I had a run-in with an interesting gentleman just now– the kind of person you hope you don’t meet at a party. He was mouthing off about the poor. He’s one of those people who thinks that poor folks lack food because they don’t know how to manage their funds properly. According to him, poor people are really poor because they eat at McDonald’s, smoke cigarettes and get beverages from vending machines– he tells me that vending machine drinks can cost “thirty to sixty dollars a month.” He says that what the poor really need are to spend wisely on dried beans, rice and whole roasting chickens. If the poor would just discipline themselves to stop smoking and eating junk food, spending wisely on nothing but beans and rice and roasting chickens, then they wouldn’t lack food at the end of the month.
I meet people like this with alarming frequency. They think that hunger is usually the direct result of a lack of thrift, and that what poor people chiefly need is a lecture.
I don’t do well talking to people like him.
I wondered how best to address his run-of-the-mill upper-class ignorance… and then I remembered that I have a blog.
I don’t think this gentleman reads my blog, but for anyone who would like to know, here are some of the reasons that poor people don’t just cook cheap meals from scratch at home:
1) some of them don’t have homes to cook in. This is why we see them on street corners with their bedrolls. It’s not because they’re too stupid to go inside, it’s because they don’t have anywhere to go. If they are homeless people who live in a shelter, they may have a microwave, but they likely don’t have an oven and maybe not a fridge. If there is a fridge, their food will be stolen, so there’s really no point. They buy instant soup and packages of cheese crackers, and hoard them in their bags all day long.
2) A sizable number of very poor people with homes to live in don’t actually have utilities in their apartments because they can’t afford to keep them turned on. They nail blankets over their windows to keep out the heat and the drafts, and they sleep in their coats. They can’t turn on the oven to use it.
3) Of those who have utilities, some still can’t cook because they live in dilapidated slums where the stove doesn’t work, or where turning the stove on runs the risk of giving everyone carbon monoxide poisoning. They can’t get the kitchen repaired because the landlord won’t do it. Yes, there are technically laws on the books that will force the landlord to make the house livable, but judges never side with tenants in such disputes; such disputes lead to eviction. So they buy prepared foods they can warm up in a microwave or on the hot plate, if they have one.
4) They work three jobs and don’t want to burn the house down leaving the stove unattended in the hours it takes to simmer dry beans. No, they can’t afford a crock pot or a pressure cooker, because they’re poor. Poor people don’t have the money to buy kitchen gadgets.
5) No one ever taught them to cook because they live in generational poverty where their parents didn’t have the time, or they didn’t have parents.