On January 2, I signed up for two meal-kit plans and two fitness apps due to some seriously unflattering Christmas photos and also feeling generally like hell after not working out for two months and eating like garbage. The apps were free, of course, til I started “unlocking features” and “connecting other apps” and shit, but the meal plans, together, added up to about $160.
For lunches and dinners for about two weeks.
Now, of course that is insane, and it was fueled by more of a desire for convenience than anything else. Even when I’m not getting suckered into questionable things by social media ads and moments of aging-related panic, I still spend on food. I buy perishable fruits and vegetables, I buy ingredients like sausage from a butcher or a high-end meat counter. I eat a $10 salad (downtown Chicago prices for lunch) instead of a $5 burrito or a peanut butter sandwich from home.
On Sunday I prepped lunches and snacks for me and Kick for the week. I filled and stacked little reusable containers of blueberries and carrots and pita chips and salami-cheese rolls in whole wheat tortilla, strips of fresh bell pepper, soy & rice crackers, quinoa and chicken salad. It took about an hour, was about $30 worth of food. I have both an hour, and $30. What would I do for us if I didn’t?
If you want people to eat healthier, to buy from sustainable farms and local farmers, to prepare their own food instead of using processed, to behave like you do, you need to give them what you have. Which isn’t fancy grocery stores. It’s money. And time.
If I get home at 6, I have time to cook dinner for the family (cauliflower rice, salmon, peanut sauce, veg). If I get home at 7, 7:30, 8, and the kids need homework supervised and the stove’s broken and everybody’s hangry GUESS WHAT WE’RE GOING TO KFC, because I can feed five people meat, potatoes and vegetables for $15 and sometimes you solve the problems in front of you.
These things aren’t inherent virtues. I’m not, like, a better person because I can afford to cook for my kid; I’m just lucky. This stuff is math and physics. Give people money and the time money buys, the leisure and mental room to cook and portion and prep (the “leisure” which was once upon a time referred to as “all the stuff mom did” for middle class kids when she didn’t have to work two jobs to pay her student loans), and they’ll eat healthy. Okay, maybe not AS healthy as our cheftepreneurs would like them to, since sometimes you just want some goddamn potato chips, but this isn’t a case of “if only there was a Whole Foods here nobody would have diabetes.”
This is a case of money buys less and less, and wages aren’t going up. This is a case of God forbid you need food assistance, which has been nickel-and-dimed all to shit by people worried about what the poor will buy for their children, and which of course you CAN use to buy oranges and apples, or, like, an entire week’s worth of cereal for the same price. Poor people aren’t idiots and they make the choices in front of them because that’s what we all do.
Food deserts aren’t just created by not having grocery stores. They’re created by the people in them not having any money to spend on food, having to make short-term choices in the little time poverty affords. It’s the people who’ve been deserted, not the landscape, and the problem isn’t getting solved by looking at a map and finding a vacant plot of land on which to plant a Wegman’s.