"No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies." — Benjamin Franklin

Friday, October 19, 2007

What Does One Eat When One Is Poor?

I just read this article about higher food prices on Yahoo! News. A few things really jumped out at me (well, more than a few, but I talk about some of the finer philosophical points at my other blog, "infinity: this way"). Concerning how to "stretch your food dollar", people:

  • "are running out of food products, paper towels sooner"
  • "And 7-Eleven says...shoppers can't afford to load up at the supermarket and are going to the most convenient places to buy emergency food items like milk and eggs."
  • are buying "one gallon of milk a week instead of three"
  • "sometimes skips breakfast and lunch to make sure there's enough food for her children"
  • "cooks with a hot plate because gas is too expensive
  • "depend more than ever on the bags of free vegetables and powdered milk from a local food pantry"
  • "cut fruits and vegetables from [their] grocery order"
  • are "buying more peanut butter and pasta. And they're going for hamburger meat"
  • are "spending anywhere from $7 to $10 extra a week — $40 more a month — on groceries alone, compared to a year ago"
This is despicable. We should be ashamed that we, as a society, are forcing people to exist like this. And, later in the article, you see the reason:
And while overall wage growth is a solid 4.1 percent over the past 12 months, economists say the increases are mostly for the top earners.
There it is: greed. Pure, unadulterated, uncaring greed. The people "at the top" make more money, and the people at the bottom starve because they can't buy vegetables (which, as an aside, makes them unhealthy and easier to control).

So, since I harbor no illusion that our society is going to reform itself sufficiently in the short-term, let's talk about the subject of this post: the diet of the poor.

Above, you notice that people buy cheap carbohydrates (pasta) and cheap, low-quality protein (peanut butter and cheap ground beef). Most of us have probably been through a stint of eating beans and rice for a few days (or longer) while we were a bit less flush than we'd like. Is this a healthy diet? No, not by any means. On the other hand, meat is very nutrient-dense, and we're built to eat it. Frankly, I think those with little money should concentrate on eating natural, wholesome meat. It's not perfect, but if one must concentrate on a single source of food, natural meat is probably the best candidate.

A lot of the increases in food prices stem from the fact that transportation costs have risen significantly, which is due to higher fuel prices (see "greed" above coupled with a diminishing supply of oil worldwide). So, a simple fix is to buy locally-produced items. When you shorten the distance from the producer to your table, you increase the percentage of your purchase that actually goes into the food itself as opposed to its transportation costs. Sometimes, locally-produced goods are cheaper; sometimes they aren't. The thought process then comes down to a few things: keeping money in your community, reducing the amount of processing needed in preparation for shipment and transportation, increasing the available nutrition in the food (much of which can be lost in processing), and regaining a measure of control over your life.

Recently, my partner and I have started purchasing our meat at a local butcher as opposed to a large chain store. He raises his own buffalo; we've spent time with his herd. The meat is processed locally and sold on his farm. He also purchases and sells items from other local producers of pork, lamb, chickens, eggs, and meat. All of this food has been born, raised, and prepared within 20 miles of our home, using natural processes and organic feed, by people who care. Not only does it taste better than any other meat I've ever eaten, its nutritional profile is so different that it may as well be a different food than that which you'll find wrapped in plastic at your local grocery; the fat ratio is completely different, the protein content is higher, and since it was minimally processed, we can cook it less which provides more vitamins than we would otherwise receive.

So, am I suggesting that you find a local source of meat, and even enter into a personal relationship with its proprietor? Absolutely I am! And if you are willing and able, take up hunting and fishing; not only is it a source of food, it is excellent exercise for the body and the mind.

As for vegetables and fruits, what should be done? If you have space in your yard, pull up that ridiculously worthless grass and plant food. It's really not that difficult to grow a few things to supplement - or even significantly increase - your diet. If you don't have space, see if there is a co-op or community garden near your home where you can inexpensively rent a plot and grow your food. Borrow space from your neighbors in exchange for produce. In some way, shape, or form, grow what you can, where you can. Also, if you have wilderness nearby, learn your local native plants and harvest wild foods.

What are the results of an approach such I've suggested? Better health, exercise, a connection with the source(s) of your food, and a reduction of support for those who are greedy enough to let other people starve. Those sound pretty good to me.