This week, I got into a discussion with friends about poverty and food choices.
Mostly, it was civil and reasoned, but, as so often happens, there was that one (white, middle-class, never been unemployed) person who started in on “shitty food choices that make people overweight and unhealthy”.
And there I was, white and middle-class (and revoltingly over-educated, to boot) watching as people floundered around, trying to refute this without knowing quite how because most of them (white, middle-class and rarely unemployed) have not ever been realio-trulio poor.
But I have been.
In my early 20s, I wound up poor and homeless, on-the-streets and sleeping rough homeless, for about six months. Never mind why. It can happen to anyone, and this is getting truer all the time.
When I came back to live in Canada, I was in my fifties, and there was a recession on, and I couldn’t find work. I wound up on welfare.
Don’t let anyone tell you someone on welfare is living some kind of high life on the taxpayer dime.
Do you know what a single person without a disability gets as welfare in Calgary?
They get $590/month, and eight trips to the Food Bank each calendar year.
That’s it. Less than $600 to pay rent and buy food, in Calgary, where the rent on a one-bedroom apartment averages out at over $1200/month.
So, even supposing you could find a two-bedroom basement suite for $1,000/month and could share it with another person, you are left with about $90 each month to cover everything else in your life.
If you are job-hunting, you can, of course, use the EI office computers. That’s a great thing, and the public library has internet access, too. So you will be able to apply for lots of things.
But you will still need a phone. To get a job, prospective employers need to get in touch and set up an interview. A phone is a basic necessity, and that’s going to be, at the very cheapest, around $30 every month.
So now you have $60 a month left. That has to cover things like bus fares if you do land a job interview, on top of your share of the bills every month, and those four months where you don’t even get a chit to go to the Food Bank on.
Buy in bulk, say the people who have never gone hungry for longer than two days in a row, and then only when on some new fad diet.
Well, the math is tricky. Bulk costs money up front: it doesn’t matter if a 10lb bag of rice is a great deal and will last a month, if the cost of that bag represents a third of your total food budget for that month.
Humans NEED calories. It’s impossible to survive for long at around 800 calories a day – that’s when actual malnutrition will start being a factor. Stay at that rate for too long, and you will die.
A 3lb bag of potatoes at Superstore is $3.97. One baked potato (no toppings) gives you 200 calories. If that bag has to last all month, then one potato might be more than you can give yourself every day.
A bag of carrots costs $2.98. One cooked carrot equals 80 calories, give or take. There are about 16 carrots per bag. So you need two bags, in order to eat one carrot every day. That’s about $6/month. For carrots.
Other vegetables tend to be more expensive, but come with smaller caloric pay-offs. A cup of steamed broccoli rings in at 31 calories.
A 900 gram (2lbs) bag of brown rice at Superstore is $2.24. One cup of cooked brown rice gives you around 210 calories.
But humans also need protein and fat, bigtime. Sure – we need vitamins and minerals to survive in *good* health – but those by themselves, won’t allow you to survive at all.
And if you’re homeless, you cannot even bake that potato or boil that carrot, which will cut your caloric intake in half.
Why do poor people wind up eating badly?
Because junk food is cheap. A Sausage McMuffin is $1.69 – and it has the calories and protein to make you cheaply reach almost halfway to the minimum daily requirement.
A bag of no-name potato chips ($1.18 for 200 grams) fills the belly AND the calorie need at way less the cost per pound than fresh produce does. A Big Mac Meal Deal($4.60) quells the hunger better and cheaper than a plate full of steamed broccoli ($2.97 for a pre-bound “bunch”) can, and for longer.
Do the math. It has become cheaper to eat over-processed, sugar-laden crap, because poor people are powerless: all their energy is spent trying to survive until tomorrow. They’re the very definition of a “captive audience”.
I know there are those of you who will not believe me.
All I can say is that I hope you never have to find out for yourself in real life, just how classist, discriminatory, and skewed against us all the food industry has become.