Where Food Slows To A Stop
A friend of a friend on Facebook showed me this Twitter, uh, narrative “explaining” poverty and food insecurity to British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver of “pink slime” fame, amid other “things [he] will never understand”:
1. When you’re poor, you’re often poor of time/energy. It’s hard to cook when you’re working 3 jobs.
2. When you’re poor, shopping is restricted by transport. you shop where you can get to by bus or on foot. You can only buy what you can carry.
3. When you’re poor, the local shops in the poor neighborhood are often poor as well – poor in choice and price and balance. (Google “food deserts”.)
4. When you’re poor, you can’t invest £10 in buying bulk supplies, staples, spices… because you only have £20 to eat for whole the week.
5. When you’re poor, you live in a constant state of food insecurity, and there is a biological brain imperative for calories. Your body doesn’t know where its next meal is coming from – it wants crisps/chocolate/cheap *calories*, and overrides apples.
6. When you’re poor, and you have to choose between £1 on mince or £1 on a microwave pizza, which is the most economic re: calories/time/energy?
7. When you’re poor, your cooking facilities are often very restricted. Slow cookers? Freezer space? Electric mixer? HOB???
8. When you’re poor and you’ve been eating pasta every day for a week and you find £1 in your pocket, fuck yeah you’re gonna buy a Coke.
Oliver has some seriously bourgeois food politics, and a lot of my contempt for the implicit class presumptions of “slow food” is rooted in the relatively recent personal experience of having to painstakingly develop poor-skills after a year on food stamps, working part-time, never having really been poor before – where I learned how easily and cheaply Mexican leftovers can be tricked up into two more meals, but where I also learned that spending $3 and change on a McGangbang or three McDoubles will give me 70g of protein (along with a day’s worth of fat). Sustainability is one thing; making blithe presumptions about the amount of time and labor that every person should or could spend on sustaining themselves and their families is an entirely different animal.
It implies that he doesn’t understand the opportunity costs associated with food because he doesn’t really have to pay them, in the same way that he doesn’t quite seem to understand that kids will feel emotionally betrayed when you take their comfort foods away, nevermind why; and that taking a cabbage and just pickling it doesn’t make kraut into “kimchi” any more than “beet gazpacho” is anything other than borscht. (Both of these unlikely euphemisms, the latter barely two years old, indicate some class anxiety about “peasant” foods with Slavic/Jewish origins – but what is Jamie Oliver if not a basket of class anxiety about food?)
More to my own point: this is ultimately the fundamental irony of the Walmart living wage bill fight in DC. The company will not legally commit to paying the prevailing local wage, and has reneged on previous agreements to do so. This will exacerbate poverty in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia already in thrall to the business and logistics cycles of food deserts, patched only occasionally there by high-markup, low-quality corner resellers, liquor stores, and Chinese-etcetera takeouts.
Yet those neighborhoods desperately need grocery stores of some kind – any kind – where there are none within walking distance, and the only locations Walmart is threatening to cancel over the bill are the ones east of the River (plus one on New York Ave NE) that fill these voids. Walmart will continue with their traditional category-killer model in more affluent Northwest neighborhoods, potentially crushing many existing and beloved local businesses.
As local activists and unions rally tonight, I still wonder if there’s any solution to these problems, legal or otherwise, that simultaneously satisfies the growing spatial stratification of poverty and also works at the underlying logistical problems of food production and distribution. Or are all of the currently available solutions short of open revolt ultimately symptomatic or, worse, non-solutions indicative of larger feedback loops? What can we do now, or at least soon?