28 September 2012

Culture wars in the supermarket

Following some bouncing links the other day, I came across an article in The American Conservative, admittedly a website I don't usually make time to read. The article, "Porky Populism: Class war comes to dinner, and conservatives are on the wrong side," focuses on the interesting resentment that conservatives sometimes harbor against liberals who eschew junk food over arugula, and the disconnect that some conservatives display by shouting for personal responsibility and freedom of choice on the one hand, but on the other hand filling up on unhealthy food to the point of making themselves physically disabled. To be clear, Rowhouse Livin' isn't into culture wars. We like eating healthy for the budget benefits now and the health benefits later. (Yes, I'm typing this blog entry from a neighborhood cookie shop.) We don't care what conservatives or liberals think about our food choices, because we concern ourselves solely with our own health and budget. We also don't intend a statement with what we eat, and we don't read a statement in what we see someone else eating. But two paragraphs stuck out as we were reading:

[The author's household] allocate[s] our grocery budget differently [than his sister's], so we can afford higher-quality meat, dairy, and produce. A clever home cook knows that if you cut out junk food, you have more cash for good stuff. If you don’t eat meat every day, you can eat better meat when you do. Whole Foods is expensive, but I learned how to make meals for pennies by shopping the bulk bins for beans, rice, and grains.

I've discussed the budget wonder meal, rice and beans, before. The author here mentions that his sister's haul from the grocery store included packages of junk food. So I'll take the rice and beans discussion a little further. A family-size sack of Doritos -- 17 oz. -- costs $2.99. For the same amount of money, you can get two pounds of apples, or a 5-lb. sack for less than a dollar more (PDF).

I've been trying for five minutes to think of something not impolite to say about a household food purchaser on a limited budget (and we are all on limited budgets) who would opt for Doritos rather than apples. Dig that PDF, the USDA's National Fruit and Vegetable Retail Report for 21 September 2012. You can buy a lot of vitamins and minerals for $2.99 -- unless you decide to exercise your freedom of choice and your personal responsibility by spending the $2.99 on deep-fried chips of corn tortillas dusted with chemical flavorings, colors, and preservatives, and devoid of any nutrition other than calories.


"These kids are having drive-thru McDonalds for dinner every night. Can you imagine the cost of that, not to mention the empty calories?" [chef and culinary arts teacher Amy Dreher] said. "They’ll laugh at me for going to Whole Foods, but I'm like, 'You have $800 rims on your car, versus me shopping at a grocery store that has the reputation for being more expensive? Come on.'"

And I've talked about food deserts before. All I'll add here is that anyone with a car, $800 rims or not, and a drive-thru fast-food budget can drive to an out-of-neighborhood grocery store instead of the drive-thru.

It's not a culture war of anti-fast-food liberals vs. anti-arugula conservatives. That's ridiculous, because a liberal's dollar spends just as well as a conservative's. But spending a dollar on junk food to spite liberals -- the "proxy for the politics of class and culture" that the article author discusses -- comes perilously close to literally cutting off your nose to spite your face.

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