Yet another rich person with lots of free time pretends to live on the food stamp allowance

This time from the Chicago Tribune.

Ignore the Tribune comments; most of them are either about how people using food stamps should just do what the person in the article did, or about how there's no way people using food stamps would do such a thing because they're inferior people.

The commenters on this article where it reappeared on Apartment Therapy are all unaware that farmers markets take WIC in 45 states and food stamps in many communities. Really, do these people not know any poor people? Or not read local news? Or not involve themselves in community issues?

Some of the AT comments were decent. People pointed out that people using food stamps don't usually have this kind of time, might not have this level of cooking skill, probably don't have this elaborate of kitchen setup.

But like previous attempts at shopping on a food stamp budget, the basic premise of this was decent, in that lifestyle bloggers at least acknowledged for once that most people don't have the kind of money to do most of the stuff they write about. Still, rather than having someone do an experiment they don't need to do, why didn't the authors offer to do this along with someone who is a benefits recipient and see how it would really work in a situation where someone doesn't have a lot of time to cook, is hounded by not-very-educated grandparents who insist that you better be buyin that baby REAL pampers and she ain't havin none of that unsanitary cloth business, and you better be feeding that baby REAL gerber and none of that made-it-yourself-in-the-blender nonsense.

For a lot of people living in a cycle of poverty, it's a real pride thing that their children will not be wearing any clothes or using any toys that aren't new, and they certainly won't be eating anything that isn't brand-name. Things that seem artsy or whatever to middle-class people, like homemade pizza and bulk foods and whatnot (and that might be healthier...) seem like cheap halfass DIY alternatives to a lot of people who are focused on making sure their kids have what they view as the best. People fail to realize that within the lower income brackets, you still have different classes of people based on education, resources, connectedness to people of other classes, etc. Even if I lose everything and am living in a shelter with no assets, I'm still not going to be of the lowest socioeconomic group given my education and other factors, so I can't go around writing a blog post about how I would go to thrift stores and eat bulk rice and beans, therefore so should they (whoever "they" are).

There's also the factor of being of the demographic that you can get your kids taken away in an instant -- there's no way you're going to risk having anyone hear that you're not feeding your kids meat and dairy at every meal or that you aren't feeding the baby proper baby food, including those ridiculous overpriced and overmarketed baby junkfood "puffs," or that every inch of your house isn't babyproofed with store-bought products (marked up at Babies R Us, not straight from the hardware store -- I've been told that Babies R Us knows how to only sell safe things and the other stores don't because they aren't the real Babies R Us).

The people who investigate complaints of abuse and neglect are not generally clinicians with formal training in family development or nutrition. They often haven't attended any college and have only received on-the-job training. I've seen kids get taken away because the family feeds them beans and rice and they have hand-me-down clothes and people share a bed. Which looks a lot like my family and many of my friends, except that I'm more educated than a lot of my clients, I'm perceived as white, my apartment has books and art instead of TV and video games, and we look pretty middle-class unless you look at our income. The social services folks aren't going to think our beans and rice and minimal material possessions constitute living in squalor, but they do think it's neglectful coming from a less articulate/educated/white family.

It's easier for people in the middle class to eschew American marketing for simpler alternatives. Much harder to do so in the lower classes. I'm not sure what the solution is.


Boris said...

Thank you for a thoughtful, comprehensive comparison between these anthropology essays – “Let’s live like poor people and generate content for an article” and what underprivileged folks actually deal with.

Having suffered through a number of bloviated arguments from over educated folk using phrase such as “failure of imagination, if they really wanted to.., etc. etc”. I’ve responded in similar fashion, but much less effectively.

Herzog said...

You get it! This is one of the most incisive blog posts I have read recently. Looking forward to reading and commenting on your blog.

Over time I've become so frustrated with those who "care," but understand so little about the "poor," especially minimalists who don't realize that being rich is about being able to buy things you need, not about having lots of stuff.

Diana said...

Thank you for this post. It's easy to miss the fact that there are several different cultures all living within the US and each culture has it's own set of values.

As an overeducated individual I look at poor, uneducated individuals and wonder "what are they thinking?" Without the context of their culture I cannot understand them.

Thank you for reminding me of the cultural differences between levels of education.

Reluctant Gloucesterite said...

wow, this is just an amazing post. thank you. i've always realized that there's a vast chasm of difference between myself, who became much poorer because of the recession and now need assistance, and people who live in the cycle of poverty (who i've worked with as coworkers before) - i'm lucky to have time, and have the skills necessary to make cheap food and turn raw veggies into something we'll all eat.

ellen said...

Thanks for an eye opening post. I grew up with little cash but lots of make do skills and never understood why others don't just do the same.