Dear Megan McArdle,

I’m with Becks; if you really think that poor people are fat simply because they make bad food choices, I’d suggest you take this challenge. See how well you can eat a healthy, well-balanced diet on a food stamp budget — that’s about $3 a day, by the way.

Cutting off money for food isn’t going to help low-income people eat better, and government-sponsored starvation is not the antidote to obesity. I know this is going to sound totally crazy, but if you give people access to fresh, healthy food they can actually afford, they’ll buy fresh, healthy food. If you give them $3 a day, they’ll buy ramen and frozen fish sticks.

I’ve never been obese, but my weight has fluxuated pretty significantly depending on my diet — and, strangely enough, I’ve been at my heaviest (and my least healthy) when I was stretched for cash and didn’t have access to a gym (or time to go). I was healthy as a kid in large part because my parents could afford and had time to prepare fresh, healthy food; I went to schools with gym classes and sports fields; my mom packed me a well-balanced lunch every day so I wasn’t eating tater tots in the cafeteria; and my parents could afford to put me on sports teams. Growing up in a body that was a socially acceptable size was largely a function of privilege coupled with genes. I gained weight once I was living out of their house and had to buy my own food on a limited budget, and I discovered very quickly that pasta is cheaper and more filling than fruits, veggies and whole grains. Shocking, I know. It’s Grad Student Economics, not brain surgery.

Are we seriously so cynical and so disgusted by obesity that it’s become acceptable to suggest cutting off food to the poor in order to make then thinner? And, the question I can’t get past, is why does Megan McArdle care if other people are fat? I mean, she clearly isn’t all that concerned with their health if she thinks that limiting the food supply is the solution to poverty-related obesity; so, with health off the table, why does she give a fuck about how fat my (or your) ass is?

Also, is McArdle unable to spend 15 seconds on google before she starts blaming poor people for being fat?

Plus what Zuzu said.

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26 comments for “Dear Megan McArdle,

  1. tinfoil hattie
    January 26, 2008 at 12:32 am

    McArdle not only has to try to survive on $3 worth of food per day, it has to be food the government will “permit” you to buy on WIC, which does not include fresh fruit and vegetables.

    Those damn poor-assed fatties.

  2. January 26, 2008 at 12:34 am

    I suppose they could just give the poor people liposuction rebates if food stamps are such a faux pas.

  3. BAC
    January 26, 2008 at 12:58 am

    Clearly McArdle doesn’t have a clue what she is talking about.


  4. TrishB
    January 26, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Great. So everyone can eat like I did over the past week. Lots of Easy Mac for a buck a cup, or 10 cents for ramen. Oh wait, I actually have these things called choices. Then again, that’s me. Lots of people don’t have those so-called luxuries. It was because of my decently paid job and training opportunities that I had no time to eat a decent meal. What a luxury that really is!

  5. evil fizz
    January 26, 2008 at 1:27 am

    I refer Ms. McArdle to what’s actually approved by WIC. Notice that you can’t buy any fruit (just juice) and the only acceptable vegetable is carrots. But no baby carrots.

    Also notice that states are not required to approve everything the feds do.

  6. January 26, 2008 at 2:15 am

    On an only marginally related note, around our house, Ramen Noodles are referred to as “Purina Student Chow”.

    I suppose it’s too much to hope for that poor people who look like famine victims might get some sympathy (if not any food, since it might make them fat) from Ms. McArdle.

  7. January 26, 2008 at 2:54 am

    Even most “junk food” of the sort poor people can afford to purchase is fortified with vitamins. That’s not as good as giving them access to “fresh, whole foods” by a long shot, but the fact of the matter is that nowadays even the poorest people don’t suffer from protein malnutrition, scurvy, rickets, and beriberi, because they actually get to eat something, even if it’s not “ideal.”

    And how is anyone supposed to be able to summon up the strength to clean M. McAsshole’s pool and all her neighbors’ pools all day and then go bus tables at Yuppie Bar X all night not eating anything at all? I know the sight of fat poor people just ruins the romance of poverty for you, M., but think of all the scut work you’d have to do for yourself that would fuck up your manicure something hard.

  8. January 26, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Oh my god, I honestly just bought a big bag of pasta thinking I cheated the college student diet. Now you’re telling me it’s no better than the ramen I avoid eating? Pffft… I bought some bananas, but I had to throw some out because they went bad. I just… I just can’t eat it fast enough, and throwing it out is throwing money out. =(

    I grew up on poor people food, though, so it’s only been since I’ve been on my own and had work to go and figure out my gastronomical preferences. Unfortunately, as you noted, money only goes so far, and I can’t afford to keep it up for long. I was only able to experiment at all because I don’t have children to worry about, like most people.

  9. ethyl
    January 26, 2008 at 10:01 am

    McArdle sounds like another one of those people whose advice for losing weight is “you just have to find TIME to work out! You have to just make time to cook heathy meals!” Yeah, I’ll just go an tell my supervisor at the factory that I’ll need to leave early because I need “time” to work out, and I’ll be sure to ride the bus for an hour to go to the “real” grocery store, then truck my groceries back another hour so I’ll have fresh veggies to cook for dinner at, oh, 10 pm when I get home from both jobs and finally have a minute to spend time with my kids. No problem. I can just go shopping on the weekends, except that that’s when I’m working my third job, oh and I don’t have a freezer big enough to store anything in that I might have time to cook in advance. Hm, wait, maybe the solutions aren’t that simple, McAsshat.

    Sorry…I get worked up about this stuff…..

  10. January 26, 2008 at 11:35 am

    What we are witnessing and experiencing here is the last acceptable bias: FATTISM, plain and simple. Last time I checked there are plenty of CELEBS that are overweight, so to villainize an already disenfranchised part of our society, to boil it down to simply socio-economic issues alone is only one dimensional. There are people out there afflicted with Syndrome X, Polycycstic Ovarian Disease, and Diabetes (all of which run in families).

    I bet folks like McArdle, who no doubt want to run our wombs as baby making facroties, taking away abortion turning women into simply “breeders” want, by extension, to then tell folks how to feed the children as well–yet never taking up any REAL TANGIBLE MEANINFUL cause for those afflicted.

    It’s so easy to be an “armchair quarterback” on topics that SOME folks simply don’t GET because they’re not living it.

  11. January 26, 2008 at 11:41 am

    PS: I bet the thought never occurs to McArdle and her ilk that all those obese folks she’s looking at or talking about are in fact MALNOURISHED.

    It’s amazing that in this country manufacturers can put all sorts of things in our food and other things folks consume to make them “addictive,” yet corporations lack the conscience to realize who is buying their stuff and don’t think of ways to improve the quality of those goods, which by extension could improve the lives of their sales demographic.

  12. January 26, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    The irony of this is that the reason that thin is in- is precisely because the kind of diet that keeps you healthy while keeping you very, very thin is expensive and a sign of wealth. The double irony of that is that modeling agencies recruit in malnourished countries to get access to teenagers who are paper thin from undereating their whole lives. Sure, developmental problems from malnourishment growing up aren’t attractive for most of your life, but for a brief period at the height of adolescent blooming, it can look almost healthy.

  13. January 26, 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Maven, I think that McArdle is pro-choice. She’s a libertarian. But I also suspect that if abortion were banned, it wouldn’t bother her too much, because it wouldn’t be banned for her. Just for us red staters.

  14. fishbane
    January 26, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    McMegan is pro choice, although “reluctantly”. There’s plenty of hand-wringing to be found on her old site.

    In general, I think she caught the nuance-is-always-good journalist bug early in her career – a consequence of needing a non-obvious hook for articles combined with an economics-buff fannish appreciation for counterintuitive notions. I’m not sure if there is a word for the syndrome – decent analytic skills in the service of a tendency to play devil’s advocate, leading to stunningly wrong opinions.

    Easy to recognize, as I tend to do it myself.

  15. January 26, 2008 at 4:20 pm


    I bought some bananas, but I had to throw some out because they went bad. I just… I just can’t eat it fast enough, and throwing it out is throwing money out. =(

    I have a great banana bread recipe that uses three brown bananas. Interested?

  16. January 26, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    McCardle’s “libertarianism” is a crock of fucking shit. It’s because of massive governmental subsidies to the production of high-fructose corn syrup that the cheapest food to buy is poison that makes you fat. There is a reason why ranchers feed their cattle corn to fatten them up. She’s a vile, greedy twit who uses “libertarianism” as a cover for her hatred of everyone other than her Upper West Side prep school pals.

  17. January 26, 2008 at 5:56 pm

    Just one more penny’s worth from me, if Libertarianism is a philosophy based in the individual’s liberty, what possesses McArdle to give a rat’s behind about who is fat and who isn’t, regardless of the root cause?

    Funny how things go in cycles to indicate wealth. A hundred years ago, milled and fine soaps and bath stuffs were for the higher classes and was a sign of wealth; pale skin was a sign that you didn’t have to work hard outdoors for your living; then “having meat on one’s bones” was a sign of abundance. Now thin is a socio-economic indicator that one is wealthy enough to eat well and have the luxury of time to exercise.

    It’s difficult enough in life to be a woman, without all the signals, correct and otherwise, which get tossed our way; from the way our bodies smell and look, it’s amazing more women don’t off themselves from the constant pressure to conform.

  18. January 26, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    A few years ago, I took a political philosophy class with a bunch of really, really infuriating libertarians. At one point, I told one of the most extreme to, “Go live in Somalia if you think small or no government would be so awesome. I hear you might last a couple of hours.”

    Unhelpful? Sure. Insulting to Somalis? Probably. Nicer than what I was actually thinking? You bet.

  19. fishbane
    January 26, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Maven –

    As probably the most libertarianish* person here, I thought I’d explain what I take to be McMegan’s case. She isn’t saying that people should be forced to be skinny, but, to her mind, is suggesting policy that will improve overall health. (That she’s completely wrong doesn’t change this.) Many people with libertarian sensibilities care deeply about what happens to people, but disagree with progressive notions as to how to do something about it. That doesn’t make them right, but they (we) are not all Randian nutcases. Only most of us. :)

    * I should explain, I suppose, but it is complex. Pro single-payer, anti drugwar, pro public assistance that actually assists, anti Kelo, huge fan of self-sufficiency, huge fan of entrepreneurial methods of self-help, pro choice, generally in favor of methods that allow people to do what they want, be that cutting red tape, assisting when needed, or organizing a potluck barn raiser type event.

    I didn’t get the prep school (went to an unaccredited Southern high school), but I am moving from Brooklyn to the UWS next month. Not all of us who want to live there came pre-equipped with a silver spoon. Just so you know.

  20. January 26, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    I’m with Becks; if you really think that poor people are fat simply because they make bad food choices, I’d suggest you take this challenge.

    She claims that she already did, for a conveniently unsold article, but it didn’t make any impression on her.

  21. Tom
    January 27, 2008 at 4:12 am

    What always gets ignored on the topic of junk food and policy is the massive agricultural subsidies that promote it. (not to mention the worldwide economic distortions that result, the impoverishing of farmers in poor countries that can’t compete with subsidized agriculture, etc.) All that glop contains and gets substantial proportions of its calories, at some point in the chain of production, from corn and soy products: corn syrup in soft drinks and sweets, soy texturing in meat and potato products, corn fed to feedlot beef, the list goes on and on. Those crops are heavily subsidized, and are among the “big five” of subsidies (corn, wheat, rice, soy and cotton) paid by the USDA. Part of the reason that the poor make unhealthy food choices is simple economics: those subsidies make junk food items artificially cheaper by comparison to healthier choices. Reforming the disgraceful mess that those subsidy programs represents really ought to be a no-brainer, particularly for a libertarian.

  22. Sniper
    January 27, 2008 at 6:12 pm

    Ugh. It is insane that foodstamps don’t pay for everything, just insane. I remember being in line behind a young woman with a toddler who had a handful of canned goods and a little container of stuffed cabbage or something from the deli. The clerk was explaining that she couldn’t have the cabbage on “the program” so she was trying to scrap up the cash for it. She looked embarrassed and exhausted. Would society really fall into ruin if someone could buy ready-made food with government assistance? Cripes.

  23. Teke
    February 18, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Most foods contain sugar,corn syrup,high fructose sugars, etc. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why there is so much obesity and diabetes in the USA. Now everything contains some sort of soy in it. That will be next on the health issues giving it time to show up.
    When I was growing up, my brother and I stayed outdoors most of the time.
    We were poor. We did very little sitting in front of the tv. We didn’t have x-box or p.c.’s. We climbed trees and rode our bkies.
    The food stamp allotment today is very little for anyone to survive on.
    I get $81 per month for 2 people in household.
    I am 52 yrs old and 100% totally disabled, get $996 S.S.I. Disability per month to live on.
    With milk being $4 per gallon, bread $2.50 a loaf, eggs $3 a dozen,
    $81 buys very little. And yes I do buy mac & cheese, hot dogs, and fish sticks, because that food will go further than a head of lettuce, or any costly Niman beef.
    And let’s not forget how much gas costs.
    God Bless all of those who are trying to make it with the help of food stamps.
    Write our Congressmen to get higher food stamp allotments so we can eat fresh and try to maintain a healthier lifestyle.

  24. littlem
    March 7, 2008 at 2:13 am

    One of my degrees is from IU, so chalk this up to school rivalry if you must.

    Pay no attention to the … being … behind the Purdue Attorney curtain. The articles … it … cites refer to a situation where a man and his wife apparently survived on 2.47 per day of food-stamp food.

    The articles provide no information as to whether there were more people to feed in their family.

    The articles provide no information (they mentioned that the couple “cooked at home”) as to what the couple’s working schedule hours were so as to permit supportable sustenance on such a budget.

    Without such information, I submit that whatever conclusion Purdue Attorney is trying to assert/imply doesn’t stand up to comparable circumstances for families that receive Food Stamps.

    We’re not even going to get into regional differences for food pricing.

    (Especially since some of my best friends are descendants of some of those HFCS-subsidized Indiana farm families, by gum.)

    Carry on.

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