Guilt, choice, and responsibility in the austerity kitchen

Guilt, choice, and responsibility in the austerity kitchen

Some thoughts on low-income cooking, health, guilt, and the punishment of the poor.

Food has always been characterised with angst, guilt, and worry for me. As a teenager I was dangerously underweight and tried to remedy this by stuffing my face with processed food, fizzy drinks, cakes and chocolate, in the hope that I'd develop a body shape other than that of an etoilated ten year old. I mostly just passed out a lot after the sugar rush had plummeted away.

In my early twenties I was diagnosed with a chronic and incurable illness called endometriosis, which is characterised by pain and fatigue, and has had only a limited response to surgical and medical interventions. As a result, I work part-time in a pink-collar job that's so far tolerated my inconsistent good days and bad days, and I earn a little more than I did last year when I got by on housing benefit and three casual jobs. But food is still an issue.

A few years back, desperate to try anything that might help me manage my illness, I saw a nutritionist that specialised in my condition, who recommended up to 12 different supplements a day (at £75 a month, this was... unlikely), recommended I cut out gluten1, avoid all red meat, eat 6 portions of (preferably raw, fresh, organic) fruit and veg per day, and a whole load of other measures that I kept up with for a few months. I felt better, but this feeling of elated control over my body was short-lived. I worked shifts, and split my food shopping with my partner. And slowly but surely my neurotic meal planning slipped, the carrot sticks were replaced by chocolate bars, the milk was fatty and laden with bovine hormones, and I felt a creeping sense of guilt that I was making myself ill, that I had failed to do the only things I could do to try and keep my illness at bay.

As my circumstances changed and I found myself scraping by for weeks, months, probably forever, I got increasingly annoyed at the suggestions and advice offered to me by everyone from medical professionals to smug student hippies who implored me to stop using poverty as an excuse (there's bins to raid)2, to think about the ethics of my shopping habits (don't you know why that chicken only costs £2.50?!)3, that if I just shopped around/planned things better/cared about my health more/was more of a self-righteous hippy cunt I wouldn't be in this situation, I'd be healthy and full of the foresight required to pre-soak pulses and turn a tin of sardines into a main course and desert. The control I'd once felt from targeting my diet to alleviating my illness turned into yet another unlivable, unrealistic standard that just made me feel guilty and personally responsible for my ill health.

There's a general background noise of sneering judgement about the food choices of people on low incomes. Sometimes the snobbery and hatred towards the poor, the sick, and the fat spews right into the open, for example Westminster council proposing benefits cuts for the overweight who "refuse" to excercise4. Those of us whose bodies are supposedly a drain on the welfare state and the NHS are continually reminded that our predicaments are of our own making, and the organic-everything-you-are-what-you-eat brigade are just as quick to tell us if we'd only stop eating all that processed sugar we'd be a lot healthier, and that a good diet is perfectly possible on the dole. But try making £71 a week last over a month, a year, the next 20 years. Combine that with a disability, factor in all your other expenses, try replacing some cookware or fixing your freezer, and then talk about how easy it is. You might not bother instagramming your lunch once the novelty wears off.

Of course, food guilt and demonising the sick and obese is tied up in layers of class, race, and gender. Behold arch-feminist Caitlin Moran keeping the kids quiet during her hangover by feeding them quails eggs,5 compared with the predictable hand-wringing outrage should some unfortunate benefits claimant be seen buying her kids a happy meal6.Think of Gillian McKeith flushing the fatty, stinking, shameful shit out of some white-bread guzzling prole on prime time TV7, or Etonian small-holder Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall teaching single mothers the importance of buying organic. The fat acceptance movement has critiqued the narrative that fat people are unhealthy, undesirable, or somehow morally repugnant, and the fat acceptance movement in turn has been critiqued for being colour-blind and ignoring the racial and class dynamics of fatness. But whichever angle you look at it from, the neoliberal shit sandwhich of choice, personal responsibility, and the ability to eat your way out of poverty and illness is laden with moral judgements about the shopping habits of the poor.

In a climate where the working class, and benefits claimants and the sick and disabled in particular, are constantly dehumanised and painted as the architects of our own misfortune, food and health become another stick to beat us with. Food blogger Miss South has written eloquently on the snobbery of well-meaning foodies advising us how to eat on a "budget", and the frequency with which "someone will take the chance to opine on how poor people just need to try harder, be less lazy, just read the labels and realise you can buy a week’s veg for two quid if you’re a good enough member of society". And she's pretty much nailed it - the reality of juggling chronic illness and a low budget is difficult enough, without adding in helpings of guilt and individualistic ethical consumer bullshit, that helps no one and reinforces the idea that if only we knew what was good for us, we would find a way to avoid those battery eggs. Because it really is bullshit:

Quote:
What you eat may have an impact on your dietary fibre, but it has bugger all to do with your moral fibre. It’s patronising and reductive to suggest otherwise and to focus on the actions of an individual, rather than those of the food industry, helps no one and hinders many, while causing massive divisions in society.

Title inspired by the wonderful Austerity Kitchen blog

  • 1. she was right about this one, but that cuts out pretty much all cheap convenience food. Though you'll never take my frozen potato waffles
  • 2. like that's a viable option for someone who can barely carry a shopping bag on a bad day
  • 3. just fuck off with that, seriously
  • 4. yes, the very same council who wanted to make it illegal to give food to homeless people a few years back
  • 5. []no, really http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/mia-freedman-interviews-caitlin-moran/
  • 6. I'm not going to dig out a link, it's undignified
  • 7. or, don't, that's fine

Posted By

Ramona
Jan 21 2013 00:22

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  • Whichever angle you look at it from, the neoliberal shit sandwhich of choice, personal responsibility, and the ability to eat your way out of poverty and illness is laden with moral judgements about the shopping habits of the poor

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Chilli Sauce
Jan 21 2013 09:37

This is great, thanks for sharing.

I come from a family that (a) loves food and for whom food basically forms the backbone of our familial relationships and (b) who also largely buys into the notion that alleviating poverty is just a matter of living within your means.

I mean, they coupon clip and sales shop and buy in bulk. Some sections of my family in particular scoff at those who are in poverty for supposedly failing to be as thrifty as them. I'm all for saving money (and, indeed, I'm often a cheap bastard) but the issue isn't whether you're paying one dollar or thirty-three pence for a can of crushed tomatoes. It's that wages are too fucking low and the expenses which are largely beyond scrimping--housing and transport--are too fucking high.

adjykritik
Jan 21 2013 10:44

Myself and my girlfriend are both on benefits, and because we live together we only get £55 a week between us. Luckily we can both eat pretty much anything and love to cook and experiment, so we usually manage to eat OK despite the small budget, but the precarity of living on benefits was made all too clear when just after Xmas our fridge freezer packed up. Buying a new one (£150 from Argos) has meant we had to take out a crisis loan just to put food on the table.

This site is handy for people with a tight food budget: http://www.approvedfood.co.uk/

Schizo Stroller
Jan 21 2013 12:29

Thankyou for this.

I suffer from a mentall health condition, and also research in the area. One thing I've noticed is that coming under the rubric of 'recovery', an evangelism has growen surrounding the word. Where once, it was based on arguments of autonomy in anatgonism to the coercive psychiatric system, now it is a form of subjectification - well-being, mindfulness, healthy lifestyle, healthy eating.

So whereas once peer support meant getting together with fellow activists to protest CTOs etc, the fact that the cameraderie of these political gatherings created relationships where people supported each other through crises and recovered outside the mental health system, so this very success led to it's incorporation into health services where it was audited, disciplined, codified.

So class resistance to capitalism has also involved being able to scrimp and save, to 'take control' of your consumption. Albeit, for example, miners strike, collectively in many cases.

but then, as you so eloquently highlight, does this, for want of a better phrase, 'food autonomy' become a means to further mold us into civil beings, dutifully austere in our food consumption, our attempts to take control turned back on us... and doesn't it irk when the demands for this self-disciplining (as opposed to self-mastery, autonomy) come from our fellow comrades (your annoying hippies).

Capitalism always tries to turn our attempts at emancipation through the control and ownership of your body into a commodity.

martinh
Jan 21 2013 19:30

Excellent article. There's a reason people in Britain have by and large been deskilled when it comes to cooking and it comes from the fact that ready-made food generates significantly more profit.
It's one of many things wrong with our culture, and likewise the holier-than-thou approach is the other side of the same coin.
I agree that the real underlying issue is poverty, but as well people are right not to trust the food industry. Who here was really surprised that there was horse and pig DNA in beefburgers that sell for £1 for 8?

hellfrozeover
Jan 21 2013 19:51

The individualisation of "lifestyle" things like diet covers up a mass of structural issues around food production and distribution. It suits celebrity chefs, supermarkets, governments (everyone except us) to pretend that the problems this article skewers (like a greasy kebab) are individual issues.
The supermarkets' blocking of simple "traffic light" labelling of foods (while preaching "informed consumer choice") a couple of years back gave me the boak. As does the dishonest pricing & discount strategies. If I need a calculator and a photographic memory to decide if I'm ripped off, or sold salt-slathered shite then what chance does a busier/iller/whateverer person have?
The list probably goes on. Not sure how to fight back, but naming the problem is a start.

Chilli Sauce
Jan 21 2013 21:14

Up the puns!

Jacques Roux
Jan 21 2013 23:29

Interested to know authors view on what the alternatives are re. food production.

Personally enjoy certain celeb. chef's attempts to shift focus of sustainable food production onto industry rather than individual (see HFW for example whose emphasis I have always though has been on provenance rather than more faddish examples such as 'Organic')

Arbeiten
Jan 22 2013 00:01
Jacques Roux wrote:
HFW for example whose emphasis I have always though has been on provenance rather than more faddish examples such as 'Organic'

Which is fine, of course, if you live in a village (this is a snide comment at HFW style provenance, not the issue per se which I think is worth looking at).

noodlehead
Jan 22 2013 07:28

Obviously the mechanisms of capital have a political interest in shifting the blame for social problems away from society towards the individual, and this happens not just for dietary problems but for everything too.

I think this article goes too far the other way, and mirrors a tendency I believe exists in the left of minimising personal responsibility and blaming everything on "the system" which in turn creates an attitude of groups of people being individually disempowered even if collectively empowered.

If you failed to maintain your doctor recommended diet really thats on you not capital, and although you speak a lot of sense in other parts of the article I think that you trying to fit that part into the argument required some pretty convuluted logic. And I'm not belittling your disease, although I know nothing of it, I'm doing the opposite. Assuming that it's serious then it becomes even more important to treat it as such and follow the doctors advice.

lzbl
Jan 22 2013 08:01

Noodlehead, I think you missed the point. Doctor recommended diets are fine, I'm supposed to eat healthily so I don't go (more) mental but I don't have the time, money or energy to do that. Which is a class issue because I am too busy/tired selling my labour to do the things that are good for me. Pretty sure that this is what R was saying too.

commieprincess
Jan 22 2013 20:48

noodlehead - Izbl pretty much covered it, but did you not read the description of the diet recommended by the doctor? How is it not abundantly clear that this is expensive, time consuming, and fucking hard? Not to mention how psychologically difficult is can be to completely change your eating habits, which isn't 'the fault of capital' necessarily, but with this being the case, obviously people need way more support in making changes to their diet.

edit - this comes across harsher than I meant it embarrassed

Kureigo-San
Jan 22 2013 14:06

The most crucial but neglected point is that the government subsidises foods that are bad for human health. You can get a Mcwhatever burger for a quid but a punnet of berries costs about 4 if you're lucky.

I feel I should make it known that I am a fruit & veg only vegan and I do encounter the attitude that anyone who doesn't do it just isn't trying hard enough, or something like this. I do denounce this espousal from others. I don't seek congratulations from sharing this, I just want to prevent the culture of 'that whole group of people engage in x behaviour'.

'Eating a calorically sufficient diet (3000+) of fruits and vegetables is healthy but majorly fucking expensive, and this ought to change immediately' is my overall position.

Potatoes and bananas are the best cheap foods.

EDIT: And nutrient supplements are useless and don't achieve health, and rip you off. Needn't worry about those.

As for being less "mental", I managed to overcome my depression when I started eating enough calories. It's evidenced from your post that you underate at least at one point in your life, and I am guessing this is a continuing trend by one part ingrained habit and one part poverty. The only thing is to not do a 180 degree turn with that again and slam the cakes and stuff. Shoot for the 2500-3000 region if you can afford it. This is probably only possible for you with potatoes and ripe bananas.

futility index
Jan 22 2013 14:35
Quote:
Not to mention how psychologically difficult is can be to completely change your eating habits, which isn't 'the fault of capital' necessarily, but with this being the case, obviously people need way more support in making changes to their diet.

Well their not going to get it, because austerity. What noodlehead said about minimising personal responsibility is on point - anytime someone gives pragmatic advice which relates to our actual reality some lefty will jump in with a criticism that amounts to 'things shouldn't be that way'. Yeah no shit but knowing that isn't going to help anyone.

I've never had a chronic illness so I'm not going to comment on the authors situation, but the implication in this that its overwhelmingly difficult to eat a healthy diet on benefits is not true, because I've done it for years and so have many other people. Before I started taking an interest in cooking I ate unhealthy and relatively expensive food and put the blame to cost when in reality it was my own laziness. Obviously long-term unemployment doesn't help you get your shit together, but blaming everything on capital benefits noone.

hellfrozeover
Jan 22 2013 19:16

I don't read this article as minimising personal responsibility, the argument seems to be that folk get a triple serving of "helpful" advice garnished with "worked for me" dropped in their lap without anyone thinking to check whether the plate is already full of such fare, or if they should actually be loaning a spoon.

Pragmatic advice: nice.
Practical solidarity: nicer.

commieprincess
Jan 22 2013 20:44
Quote:
Well their not going to get it, because austerity. What noodlehead said about minimising personal responsibility is on point - anytime someone gives pragmatic advice which relates to our actual reality some lefty will jump in with a criticism that amounts to 'things shouldn't be that way'. Yeah no shit but knowing that isn't going to help anyone.

Where's the 'pragmatic advice'? Telling someone they should sort their shit out when they've just explained how hard they've found it is hardly pragmatic or advice.

I wasn't pointing out that people should have more support with their diets in order to change anything. I'm aware that me making this statement hasn't shaken the foundations of capitalism. I was pointing it out in response to noodlehead saying changing your diet is your own, personal responsibility. But just like any other kind of behaviour, habit, addiction etc you need support to change it. Maybe some people need more support than others. And we should judge them harshly for questioning whether economic and social factors may just have an impact upon them. Stupid lefties...

Quote:
Before I started taking an interest in cooking I ate unhealthy and relatively expensive food and put the blame to cost when in reality it was my own laziness

Firstly, your personal experience is not universal to everyone. Secondly, there clearly is a link between income and diet. If you're saying it's perfectly easy to live cheaply and healthily, is it that people on lower incomes are just lazy?

xslavearcx
Jan 22 2013 21:36

Once upon a time i used to believe that the sum total of the worlds problems were a reflection of people making the wrong purchasing decisions. So i became a vegan who read 'ethical consumer'. This, wasn't too much of a trouble to maintain when i lived with my parents who were also vegan and my mum was (seemingly) more than happy to make me dinners that made me feel that kinda self satisfiedness that could only happen through an impact free lifestyle ha!

However, my belief in ones ability to maintain a vegan lifestyle fell crashing down when my daughter was born who went through a phase when she was about a year old (as yung uns often do) of only wanting to eat (vegan) yoghurt. This we could just about sustain on benefits thanks to there being a local health food shop. But then that shop closed - and the only way we could source this product was to go to the other side of the city. The additional cost of the busfairs was just enough to render this beyond our means to continue this supply of vegan yoghurt.

Sadly, as new parents, who were poor, and suffering depression, we didnt have the supernanny skills to be able to influence our daughters eating habits overnight so that we could still live our 'impact free lifestyle'. So yeah, theres the personal responsibility part Noodles!

So, when going to Asda to get our usual supply of cheap shit that could be turned into vegan aweomeness (like the smart price flower that was 9p a kg packet which after 4 hours of labour intensive kneading could be transformed magically into a palms worth of seitan), we capitulated to our daughters tastes and bought her - the horror - DAIRY YOGHURT.

After the immense guilt passed made me think about how bloody hard it is to maintain such a lifestyle in a low income, that all it takes is one event that can make the whole thing fall to pieces. I then thought about the fact that the health food shops that had become cost-prohibitive due to distance where all situated in the afluent parts of the city. That started me to thinking about how resources are distrubuted and how that comes to be, and so on.

But yeah - that is all just leftie rationalising so yeah revel in the guilt y'all!

Nah, but seriously, though this discussion is related to healthy choices, surely its basic to know that if one has more purchasing power they have erm more purchasing power...

xslavearcx
Jan 22 2013 21:49

And futility index - its well documented that food prices are rising and that benefits are just about to get a cap put on them. Whilst its certainly laudable that you have had the creative genuis to maintain a healthy diet on benefits over the years, with the circumstances that are currently at play how much longer will you manage??

Smart Price flour when i was vegan making seitan was 9p (approximately year 2000) - how much does it cost now?

Ramona
Jan 23 2013 19:00

Lots of really interesting comments! Woo!

Schizo Stroller wrote:
One thing I've noticed is that coming under the rubric of 'recovery', an evangelism has growen surrounding the word. Where once, it was based on arguments of autonomy in anatgonism to the coercive psychiatric system, now it is a form of subjectification - well-being, mindfulness, healthy lifestyle, healthy eating.

So whereas once peer support meant getting together with fellow activists to protest CTOs etc, the fact that the cameraderie of these political gatherings created relationships where people supported each other through crises and recovered outside the mental health system, so this very success led to it's incorporation into health services where it was audited, disciplined, codified.

So class resistance to capitalism has also involved being able to scrimp and save, to 'take control' of your consumption. Albeit, for example, miners strike, collectively in many cases

I find this fascinating, and it's something I've noticed from both working in social care and being a patient myself. I work for one of Scotland's bigger 3rd sector organisations doing support work. At work we're constantly reminded about the importance of "service user involvement" but this comes with no real understanding or critical angle, and no recognition of the stuff that goes on beyond control of staff, such as the resistance or autonomy you describe - the "difficulty" of getting service users "engaged" is pretty much mostly blamed on the service users and their perceived lack of motivation/insight/"recovery capital" etc, never on the very real reasons why people might be quite happy being "outside and against" as it were.

And as a patient, the peer-led support groups I have attended have been often characterised by similar well-meaning "eat organic" type advice - endometriosis doesn't often respond particularly effectively to biomedical treatment so there's all manner of alternative medicine branches offering all kinds of (mostly expensive, awkward, and time-consuming) treatments, and these are recommended to us as something we *owe* ourselves, if we were really serious about living well with our condition we'd find the money blah blah. And it makes me feel like shit - maybe reiki would make the difference between having no energy and feeling amazing, but how do I know it's that and not chinese herbal medicine, or mindfulness meditation, or yoga, or acupuncture, and how the fuck am I supposed to pay to find out? It's fine if you're earning well I guess, but lots of us can't even get to work.

Schizo Stroller wrote:
but then, as you so eloquently highlight, does this, for want of a better phrase, 'food autonomy' become a means to further mold us into civil beings, dutifully austere in our food consumption, our attempts to take control turned back on us... and doesn't it irk when the demands for this self-disciplining (as opposed to self-mastery, autonomy) come from our fellow comrades (your annoying hippies)

This has got me thinking about links between austerity in public spending (or capitalist production in general I guess), with a push from capital to get workers to produce more/be more efficient at work with a lower investment in workers (cutting wages, cutting sick/holiday pay and other benefits, reajusting contracts to make people work longer hours and so on), and a reduction in wages/income in the household, demanding social reproduction (feeding yourself, feeding your family, housing yourself, surviving so you can get back to work, having children) becomes more efficient - food and housing costs are rising, and we still have to eat and shelter, but we're getting less money to do this. Caps in housing benefit and sub-inflation rises to benefits (or, as they're otherwise known, "cuts") make this even more explicit. All this WW2 "make do and mend" shit pisses me off (I love sewing though, awkward) and this whole narrative that mystifies social reproduction and makes out like mothers are just inherently able to do some kind of alchemy and make tight budgets stretch (like that fucking ASDA christmas advert). But yeah not sure where I'm going with that...

Jacques Roux wrote:
Interested to know authors view on what the alternatives are re. food production.

You mean, more specifically than "FULL COMMUNISM"? To be honest I'm not sure, although I'm not convinced it's production that's the problem, there's definitely enough food to go round, but clearly the issue is that someone's got to profit from it. And I don't know enough about the food industry itself to come up with anything creative here, so maybe other people do and it's a good question.

Jacques Roux wrote:
Personally enjoy certain celeb. chef's attempts to shift focus of sustainable food production onto industry rather than individual (see HFW for example whose emphasis I have always though has been on provenance rather than more faddish examples such as 'Organic')

Yeah I guess he kind of does do that to an extent, but he's still all about this "power of the consumer" bullshit where we all have to buy expensive eggs and chickens and what have you. Don't get me wrong, I would love to be able to buy only organic and free range etc and I've no doubt that it would make an impact on my health and quality of life, I'm not against high quality food, but to hear people like HFW and Jamie Oliver, who have never had to go without their entire lives, saying that poor people should just go without (for example) meat rather than being "greedy" and buying the cheap stuff is pretty infuriating. And as Arbeitan said, HFW's provenance is a lovely daydream, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to keep my own pigs and get my fish right off the tiny little boat in the harbour.

Ramona
Jan 23 2013 19:31

Right, now then:

noodlehead wrote:
I think this article goes too far the other way, and mirrors a tendency I believe exists in the left of minimising personal responsibility and blaming everything on "the system" which in turn creates an attitude of groups of people being individually disempowered even if collectively empowered.

I don't understand what you mean by people being collectively empowered but individually disempowered really. As far as my understanding of general class struggle anarchism goes, I'd argue that our power comes from acting collectively in our interests, but as individuals we have a limit to what we can acheive. If the article makes it sound like I'm advocating for people to just give up on eating well then you've misunderstood my focus or I've not made it clear enough. I'm not proposing people do that, what I am trying to highlight is that attacking the living conditions of the working class and reducing our incomes whilst food prices are rising then blaming things like rising obesity and malnutrition on feckless, lazy, ignorant proles who refuse to do what's good for them is a brilliant way of shifting the blame for structural problems onto individuals and the household, and implicitly the women in the household who tend to pick up the bulk of food-related responsibilities. Well ok I didn't really mention much about gender (for once) in the article but anything relating social reproduction is generally very much tied up with gender.

Yes there are tactics we can use and tricks we can learn to make our money go further and eat better, but these tactics aren't likely to be taught to us from above, and the constant pressure to make sure your kids get calcium and 5 a day and no sugar or your a bad mother or whatever is all well and good but does nothing to actually address the problem of poverty, it just ignores it.

noodlehead wrote:
If you failed to maintain your doctor recommended diet really thats on you not capital, and although you speak a lot of sense in other parts of the article I think that you trying to fit that part into the argument required some pretty convuluted logic. And I'm not belittling your disease, although I know nothing of it, I'm doing the opposite. Assuming that it's serious then it becomes even more important to treat it as such and follow the doctors advice.

Ok, thanks for that. Firstly - nutritionists aren't doctors (not normally, and this one certainly wasn't), they're just one of the many many things recommended for women with endometriosis. If I'd have gone to a Chinese herbalist they'd have also insisted that I will never be well unless I continue with a very long, expensive and labour intensive regime, same as pretty much any other healing-type person would. They have a business to run, and in this case £75 a month of pills to sell. Believe me, I'm incredibly well aware of the importance of doing everything I can to make my symptoms bearable, you don't need to remind me. But perhaps you could come up with a way to make sure you eat 3 portions of fresh fish a week, take £20 worth of pills, drink 5 different kinds of herbal teas, have a different fresh-fruit filled gluten free breakfast every morning, eat nuts and seeds and more raw veg as snacks, only eat brown rice for carbs, get plenty of organic turkey and chicken, and make sure you only eat fruit and veg you've bought no more than two days ago or it's nutritionally invalid, oh and also drink only almond and sheeps milk, and make sure you don't eat anything that's been wrapped in plastic or you will consume dangerous amounts of oestrogen and render yourself infertile - every week, on a limited budget. Cook it all from scratch every day because left overs are void of nutritional benefit. With, you know, a life to lead as well as that, and no energy, and in pain literally all the time, like you've been left with a knife sticking into your groin that someone comes and tweaks randomly every few hours, and by the end of the day you feel like you've run into a wall at full speed repeatedly. And if you don't feel better, it's probably because you haven't been trying hard enough.

Futility Index, you can get in on this too as I hear you're great with budgeting. And seriously I'm really glad you've been able to eat well on benefits and yes perhaps for you, you had been lazy before. But are you actually saying that having fuck all money has no relation to people's diets, that everyone could just shop better and eat really well? If so, then I guess we should all stop complaining about these benefits cuts and reduced wages and rising costs of living because I guess it won't really matter.

Ok so rant over and Izbl and commie princess maybe articulated that a whole lot better. Also xslavearcx's posts are awesome.

Ramona
Jan 23 2013 20:01

Woah that was really grouchy, sorry embarrassed

Nate
Jan 23 2013 20:06

I really like this blog post. My wife and I try to eat healthy and cook healthy for our daughter. It's a challenge. On balance it's expensive, even if some parts of it are cheaper (bulk grains and stuff are cheap, though that's something we have access to because we live near a food co-op). And it's really time consuming, and time is at a huge premium for us because of work and parenting, and with the age of our kid if dinner's not ready on time it can mean a massive ugly tantrum, or mean she doesn't get to bed on time and then bedtime's all fucked up and no one gets any sleep that night.

Among other things I like how the post pointed out the judgmental tone in some food/cooking writing (along the lines of what the post said, like 'it would not be hard if you were smarter and more hard working, this is your fault'). That's part of why I've not read more practical advice on how to do this stuff better. Advice plus blame isn't particularly helpful. And it's striking that the connection between advice and blame is so close that some commenters post comments with no content other than blame then are like "this is practical advice! I blame you, that's my advice!" There's something really similar in writing about parenting, which is part of why I don't read more stuff on parenting even though parenting is really hard and there's often stuff I'd like advice on. I just can't handle the blame, and the advice isn't worth putting up with that blamey stuff. I also suspect there's something about food and cooking, and parenting, being typically feminized plus individualized/privatized and depoliticized, that makes them subjects that folk respond to in really blaming ways.

Anyway, it was nice to read a blog post that treated this kind of stuff as a serious political matter, and that said "this stuff is hard" because it feels really hard but a lot of people have this idea like "cooking? hard? why? what's your problem?"

xslavearcx
Jan 23 2013 20:51

Being a parent sucks when you are skint

Even within neo-classical economics, its seen as given that if one is on a low income, ones purchasing of 'inferior goods' will be a higher proportion of ones income, and that there is a relationship incrementaly with more spending power and buying 'better' (or in this case healthier) goods. As the wikipedia entry on inferior goods ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inferior_good) states: "In economics, an inferior good is a good that decreases in demand when consumer income rises".

As for people suggesting that people should rake bins to get more healthy stuff - is this what we mean by choice? That is, a choice between ones health or ones dignity by raking through rubbish?

Edited to add - thought i had read in the OP something about someone suggesting dumpster diving but can't seem to find it now so probably not there. Must've just saw the subject matter an opportunity to moan about anything floating in my mind related to it - oops.

Cooked
Jan 23 2013 20:40

Yeah good blog. There was a discussion about food ages ago on libcom and I'm sorta on the extreme anti health consumerism end. I find the whole health market particularly appalling. For me it's one of the worst, most abusive and manipulative fields. Fashion is nothing in comparison. It's extra annoying that "lefties" tend to fall for it even more than most. It's to do with the purity aspect I guess.

As others have mentioned it places way to much responsibility on the individual. It has similarities to american self help stuff. "Just do as I tell you and you'll be rich healthy happy and beautiful". The money in it must be huge, all these alternative therapies and diets and health food shops etc etc etc etc.

It seems a particularly insidious comsumerism as it's about you in the extreme form of your physical beeing. Purifying, cleansing turning you into clean transparent shinyness on the inside and the outside. Always having the cure for the most difficult and vague problems. Migraines, skin problems etc.

The worst thing is that the massive amounts of advertising and "information" on the internet drowns out any potential real help. Every individual has to go trough 20 therapies and diets with extreme demands to find one that sorta works.

I've never followed a diet or done alternative therapies. Cause I'm lucky I guess. But I've seen friends being completely ripped of.

jef costello
Jan 24 2013 09:31

Dumpster diving works as an extremely minority activity and generally you get processed food that way. The best food you are likely to get is bread. Generally edible food is thrown away because it is past a sell by date so it is usually convenience food such as sandwiches cakes etc. In a supermarket a pack that is past its sell by date is split up and sold loose (although they aren't strictly supposed to do that.) It's similar with markets where the food that is left is usually in very poor condition, I have picked up some good stuff (actually once I found a box of courgettes, the other times you're lucky to get an orange) but the idea of relying on it for my meals is simply unrealistic. Also it becomes less effective as more people do it. I used to go to my local-ish Tescos with a friend on Fridays at 8pm to get good reductions and generally people grabbed for the meat at 75% off and I could generally pick up organic meat and fish as well as veg which most people ignored. Of course supermarkets spot the market and raise the prices they also stopped due to a fight breaking out between two 'regulars'. So although I often get good stuff reduced and it supplements my food I couldn't rely on it, especially as supermarkets look out for this because they don't want me to come to Tescos and buy up two weeks worth of meat and fish for my freezer along with a few reduced veggies. they want a 'real' customer to have a bonus rather than me.

In terms of the foraging that people talk about I remember reading a long article by George Monbiot about fishing from a canoe and about how healthy and ethical it was, and even he had to admit that it wouldn't work if more than a very small number of people actually did it.

Orwell also talks about the hypocrisy of those with more money several times, for example in chapters 5-6 of The Road to Wigan Pier. I don't agree with everything he says in terms of food (I happen to like raw carrots and brown bread for example)

Quote:
In some districts efforts are now being made to teach the unemployed more about food-values and more about the intelligent spending of money. When you hear of a thing like this you feel yourself torn both ways. I have heard a Communist speaker on the platform grow very angry about it. In London, he said, parties of Society dames now have the cheek to walk into East End houses and give shopping-lessons to the wives of the unemployed. He gave this as an instance of the mentality of the English governing class. First you condemn a family to live on thirty shillings a week, and then you have the damned impertinence to tell them how they are to spend their money. He was quite right — I agree heartily. Yet all the same it is a pity that, merely for the lack of a proper tradition, people should pour muck like tinned milk down their throats and not even know that it is inferior to the product of the cow.
Quote:
The ordinary human being would sooner starve than live on brown bread and raw carrots. And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn't. Here the tendency of which I spoke at the end of the last chapter comes into play. When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don't want to eat dull wholesome food.

We should try to eat as well as we can with what we have but that doesn't mean that we should judge those that struggle because it isn't easy. I don't know how some people I know have the mental strength to be vegan and I eat a home-cooked meal virtually every night and make my own lunch every day. If you are suffering in the way that meany of us feel we are then what you want is relief, what you want is something to cheer you up however temporarily and even at the expense of other 'better' things. So although I buy my veg 'pound a bowl' and eat quite a lot of it I also get sweets and chocolate from the pound shop. Although I try to get decent meat and fish or go without that doesn't always happen. When you are without smaller things take on a bigger significance and although huge chunks of my life are out of my control and crush me I can still decide to eat a milky way crispy roll (five for a pound)while my healthy breakfast of muesli sits untouched.
I'm not sure what the answer is but the satisfaction I get from eating healthily isn't always as strong as the pleasure I can get from a chocolate bar or a cheeseburger.

Jacques Roux
Jan 24 2013 11:28
Ramona wrote:
And I don't know enough about the food industry itself to come up with anything creative here, so maybe other people do and it's a good question.

Thats cool, neither do i!

Jacques Roux wrote:
Personally enjoy certain celeb. chef's attempts to shift focus of sustainable food production onto industry rather than individual...)

I guess what I was talking about here was HFW work on getting affordable ethical/sustainable chicken sold in supermarkets, or JO doing the stuff with school dinners not being absolute shit.

Ramona wrote:
to hear people like HFW and Jamie Oliver, who have never had to go without their entire lives, saying that poor people should just go without (for example) meat rather than being "greedy" and buying the cheap stuff is pretty infuriating.

This is what I am really interested in. Personally growing up in a family which never bought expensive meat (and never really ate meat) I still won't eat meat till it comes to a point when I can afford the absolute best my budget can stretch too. This is where issues of industrial production and I think is an issue of modernity. I may be a romantic traditionalist but in my mind there's something not quite right about this early 20th century trend of "meat for everyone all the time" which is certainly a left viewpoint a lot of the time. When did we come to decide that we have to eat expensive food products all the time? While I can understand HFW and JO saying this is irksome I think there is a grain of truth in there, the way industrial production has turned us into food consumers isnt sustainable (it seems) in how we approach food. Of course this is an issue of class in food that the rich will always and always have been able to eat whatever they want, but thats what we should try to change, not just try and catch up with them!

Ramona wrote:
And as Arbeitan said, HFW's provenance is a lovely daydream, but I'm not sure when I'll be able to keep my own pigs and get my fish right off the tiny little boat in the harbour.

Sure now "no one has time" for this kind of stuff. But reading Colin Ward recently and the end of a mass allotment culture in the late 1950s there was a time when it was possible to supplement what you bought in the shop with what you could produce yourself.

Lots on Orwell and food in the Guardian today http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jan/24/george-orwell-britain-in-2013

martinh
Jan 24 2013 21:37

Time is a lot of it, I'm fortunate to work near where I live and have an excellent market on my doorstep. I cook 4/5 nights a week at least and make stuff at the weekend to last. Bread machine gets round the effort involved in bread, which I just object to buying most of the time as it is crap and expensive - it has a gluten free option though I've never tried it.
Problem is often that the kids don't like what I make, so often have to juggle more than one meal and they're more likely to have whatever's been on offer recently.
It's not ideal, but I don't beat myself up about it, though I can see how people might. It also helps in some ways to be cooking for 4, as it means there are some economies of scale.
But the other factor is that I enjoy cooking, and know my way round the kitchen. Some of this is stuff I picked up as a kid (it was the norm for women of my mum's generation) and some comes from the daft decision I made at age 19 to stop eating meat and had a steep learning curve. (I do eat meat now). It's no good telling people that you can cook cheaply if they don't know how and what to do with the ingredients. My partner doesn't enjoy it, and for her it's a chore, as it was for many of my Mum's generation.

Tian
Feb 10 2013 20:07

http://churchofnom.wordpress.com/2013/02/10/this-post-has-been-shown-to-contain-over-60-rant-or-why-blaming-the-poor-for-eating-bad-food-is-nastier-than-a-horseburger/

Quote:
Do you know what makes me sadder and more annoyed than supermarket meat, though, sadder and more annoyed than individual plastic packets of cut-up fruit or pallid city eggs or beef so full of water that it leaches grey claggy liquid into my stir-fry and ruins it? It’s people who assume that everyone can do what I do, and if they don’t, then their choices about food are morally dubious, or stupid, or lazy, or just icky. Just nasty. And if they find out that their food has been contaminated with something else, then what did they expect? The problem is not the contamination or the industrial processes and lack of oversight that enabled it, it’s the fact that people don’t mind eating mechanically reclaimed meat from disgusting parts of an animal anyway. Because seriously, what’s in there is barely recognisable as cow anyway, and already disgusting. ‘Burger shown to contain ground up animal, eh? Shocking’. To which I want to say, fuck you, have you ever been poor?
[...]
Some people are fairly indifferent to food, and prioritise meals which are simple and quick, rather than complex and time-consuming. But if you’re poor and uninterested, and you actually would rather not spend your evening frying calves’ liver (very cheap) or mashing celeriac because you’re not much bothered, and you eat a frozen lasagne instead, somehow that is disgusting.

I don’t think it is the food that repels people but the wider ‘ugh!’ reaction that we have to the bodies and lives of the poor. We cannot actually deride people for poverty or lack of education, so we mock their doorknocker earrings, and sportswear and inconvenient children: we mock their prams (oh, the temerity not to have a car) and their lazy, unhealthy and frankly disgusting food choices. So who cares if unsafely slaughtered animals, loaded down with drugs ruled unsafe for consumption in humans, find their way into a burger? Let them eat horse.

Ramona
Aug 27 2013 10:05

Man of the people, friend of the poor Jamie Oliver being a total dick, again http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/aug/27/jamie-oliver-chips-cheese-modern-day-poverty

Caiman del Barrio
Aug 27 2013 11:49

"Shunning supermarkets"? Didn't this fucking prick do Sainsburys ads for approx 10 years?

hellfrozeover
Sep 1 2013 13:07