, at all. and that’s probably the biggest class leap right there…far more than money made or education completed.

  14. thordora January 29, 2009 at 12:44 pm #

    I much prefer anymore to stay local than worry about organic-although I must say that the 5 pounds of organic PEI potatoes I bought the other week were TOTALLY worth the 6 bucks. But it was hard, knowing they wouldn’t go far, despite tasting awesome.

    I try to focus on buying better for us, but there is a bit of “snobby” buying sometimes, and it’s a horrid thing, because it really should just be more about buying local “clean” food from people you might get to know at the market instead of that horrid bagged lettuce crap that, even if it IS organic, really isn’t THAT much better for you.

    The more reading I do about “organics” the more irritated and annoyed I become at how it really is just class branded-and in many cases, not much different from other stuff since organic classification can be spotty.

    My mother ONLY used iceburg-romaine was a HUGE treat in our house. Moving past that to field greens means I’ve totally surpassed her. :) My mother grew up on a farm, and likely at very well, very plain food. She could stretch a dollar to ten foodwise, but she really didn’t focus on fresh-and maybe THAT is the class marker for me, beyond anything else, fresh vs boxed or premade or frozen. The idea of buying fresh veg and fruit every few days always seemed so upper crust to me as a child, and in a way, still does.

  15. Mad January 29, 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    @bon: Winter’s the bitch, right? In summer, I grow stuff and can buy from the local Mennonite organic farmers at market in a way that I know invests in change for the planet and for the way the economy is structured.

    In winter, all I see are large-scale organic industries that package everything in plastic and ship them in from huge California grow-ops with labels that are resonant of sunshine and a pre-lapsarian world. Frankly, I have my doubts. So what I try to do is live more like my mother. This year I froze and canned enough tomatoes from the local market such that I haven’t had to buy any except the odd slicer since harvest. We’re still living off my frozen green beans. I eat apples and potatoes all winter long that come from Canada rather than buy too many exotic fruits and vegetables–when I was a kid we would buy 50lbs worth or local apples and 100lbs worth of local potatoes in Oct and keep them in the root cellar nibbling away through the winter months. I don’t have a root cellar so I riff on the theme.

    This is the kind of thing I would prefer to do to keep in touch with my roots and to stay healthy, help the planet &c, but, as I said above, doing so is now a marker of my new class status even if it is a direct reflection of my former one.

    When we were kids pop wasn’t cheaper than milk. There wasn’t an entire aisle of the grocery store devoted to .99 chips. Aside from .59 pot pies, frozen food wasn’t really all that available. It was the late 80s before I realized that the poor were becoming obese and also malnourished. Industry created this situation, but as Thor rightly points out, our collective middle class desire to do the right thing for the planet and for our health creates a culture of latent judgment for those who rely heavily on packaged food whether it be for financially reasons or vital time management.

  16. Mad January 29, 2009 at 2:06 pm #

    But I am waaaaay too judgy myself: thou shalt eat fair trade chocolate and drink fair trade coffee. These issues, the ones that concern you and me are real and do need to be addressed and discussed.

    And goddamn the HFCS but I am addicted to it and must have my mecury-laced granola bars to survive the hellish morning getting-off ritual.

  17. Andrea January 29, 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    Waitaminute–

    casseroles are lower class? really? you know I’ve been making casseroles since my teens (I make a mean mexican beans and rice casserole, it’s like vegetarian chili but with mushrooms) and it’s never occured to me that there are class associations. huh.

    and then i top off the casseroles w/ $15 cheese.

    anyway. diabetes has made for very different eating habits for me for a while now. there’s nothing in the apartment with HFCS in it because it’s, well, high-FRUCTOSE. which has made this latest crisis something of a flop here.

    though i’ll admit i’m incredibly frustrated at the media reaction, and a lot of the public reaction, of hand-wringing incredulity that decades of terrible land management and horrific farming practices have actually *contaminated the food supply.* it was bound to happen sooner or later. (that’s the treehugger in me speaking: i remember learning about this stuff fifteen years ago.)

    but yes, any overhaul in public food supply that rides on the back of individual choice is going to end up being a class issue. which is why any reforms have to be systemic. the imf and the world bank have a lot to answer for, if you ask me: more than anyone, those two insitutions (plus, domestically, a lot of inappropriate agricultural subsidies) are directly responsible for the mess we’re in. and indirectly responsible for why the alternatives to crap-food are so unbelievably expensive.

  18. EJ January 29, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    What about buying bulk items, either on your own or with a coop? Storing food bought when cheaper can save money. Planning ahead means you don’t need to buy chicken nuggets.
    Becoming better at buying good food and storing is not a question of if I need to learn this I will, but its good to start now because I will need this.

    Heres a way to start cheap:

    http://sharonastyk.com/2008/10/17/friday-food-storage-not-quite-so-quickie-5-week-beginner-food-storage/

  19. March January 29, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    you know I’m vegetarian, so our meat budget is non-existant, and pretty much that makes it to our cart only when the hubs specifically asks for it.

    we do buy a lot of frozen vegetables and fruit. it is indeed as nutritious as fresh and it lasts way longer. I only buy fresh produce to go for a few days at a time, other wise I end up not using it up to the max.
    I’ve never seen frozen vegetables as low class, but then again I was not raised here so maybe that is the difference, to me frozen vegetables are just practical.

    I don’t buy anything organic, not even milk. I’ll eat them if you give them to me for free, but won’t pay for them. my chemical engineering self tells me that the difference is not justified. to me organic products cater to people that think they know better and act holier than thou. most people I know that buy organic, are very proud of it, but then they go and eat in taco bell or mcdonalds… if you are that committed to organic and what “it stands for” you would not touch anything canned, packaged, or made in a fast food place. and since most of people that buy organic do not steer away from canned or packaged food altogther, they are just kidding themselves about what they are eating.

  20. Bon January 29, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    March…why is the difference not justified on a chemical level? soil samples in my very agricultural (and monofarmed) province suggest that organics really do make a difference in terms of soil health and water table pollution, particularly if livelihoods depend on NOT letting soil rejuvenate by lying fallow. but i’m not a scientist…you are. am interested.

    i figure buying organic contributes to an agricultural economy that begins to have some chance of being sustainable, by which i mean can actually feed the population without enviro meltdown through my kids’ lifetime and beyond. maybe. slim chance. but the more i learn the more i think one of the biggest barriers is the fact that organic has been posited as some kind of snotty lifestyle choice. maybe that’s the fault of its advocates – and i guess i’m part of that – but i hear more complaints about the holier-than-thouness than i actually hear preaching on the topic. uh, except for me here today, so i’ll stop.

    i think we all hate being judged, and organics have been posited with judgement by our current cultural climate…but i do still think they can make some positive impact and don’t need to be an all or nothing solution. very few people are all or nothing in any of their eating habits, be they local advocates or diehard canned soup and baloney lovers. and food is for all of us tied up with comfort and class and priorities, as Thor pointed out, so our reactions are probably about how we want to see ourselves and identify ourselves and that’s sensitive all around.

  21. misspudding January 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm #

    Ugh, good luck with cutting back. It takes a lot of extra effort when you’ve been used to doing a bit more with more. It’s kind of like goldfish, though. They grow to the size of the tank they inhabit. The more money we make, the more we spend. So, i’ve learned in the 7 or so months I’ve been off of work.

    As for the organic versus conventional, the meat vs. veggies arguments, I guess you have to do what works best. I grew up in an upper middle class area, but we toed the line between middle and lower middle. As such, we ate a lot of processed crap. I look back at how much money we spent on cheap white bread, velveeta, hot dogs and lunchmeat, peanut butter and kool-aid…ugh. Not saying I could do much better with three kids and really only one income, but I know that shopping the fringes of the store reaps so many more benefits than buying the processed shit. For me, it certainly helps that I can’t do wheat/oats (wheat is in most processed foods). As for not being able to get something on the table within 15 minutes, millions of moms in North America are using their damned crockpots. Sometimes, it blows…I hate eating mushy food sometimes, when I’d rather eat a nice filet of salmon and or beef tenderloin with a crisp salad, but for dollars, it’s awesome.

    When Anthony was an infant, it was all organic. Now that he’s older and we have a lot less money, it’s only organic on the big offenders (strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and milk)…and that’s if I’m feeling rich that week. We have to do meat in our house because my son and husband get incredibly thin and sick if we don’t. As for me, I was a vegetarian for a long stretch and got really ill, and it didn’t get better until I ate meat/chicken/fish again. Everyone’s different, though…I have friends who get ill from not following a vegetarian diet, and others who were vegetarians and didn’t get good cholesterol and such until they started eating meat (I know, counterintuitive, but true).

    Good luck with the new challenge. And, after a few weeks of not working in an environment that you hate/hated you, when the initial wave of anxiety ends, you’ll hopefully find that you feel better about things. I sure did…but now I wouldn’t mind having money again. Sigh…

  22. CharmingBitch January 29, 2009 at 7:31 pm #

    In my first marriage, right out the gate we went from being a family of 2 to family of 5 when we got custody of his (ex husband’s) sister’s kids. That was a quick and fast lesson on economics. I grew up lower to middle class and thankfully my parents instilled in me early on that it never, ever makes sense to spend more than you make and to spend wisely. Regardless, it was a tough, tight five years but we all made it through relatively unscathed and certainly not starving (and back then, even had there been a strong movement toward organics, it never would have been on our radar; we had 2 full time jobs, both in school, it just wouldn’t have worked, period).

    Fast forward to the fall of last year with current husband. Again, from a family of 2 to a family of 6 inside of a month. On one income. Eeeeeeek. So, yeah, again, organics are not even on the radar but also again spending wisely and budgeting save the day, or the dinner, I suppose. We eat very little meat (save for what we buy from Angel Food once a month) and we plan meals in advance. Like, cooking meals for the week on Sunday so we can’t default to ‘ordering pizza’ too, too often. But that ordering is an option even SOMETIMES is a class divider much that same way that organics vs non is, really. My staying home with all these kids, also an indicator of privilege because I don’t know many families with four kids that can afford for a parent to stay home and have basic needs met. Granted, we moved back to Mississippi, rural MS at that, where the cost of living is way lower than most places but STILL AGAIN: We had the option and made the choice to move. Not an easy task for most people but husband’s job is portable and we needed to get back home (home for me anyway, D isn’t from the south). Add a triple diagnoses of cancer for me and yeah, even given all of the privilege that we have, some things happen that you have ZERO control over and all you can do is the best you can do.

    All that babbling is just to say, it almost always comes down to an issue of socioeconomic status and the willingness to admit that and see, as Kate said, there is a macro/micro view of all things that effect society and the choices we make, the choices we’re ABLE to make will hopefully make us a more helpful, solution oriented society and less apt to judge people whose shoes we have no idea how to fill.

  23. ebj123 January 29, 2009 at 8:02 pm #

    Fascinating.
    This is such a hot button issue for me.
    I spend way more than I would like to on groceries. I do have a budget, and we try not to go over it, but the second I start nickel and diming my groceries, I am reduced to the ten year old me being yelled at by my father because our grocery bill was too high. I just can’t go back to that place.

    We eat very little processed food because my son and I have celiac disease and so we don’t have any choice in the matter. It’s incredibly frustrating to pay $7 dollars for a bag of gluten free pretzels, but in some ways it’s liberating – it makes fresh fruits and vegetables seem like a great deal.

  24. Hannah January 29, 2009 at 8:52 pm #

    I wrote a big long comment about what we eat, and what it costs, and blah blah blah, and then I lost the thread of what I was going to say.

    So I’ll say this instead. Food banks locally were receiving so many donations of ramen noodles that they actually had to put signs in all the drop boxes at the grocery stores reminding people not to bother. The idea that people will wander through the grocery store buying a range of food for their own family, then toss $5 worth of sodium and chemicals into the “poor people” bin so they can feel better about themselves just depresses me.

    I often catch myself looking at other people’s carts and wondering how they can eat the processed garbage they do, but I try not to judge because I know that sadly, it is the real crap that is most affordable.

    We currently have four (!) kinds of milk in the fridge because each of us has a different preference as to the level of fat. We go through probably 12 litres of milk a week (yes, at Nova Scotia’s exorbitant milk prices; that’s $3.70 for a two-litre carton). But I grew up drinking powdered milk because we were too poor for the good stuff, and so I refuse to limit the amount we go through even though we could take a nice vacation on what we spend on moo-juice.

    Because I have gone without and know how hard it is to feel like you can’t buy certain things, I feel terrible guilt sometimes about what we spend on groceries. This even before I start worrying about the whole organic / local / garlic imported from China thing, which I can’t even comment about because mah head? it will explode.

    It depresses me to no end that it is assumed worrying about the safety of our food supply is a pastime of elites and stay-at-home moms who have nothing better to do. It should be a major issue for all of us. Making sure that the food supply is stable and safe would allow more people to make healthier choices; that would in turn lessen the burden on the health care system; and the money saved on sick care could be put into wellness prevention and strengthening the social safety net for those people who aren’t as well off.

    It’s too bad that no one has the political will to really tackle these issues head-on, but I think it’s an uncomfortable subject for most people – as the reaction to this post shows.

  25. thordora January 29, 2009 at 10:55 pm #

    You know Hannah, it’s funny. Awhile back where I work, one team won some contest, and they decided to donate the prize money to the food bank-totally awesome, right?

    They picked two items to buy in bulk-peanut butter (yay!) and KRAFT DINNER.

    When I pointed out that perhaps the poor would like some normal pasta which is cheaper, and some canned tomatoes/paste they could make a sauce with, I was informed that “the food bank list said KD was ok, and it’ nutritous!”

    I.e.-the poor people will eat it, so shut up.

    I was so nauseated. When I remember to drop some stuff in the bins, I always try and get stuff I would WANT to eat because I like it, even tofu sometimes for the poor veggies. The insinutation was totally there-the poor will, and do, eat crap.

    And for the record, I do LOVE casseroles-my MIL got me this cookbook that turned out to be awesome, full of cheapish stuff I could make quickly using relatively good food. Just pointing out my love for the casserole. :)

  26. Mad Hatter January 30, 2009 at 12:10 am #

    I blew my lid a couple a years ago in a post about the Curves’ Food Drive. There’s a reason (well, several) why I quit Curves in haste. You’d think that people who frequent a gym would understand the importance of nutrition vs empty carbs.

  27. thordora January 30, 2009 at 12:15 am #

    Don’t even get me started on Curves. UGH.

  28. Hannah January 30, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    Hey Mad, just found your Curves posts. Freakin’ hilarious – and horrible too. You should re-post those. They are brilliant.

  29. Shana January 30, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Those frozen pot pies can be delicious. :) They were a staple of both my childhood and graduate school days. Just a warning, though: look at the labels for sodium content. On the Michelina’s brands, which also happen to be the most delicious (do you get Michelina’s where you are?), one pot pie has up to 97% of the recommended intake of sodium for the day! Yikes.

  30. thordora January 30, 2009 at 1:12 pm #

    HOLY SHIT.

    That’s like the KFC my husband had last night. He was guzzling the water, and I was thankful I had none.

    I actually found vegatable pot pies the other day. They were kick ass.

  31. bea January 30, 2009 at 6:34 pm #

    I met yesterday with the women who will be taking over the course I developed a couple of years ago for teen moms. Three of the nine weeks are hands-on cooking classes focusing on cheap, nutritious food. I had to bite my tongue because I wanted to suggest the new staple in Bub’s diet: whole wheat spaghetti noodles with parmesan cheese. Almost any kid will eat this, and it’s amazingly nutritious – there’s even protein in those whole wheat noodles. But but but – the whole wheat noodles are three times as expensive as the white ones (at least) so how realistic is that? It’s depressing.

  32. laughinginpa January 31, 2009 at 2:42 am #

    You all may find this funny. DH, who has a well-paying job (so I won’t complain about my grocery bill), works with a guy (older also with a well-paying job). The other guy is a software engineer who must be raking in over $120,000/year. He has 6 kids and a SAHwife. They have a $.5M home (I’ve seen it-beautiful. Nothing like my little old house, believe me). They spare no expense to buy nice things to impress people (house, cars, clothes).
    Guess what the guy brings to lunch at work EVERY day? (He never, ever pays to eat out). 2 packs of ramien and one of those big bottles of a cheap, fake Mountain Dew. Every day!
    Years ago they had some big project and had to work late. Everyone signed up to bring a dinner one night. Guess what his contribution was? McDonald’s cheeseburgers! About 30 of them (and that was all). This was back when Mickey D’s did that 79 cent burger thing once a week. He signed up for the day after that, so he could go buy a bunch of burgers and take them in the next day. Apparently his entire family went to Mickey D’s one night a week (cheap burger night). He’d tell the kids to eat up, and they’d buy burgers to take home for the next night.
    This guy only spends $$ on things that last and that will be around to impress people. He could afford healthy food, he has a college degree and should know better, but he doesn’t want to spend the $$. Is that sad? (You may be able to guess, but his children are also overweight- no fault of theirs.)

  33. March February 1, 2009 at 11:52 am #

    Bon, the level of pesticides aproved in the agriculture industry to begin with are not the level that are spoken of in the “organic” culture. and further more, organic does not necessarily mean chemical free, they use the words pesticide free, but many times the plants have received chemicals that do not fit into the pesticide definition.

    it does not happen in all the organic food, but you must know the exact source of your food to know if it’s truly chemical and pesticide free. most of what is marketed in the grocery stores has had some chemical treatment and thus is not much different from regular produce.

    there is a list of 7-8 fruits/vegetables that hold more residue of any chemical/pesticide that has been used on them (don’t remember them all right now I’m still sleepy, but spinahc and strawberries are among them) and when it comes to those if you’re worried, then it’s more justified your concern, but still the amount you’d find in them would require you to eat pounds of it at a time to be affected in any way.

    when it comes to anything that has been processed/packaged, organic is just a marketing scheme. anything that has been packaged has been added something that nature did not put there to keep it from spoiling in the can/package thus making it not organic as nature never intended for food to be in a can or a box for months at a time.

    there is research that shows that organic labeling is more marketing than anything else.

    there are plenty of farmers in the US that even though don’t qualify for the organic level, are doing everything right in keeping the soil as healthy as possible and not adding unnecessary chemicals to their crops.

    of course this is just my opinion based on what I know and the research I’ve done on my own. when the whole organic craze started I actually took the time to do “homework” on it. my husband thought I was crazy.

    I can understand the produce, but never buy anything packaged/can that says organic, it’s just a word they slap on the label.

  34. March February 1, 2009 at 12:07 pm #

    and I’ll tell you what one of my teachers in Enginnering said to me after we started visiting food processing plants: “if people were completely aware of what goes into the packaging/canning of their food they would stop eating it all together” she also told me that you have to understand the level of risk you take.
    I personally don’t buy that much canned food, for sure I rarely buy canned vegetables (thor, actually frozen veggies are way healthier than canned if you are worried about chemicals). what I normally buy canned is tomatoes (any form), olives, mushrooms. The rest I try to buy either dry (beans, lentils, rice) I buy oatmeal in bulk (it’s cheaper and not packaged). I’m aware of what is in those cans and I’m ok with consuming those products.
    Frozen vegetables are great cause they need no additives to stay preserved, the freezing process takes care of that. I do buy a good amount of frozen vegetables for anything that will be cooked.
    and the rest I buy fresh… but we don’t buy that much, I try to not buy anything that we will not eat in the days ahead otherwise I know most likely it’ll go bad without eating it.

  35. Bon February 1, 2009 at 9:39 pm #

    March, thanks so much for coming back and explaining all that…i really appreciate it.

    i hear what you’re saying particularly in terms of individual pesticide intake…like i said above, for me i make the organic produce choices b/c my kid wants bananas and i would like to see organic (even organic-ish?) banana farming be viable for growers. i see it as part of the big chain of things, not entirely in terms of individual health. i eat waaay too much HFCS in the form of Nibs to get too high and mighty on that front.

    back to your original point, Thor…the anxiety of looming unemployment and rising prices sucks.

  36. Holly February 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm #

    Nail? You’ve been hit on the head.

  37. Shelli March 15, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    I just read this, sent here by “Best Just Posts of 2009″, and I’m in tears. This is my life. I absolutely relate to what you’ve written. Thank you for such a wonderful writing.

    • thordora March 15, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

      Thank you. The class warfare in my cart (and heart) drives me batty. :D

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