Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Is healthy food cheaper? Is that even the question?

 

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Continuing on with my ranting discussion about food security, I can’t help but comment on a study out of England that was getting huge media attention over the past couple of weeks. The study showed that “pound for pound” it was less expensive to eat healthy foods than to eat ultra-processed foods. The majority of the news stories concluded that poor people could be eating healthfully they just prefer to pay more for “taste and convenience”, according to one of the study’s authors. To which I say, check your privilege.

As I’ve said before, food insecurity is not a matter of simple math. While there are certainly myriad factors that contribute to our decisions about what to eat, lack of income is the root cause of food insecurity. Dismissing money as a concern on the basis of this study is wishful thinking more than anything. It’s also an insult to people who are struggling to make ends meet and feed themselves and their families.

Because some researchers went to the store and found that a pound of carrots is cheaper than a pound of french fries, the logical conclusion is that everyone should be able to afford to eat nutritious meals prepared from minimally processed ingredients? That seems like quite the leap to me. There’s no accounting for calories or ease of preparation in this comparison. Sure, a pound of vegetables may be less expensive than a pound of frozen ready-meals but I think that most people would agree that carrots do not make a balanced meal on their own. To make a nutritionally balanced meal, you’d need to round those carrots out with some dark green leafy veg, some protein like meat, fish, beans, or tofu (the authors acknowledge that meat and fish are the exception to their affordability rule), and a grain such as rice, quinoa, or whole grain bread. As most of these items need to be purchased in quantities greater than those needed for a single meal, it can quickly become more expensive to buy ingredients for a home cooked meal than it is to buy something already, or nearly, prepared. Yes, pound for pound, a bag of rice will be less expensive than frozen dinners but a bag of rice doesn’t make for much of a meal.

Stop trying to use your research to “prove” that poor people are choosing to feed their children junk. Take a good hard look at your own privilege and ask yourself how you can make this a more equitable society in which we try to help those who are struggling rather than shaming and blaming them.

 

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Something doesn’t add-up with “Doing the Math” or: Food insecurity from a place of privilege

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Photo Credit: Food Banks Canada

I used to be a fan of things like Do the Math. These challenges where public figures (especially those in government) had to live on budgets akin to those on social assistance, or on food bank donations, seemed like a great eye opener. It was good for the mayor to understand that people are hungry. For those living in poverty, adequate calories are often unattainable, let alone healthy meals. While I’m not entirely opposed to such challenges, I’m no longer enthusiastically on board.

 

These challenges have been happening for years. And what benefit have they had? The politicians and do-gooders have experienced first-hand, for a week, that living in poverty sucks. They say, “wow, social assistance, disability, part-time minimum wage… is not enough money to put adequate nutritious food in our bellies.” And then??? Nothing. Nothing has changed as a result of these challenges. People are still going to the food banks and still going hungry. If these challenges resulted in actual change to our social supports then I’d be all for them. But they don’t, they’re not, and they won’t. And frankly, it’s kind of starting to piss me off that people can be so privileged that they can choose to follow a low/no budget diet for a week. In addition, I’ve always wondered if the food hampers they’re given take food away from those truly in need.

 

Let’s not even take into consideration the living standards that those in poverty often endure, couch surfing, unsafe and unpleasant apartments, sleeping in cars, homeless shelters, park benches. These poor politicians suffer through meetings, fighting to stay awake because they only ate a can of beans all day. Try working several physically demanding jobs and not having a car to get to them. I could go on and on. And yes, I come from a place of privilege, so maybe it’s not my place to have this rant. I know what it’s like to worry if the rent cheque’s going to clear, but I’m fortunate enough to have family to spot me money to make the bills and to be able to eat well.

 

If we’re going to continue doing these low-budget style challenges then the participants should at least donate any money saved on food to a local food bank, shelter, or another poverty-related organization, such as End Poverty Now.


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Diet of privilege

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A few weeks ago I saw someone comment on an Instagram photo of rhubarb. They said they didn’t know why anyone would ever buy rhubarb anymore because it grows like a weed in their garden. It’s true, rhubarb is very easy to grow (as my parents can surely attest to) but not everyone has a garden. That comment really got under my skin. It was innocent enough but it came from a place of privilege. I’m fortunate that I can afford to buy rhubarb at the local farmer’s market and that I have parents who are always happy to share their crop with me. Not everyone is so lucky and I think that most of us could do with a reminder of that before we pass judgement or dole out advice.

I recall seeing a recipe for healthy sugar-free cookies posted by a dietitian on twitter a while ago. It was full of expensive ingredients like almond flour and chia seeds. Putting aside the fact that the recipe actually sounded rather revolting, how many people can afford to purchase all of these ingredients to make a batch of “cookies”? Sure, share that recipe with your friends, family, and well-off clients but bear in mind that many people can’t afford such things. By telling people that these types of recipes are the way to go if you want to eat healthy then you’re quite likely to discourage people from making any steps to improving their diets. Sugar-free gluten-free chia seed cookies can be a part of a healthy diet, but they are not essential to a healthy diet.