I just read an excellent article in The Establishment, an essay by someone who grew up in poverty about what they call “poverty appropriation:” fashionable people doing gussied-up versions of the things poor people do to survive, for fun.
The author criticizes bars with a “redneck” theme, where you pay to can drink cheap cocktails out of a paper bag in a real re-purposed trailer; also dumpster diving as a hobby, and eating glamorized versions of cheap food in fancy restaurants. There is also a scathing critique of the “tiny homes” trend, which is when people of means live in a trailer but call it something else.
The last few lines of the article really spoke to me:
Additionally, we need to shed light on the fact that many people who grew up wanting for more space and access to foods that weren’t available to them don’t understand the glossy pamphlets offering a simpler life.
Because, let me tell you, there is nothing simple about being poor.
There is nothing simple about being poor.
I grew up squarely in the middle class, but have spent most of my adulthood in poverty. I’ve been fortunate– without help from friends and a few family members, we would have been homeless a long time ago. And it’s not as bad for us now as it was a few years ago. I fully realize it could be much worse, that it is much worse for many. Still, the trend of people of means embracing “simplicity” and “minimalism” by doing what they think poor people do frustrates me. Because “simplicity” and “minimalism” are not options if you’re actually poor.
Take foraging, for example. It’s trendy in some circles for people who actually could afford to go to the grocery store to go for a hike in the woods and find edible plants. Well, I’ve foraged once or twice, during that horrible last week of the month when we were especially pinched for groceries. I didn’t drive my car to a nice clean nature park to do it; I foraged in my apartment building’s yard. I went to the freezer to count out servings of frozen vegetables to mix with the rice and things we had left until the EBT benefits reloaded, and I realized we’d come up short again. So I went to the yard and picked all the dandelions and violets I could find, and I had them for dinner. I didn’t eat them sauteed in coconut oil with attractive organic seasonings the way the people who forage for fun tend to do; I just boiled them in a pot. And they were horrible, first of all because the flavors of violet and dandelion don’t mix, and also because the pot wasn’t rinsed properly. The pot wasn’t rinsed properly because it was the last week of the month, and we were out of dish soap, so my husband had tried to wash a load of dishes using a brick of Ivory.
Washing dishes using a brick of Ivory is a “simplicity’ trend that hasn’t quite caught on yet. People enamored of “simplicity” tend to use fancy coconut-oil based soaps from the farmers’ market, or order lye online and make their own soap in the crock pot. I had actually considered ordering lye online to make my own soap in the crock pot, out of leftover grease, to save a little money, but I lived on one of the worst streets in Steubenville. Getting lye delivered to my door would likely get me busted for having a meth lab. I’ll bet being suspected of cooking meth is something wealthy “simplicity” enthusiasts never have to deal with either.
So we bought Ivory soap, which is a perfectly fine body soap, whenever it was on sale, and we used it for everything.
Ivory gets your skin nice and clean, but it’s not meant for hair washing. You have to rinse very thoroughly, if you attempt to wash any hair longer than a buzz cut with Ivory soap, and it still leaves you looking a bit pasty. I learned to do that. A brick of Ivory lasts a good long time, but like all soaps it eventually reduces down to a paper-thin sliver that sticks to the soap dish in your shower. If you’re really poor, you have to stretch the soap budget out as long as you can, so you scrape that bit out of the grooves in the soap dish with your nails and wash with it. I learned to do that.
Ivory is not in any way meant for dish washing, but in that last week of the month when there wasn’t any money for a new bottle of dish soap, we learned to do that too.