Warning: upcoming rant

I don’t ordinarily watch televised evening news; it’s bad for my blood pressure.  Tonight’s CBS evening news turned out to be just that–a recipe for an aneurysm–a long piece on Oklahoma’s skyrocketing food stamp useage, illustrated with real, live food-aid recipients.  (I’d link to the video, except CBS doesn’t have it isolated from the rest of the evening news broadcast.)

Oh, yeah–that’s when I started going a little crazy.  See, the first family was pictured as they peered inside a nearly empty refrigerator (which contained a gigantic tub of Country Crock margarine and a pitcher of artificially colored fruity drink) and almost-bare cupboards (which sported canned Spaghetti-os).   The earnest family, gratefully appreciative of their temporary food assistance, bustled about the kitchen as they prepared an evening meal of penne pasta in a meat-laden tomato sauce.  (And as un-PC as it is to notice, at least three members of this family were visibly overweight.)

Journalists tailed a second food-aid recipient through the supermarket aisles, where her cart contained frozen burritos, a family package of chicken legs, and more red meat than I eat in a month.  The first family’s monthly grocery haul included sugary cereals, microwave popcorn, and a slew of processed crud.

Hello, America?  Y’all just don’t know how to be poor any more.  (Or maybe it’s just white folks from Oklahoma who don’t know how to be poor.)  What in the hell happened to beans and rice?  Meatless meals?  Oatmeal or grits in lieu of brightly colored, sugary cereals?  Assembling your own food? (Like burritos are a challenge.) Red meat only on special occasions?  Popping your own damn corn in a pot on the stove and smuggling into the movies to avoid concession-stand price gouging?  If you’re poor enough to need government food aid, you don’t spend it on Fruity Pebbles or microwave popcorn.  You buy dried beans and a 20-lb sack of rice.  You buy in bulk, you avoid name brands, and you don’t spend your dough on processed foods.

Americans are SO overfed.  We’ve enjoyed such ridiculous bounty, thanks to heavily tax-subsidized agriculture, that we no longer understand dietary needs vs. wants, nor do we possess any ability to practice thrift in the kitchen.

The U.S. could reduce obesity rates, slash heart disease, improve nutrition nationwide, and radically reshape the awful eating habits with one simple act:  restrict SNAP (aka “food stamp”) benefits’ use to the purchase of unprocessed or minimally processed foods only.  Bread, milk, eggs, cheese, non-sugary cereals, fresh produce, dry pasta, beans, rice…in short, “real” food.  A precedent exists:  WIC aid to mothers and children can only be used to purchase nutritionally appropriate foods from a prescribed list.

I won’t hold my breath for such a change.  After all, Big Agriculture needs someone to buy up all those subsidized corn, wheat, and soy calories converted into animal products and heavily processed foods.

22 thoughts on “Warning: upcoming rant

    • Interesting choice of words: “real food” isn’t a luxury, it’s a basic human right. For some, the idea of home-prepared, unprocessed foods is part of a mythical past–the act of preparing food is seen as a “luxury hobby” or as drudgery, rather than as fulfilling an important function.

      Please note I’m not opposed to food assistance–it’s a wonderful thing to live in a country with sufficient resources to help those in need—but I am opposed to the awful things most Americans think of as food.

  1. Part of the problem is that many people no longer know how to cook things from scratch. I have truly been amazed to see actually how many are in that situation. But I agree that this is a problem that needs to be fixed. Along with the government assistance there could be some simple classes on basic food preparation and it still wouldn’t cost as much as so many people buying processed foods.

    • Basic cooking and nutrition classes seem to have disappeared from schools. Maybe we need a national “home economics” revival for the 21st century….

    • It was alarming & depressing…one mother was so grateful for the assistance, as her husband had lost his job. Yet everyone in her family appeared well-fed, if not overfed. The family discussed how they would struggle to make food stretch through the month, and how they rushed off to the grocery store at the stroke of midnight on the first of the month. Whatever happened to budgeting? Inferior planning isn’t a function of poverty, it’s a function of ignorance and a paucity of skills.

      The maximum benefit amount for a family of 4 is $668. How far can you stretch $668? That’s $22/day, assuming all four family members eat three meals at home, for an average of approximately $1.83 per person, per meal. No, it’s not very much: even more reason to shop carefully, avoid name brands & processed foods, and pay attention to nutritional quality.

  2. Our Burmese refugee friends receive food stamps, and it frustrates us that they have been able to use them to buy and learn to crave such delightful American treats as Cheetos, Pringles, cookies and candy. Not to mention cartons filled with packages of instant high fat, high sodium ramen noodles. We have told them many times that their native diet of rice, vegetables and small amounts of meat or fish (and large amounts of chile flakes!) is much more healthful, but apparently this new stuff is just too wonderful to resist. We have no problem with occasional treats, but several family members now take medicine for high blood pressure and high cholosterol. We agree that we would be in favor of much tighter regulations on what can be purchased with food aid.

  3. and people wonder why diabetes rates have skyrocketed. Part of it is when we were kids we had gym class and another thing is no one cooks. Drive through garbage is easier/faster. If people were to cook even basics more often they would immediately feel better. I missed the show. I never have been a patron of fast food joints. The long term effects are what is scary. Health care costs for the kids will skyrocket. I for one if I can’t pronounce it do not purchase it.

    • It’s the “creep” of a fast-food mentality into home cooking. These families weren’t eating out, they were shopping for & preparing junk at home….

      • To me it really is sad. I enjoy cooking from “scratch”. It is how I unwind. I give cookbooks as gifts. I’m a dinosaur. Most of friends don’t cook from scratch. Its sad that the younger generation will not realize what “real food” tastes like. They think everything is out of a box.

          • Sadly a lot of the so-called “cooking” shows on TV aren’t about real cooking at all. FNTV is all about contests, fast food and promoting their products. The Cooking Channel does a better job, but both of these are on cable, which is an expense people on assistance probably can’t afford. Our local PBS station only carries one cooking show. It’s really depressing.

            And it’s also sad that so many people seem proud when announcing that they don’t know how to cook. I don’t understand that at all. Being proud of ignorance??? Something is very wrong with this picture.

            • I often wonder about the rejection of cooking: is it class aspiration? Does “not cooking” equate (for some) affluence (i.e., can afford to dine out or buy prepared foods)? Or is it a rejection of traditional “women’s work” by some women? Or the activity that gets eliminated in busy, overscheduled households with kids?

              In any event, basic cooking is an important life skill–an important “health” skill.

        • “Its sad that the younger generation will not realize what “real food” tastes like. They think everything is out of a box.”

          I sometimes think it is because their taste buds are being trained as babies with commercial baby food from too early an age. It’s really not much trouble at all to adapt the family’s meal for baby. That’s what we always did. I never bought any “baby food” at the grocery store. My girls were exposed to all kinds of flavours from an early age and have always enjoyed a varied diet. Now in their late teens and early 20s they both enjoy cooking from scratch.

  4. I think a lot of has to do with class aspiration, laziness and quite possibly not having a roll model to show them the basics and junk is cheaper sometimes. I enjoy cooking and consider it a hobby. Most people are so stressed that they don’t realize they can throw together a decent meal – pasta, beans, what have you for pennies. I just went and got chicken tenders to support a local charity. That is a rarity for me b/c I detest fast food but i wanted to support this local pet charity. Its like the crime issue. No easy answer.

  5. Don’t get me started. John Q. Public believes what the mainstream media espouses. Its just sad. I watch so little tv. Local news and NCIS. I used to watch TV Foodnetwork but quit a good while back. I’ve seen kids pitch fits if they didn’t get their mcprize. It makes me wonder how much of the cancer and other diseases are brought on by the overly processed diet.

  6. Loved this. So true. And from a middle class perspective I’d add that I’d like to see more *recipes* out there designed not just for health, but budget. Too often I’ll print out a recipe online (or from a cooking channel) that calls for the most ridiculously expensive ingredients (and rarely do they suggest substitutes). I don’t mind buying a $12 spice/condiment if I’ll use it regularly, but for one recipe? Impractical.

    • RE: specialty ingredients and spices, it’s the whole “chef” perspective rather than a home cook’s perspective in the recipes you describe. I’ll admit, I’m a spice junkie, so I never mind buying any oddball seasonings w/at least a decent shelf life. What irks me is the recipe with four different deep fried garnishes. I have no fear of deep-frying, but who’s gonna lug out two quarts of cooking oil just to make a garnish or two? I can live without the tiny tangle of deep-fried, julienned sweet potato, thankyouverymuch. I don’t have a brigade of line cooks or a dishwasher to handle my garniture needs.

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