Sunday, January 6, 2008

Poor and Fat

When the Arise Food Pantry was operating, we got most of our food from the WMA Food Bank. We'd try to order the fixings for a balanced diet. Protein was usually peanut butter, hot dogs, canned tuna, chicken or hamburg, or sometimes canned beans. Dairy was cheese, cottage cheese or sometimes yogurt; vegetables and fruit were usually canned and occasionally fresh. And oh, those carbohydrates!-- pasta, cereals, white rice, chips. We knew what we were handing out would fill people up but was far from what could be described as a balanced, healthy diet.

Last year, in an article about the Farm Bill, the NY Times reported on a study by obesity researcher Adam Drewnowski about how, if you were grocery shopping on a limited budget, you could buy more calories per dollar shopping in the middle aisles of the grocery store than around the edges. For a dollar you can buy 875 calories of soda but only 170 calories of orange juice.

The blog Wisebread talks about the poor and fat phenomenon, and how it doesn't have to be this way-- It's especially sad, because it actually is possible to eat a good, healthy diet pretty cheaply. "Unfortunately, it's not cheap and easy--it's really quite complex. You have to know about nutrition. You have to have the use of a kitchen, and time to cook. You have to have access to fresh vegetables."

Sadly, I think knowing how to construct a meal is nearly a lost art. The universe of domestic skills keeps getting smaller. Leaving poverty, ecology, lack of education, major corporations and advertising propaganda for another time-- in other words, all the real reasons we eat so badly-- the majority of women work outside of the home and have little free time.

Until a few years ago, when my grandmother died at 102, I was midpoint in my family's generations-- two before me, two after. Both of my grandmothers could crochet, knit, tat, quilt, and make slipcovers, curtains and clothes. They could bake bread, sour cream, and put up jams, pickles and sauerkraut

My mother could do fewer of these things, and I, even fewer. I can do a little embroidery and hem a skirt, while my daughter needs to use hemming tape. Even though I never had cilantro, fresh asparagus, or any whole grain other than rice until I was an adult, I did a little better with food than my mom. My daughters are vegetarians and my granddaughter is a vegan, which means they do more cooking than the average household. Still, there's much we never learned.

Most processed food bears little resemblance to the same food made made at home with fresh ingredients. But a lot of people have learned to prefer Aunt Jemima to maple syrup, canned fruit to fresh, fish sticks to fish. It's scary. How can we work our way back from this desert?

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