I don’t want my discussions of food and health to apply only to a certain community. I want to point out the ways that healthy, whole foods can be accessible to everyone—and some of the reasons why they aren’t always. I am prepared to meet mixed reactions to this post if I haven’t already offended or sparked disagreement from any of my readers already. Also, I can’t address everything and I can’t spend a week editing my words here. So understand that something will be left out and I will fail to fully develop all of my ideas. This is a blog and a conversation starter.
Today I ate the best pasta dish I have ever had at a restaurant. It was handmade pasta with eggplant, homemade tomato sauce, and spinach. It was in an affluent side of town. I paid $6.00 for it (lunch special!) and it came with the best bread I’ve ever had in my life. Somewhere, someone paid more than that for lunch at Bojangles. Healthy food is not a money issue, it’s an issue of class and access. And I can’t help being painfully aware of that every time I shop at Whole Foods, eat near my home in East Cobb, or post about food on this blog.
Driving around a relatively affluent area of the town where I live, I am painfully aware of the extent to which fitness has become the newest trend among the middle class. All of the coolest places to eat and shop revolve around things that are fresh, green, healthy, and fit. Every time I experience this awareness, it’s like a good swift kick in the pants, and a reminder of how fine the line is between the latest suburban trend and what it is that I’m trying to accomplish. And, everywhere I look I see evidence that fitness is expected of everyone, but marketed only to the middle class. Everyone, it seems, should be fit and healthy (has anyone seen those disgusting anti-childhood obesity adds????) but it’s made to appear as though it’s only accessible to those who can afford it. And I want to clear this up, dammit.
I have made references in several of my previous posts about my fear of participating in a classist/elitist trend. I have expressed that I don’t want to be read as another middle class suburban mom trying to save the world by buying expensive shit. You know, the “my-expensive-organic-apple-is-better-than-your-grocery-store-apple” thing that seems to be going around. In previous posts, I have acknowledged the role of access and privilege when it comes to food and fitness.
But what do I mean by all of it? Let me back up a little bit and open up a discussion here.
I want to discuss the way that privilege and access work to move some parts of the community toward the healthy lifestyle bandwagon, while deliberately holding others back from it. There is a common misconception among the economically disadvantaged that healthy foods are too expensive and out of reach. And there is a common misconception among the middle class that poor people are overweight because they eat too much fast food when they should know better. Really, what it comes down to is location and access to knowledge about food, health, and basic biology.
Let me share a few examples of common myths circulating in low-income circles:
1) I am very close to someone in the sports community with decades of competitive athletic experience who avoids spicy foods because he genuinely believes that spicy foods can eat through your intestines and weaken your abdominals. I can’t convince him otherwise.
2) I have worked closely with a coach who believes that drinking too much water can cause water weight gain, and so therefore to avoid gaining weight one should limit one’s water intake. Again, I have been unable to undo decades of false education.
3) I have met a diabetic who was taught that you can wash the starch off of rice so that it is no longer a carbohydrate.
4) I have met many, many people who believe that fruit is not a carbohydrate. Many also believe that fruit doesn’t contain sugar so it’s ok to eat in large, unlimited quantities. Despite my best efforts, some have refused to listen to me tell them otherwise.
These myths persist because they are taught from childhood and continue to circulate among communities that typically lack access to the truth. In some communities, the truth is regarded as suspect because many members of the poorest populations have been lied to by others in power for centuries. Others (usually of an older generation) regard food science the same way they regard technology: moving too fast, unnecessary, intimidating, or just another false money-making scheme.
So what you see now is a growing trend toward health and fitness in the affluent parts of town, a large concentration of fast food and inexpensive buffets in the poorer parts of town, and a lack of each in the other. These geographic concentrations are compounded by transportation issues to further propel the belief that “healthy” foods are too expensive and out of reach for poor and working class people. If Popeye’s chicken is within walking distance from home, and Whole Foods is outside of a reasonable bus route, then which is more realistically attainable to someone without a vehicle?
There is also the issue of time. I don’t have to work 80 hours a week to provide for my daughter, so I have time to bake bread. And I am thankful for that. I have time (mostly) to cook dinner from fresh ingredients. Again, I am very thankful. I am thankful that I can prioritize my time to revolve around my family’s health and well-being. However, I believe that anyone could make health a priority, if for no other reason than because preventative maintenance is less expensive than heart and diabetes medication.
Recognizing that class, access, and privilege play a major role in health and fitness just can’t be enough. I struggle to find a way to participate in a more healthy lifestyle without feeding into the classist and elitist systems that make it inaccessible to others. Any ideas????????? What do you think? Please don’t be afraid to comment.
Today, instead of a recipe I want to share my grocery list and talk about what it costs. People often remark that it is more expensive to eat healthy foods. And I am often asked about my grocery bills. So I thought about it and decided to share my experience.
There are some basic staples that I always keep, and I usually buy enough for two weeks at a time. Then, it works out so that they are staggered. So one week I might stock up on dry beans, rice, and oats; then, the next week I stock up on flours and other baking staples. In addition, each week I buy produce and dairy. Because it’s winter and I started late, our meals aren’t as vegetable based as they would be the rest of the year.
Typically, I spend around $40 a week on the dry staples, and $40 a week on eggs, dairy, produce, and various extras like detergent and toothpaste. I no longer buy things like barbeque sauce, ketchup, bread, deli meat, chicken, lunchables, chips, cookies, taco shells, seasoning packets, fruit snacks, etc. With the exception of an occasional box of store-bought snacks for my daughter, which are rare but appreciated by a six year old, my trips to the grocery store really focus on the basics.
Here’s what two to three weeks’ worth of [organic!!!!] dried beans, rice, and oats looks like. I’d also like to point out that this health foods store is located along the Cobb County Transportation bus route, and is within walking distance of several HUD-accepting apartment complexes.