Obesity, poverty, $5 organic eggs, and the decision to be self sustaining …

… Food stamp recipients are forced to make some hard choices when it comes to their grocery purchases. Tasked with stretching a food allotment many purchase affordable processed foods; foods high in sodium , sugar and fat. Poor people in general, whether receiving food stamps or not, struggle with making their dollar go as far as humanly possible when it comes to putting food on the table. Families living in poverty stricken areas of urban cities are even farther worse off. Grocery stores in these area often have poorly stocked produce and meat departments. I lived in a poorer area of Norfolk, Va after college where there wasn’t a real grocery store within walking distance. Many times I shopped at a local convenience store which carried limited food items and no vegetables; fresh, frozen, or canned, at all.

After I became more professionally established and my income reflected it, I moved to a more affluent area of the same city. Across town, on the other side of Norfolk is an equally urban area by the Chrysler Museum called Ghent. No one living in Ghent was buying their groceries from a corner convenience store, trust me. They were purchasing their food from one of the many available markets within close proximity to their homes and paying top dollar for their locally grown produce and organic meat.

Even the chain stores in this area where more expensive and carried a larger variety of food items. Places like Whole Foods and Harris Teeter traditionally charge more for the same products found at Food Lion, their affordable counterpart. Why? Why are the nicer grocery stores that offer greater variety restricted to more affluent areas? Why is organic food so damn expensive? Is it really more expensive to eat healthy? To the last question, yes.

Poor people struggling to make ends meet should not have their dietary choices limited to cheap starchy processed foods. They deserve to eat as healthy as the next person. At least I think so. So that begs my next question; does poverty contribute to obesity? One would logically think so given the examples of food options I just stated above. Also, a lot of poor people often work more than one job as well which makes buying processed foods another necessity when considering the time involved in food preparation.

It’s been over a decade since I have lived in an urban area. I prefer and thrive in a more rural environment. The benefits to living outside the city limits include lower taxes, better property value and peace and quiet. I could never afford the house and land in which I have now inside the county limits.

What to do with all this land; logically, become as self sustaining as possible. Not just for my own personal enjoyment but due to current economic factors, myself and some neighbors, all grow our own produce. What we have in surplus we trade among ourselves. My fig trees give a large yield, more than I can jam or eat. My neighbor has no fig tree but she does have an apple tree. You get the idea. My next course of action is chickens so I never again have to pay $5 for a dozen “organic” eggs. This too may be a collaborative effort with my neighbors.

I am lucky to live in a rural spot of North Carolina surrounded by like minded families who help each other out. My neighbor has nine kids and she’s showed the financial advantages its had on her family since she’s been growing her own produce over the past ten years. I’m at the early stages of my gradening so I haven’t seen the same results. I broke down the money I’ve invested so far here. As I noted, the amount I initially spent could very well have fed my son & I for a month on crap processed junk from the local Wal-Mart. I recognize that many people poorer than I may not have an additional $100 handy to start a little produce garden. They may not even have the land, only an apartment balcony, nor the time to maintain a garden.

So what do they do? Obesity has always been a talking point behind health care reform. If we are so quick to call birth control preventive care than healthy food should also fall into that category since eating healthy foods rich in nutrients and vitamins prevents a whole slew of ailments and diseases. Personally I am against government involvement in my daily life and no more expect the government to feed me than be in control of my reproduction. But I will acknowledge an unfair disparity between poverty and eating healthy.

Related Links: The Connection Between Obesity and Poverty

Local farmers worry that regular folks getting backyard chickens is a bad thing. To which I say bosh! My favorite is the suggestion that abandoned chickens would create a problem at animal shelters. Um, shelter chickens? Call me crazy, but how about you just eat them?

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  • Thomas L. McDonald

    The very thing that would allow this–small, limited, local governance–is what’s being thwarted by the Federalizers. If people were responsible for the poor at some level closer to the community, they would come up with more creative ideas, such as urban homesteading, which would allow people to supplement their diet with food sourced closer to home. Naturally, zoning regs make this kind of thing almost impossible, forcing people deeper into dependence on the suffocating state.

  • Momma Kyle

    Dear Crescat,
    My parents run a food bank in an urban area, my Dad has for years had a massive vegetable garden and brings bushels of food to the food bank—-you know what—-they literally cannot give it away.  The poor want processed cererals, junk food etc. 
    My mom tried making recipies for them to sample and show thm how to prepare fruits and vegetables—no dice.  This is astonishing to us.

    • The food banks in Charlotte won’t take fresh produce, only canned goods and non-perishables. All crap. Your comment reminds me of when I was in college and volunteered at a soup kitchen that set up a portable kitchen in Jefferson Park near VCU in Richmond. It was vegetarian meals for the homeless, a Food Not Bombs organization. Yeah Yeah Yeah…. there was this cute boy involved. Always a cute boy.

      Anyway, the homeless hated us and the “shit” we served, as they reminded us each week. We were stupid idealistic kids.

      • guest

        Well don’t worry. Well the gov’t falls – as it is bound to do eventually – then our poor will be skinny again, just like the poor around the world. There won’t be any food stamps. Starvation will be “in” again. But maybe the lefties will be happy because they won’t have to see all those awful fat people anymore.

  • Jeanne Chabot

    Wait, you have FIG trees?  Just how far south is NORTH Carolina anyway?  I thought you people had winters.

    I totally agree with you on the poverty/eating right thing.  My parents had a big garden and raised chickens and I’m sure that made us a lot healthier than most people where I grew up.  Even though we were pretty poor.

    • I live 30 minutes from the border of SC. We do have winters, they last about a month. January is the coldest month and it drops down to 30 some nights. Rarely below freezing though.

      • Mark Abeln

        Figs grow even as far north as Missouri, but the fruit never ripens before freezing.

    • Patricia

       My sister lives in PA & they have a fig tree that produces very well.  We hope to transplant some of it here in WV.

  • Stephanie

    Absolutely brilliant and well thought out.  Posts like these are why I love your blog.  Thank you.

  • I think to an extent poverty can lead to obesity.  However, I know first hand what it is like to not have a lot of money for groceries so my family did the next best thing: smaller portions.  We never went to bed hungry because we had balanced meals.  The nearest fast food place was more than 15 minutes away & I think that helped with forcing us to really plan out the week instead of relying on convenience.  I had a long conversation with a friend recently who is on food stamps and she was buying a lot of frozen meals.  After some planning and a few simple recipes to get her started we realized that for the same amount of money she could make her own food, freeze it and it was much healthier. 
    What is even more sad: We have a garden and many fruit trees that we can’t always keep up with.  We tried to donate to our local food bank and they wouldn’t except it without someone coming out to pick it, inspect it, and making us go through so much red tape.  All we want to do is help feed those around us!!  Arg!  Also, we’d love to have chickens but city ordinance forbids it. 
    My perfect neighborhood would have one lot with no house but a communal garden instead.

    • That’s what we essentially established here, a communal garden spread out over 4 households. We get together and see whose planitng waht and swap seedlings. And yes, what you grow in surplus you can not donate to food banks. It’s assinine. Food banks have the nastiest boxed and canned junk. But if you’re poor you supposed to be grateful for whatever. :-/

      • MissJean

        Instead of the local food bank, try a food kitchen.  My parish started a really small one so that you can share produce.  There’s also a group called Forgotten Harvest that somehow got around the redtape and picks up food from restaurants and such.  Don’t know if there’s one in your area, but you could check.

        •  Thanks MissJean we might try that.  California has some tough laws. 
          Kat that is wonderful you have started to share seeds & plants.  It’s a poor reflection on our society that the only thing the truly hungry get is stuff richer Americans won’t touch. 

          • “It’s a poor reflection on our society that the only thing the truly hungry get is stuff richer Americans won’t touch. ”
            It is indeed. It is also NOT considered real charity either. Don’t get me started on people who purge their closets and drop trash bags off at Goodwill as their only act of charity. 

          • Laura Cain

            Funny you should mention this.  A priest, writing in a newsletter for his South American mission to the poor was noting the insult that this kind of “charity” is.  True, clothing in good condition that no longer fits shouldn’t go to waste. But it’s hardly charity to give away something you don’t value.  There’s no element of sacrifice.  

  • Sarah

    There are “abandoned” chickens all over Oahu . . . I find them delightful!  They are really free-range here.  LOL!  

    • I live in near Zephyrhills Florida and we have feral chickens. And they are delightful!

      Gorgeous colors and it’s so fun to see the chicks every so often. 

  • MissJean

    Another problem is tradition: you only know what your own folk know.  I think Momma Kyle’s experience is typical.  I had a housemate who
    thought that popcorn counted as veggies, Tang or a
    roll-up was a fruit, and “cooking” is following the directions on the
    box.  I introduced her to fresh carrots because she couldn’t afford
    bread for her peanut
    butter and jelly.  The Capuchins in Detroit are making headway with
    their urban farming, but they had to model it first and show it’s not just work. Gardening is enjoyable and fresh vegetables are a summer treat. 

    When I left my hometown for education and a job, I had trouble adjusting to survival shopping and cooking because my family and neighbors canned, caught crayfish and fish from ponds, and grew “victory gardens” for themselves. But soon I figured out that I could get a big discount on old produce or oxidized meat that was still good to go.  (In fact, one party store set aside damaged cans for me.) One of my roomies was
    horrified, but she grew up on foodstamps and had never experienced having to buy groceries with just the money
    in your pocket.   I ate some bizarre meals because of that: boiled onions as dinner – it’s a vegetable AND a bag will last two weeks! – and  “suicide rice” – basic rice with something in it, even if it was just a packet of pepper, ketchup or pickle relish snagged from a busy on-campus restaurant. 

    I think another overlooked problem is that poor areas usually aren’t pedestrian-friendly.  My friends and I were all thin when we were poor college students, but some of us were chubby as kids because reading and watching TV was safer than playing in our neighborhoods.  Our
    college town was safe even at night, if we went in a group.  We lived in affordable housing (a run-down furnished rental with 15 people – and one shower!) 5 miles from campus. We walked or rode bikes everywhere because even the bus cut into our budgets. 

    I kind of hit the jackpot where I live now. It’s both rural “bedroom community” and an old tourist town.  The big grocery store was originally built for the benefit of “summer people” but it gave an alternate to the party stores’ monopoly and the run-down mom and pop selling expired food.   Some of my neighbors have chickens and goats, but the only free-range chickens a few miles away have been trained to follow their “mama” back to their coop at night when the predators come out.

  • Mylilbumblebee

    Food stamps allow you to buy vegetable plants and seeds. Just saying. One doesn’t need $100 extra dollars to start a veggie gardegn.

    • Interesting. I had no idea you could buy seeds and vegetable plants with food stamps.  My $100 investment was the first raised bed since my soil is heavily clay. But you are right. I could have tilled the ground and mixed compost, pete, and manure for the half the cost. I just chose to start with a raised bed. 

  • I’ve heard the argument that the issue is more one of demand than supply, that poor people simply don’t buy fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. Poor families don’t sit down to eat a meal together. Each member basically fends for himself. If you don’t have time to make a meal for your family, or are making a meal only for yourself, or maybe have never even been taught to cook, you’re going to tend to get boxed or frozen food. I think cultural poverty is the real issue. It’s like each individual is the child of the state, and there’s nothing to make traditional structures (like families or local communities) cohere. Skills and habits don’t get passed from one generation to the next.

    • Susan Lee

      Raphael!  Yes!  If your mother was 13 when you were born, and she never knew how to cook, what are your chances?  When I donate to the church Food Pantry, I make it simple, tuna / noodle, mac/cheese, peanut butter and the like.  For “cooks” who can’t read.

      Susan Lee

  • steve

    I think Whole Foods gets a bad wrap about their produce prices.  I only buy produce there. It is usually the same price as the local “cheap” grocery store but the quality is much higher. There are even times when Whole Foods is cheaper than the “cheap” grocery store. Last summer, for instance, berries were about $1 less at WF and were fresher. Also, I can get bagged greens cheaper at WF. Plus, there is a greater % of locally grown produce at WF, so I can support the local farmers.

  • Mark Abeln

    Traditionally, the poor starved. I think we have a better situation nowadays.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been involved with a group that teaches how to use ANY TYPE of container as a container for growing plants, mostly to kids whose families use “assistance” for housing.  There are apartments down the street from me, each one has a modest sized patio area and many families that have been through the program are growing fresh veggies for their families and neighbors.  Even in Maryland, you can grow some varieties of potatoes in  a “sack” or plastic trash can!  Let alone carrots, peas, beans and tomatoes that practically grow themselves.

  • dymphna

    What happened to this county? Why are people so obsessed with what other people weigh? What happened to minded your own ___ business? Oh and guess what? Middle class busy bodies and do gooders telling poor people what to eat goes over like a lead balloon. People know when someone is doing their Lady Bountiful act and find being patronized obnoxious.

    • Actually this post was about me and what I can and can’t afford to eat.  The poor I am referring to is mostly myself.  I’m hardly trying to be patronizing or obnoxious.

  • Barb

    Studies have shown that organic vegetables are no better for you than the lower priced vegetables.  I hate to sound old, but back in the day we did not have so many produce options and we did fine.  If tomatoes were not in season, we bought canned tomatoes.  If lettuce was high, we bought cabbage and had coleslaw.  There is a huge middle ground between convenience stores and the high end grocers.  Aldi sells produce and eggs, Walmart has a large produce section, and my town has a food co-op where one can find gorgeous fruits and veggies with great specials.  The poor are not the only people in the U.S. skipping the vegetables and going for the fast food and convenience foods.  Many Americans have simply lost their taste for fresh meat and produce due to laziness, busy-ness, and dead tastebuds due to cigarette smoking.  AND people are obviously not starving, because I have noticed an abundance of picky eaters from all economic backgrounds.

    • Karen

      I agree.  I don’t grow my own tomatoes currently (I’m a tad busy with a new baby and homeschooling, but hope to get back to it), and I just don’t buy them when they’re not in season.  In the winter, I buy cabbage and kale if I want greens.  We have an Aldi nearby and while right now we can afford to to go the big Kroger’s, if times got tight we’d start going to Aldi’s. 

      I think we also forget about frozen veegetables.  Frozen vegetables tend to have higher levels of vitamins than fresh (which sit around quite a while before actually getting to the market and being bought), and they can be cheap and easy to prepare.  I can get two meals’ worth of broccoli out of a valu-pak of frozen broccoli cuts, whereas a fresh bunch of broccoli will give me one meals’ worth and I waste what I cut away.

    • Anonymous

      I agree about Wal-Mart.  I get lots of nice fresh fruit and vegetables there, and they are usually cheaper than the farmer’s market (although I do go there as well).  Aldi is great, and our local Krogers has nice bread and their ground beef does not have the pink slime in it.  

      I’m old enough to remember when obesity was rare, but then I’m also old enough to remember when my mother wasn’t a bit afraid to let us ride our bikes all over the country as long as we were back by supper.

  • Dan

    Plus, “Whole Foods” financially supports Planned Parenthood [abortion].
    We stopped shopping there as soon as we found out about this fact about 5 years ago.

    •  Actually, each Whole Foods market is independent in where it can give money.  The chain does not dictate to which “charities” they can give.  That means that one Whole Foods could be giving to a crisis pregnancy center while another could be giving to PP.
      Whole Foods is on the Susan B. Anthony List for the reason that there is not a corporate policy forbidding giving money to PP.

  • Laura Cain

    Alas, we’re stuck with the Whole Foods most of the time because of a whole boatload of severe allergies.  (It took the family a while to realize that it was not snobbery but necessity that made us shop there, especially since the “organic” sections at the regular groceries cost even more than Whole Paycheck.)

    Living in suburban portion of a Metroplex, I’ve found the secret to making dollars stretch is to find places like fire sale/seconds/overstocks for groceries.  We have one here, and the savings are significant.  $1 for a quart of organic full fat yogurt for instance.  I’ve also found that things like CSAs and actually getting eggs and milk from farmers directly generate cost savings, even after you factor in the gas mileage.  But we’re still on a tight budget and not eating anywhere near as well as we’d like.  If I had the money all at once, I’d put half a cow in my freezer.  It averages out to $4/lb for beef, which is average for ground, but exceptional for just about everything else, and if I was willing to figure out acquisition costs for steers, I have a friend who would pasture one for free, which would leave me with only processing costs.  For grass-fed beef, that is serious savings, putting in cost range of conventional stuff for far better taste and health value.  

    I think there is a real connection between poverty and obesity.  Some of it is the higher cost associate with better foods.  And some of that could be alleviated with deregulation.  But I think the bigger problem is one of education.  There are poor and then there are poor.  My dad’s family was poor growing up, but my grandmother knew how to cook, and they knew how to garden.  While they had the space on their suburban plot for a real garden, I think grandma could have grown stuff on a porch or patio, Roman style, if need be.  My husband’s boss grew up poor in Boston.  Every night they ate from a different pizzeria.  There is a long history of urban poor living off of convenience food crap of one kind or another, while rural poor, when they weren’t starving, had a kind of make the best of every scrap and coordinate with the neighbors mentality.   Most people on assistance tend to be the urban poor kind, where there is no knowledge of how to eat better, or what to do with bags of beans and rice if handed them.  It’s way cheaper to cook with raw ingredients than box mixes, but not if you don’t know what to do with those ingredients.

    Also, I would trust the government with food for my life.  The ever-changing food pyramid, and the never improving health profile of most Americans proves they have no clue what they’re doing.

  • Tcn

    I expect that one reason some folks are poor (not all, I will NOT stereotype) is that not only do they not learn to cook and eat well, they do not learn to  manage what little they have. I speak here from experience–my $500/mo paycheck goes much farther than my neighbors’ because I grow my own, can what I don’t eat this week, and give nicely canned veggies and soups as gifts rather than spend a lot on gifts that come premade from a store. I suspect my family could probably be on food stamps, but rather than do that, I am horribly frugal (cheap?). I buy clothes and kitchen stuff at St. Vinnie’s, I find amazing things in the trash piles when the students move out (hippie Christmas around here), and I fix what breaks instead of trashing it and buying new. These are not things the average family on assistance has been taught. I know this because I work with some of the poorer folks around and very few have any true survival skills. I was lucky–I grew up in a subsistence family, so I learned all the tricks. It is time consuming, but time is cheap compared to spending what I don’t have.

  • Amymellein

    The last part of your comment cracked me up- “Chicken shelters?” here in Louisiana, we know what to do with a “homeless chicken”  Ask a neighbor. Put it in a cage, see if it will lay, if not make gumbo.