Food judgment is not cool

In keeping with this week’s theme of talking about class and poverty issues, today I want to touch upon the issue of food. I have written on the issue of food in the past, and here is a great tumblr post by a gal who really gets the issues of class.
However despite writing on this in the past, I feel the need to revisit the issue because I am convinced it’s pretty easy to be clueless when wondering why don’t those darn poor folks eat better? Why are they not more adventurous in their eating? Don’t they know fruits and veggies are cheap? And so on, as I tap the ole gray matter to think of some of the seemingly innocent comments I have heard from folks on the matter of food and folks who are financially vulnerable.

Let me tell you something, I was damn near 25 before I decided to get adventurous in my eating, why? Money, plain and simple; sure I could have sprung for some red leaf lettuce beforehand, but what if I hated it? Then I would have been shit out of luck as far as my money and frankly for the earlier part of my adulthood, my dollars were sparse and I could not afford to be wasteful. The reality is for many folks at the lower end of the financial spectrum, dollars are tight and often it’s easier to eat what you know rather than stepping out and being adventurous. Even the ability to be adventurous with something as seemingly small as food is not available to all! Sure the sushi lunch box special is comparable in price to a meal at McDonald’s but if you find it is not to your liking when your budget has no wiggle room, survival dictates taking a step on the wild side is a bad idea.

Next up good ole fruits and veggies and the poor, I especially love the internet flappers who wax poetically about the joys of eating veggies, how good they are for you and all that good stuff. Again another area where frankly I never got very adventurous until I was in a solid financial place with access to decent kitchen equipment and could afford to decide whether or not kohlrabi made for a good slaw or not. For my son’s early years our veggie consumption was limited to corn, potatoes, canned string beans, and one or two other items. When my son was born I relied on food stamps (the real deal in the awkward as hell book where everyone knew you were poor) for the first year of his life and after that I often worked 2-3 jobs to provide for us, so I lacked time to play around in the kitchen as well as the funds to splurge.

Also for many folks at the lower end of the income spectrum the reality is a buying a ton of fruits and veggies is simply not cost effective when it comes to filling folks up. Look, I live in Maine, I have participated in CSA’s, I know all my local farmers but even buying straight from the source isn’t cheap! Even at the farmer’s market tomatoes often run $3 a lb! Yeah, yeah, many CSA’s will offer a working share; you provide them with free labor they give you goodies, sounds great? Except if you are working your hourly wage gig to keep a roof over your head, the free farm gig is not really feasible. One man’s cheap is another man’s expensive as hell and frankly out of reach

I could go on and on but let me say often how we view food is a direct correlation to where we are class wise or where we have been class wise. The fact is it’s real easy to suggest what other people should do but unless you have walked a mile in their shoes, perhaps its best to sit back and keep your thoughts to yourself.

I will be honest and say one of the first experiences I had around realizing food is tied to class and I have shared this before was when I was in graduate school in New Hampshire. I was out at a Japanese place with my colleagues and everyone but me ordered sushi, the only thing I even remotely had any interest in was the tempura. I am sure my classmates didn’t mean any harm but everyone ribbed me for having such blah taste and proclaimed loudly how could I not eat sushi? I went home that day feeling so ashamed because until that point in my life I had never been in a place or position where eating sushi was an option. Then I got pissed the fuck off that I was being judged because I didn’t eat sushi, never mind I started my adult life as a high school dropout, married at 18, a mother at 19, separated at 20. The only thing that these assholes could see was that I didn’t want to eat raw fish? Long story short, I willed myself to eat sushi and to this day I still wonder if I really like it since I will be honest, I would be way happier with some fried catfish, a side of spaghetti and some coleslaw.

Taking off my mask…nope I am not like you at all

I have a secret to share with you, of course the fact that I am putting it on this very public blog means it will no longer be a secret but that is okay. I go through most of my days feeling like a fraud, a fake, an impostor. Oh, on the surface I look like your average college educated middle class person (do they really even exist anymore? Or is that the lie we tell ourselves because we can’t stand the idea that we are no longer in the middle but we didn’t rise to the top?), I have a job where to a large degree I have total autonomy, I live a reasonably sized house, have access to a car that is not a jalopy. That’s the sort of shit we see and assume that means folks are fine. Really that is quite silly. In this economy there are people driving nice cars, hoping and praying the repo man doesn’t show up and are crossing fingers and toes they can get their home loans modified. Yet when we see these folks, we have no idea and again assume they are like us.

In the past week or so there have been several instances both in my day to day off line life as well as my on line life where it was assumed I was just like everyone else. In one instance, I actually had someone try to explain to me the lives of the poor; I nearly laughed but instead wore my mask of the middle class all the time feeling my guts churning and temper rising.

See, I may not emphasize it a great deal on this blog though I have shared this in the past, but I grew up poor, if it was a good year we were working class but really we were poor. Oh, my parents being young turned it into a fun game, but looking back, there is no mistaking the fact that we were poor. I am talking getting vittles at the food pantry poor, shit; I have only recently started eating English muffins. Why? Because there was a period of time when I was a kid we ate a lot of them because that is what the pantry gave us. There was also the time the pantry gave us chocolate syrup and my folks scraped up enough cash to buy some ice cream so we could have a treat, only to discover that the chocolate syrup had expired, chocolate syrup gone bad has a smell you never forget. I can assure you in the 25 years since that incident I still remember it clear as day.

I also remember when we lost our apartment and moved into a homeless shelter for six months, it was transitional shelter run by Catholic Charities and two nuns who I imagine are long gone. I remember group meals with a host of characters, “shopping” for clothes from the donations that came in. Yeah, I am a card carrying member of the grew up poor club and those lessons don’t ever leave you. I know another fellow blogger and Maine resident who had a similar upbringing and believe me no matter how far away you are from that grinding poverty, it colors your life. Hell, I only recently stopped hoarding food though I will always buy toilet paper in bulk as I never ever want to have to wipe my ass with newspaper or scraps again.
That said, I must admit the level of classicism and assumptions that I see in my day to day life sometimes make me want to scream. I recently read this piece and its funny because while on paper I am squarely middle class, never mind I am going bankrupt and my personal net worth is like negative two hundred thousand dollars plus but because I present as a middle class person that is what I am treated like. The fact is in my personal financial life I am very much like the Cracked piece in part because when you do grow up and break free from the poverty it travels with you and you never quite leave it behind.

In my case I did finally make it to college, but I graduated with a shitload of debt and not nearly as much social capital as I really needed to advance my career. Turns out moving to Maine despite the low paying gigs did a lot more for me professionally than I would have expected. It’s a lot easier to connect with folks when you live in a state with a small population. I truly doubt I would have landed my first Executive Director position at 31 had I stayed in Chicago since I didn’t have social capital. Yet in Maine, to some degree I got a do-over, and its been helpful yet most of us don’t get a do-over in this highly rigged game called life.

This week I will be writing about classicism and poverty, if anyone is interested in submitting a guest post on those topics I would love to hear from you.

Wal-Mart and Black Folks…two things that don’t go together

It’s a strange day for me up here in my corner of the world. I need a vacation but that’s not happening for a while so I will take a moment from my busy day to bring some light to some situations that are only now just starting to get national attention.

Many Americans shop at Wal-Mart, some because they like it and some because they have no choice. After all its well-known that Wally comes to a town and often the little homegrown shops go out of business. Me? Well prior to moving to Maine, I had only been to a Wal-mart maybe once if that. I can’t recall. In part because there were no Wal-Marts in Chicago and also because I always associated Wally’s as being the type of place I had no need to go to.

Well after moving to Maine, for the first couple of years living here I started going to Wal-Mart because prices were cheaper but every time I went there, I hated it. There is something about being in Wal-Mart that literally makes me sick. It’s as if they pumped in bad air. I find the whole experience to be unpleasant and coupled with the fact that they are well-known for treating their employees like shit, as well as being anti-union. I started looking for better more sustainable options for shopping. I do a great deal of my shopping directly with small local farmers or small local shops, though I do go to the local big box grocer to round things out. In the end its only a few dollars more but in this case its money well spent.

That said, plenty folks go there and it’s just what they do. I pass no judgement on them….sometimes you do what you have to do. However if you are Black and shopping at Wal-Mart you may get more than you bargained for. Check this story out and this one. In both stories Black folks were shopping and in both instances white folks thought the Black folks cut them in line and well…shit hit the fan. Though in the last story I linked to a young woman who may have been bound for medical school is literally fighting for her freedom. Yep, Heather Ellis is dealing with intimidation from the local KKK and what should have not even been a case or issue is threatening to destroy a life. In that first story a woman old enough to know better thought that calling someone a nigger was appropriate behavior for being slighted.

Um….what the fuck is wrong with people. Are they on dope or dog food? Nope, sadly its that old friend racism rearing its ugly head and in a place like Wal-Mart, I swear there is something about the environment that makes folks just go crazy. You put people together who in many cases are scrapping to get by financially and long lines and its a bad combination. I know I am coming across as rather light about some rather serious situations but shopping in places like Wal-Mart I am aware that you see the intersection of race and class coming together and sometimes it is not pretty.

So I want to do my part and get the word out about the plight of Heather Ellis and send some prayers that this case is dismissed and that another bright young Black life is not lost to the penal system.  As for the rest of us, maybe us Black folks should stay the hell out of Wal-Mart…seriously they are not good for our health at all. In fact we should all stay away from Wal-Mart, the country would be a prettier places if there were less Wal-Marts destroying the landscape.

Edited to add, Revvy Rev left me another example of Wal-Mart and Black folks not going well together, check this piece out http://thetoledojournal.com/news/Article/Article.asp?NewsID=99733&sID=4