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.
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?
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.