Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Food for Thought

It's turning out to be harder than I thought to sort out my thoughts here and write the post I promised yesterday. Lisa's comments on my two previous posts held much, pardon the pun, food for thought. Her points about food stamp shoppers not knowing how to cook, what to do with "those inexpensive foodstuffs" like rice, pasta, beans, flour, would have seemed more judgmental and critical to me had she not included this: "Let's face it, our culture no longer knows how to feed itself properly, especially using scratch ingredients."

Because these are some very true facts. It isn't just the food stamp population looking for fast and easy prepared foods and meals. (I almost said nutrition, but that's making a big assumption.) It's our general culture. Check out Trader Joe's around five PM any weekday and you'll see crowds of people cruising the frozen entrée aisles picking up dinner on their way home from work. The same can be said for the prepared food counters at Whole Foods, where dinner may be fast and easy, but it sure ain't cheap, I'd bet the farm that these customers aren't using food stamps. I was picking up something myself one evening at the Whole Foods near the building where I teach, when a guy waiting in line said to me: "Sure beats cooking, heh?" I couldn't really agree with him - my cooking is much better than Whole Foods' but my time constraints on a teaching day mean that sometimes I too pick up supper on the way home.

However, at the same time that many of us think Mac and Cheese can only come out of a box by Kraft, many others of us in our schizoid culture are moving into the Slow Food, the Locavore, the Real Food, movements and cooking like we never have before. Many of us are growing as much of our food as we can, given space and time constraints, shopping at Farmers' and Growers' Markets, buying in bulk at our natural food groceries and Co-Ops. This is a strange and interesting divide, one I would like to investigate further.

I've used the phrase "time constraints" twice now in writing this, and I think this may be one of the biggest issues. Maybe people do know more about scratch, or slow, cooking than we assume, but maybe many of us just don't have the time to do it. Many of those being squeezed out by this recession are still the working poor. They may go to the food bank, shop with the help of WIC, EBT or CSFP, but they still have to get to and from jobs, pick up kids from care, and often, as Jackie notes in her comment, shop without the luxury of their own transportation. (...But one of the biggest problems is that the people with the greatest needs often live too far from stores like Winco to take advantage of them. The Oregonian had a story last year that followed a mom and her daughters as they used multi transfer bus trips to do their grocery shopping. It wasn't easy and it took several hours. It's bad enough to have a limited budget; it's even worse when you have to do your shopping at your state's version of a store that's one step up from a Seven 11.)
(To Be Continued Later)


alphawoman said...

I am so glad to see you're back!

Anonymous said...

I've been following this discussion and I haven't noticed any one comment on the lack of available tools to cook with. If there has been discussion of this, please pardon my miss.
If people are having to go on food stamps, who's to say what else they are having trouble paying for: the electric bill; the gas bill, the water bill?
What are the living conditions? Is there a working stove? If there has been long term poverty or if someone had to drastically downsize, even living in a weekly motel rental situation...What do they have to work with to cook?
One thing that could be helpful in educating and even in donation programs would be utilizing the crock pot more. Of course, you are still talking about needing an energy source.
Poverty and hunger are complicated issues that have more than one element to consider.
Just some thoughts that occurred to me.


JACKIE said...

Aine has a really good point about having the tools to cook with. Barbara Ehrenreich described a similar situation in Nickled and Dimed. Grandma (with job but not making enough to get enought together to get a real apartment) and grandson moving from motel to motel with what they could load in their car. She had the knowledge, but lacked most of the cooking tools. And if she'd had the tools she didn't have anywhere close by to buy the staples. Living off what they could buy at the local convenience stores, gas stations or greasy spoons. Paying twice the money for half the nutritian.

Talk about a perfect storm.

marigolds2 said...

Alphawoman, you can have no idea how glad I am to be here. The intelligence and compassion in the comments on this duscussion are blowing me away. I feel like I'm home at last.

Lisa :-] said...

I know there are folks on food stamps who are homeless, destitute; drug addicts, mentally unstable, etc. I'm not even sure foodstamps are the right kind of program for those people. When you think of it, it doesn't make much sense to give food stamps to people who have nowhere to cook and nothing to cook with, does it?
There should be a whole different program for these people. Not that I know what it is, but it should speak better to their needs than food stamps.

But you don't have to be dirt poor or homeless to receive food stamps. I know--am related to, in fact--families who receive food stamps who have homes (apartments, at least) and kitchens and proper cooking utensils...which they choose not to use, or have never learned how to use.

And I'm not really buying the part about not having time to cook. Cooking has just become optional in our longer important, no longer necessary. Not too very long ago--our parents'time, perhaps--if you didn't cook, you did't eat. They found the time somewhere...

Lori said...

These have been very interesting posts. I especially am glad that you brought up the fact that so many people these days have no idea how to cook with "scratch" ingredients. My daughter told me yesterday that when she was at her cousin's house and stayed for dinner she was pleasantly surprised to find that the food was tasty, because her cousin's wife isn't a very good cook. She complimented his wife on the meatballs and went on and on about how good they were, then the cousin's wife finally admitted that they were bought pre-cooked. All she had to do was heat them up. My daughter said, "Why can't she make things like you do?" I said I guess she'd never been taught. It is a shame that there are several generations of people living now who really don't know the basics of preparing good home cooked meals.