The New Zealand based Child Poverty Action group has discovered the wonders of facebook, and so a lot of my friendshave been liking them recently. I was all prepared to join in, until I saw they were promoting this post with a cheerful “What are our kids eating? And what is our government doing (or not doing) to encourage them to choose an orange over an oreo?”
First it reminded me of the endless ridiculous games of substitutions that you see in women’s magazines and “healthy food” (Next time you feel like eating chocolate try a tin of tuna instead). Which made me think of Sarah Haskins, swapping a six pack of beer for a fifth of whiskey:
So I was happy for a while. But when I recovered from my distraction I was still grumpy. Why should children be choosing Oreos over oranges – why can’t they have both, and lots of other food as well? Why is an anti-poverty group calling on the government to promote a diet mentality among kids?
The post they linked to was called “Not Fit To Eat”* was talking about a $2.50 pack sold in a South Auckland dairy, that contained Oreos, two packets of chip like things, and an orange drink. I agree that that is not an adequate lunch, but each of the individual components, and the pack of the whole, is totally fit to eat.
What I found most ridiculous about the response to this pack, was the emphasis on how cheap it was – as if that was a bad thing (someone made their horror at this food being cheap explicit in the facebook thread). I do not understand how anyone concerned with poverty could ever have a problem with any food being cheap. I have so often heard people tutt-tutting about the fact that a litre of coke is cheaper than a litre of milk – as if it is the cheapness of the coke that is the problem.
The person who had found this pack asked the dairy owner “aren’t you ashamed to be selling this?” Why is it more shameful to be selling this for $2.50 than anything else? Dairies make their money through high margins – if their is shame in their trade – surely it is selling food for more, rather than selling food for less.
You know there was a time when calories weren’t as relatively cheap as they are now. Cheap calories can give people the ability to stay alive, and they’re fabulous. I understand being angry at the expense of other nutrients, such as milk, vegetables, fruit, meat and whittakers dark almond chocoalte, but why is this so often discussed as if the cheapness of other fooods is the problem?
This seems to be my week to be grumpy about how people on the left talk about food and bodies.((Who am I kidding, every week for at least the last five years has been my week to be grumpy about the way some people on the left talks about food and bodies.)) But I think it’s really important. It is totally possible to talk about food and poverty, without buying into a worldview that fetishises food and buys into an ideology that sees food in terms of morality. I really should write a grand theory post about why this is bad one of these days – but the really short reason is that one of the purposes of this ideology is to blame individuals for the effects of poverty. This is not something we can co-opt – it is something which will co-opt us.
And because no post like this would be complete without it, here is a link to the fat nutritionist’s If only poor people understood nutrition.