Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dinner Quandries

You all know that I love to cook. Lance and I both are passionate and adamant about cooking and eating good food, shopping at the local market and natural foods co-op*. We prepare most of our own meals and love nothing more than to share our creations with others.

Lately, there's been a discussion going on in Google Reader on shared items involving food, food choices, food regulation, and how socioeconomic status plays into it all. Of course, I was vaguely aware that my ability to purchase fresh, organic produce or to buy from the Farmers' Market on a regular basis was a privilege. I don't make tons of money, but I make enough to afford good quality food, and we make it a priority to spend a bit more on it (instead of, say, paying for cable or eating out a lot).

I'm lucky to be able to have both the financial means to purchase organic produce and to have access to it. I realized, however, that not everyone lives where they can easily buy organic goods or can even afford them if they did have access. When I was growing up, my parents couldn't afford to purchase enough fresh fruits and vegetables to feed all seven individuals all the time (two adults and five children), and so we ate lots of spaghetti, ground beef or turkey, cheap lunch meat, white bread, peanut butter and jelly, and macaroni and cheese. We had canned or frozen vegetables mixed in (but not always), and I don't think we ever had a big green salad with our meals (which I eat almost daily now). We generally had bananas, and sometimes oranges or apples, but not always. I used to hate fresh green beans because I only ate the canned ones. We had our free school lunches, but as this blog points out, school lunches aren't exactly the paragon of good nutrition. We had plenty of food growing up, but now when I go to my parents' house, I have to bring my own food or I'll have a bad case of indigestion from the food I grew up eating. (Not to mention that they don't exactly good vegetarian-friendly dishes, so I just cook for myself and share with them, if they like).

People who are poor and live away from a good grocery store where they can buy anything fresh (let alone organic) don't have the same level of access that I now have to good quality food. They have to rely on the cheap, processed products they can afford and have access to for nutrition. Those in higher socioeconomic groups ignore the base problem of access, and insist that poor people are ignorant of their health and just need to be better educated**.

Another problem is that the government subsidizes the foods that have been shown to lead to obesity, diabetes, and cancer. If the government would switch to subsidizing salads and ensuring better food access for poor people, then maybe they would be able to afford to eat better and make better food choices.

Food and politics and morality are all tangled up in very wrong ways in America. Eating isn't a simple act. I'm fortunate to be able to be picky and shun processed foods, but not everyone has that choice. Sometimes all my parents could afford to buy us for dinner was a 25 cent box of macaroni and cheese and a package of hot dogs. They were sharply aware that it wasn't very healthy, but they didn't have a choice.

*We do, of course, occasionally eat something that might not fall into this category, like fried potato wedges on a road trip. But we try to mostly eat the good stuff, since too much junk/fast food makes us feel like crap.
**I do think that some education needs to happen, but poor people are not the only ones who are ignorant--middle-class children raised on pre-packaged food because the parents are too busy to bother cooking a real meal certainly need to learn that they need to change how they eat to be healthy. And a thin person who eats burgers and won't touch fruit or vegetables falls into that same category.

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