Food deserts and produce portfolios

We had a guest speaker who talked about food deserts.  Food deserts are areas of cities where people live, but there aren’t any grocery stores with easy access.  At best, people’s food needs are met at the local 7-11, but these convenience stores charge more than grocery stores would and don’t carry fresh produce.  People who live in these areas eat a lot of junk food and canned food because that’s what’s available, and they tend to get way too much sodium because even “healthy” canned food tends to be higher in sodium than its fresh or frozen counterparts.

The guest speaker claimed that food deserts don’t really exist, or at least that the problem is much smaller in magnitude than it has been made out to be in the media.  He didn’t show a map or anything, and I haven’t looked up the original research so I can’t verify that claim.

He then said that when low SES and middle SES people shop at the same grocery store, they buy different food portfolios.  Middle SES people tend to buy a lot more variety of food, and they’re more likely to buy the seasonal produce–the fruits and veggies that are cheap because they’re in season.  Lower SES people at the same grocery store tend to buy the same bundles of food every month with far less variety.

He attributed this difference to lack of knowledge about how to cook different foods, but we could easily assume that there are differences in ability to carry the food home or to process and store the food so that it doesn’t go bad (and the downside to food going bad is worse when you have less money).  It could also be a difference in time– working 2 or 3 minimum wage part-time jobs doesn’t leave much time to be creative about cooking or shopping, especially if you have to take several buses to get to the grocery store.

The bottom-line though, is that if we want to help people to eat more healthily and more inexpensively, we can’t just provide access to fresh produce.  We probably can’t also, as he suggests (and WIC is doing), just provide cooking classes.  There are many reasons that lower SES people in cities turn towards convenience foods rather than a variety of seasonal produce.

Most of the stuff left on my cheap eats list is pretty bready, and we can’t have that much bread and still feed the baby so no biscuits and gravy, bruschetta, or pancakes this week.  Also we’ve been too sick and exhausted to make casseroles, so no tamale pie, even though that’s a great cheap eat.  In reality we’d probably have chili and spaghetti once a week rather than once (or twice, if you count meat and veggie chili together) a month if we were trying to keep costs low.

Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup: We make the soup from scratch because the canned stuff is too sweet.  But with a can, this is a $4 meal, give or take.

lentils:  depends on what you put in it, the lentils themselves are <$1.  You could add a couple slices of bacon from your bacon stash, but we’re probably gonna go veggie with spices.  So some onion and garlic and mustard seeds… probably a $3 or $4 meal.

stir fry veggies over rice:  This’ll be different than the last stirfry, but the cost will be about the same.

taco salad:  This can get pricey– but the lettuce will be $2, the beans $1, then probably a jar of salsa for $2.  Meat will add another $2-$6.

quiche:  Same as an omelete, but add another $1 or 2 for the crust.

noodles with olive oil and garlic and cheese (don’t worry, OMDG, we’ll probably have a side salad with it):  YMMV.

leftovers!:  Free!

And that should be it.  Next week I’m totally going back to the Thai cookbook for stuff.  (If you have the exotic stuff on hand because you eat a lot of it, the Thai food isn’t so bad, but if you don’t, it gets pricey.)

38 Responses to “Food deserts and produce portfolios”

  1. Practical Parsimony Says:

    I worked with a young woman who said she always had a poptart and chocolate milk from the corner store on her way to school. She said she never had breakfast like another young woman an I had. There were no eggs in her house. She lived in a ghetto in Atlanta in a food desert. She did not know this word, but that is what she described. Her mother would have to take the bus to go to a grocery store and take several children with her. She could not get food home if she got there. The bus fare could not come out of food stamps. The corner store would take food stamps, so the mother would walk them down every morning for breakfast. This young woman had a college degree yet in her actions she was still in the ghetto. Her family never had fruit, so she could not get in the habit of eating fruit. Vegetables, when they had them, were canned. No one liked the vegetables, so her mother quit buying them.

    She was very much overweight. Just a few months before she had her gall bladder out. She decided that she would lose weight. The other woman and I watched as this young woman brought a salad from McD. She poured on two salad dressing packets, two crouton packets and said she heard eating salads would help her lose weight. She had never had a salad before and thought she would try one. The other young woman and I just exchanged looks.

    The next day before she went to lunch, we had a talk with her, telling her the vegetable part was great, one salad dressing would be okay, but she could find a better dressing. She wanted the croutons. So, I told her to save them and make them part of another meal or for a snack that she usually bought from the snack machine. At least use only one pack of croutons! We tried to explain that she was paying too much for the salad part, that she could buy that in the grocery store, take it home and bring salads all week. She did not even know what the items in the salad were called or what they looked like whole. We had to make a list of possible ingredients and tell her to look it up on the internet for a picture and then to look for the label and vegetable in the store. I had children that at six could go to the grocery store and buy salad ingredients and find a healthy salad dressing.

    Tell me there is no food desert. Yeah!

    I am lying on my back because I cannot sit. The laptop is on my stomach and I have cataracts, so it this is full of mistakes, please deal with them tolerantly…lol.

  2. Chelsea Says:

    I do think part of it is experiential. Even though we lived across the street from a great grocery store and had no problems getting to and from, my parents grew up poor, and we never had fresh fruit and vegetables, only canned, because they wouldn’t go bad. It wasn’t until I was in college, after my dad had a health crisis, that they got serious about eating healthy. And it wasn’t until I met my husband, who is a great cook, that I was willing to try (and liked!) vegetables.

  3. Holly@ClubThrifty Says:

    Although I’ve obviously never studied the topic at length, I tend to believe that food deserts do exist. In fact, we just watched a documentary about various people who suffered from food insecurity and part of the reason was because a few of them lived in an area without a store. One woman in particular had to take two different buses to get to and from the store. I can’t imagine making that trek for food.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      We did that a lot in graduate school (though fortunately subways instead of busses), but our grocery patterns were very different when we got a car, and we did make more use of CVS before getting a car. If he’s using physical distance as his measure of there not being a desert, then he’s ignoring very important differences in ability to get there and to transport back.

  4. BLG Says:

    NPR had an interesting report on this recently (disclaimer – I did not look at the original research):
    It is pretty interesting to see that putting a store in place is not enough to fix the problem.

  5. delagar Says:

    Food deserts are real enough — I lived in one in graduate school, when my only transportation was a bicycle, and the local bus. We had a grocery about a half mile from where I lived, but it was one of those high-price, crap produce sort of places. I bought almost everything there, even though I was as broke as I had ever been, because the alternative was begging someone for a ride to the good grocery (Harps) out on the highway.

    I also think there’s a lot to what Chelsea says. I too come from a poor household; my parents grew up (one of them) in abject poverty; and the other as working class. My mother, who was working class, did most of the cooking when I was little (before she got a job), and she cooked like she’d learned at home. Lots of biscuits and white bread, lots of processed food, only canned vegetables. I still don’t *really* like most vegetables, though I have learned some better ways to cook them.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My dad actually took cooking classes as a young adult before he met my mom. But he was also a depression baby (from Europe), so no food ever went to waste. Anyhow, we grew up being embarrassed by the way nothing ever went to waste and with a distaste towards soup. Because there was always soup. But now that we’re adults we know better– soup stock from bones really is better than soup from a can. My mom cooked more normal (cheap) American foods. Though she came from a meat-veg-carb background (though often mixed together, like stove-top mac and cheese with tuna and peas).

  6. bogart Says:

    Except as a “hook,” it puzzles me that these would be presented as mutually exclusive alternatives — either there are (a) food deserts or (b) people from different SES backgrounds (or living in different SES now) who make different food choices. Why wouldn’t these be additive (or even multiplicative)?

    Dan Ariely’s got a pretty concise and interesting and I suspect accurate blog entry not directly on, but applicable to (b), here: . I see his (3), or a version of it (the grape scenario, specifically), in my in-laws (who are working class and many of whom have experienced poverty — not a lifelong status but not an abstract concept, either): preserved or artificial (e.g. fruit candies) fruit/veg are predictable — their behavior, their appearance, their flavor. Real, not so much. So they tend not to buy real/fresh fruit (e.g.) because it goes bad and gets thrown away — and that in a “one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch” sort of way. I’ll pick grapes out of a bunch to put in my son’s lunch, selecting the ones that look/feel fresh, throwing away the ones that are gross, eating the ones that are marginal myself on the spot, and debating how marginal is too marginal to put in his lunchbox (if it has a small squishy spot — will it be grosser after sitting in the lunchbox? Will it be perfectly fine, but still unappealing to him, causing him not to eat any of the grapes? Yes, I really do think through this as I am packing his lunch!). My in-laws will take an entire bunch of grapes, a few of which are getting squishy, and throw them away. My sense is that this is partly for the reasons mentioned but also in a “house proud,” sort of way — that having a clean house, and only ready-to-eat (or ready-to-be-prepared, but not of-questionable-freshness) food available is a marker of status, of following the rules of what it means to have a “decent” house in some way.

    But anyway, to the main point, I’d think (a) greater inconvenience of getting to stores, period (e.g. less accessible locations); (b) less access to transportation; (c) less ability to tolerate/allow for some waste; (d) increased cost of fresh; (e) unfamiliarity with these foods and their benefits; (f) less time available for food shopping and/or food prep; and (g) ego-depletion would all have a cumulative effect. If the main point is that just making the product physically available, or affordable, or teaching how to prep it, isn’t enough then — sure. But is this new information?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I think it’s important to separate out the causes because different causes lead to different policy solutions. Michelle Obama’s initiatives, to my knowledge, have been about getting fruit to stores and on fruit carts, so increasing access. State WIC etc. programs have been taking the track of offering cooking and nutrition classes. EBT has had the side effect that more produce is bought throughout the month because it is harder to resell foodstamps and only one person is making the food purchasing decisions (suggesting storage is a problem).

      • bogart Says:

        OK, and by the time I was typing my reply I’d forgotten the “problem is much smaller in magnitude” disclaimer in your description of the speaker’s work. Sure, I agree with that — the motivating problem (nutritional intake) seems to have multiple causes, and it makes sense to think through how those causes contribute and which ones must be addressed, and/or which can be most cost-effectively addressed, to reduce/solve the problem.

  7. Rented life Says:

    One of my good friends lives in a food desert. Her family is poor and frequently under significant stress and she works a high stress job. Food ends up being a reward–she frequently eats out with the little money she does have. Really bad work nights result in ice cream for dinner. Husband and I have see this with a few people we know who are low SES: dealing with stress by treating themselves frequently to things like food and movies with popcorn and soda and not saving for bigger things they want. The closest grocery stories many bus trips away. I’m not sure anyone in the family can cook.

    • Liz Says:

      My bf is not in a food desert, has lots of access, but no money. In spite of making him sick, the extreme low cost of Taco Bell (“Taco Hell”) allows him to “justify eating, justify being hungry enough to eat” when faced with mounting bills. I find the frequent little treats phenomenon to hold true, too, especially when it comes to vices: cigarettes, non-water drinks (esp. Starbucks energy drinks and Pepsi), and poker nights. Although, to be fair, he can make quite a killing at the poker table.

  8. Susan Says:

    Hi Grumpies. You may have already seen/read this, but the gender slant in it has caused me to write a letter to the editor (like yelling into the wind, I’m sure) and cancel my longstanding subscription to the NYT. Anyway, I thought you’d be interested, or maybe share my outrage, or something:

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Huh, I used to like M. P. Dunleavy back when she wrote for MSN.

      I don’t know that that article is so bad. In the Health and Retirement Survey there is a gender difference in basic financial skills, though hopefully that gap is diminishing as women have more earning power and more financial responsibility in current cohorts. And it’s bad that advice marketed towards women tends to be condescending, same in the car purchasing sector. (Also when women invest in the stock market, they tend to do better than men on average, precisely because they buy and hold and don’t try to beat the market.)

  9. Cloud Says:

    Has anyone looked into the likelihood that if you are working a physically demanding job (i.e., one that keeps you on your feet most of the day) you may just not have the energy to shop carefully and cook from scratch? Even with my cushy, sit on my ass all day job, by the end of the week I am just tired and don’t want to cook. And I don’t cook anything fancy or time-consuming during the week.

    Add in the fact that there may be a second job to get to, or the family members may all have different schedules because the people working are doing shift work, and to me it is surprising that anyone in that situation manages to give a damn about cooking a healthy dinner at all. I’m not sure I could.

    Convenience foods are convenient. They are easy to prepare, both physically and mentally. And they usually hit the brain’s pleasure centers, too.

    I’m not arguing that the healthy eating issue isn’t a problem. I just wonder if it is more of a reporter problem than an actual root cause problem- i.e., if you made people’s lives less difficult, maybe they would eat better with no other intervention.

    The above is all hypothesis, completely unsupported by any research into what data we have and what it might tell us about whether my hypothesis is right. But it has always seemed to me that we do a lot of moralizing about decisions made by people whose lives are far more constrained than our own without really thinking about what those constraints feel like, possibly because a lot of the people have really no concept of what it would be like to live under the constraints that low income people face.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I haven’t read it yet, but Scarcity (by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir) is supposed to get into those issues.

    • bogart Says:

      I do think there is a disconnect, at least in the pop press coverage of this issue (these issues) where some of the “nutrition is important” angle seems to get mixed in with the Food Prep is Fun message/crowd. No, it (food prep) isn’t. At least, I don’t find it so — and when I find myself asking if this is just a character flaw of my own, I remind myself that no, it can’t be just me, because after all food prep has across history and time been a task assigned to the (very) disempowered — i.e. only those who had no choice, had to do it. Sure, it’s a lot easier than it used to be (or remains in many parts of the world), but even given that.

      If I win the lottery tomorrow (unlikely, I don’t buy tickets), I will hire a personal chef, not devote my newly copious free time to food prep. Except maybe one or two afternoons a month, and even then, not in a cook-for-a-month sort of way.

      (Also, although I do see the value of it, involving my child in food prep doesn’t increase its utility for me, except in a two- (or three-: keep him occupied, and teach him) birds-with-one-stone kind of way)

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Food prep can be fun, but even those of us who enjoy it don’t enjoy it when our brains are full, we’re hungry, and we’ve been on our feet all day. Especially when the kids need to be looked after.

      • Rosa Says:

        Yes. I cook a lot. I am OVER it. And I have plenty of money for fun food.

        I wish instead of trying for grocery stores vs. fast food, we’d get higher-quality fast food or allow SNAP to be used for some kinds of prepared foods (the current SNAP rules make it so a recipient can buy a $7 frozen pizza at the grocery store but not a $5 Little Caesar’s pizza around the corner, or a $7 prepared salad from the grocery store’s deli.)

        The cooking classes thing also bothers me, because the poor folks I know – ESPECIALLY the immigrants, around here – know how to cook for a family on a very low budget, they’ve been doing it for years. But the financial payoff (fueled by policies where aid & tax credits are linked to having a job, any job, even a terrible low-paying dead end job) of having every adult int he household working at least full time, leaving the older kids in charge of housework including cooking, is a quite rational decision.

      • bogart Says:

        Right, right, it’s not that it’s inherently unfun, I absolutely believe that there are people who enjoy it, and it may even be possible for some who don’t enjoy it to learn to enjoy it. And of course even those who do (or could learn to) enjoy it won’t (generally) be as likely to when their brains are full, they’re hungry, and they’ve been on our feet all day. But OTOH there are also some of us — a lot of us — who even when our brains aren’t full, we’re not hungry, and we’re not tired, don’t really enjoy it (generally). There’s a lot of frugal/nutritional writing that sees this (unfun) state (in the absence of ego-depletion) as reflecting a lack of education or awareness or character and — no. It’s a difference in preferences. I do prep food because I think doing so is valuable in the sense of being a good use of my time/money relative to the alternatives, but not because I enjoy it, and that’s OK.

        Starting from the supposition that we’d all do our own food prep if only we could (were properly equipped and educated and had adequate time/energy) is itself problematic and not, I suspect, going to produce (enough of) the desired outcome.

      • Ally Says:

        For some of us food prep IS fun (at least when we have the time) but clean up never is. Many convenience foods also result in less dishes to wash… which is the bigger thought looming in my head when I am tired… But honestly – I get how this can be such a problem, because if I who have a good job and a car and pass multiple grocery stores on my way to and from work end up choosing convenience over health, OF COURSE those with less resources who live no where near a decent grocery store and have no car are not going to choose the healthy option…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        My husband took a cooking class– the best thing was that someone else cleaned up after!

        Clean up is especially awful when you don’t have an electric dishwasher (I speak from experience, as one of the two dishwashers in Casa Grumpy growing up. The other one was my sister.) In graduate school without a dishwasher it kept us from eating meat even once we could afford more meat in our budget because meat is a pain to clean up after. (And you’re totally right that things like chicken nuggets are easy to clean up after, unlike boiling chicken for the meat, which is something that we also did. Ugh. I love being able to afford boneless skinless breasts now instead of leg-thigh combos.)

  10. Ana Says:

    I recently did see the study that claimed food deserts didn’t have as big an impact on health as previously thought—I didn’t see how they defined food desert, though. As you and others have pointed out, a lot more than having a grocery store nearby go into what a family eats. Money—calorie for calorie, fresh produce is WAY more expensive than many other foods. It costs money to take a bus or taxi to the store. Money to have working kitchen appliances and utensils and storage containers. Time—to get to the store, get BACK from the store, and actually cook the meal. Energy—physical and mental. Meal planning precisely—to buy in season and on sale, everyone’s tastes are catered to, and there is no food wastage—is tough. And YES to Cloud’s point that standing in front of a stove cooking after being on your feet for 8-12 hours is hell.
    Cooking classes take time that people may not have and still doesn’t address the biggest issue of all (the one pointed out by many above)—tastes and ideas about food are already formed by a certain age and its really hard to start eating very differently. Yes you can learn that lettuce is healthy you can buy the lettuce, you can learn how to chop it up, but there is nothing the government or anyone can do to make you like it enough that you would voluntarily eat it several times a week. It takes time to change tastes, and most people don’t stick around for that long. And then their kids don’t eat salad. And so it goes.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s part of the impetus for changing school lunch menus and finally updating the WIC portfolio from the 1970s. Trying to change tastes in kids, or at least to not purposefully set them with tastes for things that are bad for you (which happens when you count potatoes as a vegetable in order to make the potato lobby happy).

  11. First Gen American Says:

    I agree with Ana. Income really is a driving factor for a lot of this. Plus, when you’re poor, an additional deterrent to buying fresh food is that it has a greater likelihood of spoiling before it’s consumed. Before we had a car, I would walk about 30 minutes to get to the nearest “meat store”. They sold some basic veggies (onions, lettuce, tom) there too, but it was mostly a butcher shop…we’d hit the bakery on the way home, but there were no vegetable or fruit stand anywhere near where we lived. My main source of fruit, aside from bananas was from my mom’s garden. If she didn’t grow lots of fruit, I probably would be a lot like pop tart girl in the thread above. We ate lots and lots of meat and potatoes growing up.

    My son still doesn’t eat veggies at school because they are not cooked well and/or from a can and mushy.

    • Rosa Says:

      Spoilage from poor timing or accidental freezing/heating is important, as is vulnerability – to roaches & mice, to bruising, to momentarily-unwatched toddlers marauding through the whole pile (which is what happened to the Christmas pears I gave a friend this year – one bite per pear in bout 45 seconds).

      But also there’s nothing inherently unhealthy about canned & frozen veggies & fruits. Canned peaches in juice are not only at peak ripeness and shelf stable, they’re already cut up, come with a pop top for those with arthritic or small fingers, and are a nutritious snack/sweet. Some things are universally better fresh than canned (ew, canned peas) but the way articles about food availability treat “fresh” as a sign of both education and health really bothers me.

  12. Sam SR Says:

    Scarcity of attention – hard to plan, compare costs, research recipes, etc, if much attention is on basic needs, work, urgent demands, and the bandwidth taken up by financial stress. Research on financial stress suggests there is a big impact on decision making. (see Mullainathan and Shafir on Scarcity) Other research suggests layout of options for sale can also have a large influence on consumer choices. (see sunstein and thaler, Nudge)

  13. plantingourpennies Says:

    I interned in a food desert one summer in school. Luckily there were food carts on weekdays, so I was able to get a fruit salad for $2-3 every weekday lunch and on weekends I would have to buy an apple (sealed in shrinkwrap) from 7-11. I never wanted fresh fruits and veggies more than at the end of that summer since they were so hard to come by.
    In grad school I lived in a neighborhood that was generously called “transitional”, though if you didn’t have money it was pretty close to a food desert. Very poor urban adjacent to very rich undergrads – grad students provided a border region for the most part. The one grocery store was a recent addition and it was pretty terrible. The prices were high and the quality of the produce was atrocious. A better grocery store was several miles away and across a river, but even that was a pretty new addition to the area. 5 years before that – I don’t know where the nearest grocery would have been found!
    There was a wonderful farmer’s market once a week, but the only people I ever saw going were the university students and faculty – the farmer’s market folks didn’t take SNAP or WIC, and that was what got commonly used at the one grocery store. Not to mention paying extra for raw milk, pesticide free apples, and artisanal cheeses isn’t usually on the agenda when you SNAP qualify.

    The neighborhood might not technically qualify as a food desert anymore… but for many, I’m sure it still is.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s great that many farmers markets are now set up to take SNAP and WIC! (It must make a world of difference for folks with access to the open air market we used to take 2 subway cars to get to back in grad school– not fancy local organic stuff, just cheap produce.)

  14. Debbie M Says:

    These are all interesting. I agree that there are many factors, even for just me personally, let alone whole populations for which you want to craft policy.

    Food knowledge:

    My parents came from middle-class families (their dads were engineers), but we were raised on very low incomes (I went to Head Start, we were once on food stamps). I don’t know how my mom’s cooking differed from her mom’s, but at least she had the advantage of being a stay-at-home mom for a decade or so, so there was plenty of time for cooking. We had cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch (usually pbj, but sometimes other things) and things like spaghetti, macaroni and cheese with hotdogs, burritos, eggs/sausage/pancakes for dinner.

    Then my mom got a job and took over paying for food and utilities, which gave her the advantage of not having ulcers anymore! With more money and less time, we had more packaged foods (like Hamburger Helper).

    Still, I remember learning at friends’ houses that fried chicken had bones hiding in it, but fried fish doesn’t. (I guess this was fast food; and this is before chicken fingers were in. At home all our meat was either hamburger or highly processed things like baloney.) I also learned that what looks like cranberry sauce might be beets.

    Cooking knowledge:

    Fortunately, although Mom didn’t want us in the kitchen, she would let us watch, and she even helped me earn my cooking badge, plus I learned more cooking skills from camping with Girl Scouts and from taking a home ec course, plus I learned how to chop vegetables at a work/study job at a college cafeteria. And I’ve had many roommates over the years. So even if I don’t know about foods, at least I know about cooking. And that is all that’s saving me now because I get to use whole grains and sneak in finely chopped veggies into my pastas and chilis.

    I have had some roommates and boyfriends who were clueless about cooking. Watching them, I realized that cooking seems easy to people who learned from watching their parents. And that recipes use technical language and list only the cook’s favorite tools and techniques when other techniques might work. (One friend bought a food processor to make a recipe because he didn’t realize he could have used his blender.) And don’t get me started on cooking shows. (Okay, one point: in real life you have to measure your own ingredients.)

    Environmental factors:

    I lived without a car in several locations. Generally there would be some expensive place to get food in walking distance, which I would go to when I wasn’t feeling very energetic, and a good grocery store on a single bus ride, at which I would reward myself with a Snickers bar to eat at the bus stop on the way back. But in one place I lived, I ended up doing all my shopping at a convenience store (mostly bread and milk) and a food coop. (I ended up with spoiled food from the “good” grocery store one too many times. And I wasn’t even in a poor part of town.)

    Another example of environments I live in is home (stocked fridge, plus a grocery store and a Target in walking distance, plus a few restaurants) and work (nothing in the fridge but what I brought for that day, and millions of fast-food places). I’m better at eating well at home.

    Personal factors:

    And finally there are my personality problems. I am just plain picky and stubborn. This has kept me safe from smoking, alcoholism, and drug addiction (except for sugar), but it has also led me away from fresh produce. This factor is probably comparable to other people who stay away from certain things which have bad connotations for them (such as what poor people have to eat, or what they ate during the war, etc.)


    I would say that the best policy for me personally (if you wanted to improve my eating) would be to invite me to potlucks, bring tasty healthy things and get me to try them, and then give me the recipe when I ask.

    Another policy I use on myself is to take care with what I bring to work. Mostly for me foods seem to fall on a spectrum where the tastier they are, the less healthy they are. So when I go to work, I need to bring healthy things, and not too much of them (because I am not good with the portion control during stress), but not so healthy or so little that I give in to the evil treats available nearby.

    But then I’m already in a location with plenty of good food sources, I have enough money to buy decent food (though having a cafeteria meal plan already paid for was a big help during college), I already know how to cook well enough that any lack of skills don’t hold me back, I have enough time to cook, and I have a full kitchen right in my own house.

    In general, I’d say I’m a big fan of school lunch programs and other cafeteria style offerings (and probably Meals on Wheels), food stamps (and probably food banks), home ec classes (or whatever they’re called these days), scouting (and outdoor cooking skills), nutrition classes, decent wages, YouTube, cooking blogs, and potlucks.

  15. Laura Vanderkam (@lvanderkam) Says:

    I wrote an article a few years ago about one issue related to this — With the way SNAP is distributed (once a month), and especially if grocery stores are inconvenient to access, a lot of families wind up doing one big shop a month. But of course it’s hard to proportion groceries over a whole month. So by the time the funds come through again you are literally shopping on an empty stomach. I make horrible food choices in those circumstances, and I’m probably not alone in that regard. There’s been some pilot programs, I thought, with doing more frequent distribution (2x/month) but I’m not sure that they’ve proven particularly popular (because they don’t change the grocery store being a pain to get to).

  16. becca Says:

    It takes time and willpower to make a salad.These things tend to be in shorter supply when you’re poor. It takes OODLES of time and willpower to make a salad if you have to take three different buses to get to the grocery store with something more than iceberg lettuce, but it takes too much time and willpower to make a salad under the best of circumstances. And I say that as someone who LOVES salads (and I make incredibly delicious ones… just in a time-consuming fashion).

    EBT bonuses for farmer’s markets, and incredibly good farmer’s markets, do matter. But if you want to make poor people healthier, you can NOT solve the problem without looking at time and willpower, because those are necessary ingredients to all manner of healthy living habits.
    But then, we don’t want to make poor people healthier. I mean, not the Grumpies and readers. I presume WE do. But, as a society, I think it’s pretty obvious we want to blame poor people for NOT being healthier, but we have no interest in actually helping them. At least not if it involves removing stress and giving more leisure time to the poor, because how else will we all know we’re punishing them for failing at capitalism sufficiently?

    (NB: I do NOT refer to any kind of fixed-mindset “character” type of thing when I talk about willpower. I’m talking about whatever it is you can deplete with lack of sleep, poor diet and stress that involves the prefrontal cortex)

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