A Conservative Trifecta: Fat-shaming, welfare-state-hating, and victim-blaming

What’s making you fat now? Food stamps.

The argument goes something like this: Low-income people are more likely to be overweight than wealthier Americans. Low-income people are often on food stamps. Therefore, we should re-vamp the foodstamp program because clearly federal food relief leads to obesity. Also, poor people today (read: uppity Negroes) feel entitled to things like food, unlike the humble poor of yesteryear (read: white people, as evidenced by the examples used by the conservative authors — the characters in “Cinderella Man” and “Angela’s Ashes”), who knew enough to be humiliated by their economic situation. From the Hoover Institute article:

The searing images of the Great Depression, and the movie’s themes of pride, humility, hard work, and family, present an interesting contrast to the plight of the poor today. Although there are no doubt many individuals and families in need, the picture of poverty in America today can best be described as muddled.

To which “independent woman” Charlotte Hays follows:

Well, that was then, and this is now: Today many people regard receiving food stamps not as a humiliation but as an entitlement. We’ve made it that way. At one point, there were food stamp ads in the New York subway. They were designed to show that even ordinary, middle class folks might have to resort to food stamps in a spot of trouble.

Imagine that: a program which sought to lessen the humiliation of being on food stamps. Ha. Everyone knows that the poor should be properly humiliated for their lack of income. It’s the compassionate conservative way.

Back to the Hoover article:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reminds us every year around Christmas that hunger and homelessness have increased during the previous 12 months, as has been the case, apparently, every year for the past 20 years. Yet the unemployment rate for 2005 (estimated at 5.2 percent) will likely be two full percentage points lower than it was in 1985, and this 20-year period saw one of the most robust economies in American history—including five straight years of less than 5 percent unemployment. Something doesn’t compute. There’s no such confusion when it comes to the Great Depression. At its height, one in every four Americans could not find work.

Now, I wasn’t a math major, but wouldn’t it be possible for the actual number of homeless and hungry people to increase even as the percentage of unemployed people decreases — given that, first, “employed” does not necessarily equal “doing well enough to pay rent or feed your family,” and second, with population increases, the raw number of homeless/hungry people could in fact increase even as percentage-based unemployment decreases?

And a major pet peeve of mine: The argument which comes down to, “The economy is great! Why can’t homeless people just get jobs?” Putting aside the fact that the majority of homeless people are only homeless for a few days and do, in fact, get jobs, those who are chronically homeless often face issues of mental/physical illness and addiction. These are the people who are commonly ID’ed as “homeless,” and who cost the system the greatest amount of money. And contrary to popular belief, they make up a relatively small percentage of the total homeless population (Great New Yorker article on homelessness here). But even if the chronically homeless don’t face health/addiction issues, how exactly are they going to get hired? They don’t usually have a phone number to leave with a potential employer, and if they show the visual cues of “homeless,” a lot of employers have no qualms about discriminating against them. But I suppose it’s a lot easier to simply say, “Get a job, bum” than it is to consider the very practical issues which make actually getting a job incredibly difficult for some segments of the population.

As for “the hungry,” the biggest recipients of government food aid are women with dependent children. We’ve put these women in a nearly impossible situation. In order to qualify for welfare, they usually have to work 40 hours a week, which makes being home for their children impossible — particularly when many of these women commute significant distances to their jobs. Childcare often costs more per month than an entire welfare check. Two-parent middle-income families spend an average of about $10,000 annually on child-rearing. Welfare recipients often receive less than half of that to cover all their expenses for the year. Take Shontice Fields, a 27-year-old mother of two who receives $379 a month in aid. How, exactly, is she supposed to be working 40 hours a week and still make sure that her two kids are taken care of?

Forty percent of low-income single mothers spend at least half of their income on childcare; another 25 percent spent 40-50 percent. From a 2000 report:

Low-income families have the fewest choices. They cannot afford not to work, yet even average-priced child care is unaffordable. Non-poor families, on average, spend 7 percent of their income on child care. Even if a two-parent family with both parents working full time at minimum wage ($21,400 a year before taxes) managed to budget 10 percent of their income for child care ($2,140 a year), they would be left several thousand dollars short of what they needed to afford average-priced child care, much less the higher prices charged by many better quality centers and family child care homes. (page 1)

A survey of child care costs in the 50 states reveals that child care is one of the biggest expenses that families face in raising their children. Child care can easily cost an average of $4,000 to $6,000 per year. In certain areas of the country, families may be spending more than $10,000 a year on child care. Families with infants in care must grapple with particularly high costs. Among the cities surveyed, the average price of center care for infants is generally about $1,100 a year more than the average price of center care for 4-year-olds. These are only the costs for one child’s care ― yet, many families face child care expenses for more than one child.

You have to work 40 hours a week, but childcare costs more than what you make. Conservatives wring their hands about the evils of daycare, but you can’t leave your pre-schooler home alone, and U.S. workplace policies aren’t especially family-friendly — especially in minimum-wage occupations. Conservatives bemoan the lack of “family values,” but have no qualms about separating poor women from their families every day (the right-wing solution: just get married!). It’s commonly agreed that children do better when a parent is present sometimes to help with homework or have dinner together or just play. If you’re working 9 hours a day, and commuting an hour and a half each way, and your small children go to bed early, that doesn’t leave a lot of family bonding time. Which lets conservatives then blame selfish, lazy black women on welfare for raising criminals.

And that’s if you even get welfare in the first place. You’ll get dropped if you’re poor for too long, if you’re convicted of a drug-related offense, if you’re a teen parent living without parental supervision, or if you’re not a citizen.

But yes, just get a job.

Back to Hoover:

The General Social Survey (a far-ranging personal interview survey of U.S. households conducted nearly every year) reveals that, between 1972 and 1994, 76 percent of Americans tended to feel that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Yet, as shown in figure 1 (page 95), a household in poverty in 1994 had the same modern conveniences and material well-being as the general population did in 1971.

Because how poor you are is determined by the kinds of household conveniences you own. Instead of by, say, calculations by the Federal Reserve, which show that the rich in fact are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

A second crossroads concerns the effectiveness of food stamps in meeting the nutritional needs of the poor. The dilemma is that advocates of federal food programs do not want to see food stamps reduced in any way; they are thus forced into the ridiculous position of insisting that hunger is on the rise, when, according to former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, “The simple fact is that more people die in the United States from too much food than of too little.”

Someone give this man an award for his phenomenal use of misleading evidence to “prove” a point which would otherwise be impossible to make. The fact that more people die from obesity-related issues (which is what I assume he means by “too much food”) than from starvation in no way proves that hunger is not on the rise; it only proves that fewer people are starving to death, which just maybe is a product of the much-maligned welfare state.

Upward of 70 percent of low-income adults are overweight (many are in fact obese), and adolescents from low-income families are twice as likely to be overweight as other adolescents. Additionally, some Agriculture Department studies have shown that food stamps may actually contribute to overeating, although the evidence is mixed.

Poor people are fatter than middle and upper-income people. Poor people are more likely to be on foodstamps. Therefore, foodstamps make you eat too much. Someone get this man to a Logical Reasoning 101 course!

Have we perhaps considered that weight gain isn’t necessarily caused by constant binging, but by living a fairly sedentary lifestyle and eating foods that are high in fat and sugar? Have we considered that trying to support a family on minimum wage and welfare doesn’t give you a whole lot of time for that pilates class you’ve been dying to take? Have we considered the fact that the federal government hugely subsidizes corn production (agricultural welfare, if you will), which means that high-fructose corn syrup is in everything — to the point where we eat about 31 teaspoons of it a day, three times the recommended amount, and accounting for a full 15 percent of our daily caloric intake? There’s a pretty solid connection between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity rates. And because corn is so heavily subsidized, high-fructose corn syrup is dirt cheap — meaning that a lot of affordable foods (you know, the stuff that low-income people rely on) are brimming with it.

So perhaps poorer people are fatter because they only have access to the most fattening foods, courtesy of Uncle Sam.

There are also all the structural issues that low-income people face when it comes to accessing things like fresh fruit and vegetables, as Zuzu illustrates here. I’m not going to repeat everything she wrote; read her post, it’s fantastic. It details the various institutional barriers that poor people face in accessing healthy foods. And food stamps are indeed a barrier — but not because they make you fat. Foodstamps are a barrier because they’re only accepted in certain places, and they aren’t exactly generous. When you’ve got a family to feed and one avocado costs as much as four packets of Ramen, you get the salty, nutritionally valueless Ramen and at least don’t go to bed hungry. I’m not a poor single mom, but I am a student, albeit a fairly health-conscious one — and even I rely on mac & cheese half the time, because it’s a whole lot cheaper than ordering sushi or even buying the ingredients for a healthy chicken stir-fry. If you’ve been working on your feet all day and are too tired to cook, it’s easier to buy a few meals at McDonalds, and cheaper (and more filling, and results in less kid-complaining) than buying everyone a nice big salad of their choosing.

The health problems associated with being overweight or obese are well documented. Thus, every effort should be made to support nutrition education and determine the most effective ways to positively influence the diets of program participants. The FSP has stepped up nutrition education efforts since the early 1990s. More than $192 million was spent on such programs in 2003, but their effectiveness is unclear. One idea under consideration is “green stamps”—a proposal that would set aside a portion of each individual’s benefit to be used only for purchasing fruits and vegetables. Other researchers are studying the link between food insecurity (where not all members of a household have access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy lifestyle) and obesity among low-income persons. In the end, the prevalence of being overweight and on food stamps should bring greater scrutiny to the efficacy of federal food relief.

How about greater federal scrutiny of things like school lunch programs, which are notoriously unhealthy and which may serve as the primary meal(s) for low-income kids — and which Republican hero Ronald Regan notoriously tried to short-change by asserting that ketchup should count as a vegetable? Or the cutting of physical education programs? Or federal subsidies for corn production? Or public schools being so under-funded that they make deals with soft drink companies at the expense of their students’ health?

But that’s so hard. Better to just humiliate the poor. And no, I’m not being hyperbolic — humiliating the poor is this writer’s solution, and “humiliation” is his word (along with “stigma”):

Although reducing individual humiliation is certainly a well-meaning endeavor, stigma is a powerful and necessary tool for a civil society. How else can we influence behavior without monetary costs or legal appeals?

In two sentences, he just summed up the conservative mentality on everything from poverty to sex to religion to war: The best way to deal with people who are in any way not like you is to humiliate, shame and stigmatize them until they conform their behavior and beliefs to your liking. Fine philosophy, that.


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166 comments for “A Conservative Trifecta: Fat-shaming, welfare-state-hating, and victim-blaming

  1. Sally
    January 9, 2007 at 8:39 pm

    Woah. That is a fundamental misreading of Angela’s Ashes. For all that it’s a highly sentimental book in some ways, it’s deeply angry about the way that various authorities, including those who dispensed charity, treated McCourt’s family. He doesn’t see humiliation as an inevitable feature of poverty. He sees it as an injustice visited upon people like his mother.

  2. January 9, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    You continue to be so en fuego that you’re melting internets tubes left and right. If you keep this up, I fear for the future of the internets as we have known them (they may have to be converted into some kind of flame-resistant truck).

  3. Bitter Scribe
    January 9, 2007 at 8:44 pm

    These “welfare reform” cheerleaders pat themselves on the back so much for “ending welfare as we know it” that I’m surprised they don’t all have pulled muscles.

    It’s all a tautology: Institute a policy of throwing people off the welfare rolls, then point to the reduced welfare rolls as evidence that your policy works.

    As for this “humiliation” and “stigma” nonsense, I’d be willing to bet that 1) this guy has never missed a meal in his life and 2) if he had to spend three days as a poor person, he’d scream like a stuck pig about all the indignities he had to suffer.

  4. TallyCola
    January 9, 2007 at 8:56 pm

    The General Social Survey (a far-ranging personal interview survey of U.S. households conducted nearly every year) reveals that, between 1972 and 1994, 76 percent of Americans tended to feel that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Yet, as shown in figure 1 (page 95), a household in poverty in 1994 had the same modern conveniences and material well-being as the general population did in 1971.

    Good. Gravy. I don’t comment much since I get most of my internet-time at work, but that hit a chord with me. In one of my courses at uni- I forget which- I was told that waaaay back in the day in the United Kingdom, minimum wage was decided upon by finding out the average weekly food intake a human needed to *survive*, and then paying wages that could provide that. And barely anything else. It wasn’t until about the thirties (I believe) that some social scientist travelled the country and did a survey about how British families lived, and wrote a report saying that a household should have enough money for things like a Sunday roast lunch (which was more of a big deal at that time than now), tea and extra cups for when guests arrive, a radio, newspapers, etc. You know, things that make it possible to engage with society.

    So *obviously* the poor of 1994 will have more modern convenience than the poor of 1971, because society has changed and more modern conveniences have become cheaper and more prevalent. And owning a TV or a computer doesn’t mean you are wealthy enough to have a totally fit lifestyle, because fitness requires more than money. Do they actually expect poor families to scrimp and save every dime and not have a single luxury?

  5. PhoenixRising
    January 9, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    So who’s got the links to the many studies that show how eeeaaasy it is for heavier healthy people (let alone anyone who is medically obese) to get a job that supports a family, as compared to a person of similar qualifications and education who is thin?

    I assume that prejudice in hiring, against the fat, was factored out for the development of this work of statistical genius…right?

  6. GreyLadyBast
    January 9, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    Do they actually expect poor families to scrimp and save every dime and not have a single luxury?

    That’s exactly what they expect.

  7. zuzu
    January 9, 2007 at 9:42 pm

    I also wrote about WIC and the kinds of things that are covered by that here. Be sure to read the comments, especially saoba’s, which got sent around the Internets:

    Nearly thirty years ago I was a single mother of three. Since getting child support orders enforced was damn near impossible I applied for and qualified to receive food stamps.

    I would take the three kids (by bus) to the grocery. I had a list of what I needed to buy to feed them for the next 2-4 days, that being the limit I could carry by myself and still manage the kids. I knew, to the penny, how much I could spend.

    I would shop, check out and count my change. My food was bought with the change.

    One day a cashier sneered at me for being so ‘dis-organized’ I always came through the line twice. I lost it. I told him, at some length and with considerable volume, what my reason for coming through his line twice each trip was and ended up sobbing.

    In the utter silence that followed an older woman stepped forward and began putting items on the belt; fresh fruit, chicken, bakery bread, band aids, and shampoo. She looked at the man behind her.

    “What you got in there this child and her babies can’t afford? Thank your Maker and ante up. I’ll drive her home, don’t be shy about it bein’ too much. All of you, lookin’ down your noses at her, what you got she can’t afford? Try sparin’ a little somethin’ besides a nasty look.”

    I ended up taking home nearly two hundred dollars in food and sundry items. I cried all the way home, while she drove. My kids ate grapes out of the bag like they were candy. I tried to tell her thank you and she shook her head.

    “Just you promise me you won’t ever forget what that felt like, to have somone look nasty at you for bein’ poor. I kept that promise myself today. You keep it in your turn.”

    I think its time I wrote another round of letters to my elected officials, to remind them that being poor isn’t a character flaw.

  8. January 9, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    It’s things like this that make me fall on my knees and give thanks to every god imaginable that I live in the filthy commie UK where benefit recipients may be insulted in the right-wing newspapers, but at least we get enough to pay the bills without having to get a full-time job. (I couldn’t find a full-time job while I was pregnant. I doubt it would be any easier now I have the xCLP.)

    If we lived in the US,the xCLP and I would probably be dead by now.

  9. January 9, 2007 at 9:48 pm

    I volunteer at the local crisis center.

    I did three weeks as the receptionist/secretary last month.

    Shit like this makes me sick.

    Food stamps don’t cover toilet paper or other personal hygeine items. And the church that houses the food bank has a limit on the number of hungry families we can feed.

    And! They don’t want to feed people living in hotels.

    We have a good supply of food in the kitchen of the crisis center, so we can avoid some of the shit.

    And the crisis center illustrates the fun of poverty – we’re only open 3 days a week, 9-1, and you have to take the day off if you want to be seen. Why? It’s all volunteer and there’s only one person authorized to do food vouchers and rent/bill help.

    The rest of us do organizational type things – paperwork, clothing, food, and, today, books.

    Last month I did toys for tots.

    You cannot work there and blame people for their poverty. So much is bad luck… lost my job, my kid’s sick, I’m sick, husband left, etc.

    The cheapest food is the unhealthiest.

    And that’s the poor’s fault?

  10. Charles
    January 9, 2007 at 9:55 pm

    I have a question.

    Do feminists believe that women should have the same rights as men?

    If so, isn’t that a false pretense?

  11. January 9, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    Do feminists believe that women should have the same rights as men?

    If so, isn’t that a false pretense?

    Feminists believe a lot of different things. I, personally, don’t think that men’s current right should be the standard by which all is judged. As a basic philosophy, I think all human beings are entitled to certian baseline rights, regardless of gender, race, etc.

  12. zuzu
    January 9, 2007 at 10:07 pm

    I have a question: how did you get through the spam filter, Charles?

  13. car
    January 9, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    You should check out the fabulous USDA publication “Thrifty tips for healthy eating”. I can’t link to it because my firefox crashes and burns on pdfs, but it’s quite interesting. Google “usda thrifty tips” and it will pop right up. It was designed for those on food stamps and WIC, and it’s atrocious. There’s one vegetarian recipe – baked potatoes smothered with cheese. Almost all of the meals involve cheese. Few involve flavor. Their version of a healthy meal is for a person to eat 3/4 cup of milk, 3/4 cup of reconstituted orange juice, and 1/2 cup of pasta. Laugh a minute, if you’re not completely horrified by the advice. It also gives tips like buying in bulk, cooking entire chickens and deboning for the parts, things that are great if you, oh, have a kitchen with a full stove, refrigerator/freezer, and storage space, not to mention the time involved to cook from scratch (like all people on food assistance have, right???) The disconnect is appalling.

    Also, Jeffrey Steingarten had a wonderful essay once in which he tried to follow the thrifty meal plan, then redid it in a decent, healthy way for less money. Required a lot of shopping time, though, again a luxury most people in that situation don’t have.

  14. Christopher
    January 9, 2007 at 10:10 pm

    “Do they actually expect poor families to scrimp and save every dime and not have a single luxury?”

    Yes.

    “The General Social Survey (a far-ranging personal interview survey of U.S. households conducted nearly every year) reveals that, between 1972 and 1994, 76 percent of Americans tended to feel that “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Yet, as shown in figure 1 (page 95), a household in poverty in 1994 had the same modern conveniences and material well-being as the general population did in 1971.”

    Okay, besides the fact that this doesn’t actually answer the question, it struck me as kind of dumb, it’s kind of, well, irrelevant.

    I looked up figure 1, there, and um… so what?

    First of all, if you rent, your refridgferator, freezer and stove are wuite possibly provided by the landlord.

    Second, a lot of these objects are pretty cheap; a VCR costs about $60. Not that that’s not completely out of some people’s price range, but I want to tie this in later.

    Third, a lot of these objects might well have been purchased during happier times; basically every object on there could last at least five years; some could last two decades.

    The previous points tie in with my fourth point; these luxuries don’t actually have a lot of utility in alleviating the conditions of poverty; you can’t eat them, they rarely reduce your work hours, and selling them would be, well, useless.

    How much do you think I could get for my ten year old 24″ Zenith with a picture that’s starting to turn green?

    $200 would be pushing it, and that would be, oh, a month’s groceries if I stretched it. And for a month’s survival, I’ve sacrificed a luxury that would last indefinately. Not a good choice.

    Not to mention that selling the washer and dryer would mean taking trips to the laundromat, and spending all those quarters, plus you have to leave the house whenever you want clean clothes.

    Basically, I have no idea what the hell this has to do with anything. I mean, I probably won’t get malaria or smallpox or polio, either. Doesn’t mean I’m not poor.

  15. kate
    January 9, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    I saw the movie Angela’s Ashes and although it lacked in some ways, one thing I thought it caught well was the grinding horror of poverty. Anyone on foodstamps and/or welfare has to feel that same terrible shame and humiliation and no, it does not bring one up, it puts one down.

    I get so sick and tired of rich white dudes bloviating about ‘entitlements’. They succeeded in making cash assistance a block grant and its turned into a massive failure as he points out with the fact that still, in 2007, need for assistance has climbed once again.

    And that doesn’t even tell the half of the story. Parents who must work night and day to make ends meet have no time to nurture their children in anyway close to what middle class and upper children enjoy. No one greets them when they get home from school, no one is there when they leave in the morning, no one has time to go over their studies or read to them. There is no time or money for educational and family bonding vacations or day-trips.

    Most schools have cut extramural athletic programs so poor kids don’t get the opportunity to play sports for lack of money for equipment or time to cart the kids back to practice or to attend games.

    Shame is a process of exclusion and discrimination which gives not-poor kids the license to exclude poor kids from group activities such as school clubs, boy scouts or girl scouts or any number of other activities. I can’t tell you how my kids complained that they felt like outsiders and didn’t want to participate in such activities.

    This translates to damaged self esteem and a final acceptance of exclusion over which they have no power. They see themselves as permanent outsiders who have no right to dream of participation in society in any meaningful way.

    No wonder to me that children from impoverished neighborhoods cling to eachother and engage in anti-social behavior; they are indirectly told everyday by society at large and on an individual basis that they indeed are the ‘other’ and don’t belong or have any right to what others take for granted. Teachers scold the poor kids for being tired, for not getting homework done, for being inattentive, for being slower to read, for being physically clumsy, for not looking like the others or dressing like the others.

    My middle child ran with the toughies in junior high school, I got help for her and by the time she was a junior in high school, decided to get her act together. She had to take night classes along with a full day schedule in order to graduate with her class. She made up her lost credits and in fact graduated with honors.

    At her graduation, one of her junior high teachers came up to her and said, “I never thought I’d see you here.” and then walked away. Asshole couldn’t have said, “Look at how far you’ve come! Congratulations!” My daughter was proud of her accomplishments that night and thank god others were there to give her praise as well. But still, she was upset that he made such a comment.

    I wasn’t surprised though.

  16. kate
    January 9, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    I am sorry to post again, but really, the article’s list of fancy appliances include washing machines and dryers a car and a refrigerator.

    For fuck’s sake. Who on earth can live in our society without a fridge?

    Many live without a car due to other reasons, such as a suspended license or inability to pay for insurance or maintenance, but the lack impoverishes them more. Try having to take a taxi across town to the doc’s or the grocery or the laundrymat. I know how many poor rely on taxis because I often had to and I drove cab and spent more time in the inner city than the burbs.

    Also, public transportation is a mere fantasy for most of the country.

    And not having a washer/dryer is impoverishing as well. Know how expensive using a laundrymat when you’ve got kids is? Much less the time involved.

    And who on earth can keep a job without transportation? How can 7 bucks or 8 bucks an hour pay for a cab everyday to work?

    By the way, these are no markers of poverty as people can readily buy most appliances pretty cheaply on the second-hand market, including clunker-mobiles.

    And comparing computers in the household from 1971 to 1994? That doesn’t even mean a damn thing.

    Why don’t we compare rich people’s toys with poor people’s, now that would be interesting.

  17. Amy
    January 9, 2007 at 11:33 pm

    It’s worth pointing out that until very recently (a few months ago), food stamps didn’t cover fresh fruits and vegetables. So if food stamps were your primary source of food purchases, those items just weren’t an option.

    What you could buy included milk, cheese, peanut butter, eggs, and white bread (and white bread only). This is because what one could purchase with food stamps was largely determined not by the needs or preferences of actual poor people, but by the influence of agricultural lobbies.

    So yes, food stamps probably do contribute to obesity, insofar as they actually prevent people from making nutritious choices.

  18. Peter
    January 9, 2007 at 11:34 pm

    I’m only going to address one point in the main article (Not that all the other points don’t deserve attention!). The idea that poor people are obese proving something about them.

    Doesn’t this stain know that it is almost axiomatic that almost universally, the foods that the poor can best afford on the money they have that are going to keep them alive and fed are almost universally fattening?

    The refrigerator comment is only one of the perfectly valid points above. Sure, veggies are cheaper than meat, but as any vegetarian will tell you, it takes a lot of effort to balance proteins and such. I’ve never met anyone who said they were vegetarian because it was cheaper.

    Peanut butter, cheaper cuts of meat, cheap breads, cheap cheese, — face it, cheap anything, is going to have a lot more fat, a lot more trans fats and saturated fats, additives, stretchers, and all the other things that the people trying to get us to eat healthy tell us to avoid. That isn’t to say you CAN”T eat healthy on a restricted budget, but it is hard — and are people really helping the poor make those decisions? Do they have time while holding down mulitple jobs or raising kids? Hamburger is cheap and easy. Beans may be cheap, but do people know what to do with them?

    Oh, and all that healthy exercise we’re supposed to get to stay slim? That fits into holding two jobs and trying to spend time with your family how?

    Obesity is one of the CHALLENGES of being poor, not proof that today’s poor have it easy, for God’s sake! No, it’s not insoluble, but…grrr.

  19. Bolo
    January 9, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    Yet, as shown in figure 1 (page 95), a household in poverty in 1994 had the same modern conveniences and material well-being as the general population did in 1971.

    Something tells me that “Hedonic adjustments” factor quite heavily into this. That and ignorance–but we already knew that.

  20. mythago
    January 9, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    How else can we influence behavior without monetary costs or legal appeals?

    Wow. You really want him to say this in person so you can ask “Did you just hear what came out of your mouth?”

    I bet he thinks he’s a Christian, too.

  21. saoba
    January 10, 2007 at 12:32 am

    Ah, that old game!

    “You aren’t oppressed/poor/discriminated against because somewhere/somewhen someone else had it worse!”

    So, if you aren’t living in a cardboard shanty, eating industrial waste and selling off your children’s spare organs to pay for it you aren’t really poor. Really! You could look it up!

    Instead of actually doing anything about poverty or social injustice they’ll just define the poor out of existence. It’s faster and cheaper, and damn the human costs.

    Do people who think like this not realize that most of America is just a few paychecks from homelessness? Do they think that they are personally somehow immune to unemployment, catastrophic medical costs, divorce or a natural disaster? Because this week’s middle class person sneering about food stamps not being shameful enough could become next month’s client #356 at their county social services offices. It really doesn’t take much.

    But I’m sure they would take the humilation and stigma they so heartily suggest for the poor and say ‘Thank you, sir! May I have another?’ It’s what a civil society requires, after all. The Hoover Institute says so.

  22. January 10, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Being poor is not a character flaw. It is a condition…and for most people, a temporary one brought about by circumstances not within their control.

    But, IMHO, the degree of “judgement” on the poor is in direct ratio to how much “free” money is connected with it. As undeserved most of the “judgement” is…if person “A” think his/her pocket is being picked against his/her will and going to someone who “didn’t work for it” then resentment ensues.

    summed up the conservative mentality on everything from poverty to sex to religion to war:

    Yet every study done on actual charitable giving…from PTA membership, to coaching kid sports to tithing to manning soup kitchens, it is the stereotype compassionate conservative that is maligned by people who feel it is the government and only the government that counts when “giving” is counted.

  23. January 10, 2007 at 12:45 am

    clarification

    from PTA membership, to coaching kid sports to tithing to manning soup kitchens, it is the stereotype compassionate conservativethat gives more and that is maligned by people who feel it is the government and only the government that counts when “giving” is counted.

  24. ako
    January 10, 2007 at 12:47 am

    A few points to add to this excellent post:

    1. Working poor families are far more likely to have relatives and friends give them things like appliances, than to chip in on the monthly food bill. There’s a distinct possibility that some of those TVs, VCRs, microwaves, etc. didn’t cost the people on food stamps a penny. It’s just a lot more socially acceptable to let people know that a TV or a coffe maker would make a good birthday present than to mention that you could use a little extra towards your food bills.

    2. Where I live right now, if I eat out, the nearest healthy low-fat vegetarian meal costs twelve bucks with no beverage (tofu-veggie stir fry). The nearest reasonably nutritious vegetarian meal costs six (black bean burrito). The nearest cheap stomach filler that has both protein and carbs is cheese pizza for a dollar a slice. When I was waiting for my delayed student loan money to come through, and couldn’t afford to have the gas for the stove turned on, guess where I ate the most? Yeah, I can afford to eat healthier now, but the apartment came with a stove, and I still had that much trouble.

    3. If you want to get poor people to eat healthier, don’t hold the stove and the fridge against them. Most healthy meals and their ingredients keep better in the fridge (cutting down on food waste, and saving money), and are a lot cheaper to cook for yourself than order out. Even the homemade version of fast food is likely to be at least slightly healthier if there’s fresh ingredients involved.

  25. January 10, 2007 at 12:48 am

    sorry for the unclosed bold tag.

    in addition, resentment about “entitlements” isn’t about being “evil white males”… it’s about property rights.

    I earn a dollar, it’s mine by ability…it isn’t someone else’s due to their “need.”

    Period.

  26. AC Serrano
    January 10, 2007 at 12:49 am

    Now, I wasn’t a math major, but wouldn’t it be possible for the actual number of homeless and hungry people to increase even as the percentage of unemployed people decreases — given that, first, “employed” does not necessarily equal “doing well enough to pay rent or feed your family,” and second, with population increases, the raw number of homeless/hungry people could in fact increase even as percentage-based unemployment decreases?

    There’s also the fact that the unemployment rate under-represents the unemployed population, and, as you mentioned, does not represent the underemployed at all.

  27. Mnemosyne
    January 10, 2007 at 12:49 am

    This reminds me of a conservative I saw on TV one time who claimed that the poor couldn’t be really poor because they all had color TVs.

    Um, had this asswipe even tried to buy a TV in the past 15 years? Do they even black-and-white TVs anymore?

  28. mythago
    January 10, 2007 at 12:49 am

    if person “A” think his/her pocket is being picked against his/her will and going to someone who “didn’t work for it” then resentment ensues.

    Just point out to person “A” that he, too, is picking someone else’s pocket. Stand back, or the vigorous handwaving might cost you an eye.

    By the way, where do you get the idea that soup kitchens are overwhelmingly run by conservatives?

  29. Mnemosyne
    January 10, 2007 at 12:51 am

    from PTA membership, to coaching kid sports to tithing to manning soup kitchens, it is the stereotype compassionate conservativethat gives more and that is maligned by people who feel it is the government and only the government that counts when “giving” is counted.

    I notice that you had to add “tithing” to “prove” that conservatives give more. Remove that little provision, and your whole argument falls apart.

  30. January 10, 2007 at 12:52 am

    These people need to donate to my local food bank. Then they would receive the newsletters that educate about food insecurity amongst the working poor, why lack of access to cheap nutritious food is the reason you see fat people in line at the food pantries, etc. Also, constant pleas that people donate nutritious food to the canned food drives, and also cash so the food bank can buy fruits and vegetables and other perishables to distribute.

  31. Mnemosyne
    January 10, 2007 at 12:57 am

    Oh, and by the way, Darleen, most of your tax money didn’t go to poor people last year. It went to Paris Hilton.

    But, hey, she earned every penny of those tax breaks by being born to rich parents, right?

  32. Patrick
    January 10, 2007 at 1:46 am

    Good post, but I would mention something. High fructose corn syrup is not cheaper than cane sugar because corn is heavily subsidized. The current price of corn is higher than the subsidized price (that is, corn farmers would lose money if they sold corn to the government at the price that the government guarantees), and cane sugar production is much more heavily subsidized.

    In fact, the problem is precisely backwards. Cane suger is too expensive because of a) subsidies and b) protectionist trade policies. This, in turn, makes high fructose corn syrup more attractive than it should be.

  33. Henry
    January 10, 2007 at 2:32 am

    Oh, and by the way, Darleen, most of your tax money didn’t go to poor people last year. It went to Paris Hilton.

    But, hey, she earned every penny of those tax breaks by being born to rich parents, right?

    Wait.. what?

    Tax breaks reduce the amount of money the rich pay, sure. They don’t get extra money they didn’t pay in out of the treasury. So how is my tax money going to rich people? She’s just paying less of what she already earned.

  34. Blake
    January 10, 2007 at 2:55 am

    Oh, and by the way, Darleen, most of your tax money didn’t go to poor people last year. It went to Paris Hilton.

    But, hey, she earned every penny of those tax breaks by being born to rich parents, right?

    Wow… it’s like you’ve never cracked open government info on who pays taxes…
    http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/77xx/doc7718/EffectiveTaxRates.pdf

    The rich pay LOTS of taxes… in fact the top 10% of earners (which the Hilton’s fall under, avg is about $300k year pre-tax) pay 70% of all federal income taxes…

    Now as for the poor… the bottom 20% (those making Avg of 15k year, or roughly full time minimum wage, at least in Oregon) of wage earners pay .9% of federal taxes.. and when you break that out into just income taxes (since they have to pay other forms of taxes) it’s NEGATIVE 2.9%

    Now of course this makes sense since the top 1% has so much more than the bottom 20%, and it’s as it should be I suppose. But don’t act like the Hilton’s are running around, paying 0 taxes while the poor are getting stiffed with the tax bill… They pay LOTS of taxes, and roughly half of those taxes are redistributed in the form of services to families with lower incomes.

  35. Blake
    January 10, 2007 at 2:59 am

    correction… I originally wrote that for the top 1%, then changed the first section to 10%… so the last section reflects the top 1% (avg 1.2 mil annual pre-tax income, 867k post tax, averaging 330k payed in taxes. They pay 36.7% of all federal income taxes)

  36. Shad
    January 10, 2007 at 4:57 am

    “Earned” is a strong word, at least when referring to Paris Hilton.
    Two points in response to Darleen, who has raised an important issue:
    1) The compassionate conservatives who give more are rank and file. The people with all the political efficacy–the ones who Jill is criticizing–claim to be compassionate, when any rational analysis reveals the contrary. Rank and file conservatives (to their credit) may give a lot, but their lack of any substantial socioeconomic power (outside of lending political consent to rich white conservatives in government) means that their giving won’t create lasting, effective solutions to poverty. One could lambaste liberals for not giving enough, but one can’t fail to doubt the amount of power (including vast financial and ideological resources) that the goverment has, power that could be at least very helpful in ending/stemming the tide of poverty.

    2) Darleen is right: the idea of “property rights” is important. But even if Darleen earns every dollar she makes, most people don’t have to do a damn thing to earn a dollar. As Mnemosyne pointed out, merely having rich parents (something one can’t control, and thus, earn) is enough to ensure one has “property” and by extension “property rights.”

    “Being poor is not a character flaw. It is a condition…and for most people, a temporary one brought about by circumstances not within their control.”

    Property rights privelige those who already have property and punish those who don’t. And that is why conservatives are the regressive ones when it comes to poverty. Even if the average conservative volunteers more of their time and gives more of their daily wage to those less fortunate, at the end of the day the average conservative supports policies and practices that screw poor people. Sometimes this means they vote against themselves.

    (Before people get pissed, I’m just talking about poverty, we can do consevative vs. liberal/left/radical some other time….)

  37. January 10, 2007 at 5:16 am

    While this doesn’t apply to Paris Hilton, one can certainly argue tthat logging companies are getting your tax dollars, for they not only get to use federal land for free, the feds build the roads for them. Since this isn’t a universal right to all citizens, I’d say it constitutes tax money going to the rich.

    Stupid property taxes like California’s prop 13 have the same effect, even if that wasn’t the intent. Companies tend to either rent land and pay for improvements on it, or get huge tax breaks from local government (given because the comapnies threaten to move elsewhere). Meanwhile, the only homeowners who are benefitting from prop 13 are boomers and older who have lived in the same house for several decades. Us young’uns are screwed, since our taxes have to go up – way up – to cover the taxes that cannot legally be raised.

    Which brings us to Mnemosyne’s arguement.

    Let’s say Paris Hilton paid X amount of money less than she would have without the tax breaks for people who are in the top 10 percent – or whatever.

    And let’s say Y is the cost of providing twice as much in food stamps as we do now.

    And that Z is the amount the federal government wouldn’t get if they lowered the taxes for the lowest 10 percent. Either by helping out with the taxes people to poor to pay income tax do pay, or lowering income tax for the lowest income tax bracket.

    Now, I’ll admit I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but considering how little we spend on stuff like food stamps, how much we spend on the rest of the national budget, and how big of a gap there is between the the lowest and the highest 10 percent in terms of income, it’s a fair assumption that X – times everone else in Paris Hilton’s tax bracket – dwarfs both Y and Z combined. (And I have in fact seen the math proving this, I just don’t remember where, and need to go to sleep. Sorry. I’m usually good about providing sources.)

    So while it may not be technically true that the federal government is issuing checks to Paris Hilton – any more than the CA government has been issuing check to all the companies who began to rent not long after prop 13 was passed – the effect is the same.

  38. Tally Cola
    January 10, 2007 at 7:50 am

    in addition, resentment about “entitlements” isn’t about being “evil white males”… it’s about property rights.

    I earn a dollar, it’s mine by ability…it isn’t someone else’s due to their “need.”

    Period.

    Booo effing hooooo. Cry me a river.

  39. BlackBloc
    January 10, 2007 at 8:09 am

    Tax breaks reduce the amount of money the rich pay, sure. They don’t get extra money they didn’t pay in out of the treasury.

    The vast majority of government expenditures is corporate welfare. So yes, most of your money is going into the pockets of the rich.

  40. jennie
    January 10, 2007 at 8:21 am

    Darleen, you’ve missed the point.

    We’re not talking about poor people being individually bad, shiftless, lazy, or whatever. And we’re not talking about the deservingness of the earning classes. Furthermore, Jill isn’t talking about taking 10 cents out of your dollar to buy a gumball for some poor kid. She’s talking about the notion that you can’t help people more by helping them less.

    One of the reasons we organize into societies is to provide the structures for stuff that individuals and families can’t do alone. It benefits all of us to have good roads, good public transit, buildings that don’t fall down, trade agreements, emergency services, clean streets, and the other benefits of large group organization? So we create structures that facilitate this.

    The increasing gap between rich and poor, and the increasing precariousness of many working famiies’ lives is an indication that the structures we’ve created don’t work for a lot of people. When the structures fail a significant minority or a majority of people in a society, and benefit only a small minority, those of us who believe that we’re organized into societies in order to serve the majority start looking at the systems we’ve created to see where they’re broken.

    We may do this because we’re nice peoople, or we may do this out of enlightened self-interest. I don’t want to live in a culture where people are just scraping by, a dollar away from homelessness. Lots and lots of studies indicate that levels of crime are higher in places where people are closer to destitute; not because poor people are immoral, but because poverty can thwart hope (it’s more complex that that and I recommend that you read some of James Hackler’s work on criminogenic societies, or some of Jane Jacob’s work on cities, because that’s the sort of thing that I’m talking about, but I shouldn’t write an entire book Feministe).

    Nice, generous-spirited people working at soup kitchens, volunteering on PTAs, and, what was your other example of astounding selfless phianthropy? oh yeah, tithing to their own churches can’t fix the broken structures that make it more difficult for people at the lowest socio-economic levels to feed their families in a healthy way. Taking a good, hard look at the way poor people live and finding ways to bring healthy food to their families, whether by funding healthy school lunches and breakfasts for all kids, setting up community kitchens where groups of people can bulk-order commodoties for bulk prices, providing child care so that people can work and earn the money to support their families, creating incentives for greengrocers to open up in poor neighbourhoods or improving public transit so that poor people face one less barrier to getting to work, grocery stores, doctor’s appointments, and childcare.

    You can do that stuff, in part, because society priviliges the rich, and we’ve made it easy for rich people to do the stuff they need to do. We’ve created more poor people, which, as far as I’m concerned, means that as a society, we’re failing at what we’re supposed to do.

  41. January 10, 2007 at 9:46 am

    Actually, BlackBloc, the largest items on the US budget are health care (6.5% of GDP), education (6%), defense (5%), Social Security (4.5%), and debt interest (3%, I think). Corporate welfare is about 1%.

    Welfare in general costs surprisingly little. Supplementing every American household’s income to at least the poverty level will be about 1.7%.

  42. Matan
    January 10, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Now, I wasn’t a math major, but wouldn’t it be possible for the actual number of homeless and hungry people to increase even as the percentage of unemployed people decreases — given that, first, “employed” does not necessarily equal “doing well enough to pay rent or feed your family,” and second, with population increases, the raw number of homeless/hungry people could in fact increase even as percentage-based unemployment decreases?

    There’s also the fact that the unemployment rate under-represents the unemployed population, and, as you mentioned, does not represent the underemployed at all.

    I’ll make explicit what I think AC Serrano was saying, which is that no where in here (I admit I’ve only read this post and not the report) is mention of the number of people who are no longer looking for work. Sure, there’s an argument that people should continue to look for work, but as everyone has pointed out, there are many barriers to that…

    If you want an excellent look at the many obstacles to escaping homelessness, specifically, I recommend this book: Homeless in Paradise: A Map of the Terrain by Rob Rosenthal. Rob was actually my advisor in college, and the book presents a very clear picture of just what it takes to get out homelessness, such as the visual cues that signal homelessness that Jill mentioned in the post.

  43. Rhiannon
    January 10, 2007 at 10:33 am

    My dad used to be a conservative and a republican, until we became impoverished during a repulican reign… then he realized what a load a shit he’d been fed his whole life by the party.

    Some people will never LEARN the error of thier ways until they have LIVED the error of their ways.

  44. Rhiannon
    January 10, 2007 at 10:43 am

    The increasing gap between rich and poor, and the increasing precariousness of many working famiies’ lives is an indication that the structures we’ve created don’t work for a lot of people. When the structures fail a significant minority or a majority of people in a society, and benefit only a small minority, those of us who believe that we’re organized into societies in order to serve the majority start looking at the systems we’ve created to see where they’re broken.

    Historically speaking when this has happened in the past what occured was a revolt, revolution if you will by the “peasantry”.

    In my conspriacy theorist mindset it seems as though the system is purposely designed to disable the poor to revolt by ensuring that they are physically and mentally unable to (i.e. overweight and overstressed) – while giving them only the barest of necessities to appease them. It’s classism through and through… perfected through an illusion of democracy.

  45. car
    January 10, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Today’s Washington Post has a story on what it’s like to live at not even minimum wage, but the proposed $7.25 an hour. Take a look and see how high on the hog that gets you (hint: it’s not very damned far).

  46. DAS
    January 10, 2007 at 11:01 am

    At one point, there were food stamp ads in the New York subway.

    Seems to me like this author has a case of “today’s so different from the good-ol’ days” when today’s really not all that different. Has the author ever read a book called You Could Live if They’d Let You or something to that effect? It’s about a Jewish commedian who’s part Don Rickles, part Shelley Berman and part Lenny Bruce, etc. A key part of the book is when he is being interviewed by a very WASPy interlocutor — and the Jewish commedian (who it also it seems is part Bobo Brooks) at one point described how wonderful Goyish shopkeepers are — at the end of his description he says “and on your way out, the shopkeeper plays a record of John Gielgud saying ‘yes, ah yes, we gladly accept government food stamps”.

    So how have things really changed?

  47. zuzu
    January 10, 2007 at 11:17 am

    I earn a dollar, it’s mine by ability…it isn’t someone else’s due to their “need.”

    Great! Then we can stop sending my tax dollars to the “Heartland” immediately.

  48. January 10, 2007 at 11:19 am

    well, i suppose if we’re worried about poor people being obese, taking away food stamps and letting them starve to death would, in fact, nip that problem in the bud … if you’re poor, we want to see visible signs of your suffering, dammit …. geez …

    p.s. wasn’t the guy in cinderella man always having to beg his wealthy friends for money?

  49. January 10, 2007 at 11:23 am

    The other issue about food is that in addition to the higher cost of most healthy alternatives, the shelf life of fresh meat and veggies is pretty short. People living hand to mouth are not shopping on a daily or even a weekly basis as is necessary when keeping a variety of fresh food in the home. If they don’t have cars, they likely put it off for several weeks until they can get a ride with family or friends (sheepishly raising my hand). The cupboards have to be stocked with food that lasts longer than a couple of days in those instances. So you’re talking packaged goodies, frozen and canned food, most of which is stuffed full of salt and partially hydrogenated oils.

    Also, while luxuries like dining at fine restaurants, buying the fancy new hi-tech gizmo or going on vacation are normally out of reach for the impoverished, they are able to scrounge up the four dollars it takes to buy that value meal at McDonald’s. Food itself becomes the luxury.

    Before I was able to rise the ranks into a more comfortable job, I recall months in which I had thirty dollars to cover that entire month’s food bill after I paid my other bills. And I didn’t have kids to provide for. Ramen noodles tended to be the soup du jour. I only started eating better when I could afford to.

  50. Katie
    January 10, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Car,

    Thanks for the link to that article. I grew up in a town in Kansas the same size and very similar to Atchison. Rent there is fairly cheap, but wages are extremely low, and food (especially healthful food–if there is any in the store in the first place) and fuel costs are extremely high.

    One thing I’ve noticed over the past 6 years since I’ve been gone is that the payday loan places have been springing up like crazy; in my hometown of about 12,000 people, there are at least 5 payday loan centers.

    Poverty isn’t just about not being able to pay for food or rent–it’s about a society that systematically abuses and takes advantage of poor people.

    I think that there is a deliberate agenda at work–to keep the impoverished in poverty and destroy the middle class to create a powerful upper-class. Couple that with the idea that conservatives don’t want people to control their ability to reproduce (and thus, their ability to control their finances), are decimating public education, and are doing nothing to ensure that people have quality, affordable health care, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that we are currently in a class war, and anyone who isn’t rich is losing.

  51. ACG
    January 10, 2007 at 11:51 am

    The easiest way to reduce poverty is to define it away. It’s like the recent announcement that fewer adults are hungry anymore. Great! Sounds wonderful, right? Conditions are changing, people can afford more and better food? Except that our charming government has merely played with the words, so the person who was hungry now has – wait for it – food insecurity. I shit you not. But hunger has decreased! Hunger has decreased.

    I was making my monthly Costco trip yesterday, and as I was walking the aisles, I looked consciously at the nutritional content of the food available. Assuming that an impoverished person could afford the membership fee in the first place and had some manner of transportation to get there, they could pay $6 for 96 ounces of regular yogurt (240 calories), $6 for 72 ounces of low-fat yogurt (160 calories), or $6 for 48 ounces of low-fat organic yogurt (110 calories). If you’re hurting for money, are you going to spend your $6 on half as much food because you’re afraid that your kids might get fat?

    It’s the same with everything. A lean pork loin was $11 with coupon, but 12 individual pizzas (450 calories each) were $8. A brick of cheddar and a box of macaroni were $11 together, a box of Easy-Mac was $9, and either way, you’re hardly getting a healthy meal. Processed stuff is cheaper, easier to prepare, and lasts longer. And if you’ve got a kid with actual hunger pains, keeping her little tummy flat isn’t nearly as important as keeping it full – using the money available, of course.

  52. ellenbrenna
    January 10, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Actually Darleen it is religious peoplewho give more to charity than secular people. Conservatives are more religious as a group and they are a large growing group that is because they proselytize and part of that is they have higher birth rates than religious liberals.

    Religious liberals of any religion give as much to charity as religious conservatives.

    However in addition to giving to charity religious liberals are unlikely to advocate cutting off organzed government poor relief and very important structural changes that make being poor less impoverishing.

  53. jm
    January 10, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    Three of the top four philanthropists in American history were athiest/agnostic.

    (I think I got this from Peter Singer’s recent New York Times Magazine article.)

  54. January 10, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    Have we considered the fact that the federal government hugely subsidizes corn production (agricultural welfare, if you will), which means that high-fructose corn syrup is in everything — to the point where we eat about 31 teaspoons of it a day, three times the recommended amount, and accounting for a full 15 percent of our daily caloric intake? There’s a pretty solid connection between high-fructose corn syrup and obesity rates.

    Yes yes — and food stamps are one of the major ways that agricultural production is subsidized in the US. That’s why htey’re administered by the USDA (Dept. of Agriculture, for you non-Americans out there). The foods tagged at the supermarket are chosen not because they represent the best diet but because they are made of agricultural products — like corn and dairy — that tend to produce surpluses. When these programs first started, the government would just buy up those surpluses and give them to the poor (they still do that on Indian reservations); nowadays, they put a dollop of consumer choice in there, letting WIC recipients select their groceries from the USDA’s short-list of foods and the govt. picks up the tab.

    Several years ago there was a push to eliminate food stamps, I think as part of Gingrich’s Contract on America (though my memory of the time is hazy — it may have been earlier). The most vocal opponents of the move weren’t anti-povery groups or civil rights organizations but the agricultural lobbies.

  55. January 10, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    Oh, one more thing:of course, it is entirely possible, likely even, that the foods WIC subsidizes do, in fact, make poor people fatter. As Jill noted, most of them are packed with high fructose corn syrup, and HFCS is linked by many experts with the rise in obesity in the US and overseas. It’s not that people use WIC to eat *more*, it’s that WIC doesn’t really allow you to eat all that healthily.

    Oh, and one *more* thing: the federal school lunch program is essentially the same thing — agricultural subsidies in the form of absorbed surpluses. Which is why the lunches they serve at schools tend to be so awful, and so bad for our kids.

  56. January 10, 2007 at 1:12 pm

    Great post, Jill; I second those who applaud your prolific posting recently — it’s been absolutely terrific.

    That said, I hate that food stamps are under the control of USDA, and thus beholden to Big Food/Big Ag. Let’s move food stamps to HHS, where the program really belongs. It might seem a mild organizational difference, but I think it’s important — and it might improve the dietary suggestions.

  57. ellenbrenna
    January 10, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    I do not give into the thesis that religious people actualy “really care” more I just think it is expressed differently than secular or liberal people.

    Nothing in the recent commentary from Arthur Brooks (who was recently on CSPAN Book TV. Yes I am a nerd) indicated that he studied who worked in education and non-profit fields as opposed to who donated to education and non-profits. No indcation that he studied behavior like purchase of fuel efficient cars, recycling, vegetarianism, organics or fair trade products or patronizing local business. Behaviors that require small financial sacrifice for a percieved benefit to others. There was also no indication that some of the studied social behaviors like giving up place in line were observed instead of self reported.

    He also said that once people no matter what their world view started giving to charity they kept doing so. That it became a habit that reinforced itself.

    Again I think those who favor structural change to support people at all income levels and help them be more healthy and stable have a more ethical positon on poverty but going nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah never really made a convincing argument for anyone.

  58. January 10, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    I think food stamps and other food programs are important because by giving to need, we help people get abilities. If you only eat that terrible crap they give you at school, you’re going to be pretty cranky and not learn well at school, making your test scores low,etc. If you are hungry, how will you do a good job at work and get a raise?

    Of course, we need to start making over the programs so more healthy food is substidized. In Atlanta, the food bank would help you if you wanted to plant a row for the hungry and give them fresh veggies and fruits.

  59. Bolo
    January 10, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Tax breaks reduce the amount of money the rich pay, sure. They don’t get extra money they didn’t pay in out of the treasury. So how is my tax money going to rich people?

    Wow… it’s like you’ve never cracked open government info on who pays taxes…

    The rich pay LOTS of taxes… in fact the top 10% of earners (which the Hilton’s fall under, avg is about $300k year pre-tax) pay 70% of all federal income taxes…

    There’s a gigantic problem with both of these statements. Basically, what you actually pay to the US government in taxes is not the only way that US fiscal policy effects you and those around you. Costs to each individual or family are not computed as a simple percentage or input-output calculation. Think about these statements:

    1) Inflation is a tax on holding money.
    2) Gas costs much more than $2.40 /gallon since we also pay money to support our military and other foreign endeavors that “keep the spice flowing.”

    Both of these ideas cut against the definitions of taxation that the above two quotes are based on. It’s much, much more complicated than a percentage or even a single data set concerning income.

    If government expenditures increase or stay the same while tax revenue is decreased, then someone is actually paying more money in some other way–either now or in the future with interest. Do you think the rich are paying more money now than before? Even with all the indices of wealth inequality climbing ever higher every year? No. It’s the rest of us. We’re all being screwed. At this point in time, to the poor and middle class, a tax cut is the equivalent of a tax increase. Bush’s tax policy has ensured that our children will be paying much, much more to the government than we do today.

  60. Patrick
    January 10, 2007 at 1:58 pm

    “Actually, BlackBloc, the largest items on the US budget are health care (6.5% of GDP), education (6%), defense (5%), Social Security (4.5%), and debt interest (3%, I think). Corporate welfare is about 1%.”

    That education number can’t possibly be right. Education might very well be 6 percent of GDP, but most educational funding isn’t paid by the federal government.

    It should, of course, be noted that corporate welfare and agricultural subsidy expenditures outstrips unemployment insurance and food stamps expenditures in the federal budget by a very large amount.

  61. Tara
    January 10, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    There’s a fascinating article on, of all places, MSN’s Money channel, “I Make $6.50 an Hour: Am I poor,” by a former journalist who lost her job and eventually had to take a low-wage job in a steakhouse(http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/SavingandDebt/LearnToBudget/IMake650AnHourAmIPoor.aspx). I guess I wasn’t surprised, though, to see reader comments that chastized her for keeping her dogs — she had three — or paying a monthly fee for internet and phone service. I’m not sure why people consider animal companions to be any different than other members of one’s family; logically, shouldn’t they say that, if you get poor, you should give up your children for adoption? Also, about keeping the net service, how do they expect her ‘to get out of poverty’ if she doesn’t have that? Most jobs, even at fast food, now require online access if you want to apply. And, also, if you want to keep your job. But, it’s not just work that makes one need internet access as an everyday living item, isn’t it?

    Such responses are so cruel and humanity-depriving. They cling to that nostalgic view that being poor meant not being visible. Under this logic, to have any dignity and to make any demands, or have any comfort (like a TV or a freezer [things that actually maintain life and save money in our societies]) means that you are not suffering enough.

    How neolibs and neocons get people to buy into their logic and make it their own, without seeing that it goes against their very own interests, is amazing, if saddening. I guess media commentary that repeatedly use terms like “welfare reform” as if it were a neutral term, and not a partisan oxymoron, help in this task.

  62. Rhiannon
    January 10, 2007 at 2:06 pm

    The cupboards have to be stocked with food that lasts longer than a couple of days in those instances.

    Gah… yeah.. I remember… dehydrated milk (if you’ve never had it.. OMFG it’s so awful!! Partially dehyrated milk isn’t much better either) … chili beans with spaghetti thrown in… corn flakes & rice crispies… Spam… (oh god… the days when spam meant MEAT and not unwanted emails. *shudders*) Whereas peanut butter, rice porridge with raisins and cinnamon toast were luxuries.

    I think that there is a deliberate agenda at work–to keep the impoverished in poverty and destroy the middle class to create a powerful upper-class. Couple that with the idea that conservatives don’t want people to control their ability to reproduce (and thus, their ability to control their finances), are decimating public education, and are doing nothing to ensure that people have quality, affordable health care, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that we are currently in a class war, and anyone who isn’t rich is losing.

    I’m so with you on that.

  63. Mnemosyne
    January 10, 2007 at 2:07 pm

    The rich pay LOTS of taxes… in fact the top 10% of earners (which the Hilton’s fall under, avg is about $300k year pre-tax) pay 70% of all federal income taxes…

    Earners? Sure, Paris (and maybe Nikki) picks up a paycheck once in a while, but for the most part, they live off inheritance and investments, not income. Which means that while you’re paying 30% of your salary to the government, they’re paying 15% on their capital gains.

    Still feel like you’re not subsidizing their lifestyle with your tax money?

  64. Older
    January 10, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    I was on food stamps forty years ago. Single, with three little kids. My story is not as bad as saoba’s, maybe because I was making a little more money (recycling and sewing) (in those days, recycling was left to the private sector). So maybe saoba couldn’t afford to buy the entire allotment of food stamps. Oh yes, you had to buy them, they didn’t just give them to you. You could buy the whole month’s worth or a half, or a quarter, as I remember it. Oh, and any car you owned was recorded on the worksheet as “excess cars.” And you had to account for money you didn’t make, as well as money you did make. One month the worker said “I see that last month Mrs H paid you $xx, but she’s not on this month’s list. We’ll need a statement from her that she didn’t pay you anything this month.” Well. I lost it. Everyone could hear me yelling that the world was full of people who hadn’t given me any money this month, and was I supposed to get a signed statement from every one of them? After all, I was sewing. I never knew who would want my services.

    My household at the time consisted of me and three tiny kids who ate like birds (I’m sure we all know by now that this is just a metaphorical comparison). When she told me how much I’d have to pay, and for how many stamps, I must have gone pale. This was before they started letting people buy part of a month. But then I decided to go for it. I spent for food stamps an amount equal to what I was actually spending on food and got about twice that in food stamps, with which I operated a kind of soup kitchen in my home for people who were so poor they had nowhere to cook (so of course weren’t eligible for food stamps).

    I don’t know how it was later, but at that time, food stamps was actually meant to benefit the American farmers (ie not the poor), so there were a lot of things one couldn’t buy with them. And there was huge hostility from people in the grocery who didn’t get food stamps and who thought that only the lazy and unAmerican would accept them. I was once berated by the guy behind me in line for having butter in my cart. I didn’t say “You could afford butter if you weren’t buying those cigarettes and beer,” because I was sure everyone else in line was just waiting for an excuse to hate me for being poor. The nerve, being poor and having children, and not wanting to feed them reprocessed industrial waste.

  65. Rhiannon
    January 10, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Great! Then we can stop sending my tax dollars to the “Heartland” immediately.

    Hehe… speaking of which… it’s a bit “mouthy” but this expands on that. Annotated Rant has some good rants. I also especially love the Christmas one.

  66. Arianna
    January 10, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    If they don’t have cars, they likely put it off for several weeks until they can get a ride with family or friends (sheepishly raising my hand).

    Amen. When I first moved into the city and was broker-than-broke (we officially earned $90 more than year than I spent on rent. If my boyfriend hadn’t had some savings and family connections, we’d have been out on our asses), the nearest real grocery store was a half-hour bus trip away, on a not-so-frequent bus. Not that we could afford real food anyway – we lived in plain pasta, ramen noodles, and the occasional egg. Then we realised that we couldn’t eat affordable eggs because of my boyfriend’s antibiotic allergy… he can’t have nonorganic dairy or eggs because there is enough antibiotic residue to trigger his rather horrific allergic responses. Yay for poverty-enforced veganism. What mostly subsidized my diet was that I worked in a movie theatre, so I got free margarine-oozing popcorn. Of course, I was probably entitled to some sort of benefits, but I was young and naive and had no idea how to navigate the system, so there I was.

    Anyway, the point of all that rambling was that there are levels and levels of problems re: poverty and food, from lack of access to a grocery store that sells real food, inability to afford healthy food, lack of time/energy after working two (often physical) jobs to prepare what food one can acquire, and then even when one CAN acquire ‘healthy’ food like milk and eggs, what is the quality of that food? If it’s laden with enough antibiotics to produce an allergic reaction is that really healthy?

  67. Morgan
    January 10, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    If i can just jump in—

    I’m a social worker in Brooklyn working with the poor and mentally ill. Most of my clients are on some form of assistance, many are overweight and/or obese. Over and over, I hear people’s food stamp budgets, people who can barely sit on a bus due to mental illness taking public transit all over Brooklyn to get to the grocery store with the cheapest rice. No one is cavelier about money, financial worries are the number one stressors, despite receiving benefits. Starch and fat are cheaper, and also, for many, their only perk of the day.

    When I see attacks on these people, it really makes me angry. I can’t imagine anyone would chose this life over being a 9-5 middle-class professional if they could. I don’t think anyone on benefits had the opportunity to be a brain surgeon and walked away to sit in the food stamp office and be talked down too (I was on benefits while I was in grad school and I know how they get treated first-hand) out of laziness. If people are on assistance it’s for a reason. I understand the arguement that every worker is entitled to their wages as private property, but there also needs to be some level of unconditional compassion—this isn’t a movie, and they have it worse than you can fathom.

    sorry to rant, but, oh i’m surly now.

  68. ako
    January 10, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    Also, about keeping the net service, how do they expect her ‘to get out of poverty’ if she doesn’t have that? Most jobs, even at fast food, now require online access if you want to apply.

    It’s amazing how many of the same things that can help a person get a job, keep a job, or live on less money get treated as “luxuries” that the poor shouldn’t have. Cars are expensive, yes, but there’s a whole list of economic opportunities that are only available to people who own their own cars. And a good portion of them pay relatively good salaries to people without that much education.

    Stoves mean you can get a hot meal without paying restaurant prices, and fridges mean that you can buy fresh produce, dairy products, and meat in quantities to last more than a few days (or for milk, a few hours). It also means that you can store cooked leftovers better, meaning that you can either take a filling and healthy meal into work for lunch (saving money!) or eat leftovers later in the week when you might not have time to cook a full meal (and would otherwise probably get takeout or eat snack food for a meal).

    Telephone and internet connections both radically improve your chances of finding a job, keeping a job, and finding a better job in the future. Internet access is also a relatively cheap way to research, get educated, communicate, and find entertainment (not to mention bargain-hunting). I know a lot of people feel entitiled to continously second-guess the poor, but if the goal is to improve their decisions, this is just stupid. And if they’re trying to be punitive, they’re being way too obvious.

  69. mythago
    January 10, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    I earn a dollar, it’s mine by ability

    And never mind all that free and subsizided infrastructure you relied on to make that dollar. By the way, get your lazy ass off the Internet.

  70. Donna Darko
    January 10, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    Actually, BlackBloc, the largest items on the US budget are health care (6.5% of GDP), education (6%), defense (5%), Social Security (4.5%), and debt interest (3%, I think). Corporate welfare is about 1%.

    That doesn’t sound right. I thought we spent more on corporate welfare than welfare. I can’t find what was spent on welfare in 1998 but this Time article said we spent 125 billion on corporate welfare in 1998. Corporate welfare is any action by local, state or federal government that gives a corporation or an entire industry a benefit not offered to others. It can be an outright subsidy, a grant, real estate, a low-interest loan or a government service, a tax break, a credit, exemption, deferral or deduction, or a tax rate lower than the one others pay. They’re called “economic incentives”, “empowerment zones”, “enterprise zones”, “economic development” or “public-private partnerships.”

  71. January 10, 2007 at 3:50 pm

    “Of course, I was probably entitled to some sort of benefits, but I was young and naive and had no idea how to navigate the system, so there I was.”

    Oh how I hear you on that one.

    I was entitled to two benefits while pregnant that I never got. Maternity allowance (for people who worked for several employers in the year before becoming pregnant) which I couldn’t claim because I no longer had the previous year’s payslips due to a house fire, and free milk, which I didn’t claim until halfway through pregnancy because the complete lack of information on how to claim led me to believe I would get them automatically if I was entitled…

  72. January 10, 2007 at 3:55 pm

    I earn a dollar, it’s mine by ability…it isn’t someone else’s due to their “need.”

    Oh, but you’re a “compassionate conservative”, right? Damn poor people and their “need”.

  73. prairielily
    January 10, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I just read the Washington Post article Car posted, and I’m a little confused. There’s this one line:

    An additional $90 for the 1995 car with 135,000 miles on it that he is buying from a friend for his mother, $150 for the family phone bills, $35 on his credit card, $100 for gas, $100 toward the mortgage on the trailer.

    Now, I understand that poor people need to communicate too, but why is the phone bill so high? Do Kansas phone companies deliberately gouge their customers? Does anyone live there that can answer this?

    And I don’t think $7.25 is enough. I think that there will be an initial shock, and that companies like Walmart will be better able to absorb it, but that everything will adjust. Otherwise, the economy would have collapsed back when minimum wage was introduced in the first place.

  74. Arianna
    January 10, 2007 at 4:21 pm

    It’s amazing how many of the same things that can help a person get a job, keep a job, or live on less money get treated as “luxuries” that the poor shouldn’t have.

    Indeed. In my quest to get the awesome job I’ve got now, one of my friends went with me on one of my day-long journeys through the city going to job interviews, using the bus system. After treking all day to areas barely served by the busses on a rainy, muddy, cold day in my nice job interview clothes, we started getting pretty damn cynical about the amount of material goods it takes to make it through the interview process for any job above cashier/fast foot. In this case I was interviewing for secretarial positions. Required items:

    1) A car. I managed without this, but I the job I got I fortunately interviewed for on a sunny day. It kind of sucks showing up at job interviews a little muddy, rained on and windblown… it doesn’t make a good impression.

    2) Interview wardrobe. Ie, Buiness suit, pantyhose, heels, nice blouse, hair gel, makeup, etc… hell this extends all the way back to the fact that my parents had the money/medical coverage for braces.

    3) Internet access. Every damn job I applied for was only accepting online applications and only advertising online. Besides, it makes a really good impression to be able to say you looked at the company’s website and are familiar with their product/business, not to mention the invaluable job hunting tips, resume writing help, etc that can be obtained online.

    We thought up a whole huge list of things I’d never have managed through the day without/without the money to afford, and I can’t even begin to remember it now.

  75. Helxx
    January 10, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    I just cant understand how a country can even exist when so many people dont even acknowledge their duty of care to each other. From food stamps to katrina, from healthcare to the environment I keep encountering the same,selfish, frightening, attitude. People seems to become angry whenever they are asked to recognise their duty to the well being and happyness of other citizens.

    Im so, so lucky that i live in britain.

  76. January 10, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Although reducing individual humiliation is certainly a well-meaning endeavor, stigma is a powerful and necessary tool for a civil society. How else can we influence behavior without monetary costs or legal appeals?

    Okay, since I defended the use of shame as a positive social mechanism in another recent thread here, I’m going to try to play the devil’s advocate here as well. Before I do, though, I just want to disclaim my statements better than I did last time. To that end: this guy is obviously an idiot, and I find his arguments meritless. Similarly, the previous story on obesity report cards was, I thought, very well dissected by Jill, and I agreed with her on every point except the very narrow question of whether shame – specifically shame over physical fitness – could ever be positive (a point that she did not make explicitly, but which I felt to be implicit in her post).

    That being said: surely most people here agree that shame can be used to positive social ends. This blog and others like it are primarily fora for criticizing and shaming writers who are dishonest, hypocritical, or otherwise socially destructive. We as responsible citizens regularly articulate the idea that our political and business leaders should feel ashamed of their irresponsible behavior. This is as it should be.

    Commenters in the previous thread drew two main distinctions that may be relevant: first, that this kind of shaming might not be helpful for the specific issue of physical fitness; second, that institutional shaming might not be useful in the same way as peer shaming. (The other issues, such as the false conflation of body weight and physical fitness, were, I think, areas where we all agreed that the scheme was flawed.)

    To address the first claim: while shaming kids over their body weight is usually counterproductive, it isn’t always. It tends to produce paralysis and needless stress, especially in kids who have little access to proper nutrition and exercise. But when paired with access to exercise programs and good food, I think that such shaming can sometimes be positive, if managed correctly. I know that’s a pretty limited claim, but as I said, I’m making a narrow argument.

    To address the second issue: I disagree that institutional shaming is always destructive. As I said previously, shame was a big factor in managing my own weight and health issues, and much of this shame was institutional. I remember specifically a very judgmental doctor and a somewhat merciless gym teacher, both of whom generated moments of cognitive dissonance strong enough to break me out of my complacency and paralysis over my weight. Do I think the obesity report cards are a good idea? No, as I said earlier: it sounds like they’re a cop-out by the school system, and a counterproductive one. Do I think it would be possible to set up something similar that might have a more positive effect? Maybe, although I think it would first require addressing the substantive issues like school lunches and exercise programs that Jill discussed before.

    In the present context: I argue that there is some value to the principles this guy is espousing, and I think everyone else here agrees with me. We all use social stigma to try to achieve social goods – for example, we stigmatize the publication of dishonest journalism. The application of the principles in the Hoover Institute’s article is ludicrous, but that doesn’t mean that the principles are invalid.

  77. January 10, 2007 at 4:38 pm

    Also, internet access can help you with cash flow(sell crafts or old items online), help you with getting stuff(freecycle), help you save money by reading free sites with healthy recipes(no gas cost to go to the library).

  78. Regina
    January 10, 2007 at 5:03 pm

    Why is playing devil’s advocate even considered something to be done? I’ve never understood it.

  79. Regina
    January 10, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Now, I understand that poor people need to communicate too, but why is the phone bill so high [$150]? Do Kansas phone companies deliberately gouge their customers? Does anyone live there that can answer this?

    I don’t live in Kansas, but the number doesn’t really surprise me. I’m single. I have a basic land line and a cell phone with what I consider to be a highly competitive plan. My monthly phone bills for the 2 combined regularly run at about $70, and that’s just for me alone.

  80. Erin M
    January 10, 2007 at 5:20 pm

    Do they actually expect poor families to scrimp and save every dime and not have a single luxury?

    Another anecdote. My parents used food stamps when they were first married, under the system that Older describes when you had to buy them. I believe it was their 2d anniversary when my mom decided to by a (1) steak for them to share, a little something special, and how you couldn’t believe the nasty looks she got for that. Maybe it’s why I’m liberal, but I seriously can’t grok that mentality.

  81. January 10, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    My monthly phone bills for the 2 combined regularly run at about $70, and that’s just for me alone.

    We get a land line and DSL at my apartment for $70 and a cell phone bill that totals around $125 on good months. I have to work my ass off for it, though, and I still end up needing help from my parents, which should change when I graduate, but until then, I’m dependent on my mom’s health insurance. I’m scared to death of what I’m going to get when I start teaching, and I have no illusions that, with student loans to pay off, that I’m going to have an easy time of it. And I’m one of the lucky ones.

  82. Nymphalidae
    January 10, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    My mom actually has the “if you’re poor you should never, ever have fun” mentality. I have all these weird habits and ideas – it took me a long time to accept that getting popcorn at the movies wasn’t going make me destitute. What really makes me destitute is AmerenUE charging $150/month for gas heat.

    P.S. Some states in the heartland, like WI, MN, and NE, pull their fair share in taxes and send their fair share to the South. It’s not so much the Midwest that is the problem, it’s the South. I realize flyover country is one big blob of square states and corn and farmers getting rich off of subsidies to people not from here, but there are HUGE cultural differences between the Midwest and the South.

  83. ArrogantWorm
    January 10, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    This whole thread reminds me of a quote by Eugine Fields that I use for a rebuttal of “Why should I help them, they’re x,y,z whatever-excuse -feels-comfy-for-them-this-week” which is cut and pasted to the bottom of this post. What I see a lot of in ‘real life’ is that people are under the impression that hey, you’re poor, but you can get out of it if you *just work hard enough* and that they refuse to help because it will “build your work ethic and/or moral character.” That sentiment is crap. Pure and unadulterated crap, the reasons why listed so many times in the numerous posts above. I think people like to use it because it absolves them of responsibility.
    Incidentally, I think what Fields meant that he would be an inhumane, greedy ass if he didn’t help, not that ‘I care what you think about me so I wanna make myself look good.”

    Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society
    in which we live today, not because I lack the natural
    equipment to do for myself but because I am not
    satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there
    are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest
    necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic
    that man’s business on this earth was to look out for
    himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of
    the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what
    may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago
    the question was asked; ”Am I my brother’s keeper?”
    That question has never yet been answered in a way that
    is satisfactory to civilized society.
    Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation
    to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality
    but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think
    of me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and
    gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of
    my fellow beings starving to death.
    -Eugene V. Debs

  84. January 10, 2007 at 10:24 pm

    Well, the South seems to be at the bottom of every indice it seems. I live in TN, the at least we’re better than Mississippi(sp?) state. We have poorer health, lower wages and I’m sure a whole lot of other bad stuff

  85. ako
    January 11, 2007 at 12:23 am

    Starch and fat are cheaper, and also, for many, their only perk of the day.

    I spent a couple years in the Philippines, and one of the common problems there was people, especially adult women, who were both malnourished, and visibly overweight. One of the big problems was that people who couldn’t afford a decent meal would cook up the cheap government-subsidized rice, add some cheap flavoring (soy sauce, garlic, sugar) to eat as a meal substitute. This was most commonly done by mothers, who would reserve what nutritious food was available for their children, and eat the flavored rice to fill their stomachs. A lot of the women would come out looking pudgy from the starch calories, but be suffering multiple vitamin deficiencies.

    I knew a severely malnourished girl who’d been fed more or less this way. She was the same height as children several years younger than her. After careful feeding in which she was given plentiful access to nutritious food (she was wild for fresh fruit), and no effort to limit her calories, she gained a lot of height, and lost a lot of fat, in a very short time period.

    So it’s not some peculiarly American character flaw that leads to poor people being fat. It’s a level of poverty where there’s enough money for something to eat, but not enough for anything healthy, and it probably happens everywhere there’s cheap starch. While poor Filipinos may be dumping salt and sugar directly on the nutrient-free carbs themselves, and poor Americans are more likely to get various pre-cooked combinations (chips, french fries, popcorn, donuts, cookies, cakes), it’s the same phenomenon. The next step up from starvation is empty-calorie weight gain.

  86. ArrogantWorm
    January 11, 2007 at 2:32 am

    Debs, not Fields. Eh, chalk it up to bad sleep these past few days.

  87. Q Grrl
    January 11, 2007 at 10:33 am

    Ah, this is all such bullshit.

    I’ve been low income for longer than I care, yet I have a house full of furniture, two TV’s, a VCR, a washer and a dryer. And guess what? I didn’t pay shit for any of them – they were all throw-aways from other, higher income households. Being poor certainly makes you more aggressive when you see folks throwing away (!) appliances that still work. Gotta love the two weeks after Christmas and the week after the college students leave town. Yet, according to this article I, what, shouldn’t have these b/c I’m on the poor end of things? Shit.

    As for obesity and being poor. I’ve gone through spells where all I could afford to shop at, for food, was the local Dollar General. I can attest that although the food is cheap and appears to be healthy (canned peas, corn, green beans, fruit juice, pasta sauce) there is probably less that 5% of it that DOES NOT contain corn syrup. Almost all of the canned veggies contain corn syrup – to no end, to no purpose. It scared the crap out of me.

  88. Rhiannon
    January 11, 2007 at 11:00 am

    they were all throw-aways from other, higher income households. Being poor certainly makes you more aggressive when you see folks throwing away (!) appliances that still work.

    My family and I when we moved April 2005 saw how quickly even our broken down pieces of furniture (broken down as in taken apart to be easier to move) “disappeared” from the dump area. The sanitation workers never even saw any of our throw aways.

    We weren’t surprised mind you, because we’d done similar things ourselves when we weren’t so financially well-off. (beds, couches, tables, chairs, even a plastic swimming pool once.)

  89. Katie
    January 11, 2007 at 11:58 am

    As for obesity and being poor. I’ve gone through spells where all I could afford to shop at, for food, was the local Dollar General. I can attest that although the food is cheap and appears to be healthy (canned peas, corn, green beans, fruit juice, pasta sauce) there is probably less that 5% of it that DOES NOT contain corn syrup. Almost all of the canned veggies contain corn syrup – to no end, to no purpose. It scared the crap out of me.

    Exactly…you can’t get bread without corn syrup unless you’re willing to pay at least $1.50/loaf, which is, what, twice as much as a generic loaf of white bread?

    I know that everyone’s already said this, but fuck that fucking “Oh, poor people just need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and they wouldn’t be fat” bullshit. Gr.

  90. Katie
    January 11, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Prairielily–

    Now, I understand that poor people need to communicate too, but why is the phone bill so high? Do Kansas phone companies deliberately gouge their customers? Does anyone live there that can answer this?

    My mom’s cell phone bill is about that much, and it covers two lines. He probably has a phone for himself and a phone for his family.

    There are a few reasons why:

    1) In a small town, there aren’t many companies that provide service (I think that in my hometown of 12,000, you can get Cingular and American Wireless or whatever that’s called, and Cingular hasn’t been there for more than a year or so), so they don’t have to compete, and you can’t shop around for the best deal.

    2) If you have low income/bad credit, it’s hard for you to get a good deal in the first place. He may also have pay-as-you-go service, which has a lot of hidden charges and fees that people who have contracts don’t have to deal with. (Another way that companies gouge the poor!)

    3) This is probably not a problem for him, since it doesn’t sound like he travels much, but my mom has a problem with huge roaming fees because she’ll travel in rural areas that don’t have coverage. When my car broke down in the middle of nowhere coming home last year, I barely had reception at all, and when I did get it, I was roaming. Our cell phone bill was at least $15 more than usual.

    There are probably some people who would suggest that he should just get a landline, although a landline with long distance probably wouldn’t be much cheaper than his current plan. Plus, with his father sick, I think it makes sense that his family have cell phones; even if he got a landline at home and cell phone, it would probably be cheaper just to get two cell phones.

    Also, did anyone else notice the part about his car loan? Oh my God. Yet again taking advantage of someone who doesn’t have the income to save up for a down payment, and doesn’t have the credit rating to get a decent loan. I declared bankruptcy last year and I got a better deal than this guy!

  91. January 11, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    I know that everyone’s already said this, but fuck that fucking “Oh, poor people just need to eat more fruits and vegetables, and they wouldn’t be fat” bullshit. Gr.

    Or even the sentiment that poor people can’t have it THAT bad…they obviously have enough money to eat, they’re so fat. That’s one that I hear most often.

  92. January 11, 2007 at 12:25 pm

    Sorry to double post, but this comment came up as I was writing and I had to note:

    Also, did anyone else notice the part about his car loan? Oh my God. Yet again taking advantage of someone who doesn’t have the income to save up for a down payment, and doesn’t have the credit rating to get a decent loan. I declared bankruptcy last year and I got a better deal than this guy!

    A couple of the frightening aspects of the wholly evil “bankruptcy reform” bill passed by Republicans last year were the refusal to cap the level of interest that can be charged by lenders and the refusal to protect victims of identity theft. Both were additions that the Democrats wanted to add, and both were resoundly declined by the Republicans. The Democrats even offered a totally reasonable cap of 35% for interest rates, citing examples in which people have been charged upwards of 150% interest (I’m guessing these outrageous rates are from those “check into cash” type places). Just appalling.

  93. Katie
    January 11, 2007 at 12:40 pm

    Oh yeah…I think it’s, like 35% for credit cards, but payday loans can be as high as 150%! How on earth is a person supposed to get out of debt when he/she has taken out a payday loan to buy diapers or food or get the car fixed? Take out another loan???

    I declared about a month before the new law went into effect (I guess that was towards the end of 2005, not last year); I was lucky to have the $800 lawyer’s fee at the time. I started receiving credit card solicitations two weeks later for cards with interest rates of 33%-34% with HUGE annual fees.

    I know that people who have declared bankruptcy are obviously a credit risk, but I also know that companies deliberately target people who have declared bankruptcy because they know that they can get away with charging outrageous interest rates, and, now that the laws have changed, once people do build up debt again, they’ll still have to pay it back.

    As a side note, I know, that despite the fact that I grew up working-class and in a rural area, I have many class biases. When I declared bankruptcy, it was because I had been sued because I was in an accident in my roommate’s car when she didn’t have insurance (I was not aware of this until I accidentally slammed into a Saturn, causing $7,000 worth of damage). When I tell people that I have claimed bankruptcy, I have to explain why, because I don’t want them to assume that I was one of those “irresponsible people” who had been spending more than I earned–although I had been, since I was in college and didn’t have any outside support, but that’s not why I declared.

  94. Rhiannon
    January 11, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    Most people declare bankruptcy because there’s been a medical emergency in the family.

    I learned that here.

  95. Katie
    January 11, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    Rhiannon–Exactly. And I knew that, but most people don’t, so I was afraid that they would think I was irresponsible or something.

    Anyway, kind of stupid, and I’m working to be less ashamed of it no matter why it happened.

  96. Molly
    January 11, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Perhaps foodstamps work differently in other states, but in MO, anything that’s edible, as long as it’s not hot (like deli food), is eligible to be purchased under foodstamps. What I see as a cashier is people buying unhealthy food because they can afford to buy a greater quantity of unhealthy, prepackaged stuff, than they can fruits and stuff.

    Reading some of the comments, it sounds like some states restrict what you can buy on foodstamps. Either that, or I can’t tell who is talking about WiC. WiC has actually, in my opinion, gotten worse. We haven’t instituted the fruits/veggies here yet, and they’ve systematically taken out a great deal of the juices and cereals that used to be WiC-able.

  97. January 11, 2007 at 2:01 pm

    As someone who does background investigations (I’ll have to be purposefully vague here just for confidentiality purposes), I’ve noticed that a lot of people who’ve delcared bankruptcy have done so because of medical bills. They were injured but did not have health insurance and then got stuck with outrageous bills.

    I also have seen a couple of people who got caught in the check advance trap. They owed thousands of dollars to multiple check advance companies, suggesting to me that they’d hopped from one to the next trying to cover expenses as well as loans. Every time I see one of those commercials on television I just shake my head. They are evil.

    One thing I’ve noticed is that they play a lot of the cash advance and car loan commercials during the court shows (Judge Judy, The People’s Court, etc). I don’t know what that says about the audience they are aimed at. The people on these shows are largely being sued for not paying their bills and the audience is being fed a steady stream of “easy money, no credit check, guaranteed approval!”

  98. January 11, 2007 at 2:57 pm

    Why is playing devil’s advocate even considered something to be done? I’ve never understood it.

    Regina:

    For the same reason that even guilty people deserve lawyers. When you’re trying to arrive at truth or justice by an adversarial process (e.g. persuasive rhetoric or legal trials), both sides need someone to advocate their positions. If no one in the forum were defending the position of the original writer, it would be too easy for the discussion to devolve into weakly-constructed criticisms without anything propping them up but the community’s self-reinforcing consensus.

  99. January 12, 2007 at 1:58 am

    How awesome is it that a let-them-eat-cake article, nostalgic for the poor of yesteryear, is released by the Hoover Institute?

    Next up: the Warren G. Harding Committee on Government Corruption.

  100. January 12, 2007 at 2:07 am

    Someone said something very similar to this already, but I still have the same stereo lineup I did back when I was much poorer than I am now – a 100 CD Changer, a surround sound amplifier, a 31 inch TV, a DVD player…total personal budget outlay: $0.00. Gifts or hand-me-downs, all of them. Before that I had an even better system, that I bought before I got poor, which I sold eventually.

    The moral: Outsiders who pass judgement on “things poor people own” are right up there with Disney characters who punch “kids in the face.”

  101. zuzu
    January 12, 2007 at 9:59 am

    If no one in the forum were defending the position of the original writer, it would be too easy for the discussion to devolve into weakly-constructed criticisms without anything propping them up but the community’s self-reinforcing consensus.

    That supposes the article’s writer had anything but weakly-constructed arguments. And you’ve done nothing to erase that impression:

    In the present context: I argue that there is some value to the principles this guy is espousing, and I think everyone else here agrees with me. We all use social stigma to try to achieve social goods – for example, we stigmatize the publication of dishonest journalism. The application of the principles in the Hoover Institute’s article is ludicrous, but that doesn’t mean that the principles are invalid.

    This is advocacy? You refer to some general principles without actually specifying them, claim everyone agrees with you, concede that the article is ludicrous, and refer back to the unnamed principles without pulling anything specific from the article to support your assertion that the article really at its heart is about these unnamed principles we all agree with.

    You’re not doing anything constructive with this little “devil’s advocate” bit. You haven’t pointed out any weaknesses in the positions people have been taking; you appear to be just engaging in contrarianism for contrarianism’s sake, and dressing it up as some noble effort to keep this place from being an echo chamber.

  102. orange
    January 12, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Just as an aside, we stigmatize dishonest journalism because it’s illegal. J. Jonah Jameson would like you to remember that in print, it’s libel. ;)

    I remember a conversation in the supermarket with my husband, who grew up middle-class. I grew up somewhere around working poor. We were looking at fish sticks, and he made the comment that he didn’t understand why anyone still made fish sticks, because they were gross, and who would eat them ? I’m not normally so emotional, but I burst into tears; and that started a long discussion about what families eat when they need to go to bed with something in their stomachs, even when there is better food all around them, just out of reach.

    I really love tuna noodle casserole, and it’s not because it’s delicious, since it isn’t such hot stuff; it’s just that I remember that on nights when my mom had the energy and ability to put a big steaming platter of food on the table, made from scratch, it felt awesome. She and I even used to make tiny menus and place cards out of scrap paper from the counter at the copy store.

    I had a really, deeply happy childhood; mostly because my parents managed to insulate me from the things they had to do to get by. I don’t know how they did it.

  103. sad truth
    January 12, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Nice message orange. And yet, do you think the mere presence of a dvd player would have mad everything better? You’re parents were clearly tremendous people. Don’t belittle their efforts and love by claiming that life would be better if only had more “stuff”.

    Being poor isn’t a crime. It isn’t a sin. I’m not saying they should be happy with it, they should always stive to improve on their conditions wherever and however possible. But unless you can learn to be happy nothing will make a difference.

    The unfortunate truth is life is not fair no matter how much we try to change the external extenuating circumstances. Please don’t try to spin that on me as saying I don’t believe in progress…

  104. ako
    January 12, 2007 at 8:49 pm

    And yet, do you think the mere presence of a dvd player would have mad everything better?

    No, but being able to get food without worrying or having to decide between having nutritious food and enough food would probably have improved some things. I don’t know how many hungry people you’ve known, but being able to get enough decent food for yourself and your loved ones is always better than not being able to.

    Don’t belittle their efforts and love by claiming that life would be better if only had more “stuff”.

    About the only “stuff” she was wishing for was an adequate and steady supply of nutritious food. She wasn’t whining about lack of a DVD player, on not having designer clothes. She was talking about how it was hard for her family (especially her parents) that they could barely keep fed, and how much she appreciated them sparing her the hardship. In fact, were you even reading the same post?

    But unless you can learn to be happy nothing will make a difference.

    Really? So , let’s say you have a choice. You can have a nice house, with a well-paying, not-to-difficult job, a loving family, the kind of economic security that ensured you and your family would always have food, clothing, money, medical care, and a decent education, but you’ll feel perpetually discontent with life. Or (to bring up some of the more extreme poverty I’ve seen) you can sleep on a piece of cardboard, beg for change, watch your children pick food out of other people’s trash, hope that no one gets the kind of sick that need a doctor, because you have no way of getting one, spend all your time looking and smelling like someone who has one outfit and no access to bathwater, and hope it rains so you don’t have to drink out of the gutter. Since you won’t be happy, I guess it doesn’t make a difference.

    Or possibly there’s such a thing as external reality, there’s levels of poverty in which lack of DVD players is the least of someone’s concern, and worrying about the survival and health of your loved ones can’t always be solved by just deciding to be happy.

  105. zuzu
    January 12, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    Just as an aside, we stigmatize dishonest journalism because it’s illegal. J. Jonah Jameson would like you to remember that in print, it’s libel. ;)

    Well, not really. But I won’t bore you with the legal details. Dishonesty is not the same as outright falsehoods, and outright falsehoods are what’s covered by the libel laws.

    And yet, do you think the mere presence of a dvd player would have mad everything better?

    The hell? Where did orange make this claim?

    I think I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone that consumer electronics are not only ubiquitous, but cheap. When I was a kid, in the early 70s, my family got a color TV. I don’t know if this was the first color TV we had, but it was a big ol’ Zenith console TV (it was white! and had a pedestal! and it was great for watching Star Trek reruns on because it was all futuristic-like!). These days, such a TV would be $100 or less, new. Back then, it was multiple hundreds of dollars, if not close to a thousand. In, like, 1974. So when anyone starts comparing the “conveniences” of 1971 vs. 2006, they never do seem to take into account the greater availability and cheaper price of, say, TVs. TVs in 1971 were out of the reach of many poor families, but now, working TVs are found in the trash because they’re so cheap.

    My DVD player, bought in 2005, cost me $29. That might have been $5 in 1971, or even less. My VCR was bought 15 years ago, second-hand , for $100. My computer I bought for $500, refurbished. I paid $2000 for a less-powerful laptop 10 years ago.

    Get the picture?

  106. January 13, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Obviously, that author has never been on food stamps. I check groceries and most of the cashiers are *assholes* to anyone on food stamps or any form of assistance. Not only are they rude to their faces, but back in the break room they make all kinds of evil comments about what they’re buying, “omg! A Steak! They’re buying steak! A cake! How dare that little girl think she’s entitled to a birthday cake!” Reminding me of my aunt who thinks the poor live high on the hog with their “free health care.” Ahem.

    Of course, the worst assholes are the Republicans, and being that we live in a small town and I’m related to social workers, you’d be very surprised to know how many of them used to be “parasites” on welfare or still have family members receiving some form of assistance. And give me my morgage tax deduction, because that’s not charity! Charming and hypocritical all at the same time.

    I remember specifically a very judgmental doctor and a somewhat merciless gym teacher, both of whom generated moments of cognitive dissonance strong enough to break me out of my complacency and paralysis over my weight

    That’s nice, but that’s you. It doesn’t hold true for everyone. My sister, by contrast, had a health scare when she was 13 (false alarm). She was sent to a very judgmental doctor, who terrified her into thinking she was overweight and thus likely to drop dead almost immediately when in reality she was fit, healthy, normal weight and active, and to this day (in her 20’s) she has body issues that she struggles with every day and that have negatively impacted her life hugely. She feels ashamed all the time, and it hasn’t helped her one bit. Our other sister is a larger sized person, and being subjected to shame just makes her sad and depressed and more likely to eat garbage, since that’s all she has access to anyway. She’s not complacent by any means (hard to be when you get constantly reminded that society finds you lesser), but she’s trapped in a horrible situation without much access to healthy food and making her feel worse than she already does doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s totally counterproductive. Tough love doesn’t work for everybody, especially for those who aren’t in a position to “just snap out of it.”

  107. Rex Luscus
    January 13, 2007 at 10:29 am

    To wish that a thing not be done by government is not the same as wishing that it not be done at all. Repeat this to yourself three times.

    Surveys show that small government conservative give multiples more to charity than big-government liberals.

  108. tyree
    January 13, 2007 at 11:02 am

    “My dad used to be a conservative and a republican, until we became impoverished during a repulican reign”
    Our family experience is the flip side of that. My dad came from a long line of working class Democrats, and changed to the Republican party when he became a doctor and saw for himself how the Democrats treat employers. I helped him do his taxes back in 1975 and out of an office income of $160,000 he got to keep less than $20,000. Not all of that was taxes, of course, buying supplies for a medical office is expensive, he had two employees to pay and malpractice insurance went up $20,000 that year. Some people looked down on us as “spoiled rich kids” even though my dad only got about $7 an hour in disposable income (minimum wage at the time was $2) He treated many poor people for free, and one of them was buying ground beef for his three big dogs because, he said “you can’t buy dog food with food stamps”. All through my childhood there were people who treated me like crap because my dad was “rich”, even though he was the first one in my family to graduate college, and he paid his own way through medical school by working 40 hours a week at night. He was often gone on the weekends volunteering at a clinic in Mexico or treating the poor for free in our community. The “rich” are not a single block of people who are all the same. That is pretty obvious but after reading some of the comments on this blog I think it bears repeating.

  109. Sir Patrick
    January 13, 2007 at 11:47 am

    Doesn’t ANYBODY take personal responsibilty anymore??..
    It doesn’t matter WHAT you eat ;if you eat too much of it you are going to get FAT!!

    My 2 brothers and I were raised by a single mom who worked 2 jobs to support us…We didn’t get food stamps but we had very limited food choices because of limited money..NONE of us were fat because we didn’t have an overabundance of food to begin with. We ate our share of hamburger helper, pasta, white bread, and frozen junk food dinners which was shared by 5 people including my grandmother..

    If some of these folks actually had to PAY for their food instead of getting food stamps they wouldn’t have the excess food on which to GORGE themselves!!

  110. Brian
    January 13, 2007 at 12:26 pm

    # mythago Says:
    January 9th, 2007 at 11:57 pm

    How else can we influence behavior without monetary costs or legal appeals?

    Wow. You really want him to say this in person so you can ask “Did you just hear what came out of your mouth?”

    I bet he thinks he’s a Christian, too.

    Wow. I really want mythago to say this in person so I can ask “Did you just hear what came out of your mouth?”

    I bet you think you’re tolerant, too.

    Bleeding hearts and righteous indignation are fine as far as they go, it’s exhibiting the same behavior that you claim to be so reprehensible in others that makes you so laughably that which you so apparently detest.

    Lest anyone think I am singling out mythago, that was admittedly an easy target – easily 2/3 of the comments above fit this very same contrivance.

    So to those that can’t resist the sanctimony, please, for my own enlightenment, just what is it that differentiates you from those you complain so bitterly about? Because I’m not seeing it.

    P.S. By the way, anyone here see The Pursuit of Happyness?

  111. Bob3
    January 13, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    The laziness and unworthness of the poor is and has been an article of faith for the right wing for well over a 100 years now. I remember reading that during the Irish Potato Famine during the 1840’s one of Goverment of Englands concerns was not to make relief too easy to get as the Irish were “naturally lazy” and would stay on the dole if they weren’t force off.
    People on the bottom have people standing on their necks and telling them its their fault that people are standing on their neck.

  112. Bruce
    January 13, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    This has been a very interesting and illuminating discussion. I’d like to make a few observations if I may….

    Some people become poor because of circumstances out of their control, some become poor due to bad choices they have made or continue to make.
    Some people use assistance temporarily while they get back up on their feet, some use the public safety net as a hammock, some must have and deserve help forever.
    Some people will use any and all excuses as to why they can’t make it in the world, some people will let nothing stop them from succeeding, some do the very best they can, but will always need help.
    Some people generously give of their time and money to help the less fortunate out of goodness, some just for a tax deduction, some not at all.

    I think that almost everyone wants a system that provides good help to those that need it without removing any of the incentives to provide for themselves. Providing assistance to the many variations of people in need without inequalities and omissions is a very difficult thing to do. I don’t think anyone wants people to be poor out of some evil intention or conspiracy. I think there are lots of people who are ignorant of the realities of being poor in this country due to their distance from the problem, be it financially or actual location from poor people.
    I think through articles like this one, and more importantly, through the back and forth from all of you here, progress is made and attitudes shifted for the better.
    Thank you.

  113. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 3:36 pm

    There are certainly a lot of people who need a hand up, but to ask for compassion for supposedly “poor” people who nevertheless manage to become obese is a little ridiculous. Let’s face it, there is relative poverty in the US, but there is virtually no abject poverty except for those who are unable to take advantage of the social safety net because of mental instability, substance abuse problems, etc. The food stamp program is part of that, as it probably should be. But it also is subject to a lot of abuse. I’ve seen many food stamp purchases in line at Whole Foods and Wild Oats – definitely not the best way to make the most of other people’s money that you’ve been allowed to use.

  114. ako
    January 13, 2007 at 4:03 pm

    There are certainly a lot of people who need a hand up, but to ask for compassion for supposedly “poor” people who nevertheless manage to become obese is a little ridiculous.
    …I’ve seen many food stamp purchases in line at Whole Foods and Wild Oats – definitely not the best way to make the most of other people’s money that you’ve been allowed to use.

    So, do you want the poor people to eat the cheapest food, which is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, low on vitamins, and leads to people who fill their stomachs enough to stave of hunger pains becoming obese, and therefore unworthy of compassion?

    Or do you want them eating the healty stuff, with vitamins and minerals and fiber, and “wasting” their money at the stores that sell healthy food, and therefore becoming unworthy of compassion?

    Let me put it another way; is there a right answer as to what people on benefits are allowed to eat? Because if it has to be the cheapest food, but not fattening or empty calories, what’s left?

    If some of these folks actually had to PAY for their food instead of getting food stamps they wouldn’t have the excess food on which to GORGE themselves!!

    Most cheap, low-nutrient, processed foods tend to be fairly dense in terms of calories. Now it’s not necessarily true that eating this stuff makes you fat, but if all you get is that kind of stuff (which in many states is all you can get with food stamps), and you eat enough to fill your stomach regularly, that is a lot of calories. If you don’t have a way to burn these calories, you gain weight. I don’t know how many people in your family went to bed hungry, or how much physical work you all had to do, but it’s possible to pack on a fair amount of fat while putting barely enough food in your stomach to quiet hunger pains.

    High-fiber foods, like fruits, vegetables and whole grains make it easier to fill your stomach while eating less calories. They also contain a lot of vitamins an minerals. Which is why, while people with money can get fat, it is easier to stay slim and healthy if you can afford a steady and varied supply of unprocessed fruits and vegetables, whole-grain carbohydrates without added sugar, and low-fat protein sources. This is the kind of stuff that many states don’t let people with food stamps buy, and when they do buy it, they’re sneered at for wasting “other people’s money”.

    So it’s not a giant herd of people going, “Free food! Wohoo! I don’t have to get a job, and I can pig out every day! I think I’ll eat a whole box of cookies right now, just because I can!” It’s a lot of people in difficult situations, many of whom are making the best choices they can, and a few who aren’t.

  115. car
    January 13, 2007 at 4:37 pm

    Wait, Jim, first you think that poor people shouldn’t eat crap food, because they shouldn’t be obese, but then you think that they shouldn’t be allowed to buy healthy organic food either? I don’t get you. What, pray tell, should they be eating, in the world according to Jim? Go read “Nickeled and Dimed” and then come back and see if you have anything to say.

    I’m going to make a bald-faced, shameless plug. Go take a look at modestneeds.org Read a few stories about how close so many people are to the edge, and what simple factors can send them over into poverty. Then get off your high horse.

  116. January 13, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Giving to modestneeds boosts your karma.

  117. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    I didn’t say they shouldn’t eat “crap” food. I didn’t say anything about what kind of food they should eat. I just said that (1) someone who is obese is not likely to be desperately poor, and (2) the prices at places like Whole Foods are much higher than normal supermarkets and buying products there is not exactly stretching your dollars. I’m not poor, but I rarely shop at Whole Foods except for rare special items. If I was depending on others for my food money, I would never shop there. Is that so hard to understand? I don’t think shopping fugally dooms you to “crap” food. Do you honestly think you need to shop at specialty grocery stores that charge premium prices in order to get basic food? What planet are you from?

  118. mythago
    January 13, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Bleeding hearts and righteous indignation are fine as far as they go, it’s exhibiting the same behavior that you claim to be so reprehensible in others that makes you so laughably that which you so apparently detest.

    Did you have a point in there somewhere, other than “Well YOU must be a bleeding-heart LIBERAL so THERE!!!!111!!!”

    I’ll type it a little slower for you, Brian: somebody who thinks that punishment is the only way to change people’s behavior is an idiot. They are an idiot squared if they think the way to solve poverty is to punish people for being poor. Some of these people, wackily, label themselves “Christians”, having decided to skip over the uncomfortable parts of Jesus’s teachings where he instructs us to be generous to the poor, kind to one another and to treat the lowest of the low as they would the Christ.

    Bruce, unfortunately there are lots of people who want the poor to stay that way–because they’re not “deserving”, or because they offer a convenient outlet for punitive feelings (c.f. the remarks above about food stamps at Whole Foods).

  119. mythago
    January 13, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    just said that (1) someone who is obese is not likely to be desperately poor, and (2) the prices at places like Whole Foods are much higher than normal supermarkets and buying products there is not exactly stretching your dollars.

    1) is ludicrously wrong. 2) is also silly if you think that these people could have equally-healthy, budget alternatives, but are blowing their food stamps on line-caught salmon.

  120. jennie
    January 13, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Jim would you like to back up the things that you “just said” with maybe some data or examples? Like “someone who is obese is not likely to be desperately poor.”

    Becuase I don’t know about “obese” but I know several people who have at various times been both quite overweight and unable to support themselves. See the comment above about women in the Philippines feeding themselves on only rice, which is bulky, starchy, and plentiful, but doesn’t exactly make for a balanced diet. Or my MIL, who was poor, receiving federal income support and, as a consequence of poor health, diet issues, untreated diabetes, and other poverty-related issues, quite overweight.

    Also, one doesn’t need to shop at “premium” grocery stores for basic food, no, but what do you know about another person’s needs? My ex husband suffered from many food sensitivities, as do several friends; they can’t eat supermarket bread or pasta, whether they’re poor or not, because they’re coeliac or have other wheat sensitivities. Another friend is allergic to trace amounts of soy or dairy. My mom’s hypoglycemic. Assuming one has the wherewithal to have these conditions diagnosed, do you think they go away when people are poor? When my mom was first diagnosed, “premium” natural food stores had way more reduced-glucose options than supermarkets (this was before the days of awful-diabetes food sections in grocery stores). My friends who have at various times been poor shopped at the cheapest places they could find for their “normal” food, but pretty much had to go to the specialty and premium places for their special food needs. Or maybe they should just have done without? Easy to say when you’re not the one who faces a challenge finding breakfast foods you can eat.

    It’s bad enough, when you don’t have a lot of money, that everyone thinks they can look down on you for not working hard enough. Criticizing people for infrugality when you don’t know a damn’ thing about them or about their needs, other than where they shop is a pretty demeaning thing. Who are you to tell people how to use the meagre resources they have?

  121. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    You people think you might be a little extreme? All I suggested is (1) the poverty problem in the US is one of relative poverty, not abject poverty (2) the food stamp program is probably a good idea, but also is subject to abuse, and (3) fat people most likely aren’t starving even if they’re poor. You act like I’ve proposed that all poor people be killed.

    I always thought that stored fat = (calories consumed – calories burned). Apprently the poor defy such simpleminded scientific principles. Oh, wait. It’s because all they can afford is processed food that’s loaded with high fructose corn syrup so they can’t avoid getting fat, even though they don’t actually have enough to eat. Hopefully we can pass legislation that will finally open up the frozen and canned vegetable aisles of our supermarkets to the poor! Our Jim Birdseye laws MUST be overturned!

    What a great country we live in where even the desperately poor can be fat and everyone has a right to organic gourmet food and high quality sources of fiber.

  122. Andrew
    January 13, 2007 at 6:34 pm

    You can be both malnourished and obese if your diet is loaded with calories but lacking in other nutrients, so energy content and “enough to eat” are incomplete measures of the quality of someone’s diet and the health implications thereof.

    Oh, and on (2): Most things are, unfortunately.

  123. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    Andrew:

    If you’re not mentally ill or retarded and are so stupid as to become simultaneously malnourshed and fat, I’d just as soon my tax dollars go elsewhere. People like that are the reason god created evolution. We can only hope they’re too fat to procreate.

  124. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 6:45 pm

    Because fat people can’t get laid, right?

    Jesus, Jim, you’re a cobag.

  125. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    Zuzu:

    OK, how about “too stupid to procreate”?

    Feel better? Because I think that’s what this is all about. Feeling good, that is.

  126. Alexandra Lynch
    January 13, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    I can feed my family of four for a week on $45.

    BUT. I can cook…I will get three meals out of the chicken I bought (roast it, pick over the carcass for chicken salad, and stock for soup), and I bake my own rolls and bread and cookies for lunchboxes. And I have a vehicle, and the time to go spend an entire morning every week going first to the cheap grocery store, and then to the dollar store (for cleaning products), and then to the regular grocery store (for the store brand cola I drink instead of coffee, and salad vegetables). And we drive fifty miles to Costco once every three months to stock up on paper products and fresh meat.

    I’d be sunk if we didn’t have a vehicle. And when I am buying food and fall into conversation with other shoppers, it’s amazing how many people don’t know how to cook. No, I don’t need to buy the cake mix. I’ll make it from scratch at home once I get the bag of flour. But this is not in a whole lot of people’s skillset, poor or rich. It’s just that the people with more money can hide it.

    And in the realm of “costs to have a kid”…Sure, you can send cupcakes to school for his birthday. As long as they’re from a professional bakery, and not homemade. I understand concerns about allergens, but as it works, it does rather penalize those with less disposable income.

  127. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 6:54 pm

    Alexandra:

    Your argument is totally unfair. It’s dinnertime where I am, and you sound like a great cook. I only have 2 questions: what time should I be by, and can I bring anything?

  128. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 7:05 pm

    Riiiiight, Jim. Because getting vouchers for cheese and whole milk and cereal rather than fresh vegetables, or having to rely on starchy, cheap foods to stretch a dollar, means that you must certainly be too stupid to eat right. And if, having to rely on crappy food, you wind up being both overweight and malnourished, it’s your own fault for being too damn stupid.

    But god forbid you might use some of your food stamps at Whole Foods and get some fresh stuff, because someone might be upset that you’re throwing away *their* tax dollars.

  129. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 7:10 pm

    Though I’ve got to hand it to you, Jim: you’ve certainly demonstrated that Jill picked the right title for this post.

  130. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Zuzu:

    First, let’s get this fact straight: As far as I know, food stamps can be used for virtually any food item intended to be prepared at home, including fresh produce. See http://www.fns.usda.gov/fsp/faqs.htm#10. Haveing said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with canned and frozen produces.

    If this is incorrect, please advise.

    So:

    1. To say, as Jill did, that “poorer people are fatter because they only have access to the most fattening foods, courtesy of Uncle Sam” is, to put it charitably, completely disingenuous. Medical conditions aside, people become fat when they eat too much relative to their levels of exercise. Poverty has nothing to do with it.

    2. Do you disagree that someone who is of right mind, yet manages to become both malnourished AND obese, deserves a lot of consideration?

    3. Do you think that normal supermarkets like Safeway and King Soopers- where the vast majority of Americans shop, where prices are significantly lower than at Whole Foods, and where I’ve rarely found the food items to be rotted – are not sufficient for the poor?

    4. Are you really arguing that people unable to provide for themselves have every right to spend other peoples tax dollars on premium-priced products when other equally satisfactory products are easily available?

  131. car
    January 13, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    I’ve always thought it interesting that the people with the most to say about how poor people should live have never themselves been at all poor.

    And hey, Jim, there must not be any starvation in Darfur, right? I mean, look at the size of the abdomens on those people!

  132. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 7:39 pm

    car:

    The poverty is really within your logic. But, if sense of humor is any indication of intelligence, I doubt you’ll find it.

  133. ako
    January 13, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    You act like I’ve proposed that all poor people be killed.

    No, we act like you said (quotes from multiple posts):

    but to ask for compassion for supposedly “poor” people who nevertheless manage to become obese is a little ridiculous.

    If you’re not mentally ill or retarded and are so stupid as to become simultaneously malnourshed and fat, I’d just as soon my tax dollars go elsewhere. People like that are the reason god created evolution. We can only hope they’re too fat to procreate.

    OK, how about “too stupid to procreate”?

    Admittedly I’d normally be reluctant to assume that someone thought compassion for the poor is ridiculous if they’re fat, evolution needs to weed the poor and fat out, and that people who are poor and overweight are unworthy of either assistance or the ability to procreate, but under the circumstances, I feel pretty justified.

    Oh, and

    Hopefully we can pass legislation that will finally open up the frozen and canned vegetable aisles of our supermarkets to the poor!

    You might want to read the lables on some of those canned and frozen vegetables. Otherwise, you might accidentally buy the cheap brands with the gratutious corn syrup, and turn into one of those odious fat people you love to hate.

    Of course you could always buy those fancy high-end brands without so much junk in it, like what they sell at the Whole Foods, but you don’t have strangers granting themselves the moral right to condem you for wasting “their” money (do you get half so outraged when people drop cigarette butts in the public parks your tax dollars pay for? Because that’s a lot more wasteful than a bag of organic groceries) in buying anything but the cheapest stuff.

  134. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    Jim, go google the “grocery gap” sometime, hm (I even did a post on it here, so do make use of the search function)? I know you’re concerned that your tax dollars are being spent at Whole Foods on “premium” items, but the truth of the matter is, sometimes Whole Foods is less expensive (not to mention better quality) than the local grocery, particulary in poor neighborhoods, because they tend to jack their prices. And any number of their items are comparable to some of the larger chains.

    WIC limits the type of items you can buy, and forces you to buy certain brands, quantities and types of items, most of which are unhealthy. Food stamps aren’t unlimited. As everyone’s been telling you, cheap food tends to be high in fat, starch and salt. If you have a limited grocery budget and few choices where that budget can be spent within the time available and at a distance you can reach, you’re likely to wind up with food that is high in fat and salt and sugar.

    And BTW, do you make it a habit to inspect the grocery carts of other people at the supermarket? Or do you just limit your snooping to fat people and people who look like they might be poor and thus undeserving of fresh produce (yet, apparently, eminently deserving of scorn for daring to be so stupid that they haven’t managed to figure out how to maintain a balanced diet without that fresh produce that’s too good for them)?

  135. car
    January 13, 2007 at 7:59 pm

    Ah, yes, go to an ad hominem when you have nothing else left. Why not admit that you’re just a sie and wealth bigot and be done with it?

  136. car
    January 13, 2007 at 8:00 pm

    Correction: that was supposed to be “size”. Hit submit too quickly.

  137. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 8:03 pm

    zuzu:

    I don’t see any limitations on food stamp purchases other than:

    Beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco
    Any nonfood items, such as:

    pet foods;
    soaps, paper products; and
    household supplies.
    Vitamins and medicines.
    Food that will be eaten in the store.
    Hot foods

    If you are aware of other rules, please reference them.

    I think the idea that people go to Whole Foods to shop for the best prices is hardly worth a comment. I’m not aware of a lot of Whole Foods store located right in poor neighborhoods. If you have to travel, I doubt they are typically more conventient than the mass marketers.

    I always look in the grocery carts of fat people for the same reason I study the experts in any field: they obviously know about the good stuff. However, I don’t look too closely in the carts of the the really poor ones since they might know about the good stuff, but they probably can’t afford to buy it. Might be worth following them around, though. See where they pause and look longingly at things. I suspect the pastry case at Whole Foods might find clusters of them.

  138. mythago
    January 13, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    You people think you might be a little extreme?

    Poor Jim. He just wants everyone to agree with him, and here we are, extremist-ly refusing to go along. We suck, people.

    Jim, you do need to read your own links, because if you did you might notice that food stamps are not “all you can eat”. They are limited dollar amounts. Spending money on “premium-priced products” means less food, period, which is why poor people generally aren’t blowing their wad at Whole Foods.

    As for other people’s tax dollars, my opinion as a taxpayer that feeding the poor is a pretty damn good use of my tax dollars. I like it a lot better than, say, having my taxes subsidize people who take out home-equity loans to pay for vacations or luxury cars.

  139. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 8:07 pm

    car:

    I’m also a site bigot, for what it’s worth.

    I thought your reference to the distended bellies was actually the first backhanded ad hominem comment, and I was responding to that in kind. I now realize you must actually believe what you said. Having read your comments, I should have known that was the case, so I apologize.

  140. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    mythago:

    I think the issue people were getting all hot and bothered about was not the limited funds – would you expect them to be unlimited?

    I think the issue was the false information that the funds could not be used to purchase fresh produce and other “healthy” thinks. That is false, as near as I can tell.

    Your reference to cost-benefit, however, is apt. My opinion is that abject poverty is virtually non-existent in the US due to an excellent overall economy and the safety nets that have been put in place (appropriately, in most cases). Therefore, I think the on-going class-wafare that’s waged around the poverty meme – such as that at the top of this thread – is a bogus issue used for political advantage and has very little to do with where we should be putting our time and money.

  141. Julie
    January 13, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I’m sorry I haven’t read this comment thread before now. I just recently was on WIC, and anyone who thinks it’s some excessive amount of food that they are paying for out of their hard earned tax dollars is full of shit and has clearly never been on it. We received a full package for myself, my two year old daughter and my son. This gave us 10 and a half gallons of milk, 6 pounds of cheese, 36 ounces of cereal, a pound of dried beans, 18 ounces of peanut butter, a whole bunch of eggs, something like 12 cans of juice and 9 cans of infant formula a month. Try feeding a family of four on that… it simply doesn’t happen, nor is it meant to. It’s simply supplental. In order to make meals, you have to pick up stuff like maccaroni (starch), potatoes (starch), cheap meats, etc… I was spending 20 dollars a week on groceries in addition to what we received from WIC and while no one was hungry, we certainly weren’t eating healthy, balanced meals. We were eating a ton of dairy, a ton of starch and whatever vuts of meat were the cheapest that week, and those usually weren’t the lean, organic cuts. Trying to lose weight gained during pregnancy while eating nothing but starch, dairy and cheap cuts of meat is next to impossible. In the minds of people like Jim here, though, the fact that I was 195 pounds, five foot one and receiving government assistance makes me stupid. Oh, and the fact that I was overweight means I clearly had an excess of food, despite the fact we barely had any food in our house at any given time. Fuck off buddy, seriously. Do you know how I am losing weight? Now that I have a little bit of extra money, I can buy whole wheat instead of white, I can get sugar free stuff, I can do organic vs. regular, etc… I can even buy fresh vegetables. I’ve lost probably 3 or 4 pounds just in the last couple weeks by combining fresh, decent food with walks on my lunch break.

  142. orange
    January 13, 2007 at 9:17 pm

    Wow, I missed a lot. Thank you to the posters above me who tried to point out that my original post had darn little to do with DVD players. When I was a kid, DVD players didn’t exist.

    And yeah, I do remember when we got a VCR, I was about nine or ten, and for the first time we could see movies that we couldn’t afford to see in theatres; and we could tape our favorite movies and watche them AGAIN; and guess what ? That little luxury, being able to repeat a happy experience, being able to talk with my friends at school about movies, not having to make dinner in between commercials or miss the plot; it made a difference in our lives for the better. A small difference, but my parents were huge moviephiles (they talk about drive-in movie marathons from their childhood with great glee) so having a VCR was a big deal for them. I would argue that even though we were poor, we deserved that happiness, just like poor families today that get shamed for having a TV and DVD players and renting movies.

    And good luck to you guys dealing with Jim. People who think that there’s no poverty and hunger and malnutrition in the United States probably also believe in unicorns.

  143. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 9:24 pm

    Orange:

    Wow what a sense of humor. Unicorns! Hilarious.

    What percentage of US household do you think actually go hungry one or more times during the year? And exactly how many individuals do you think are suffering from malnutrition?

  144. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 9:30 pm

    Jim, do your own googling.

  145. car
    January 13, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Jim:

    11 percent

    For a country that likes to think it’s the best at everything, that’s a damn shame.

  146. Jim
    January 13, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    Sorry to hear about your troubles, must have been tough. I’ve been there before, but never with a kid, which must make it horrible. It sounds like the father was not any help. If that was due to neglect and not necessity it is a disgrace.

    First, to be clear, I said that anyone of right mind (and otherwise healthy) who is obese and malnourished is stupid. That was not you. You were coming off a pregnancy, which is a whole different story.

    Also, the discussion is about the Food Stamp program, not WIC. WIC has different restrictions on the food you can get and that matters to the point I was making.

    Don’t waste your limited cash on organic. It’s a total crock and will do nothing to help you lose weight.

    Good luck.

  147. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    And, it should be noted, that’s WITH food assistance programs.

  148. zuzu
    January 13, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    First, to be clear, I said that anyone of right mind (and otherwise healthy) who is obese and malnourished is stupid. That was not you. You were coming off a pregnancy, which is a whole different story.

    You know, I’ve let you go on far enough, but now you’re not only being insulting, you’re giving out hairpats for someone being the “right” kind of poor fat person.

    Buh-bye.

  149. mythago
    January 13, 2007 at 9:38 pm

    I think the issue was the false information that the funds could not be used to purchase fresh produce and other “healthy” thinks.

    Until quite recently, this was true of WIC. Even if those funds can be used to purchase healthy foods, bad food is cheaper, as every college student knows.

    You keep referring to “abject poverty”, how is that different from plain old poverty?

    As for hunger and malnutrition, it’s a bit odd to ask whether people go hungry or are malnourished, since we taxpayers are paying for programs to prevent that very thing. It would be better to ask “If we got rid of or severely limited food stamps, WIC and subsidized school lunches, how many people would be hungry or malnourished?”

    To answer your question, even with all those terrible taxpayer-oppressing programs in place, the USDA notes that 11% of households were ‘food-insecure’ in 2005; 3.9% were ‘very food-insecure’. In terms of numbers, that means 35 million people, including 12.4 million children, lived in food-insecure households.

  150. car
    January 13, 2007 at 9:40 pm

    Oh, and since you don’t seem to be quite clear on the meaning of an ad hominem argument, it’s attacking the person rather than the position. I was simply taking your statement that it’s nigh impossible to be fat and malnourished and applying it to another situation so as to clarify that it is indeed possible. I was making a claim that your argument was stupid, not that you were. I’m rethinking that position, though.

  151. January 13, 2007 at 9:49 pm

    I don’t see what the big deal is about food stamps. The amount of taxes my parents pay to give kids a decent meal is probably less than what we spent on a fancy new tv. We don’t need a fancy tv, and children need food, so why bitch and moan about it?

    Our country has plenty of cash, and anyway, we blow billions on killing people in other countries, so why not give a bit to help people in our own country? Anyway, it’s easier to fill up on fruits and veggies if you have the money to buy them and the time to prepare them.

  152. January 13, 2007 at 9:58 pm

    I don’t see what the big deal is about food stamps. The amount of taxes my parents pay to give kids a decent meal is probably less than what we spent on a fancy new tv. We don’t need a fancy tv, and children need food, so why bitch and moan about it?

    Because libertarianism and conservatism is, at its heart, a festering mass of hatred against people who aren’t good enough to be true Merikans. They don’t fit the Horatio Alger picture of the self-made person, so they must have been lazy somewhere along the line. After all, American mythology is without flaws.

  153. ako
    January 13, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    You keep referring to “abject poverty”, how is that different from plain old poverty?

    Abject poverty is a global standard for the most extreme poverty. It means less than a dollar a day US. The complication is that when it comes to people in the developing world, there’s a possibility for some of them, under some circumstances to provide themselves the survival basics. This article has an interesting description of a family of six living off about $450 a year, and this one has an account of people doing less well. But because of different food prices, what’s minimally adequate to feed, clothe and shelter six people couldn’t feed one person in the US for a year. So abject poverty, in the technical sense, really isn’t a useful standard to apply to the US.

    Poverty in the US is usually less extreme than in the developing world, but that’s hardly a reason to write it off, or ignore it. If over a tenth of the population has trouble providing regular meals, that’s worth addressing.

  154. January 13, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    Man, that’s some craziness Jack. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the idea that people would want my cousin’s kids to go hungry just because it would cost them a lot less than they are paying to blow up Iraq.

  155. Bruce
    January 14, 2007 at 2:03 am

    Holy cow, things really hit the fan in the last few hours…

    Mythago said to me:

    Bruce, unfortunately there are lots of people who want the poor to stay that way–because they’re not “deserving”, or because they offer a convenient outlet for punitive feelings (c.f. the remarks above about food stamps at Whole Foods).

    In response, I must say that deserving or not, assistance is not and will never be a way to make someone “not poor”. However, I will certainly grant you the benefit of the doubt that was not exactly what you meant. I certainly understand the punitive feelings part, but I doubt that even the most hardened heart (looking over in Jim’s direction) would want poor people around just to criticize or follow to the pastry dessert section of the store.

    Jim did have a point about the limitations on the types of foods and items that may be purchased with food stamps, which did put a hole in some of the arguments here and in the original article, however to ignore the realities of nutrition vs. price vs. monthly food stamp allowance is disingenuous.

    I think it’s very easy to get passionate about this issue. So passionate that it becomes easy to inflate the direness of any given situation, pro and con. One the one hand, are overweight people on food stamps starving to death and the American version of the strictly rice eating asians? Of course not. Malnourished, probably yes, lower life expectancy, yes, more sickness, yes, more child developmental issues, yes, hungry at the end of the month when the stamps don’t go far enough, probably yes. On the other hand, are people throwing big parties on the money they’ve saved on food, driving “welfare Cadillacs”, and deciding to quit their job to take the summer off and go on food stamps? Of course not.
    This isn’t Europe!

  156. Bruce
    January 14, 2007 at 2:12 am

    My point above, which I obviously took too long in making since it was cut off, is that we need to tone down the always/never and good/bad shrillness of the original article and of these comments and approach each other as people who just don’t understand through no fault of their own. I don’t consider the Hoover people to be speaking for all Conservatives any more than I think that Jesse Jackson speaks for all Blacks or Code Pink speaks for all Lesbians.
    Since the poor will be with us always, we need to get this right….

  157. January 14, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I just said that (1) someone who is obese is not likely to be desperately poor

    According to the WHO, just over 50% of the world’s population is either “overweight” or obese. I don’t remember the exact figure, but something like 60% of the world’s population live on under $2 a day. Notice there’s at least a 10% overlap in those figures (though I bet it’s a much greater overlap). I doubt the folks living on $2.01 a day, the lucky bastards, are living high on the hog either.

    There’s another dimension to this issue that I haven’t seen raised directly, also, and that is that food is not simply fuel for the body. Food is cultural — what, how much, when, and why a person eats are determined by factors much more significant (to them) than their calorie and nutrient values. Many poor in SE Asia, for instance, stretch their diets with high-calorie, low-vitamin rice (feeling full is important) and many offer high-status members of the family (like first sons) the choicest foods, leaving lower-status members to get fat on less nourishing food (or, in some places, to waste away for want of calories). Americans get much, much more from a trip to McDonald’s, or from a bag of Oreos, than calories — but little of that “extra” is actually nutrition. Many middle- and upper-class conservatives want poor folks to be food accountants — aside from lacking the actual information and knowledge to do this, the poor are not any likelier to think about food this way than are the rich or well-off (and “think” is itself a poor choice of words — we “feel” about food much more than we “think” about it).

  158. Julie
    January 14, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Are you seriously fucking kiddng me asshole? The father? You mean my husband, the man who was working 55 hours a week and whatever else he could get on top of that to try and make ends meet, hence why we wouldn’t have qualified for any other assistance? It must be nice to live in la la land where anyone who works hard can afford to live decently, but it’s simply not true, and my husband makes well over minimum wage (Around 11.00 an hour plus overtime for any hour over 40). I cannot even imagine how hard it must be to make it on minimum wage, and yet we have idiots who would deny people help simply because “well, it’s my dollar and I earned it”. Well, boo fucking hoo. I’m working again now and I would rather see my tax money go to help people meet their basic human needs then wasted on useless wars.

  159. ako
    January 14, 2007 at 1:50 pm

    One the one hand, are overweight people on food stamps starving to death and the American version of the strictly rice eating asians?

    As the one who brought up the strictly rice-eating Asians (specifically Filipinos) I’ll say that while overweight food stamp-recipients aren’t starving to death, they are likely to be pretty well equivalent to the Filipinos living almost entirely on rice. The people I was talking about weren’t the ones starving in the street (you do get people starving in the street, and they tend to be extremely skinny except for the stomach), but rather people a step above abject poverty who can provide something to eat on a regular basis, but not anything nutritiour. Frequently just rice with sugar or salt thrown in for flavor, and enough meals of real food so they don’t collapse.

    They are, like the food-stamp recipients you mentioned, malnourished, with lower life expectancy, more sickness, more child development issues, and periodically hungry, but not starving hungry. And they tend to be visibly overweight. This is a recognized problem in the Philippines, because the number of people starving in much of the country is relatively low, and having a large underclass of the malnourished and sickly poor is bad for the nation as a whole. Aside from the human suffering involved, it leads to increased infant mortality (an unhealty pregnany woman’s less likely to have a healthy baby), more health problems, more health expenditures, damage to the economy (less productivity and less ability to improve their economic situation), and more people trapped in poverty.

    The whole reason I brought up the example is to show that the US, the US benefit system, and the overweight poor weren’t a special case. Overweight-but-malnourished poor people are a recognized problem even in countries that provide less of a social safety net.

  160. zuzu
    January 14, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    Malnutrition is not the same as starvation, FYI. It’s quite possible to take in either adequate or excess calories and not meet your body’s nutritional needs. A kid that eats only peanut butter would, for instance, likely be malnourished even if he’s not starving.

    Julie, Jim’s been banned, if that helps.

  161. Julie
    January 14, 2007 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks zuzu! I don’t usually get heated like that, but people like that just bother me.

  162. ako
    January 14, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    I don’t consider the Hoover people to be speaking for all Conservatives any more than I think that Jesse Jackson speaks for all Blacks or Code Pink speaks for all Lesbians.

    I didn’t spot that last bit the first time around, but did you have a particular point in implying Code Pink was a lesbian group? Because they’re a women’s anti-war group, not a particularly lesbian one. I expect there are lesbians in Code Pink, but the group doesn’t identify as a lesbian group, offer membership exclusively or predominately to lesbians, or advocate for specifically gay and lesbian causes. The name Code Pink was chosen as a reference to the color-coded terror alerts, and as a color generally seen as feminine.

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