Friday, January 25, 2008

Ghetto life

The poor, you shall always have with you

But the poor don't need to be hungry to be poor. There is little to no systematic evidence that poverty-linked undernutrition--malnutrition caused by too little food intake--is an actual problem in America. "Food insecurity" numbers batted around by the FDA do not mean that people actually went hungry; they mean that people worried about going hungry, or changed their diet--usually by altering the composition of the diet, not by forgoing food--to avoid going hungry. But of actual sustained hunger, there is no evidence.

There is, on the other hand, a lot of evidence of obesity among the poor; their obesity rate is estimated at 36%, and the obesity rate among poor children seems to be about twice the rate among non-poor children. The poor people are eating more calories than they need. Yet we propose to stimulate the economy by giving the poor money that can only be spent on more food.

What about the argument that the poor are forced into eating high-calorie diets by the expense of produce and whole grains? This is silly on many counts:
Oddly enough, I can offer an informed perspective on this. You see, I live in the ghetto, or rather across the street from a large, famous group of projects in Brooklyn. This means that, in addition to Whole Foods in Manhattan, I often shop in the tiny, understocked supermarkets and delis that form the basis of the food chain for those folk across the street who don't have the disposable income I do. And these places sell crap. High fructose corn syrup, fully hydrogenated transfat, crap. The other options are McDonalds, Taco Bell, fried chicken joints, and the latino versions of lunch counter spots which serve only heavily fried foods. A big night out for too many of my neighbors is treating themselves to cheap chinese takeout.
Megan, however, saw tv in the late 80s, and those poor people were lazy, so there.
And yet, in one of her truly obnoxious "I hate this but I'll be big and accept it" moments, where she'll say "I don't like x, but it's not as bad as stealing infants to harvest their organs, so I'll live with it", Megan says, fine, give em more money, just don't tie it to food, because that would ...... actually address the issue at hand.
Unlike Megan, I think giving the poor more money for food, so they can afford higher end food stores and products, sounds like a good idea, but it's just a beginning. More city run food co-ops would have a huge impact, but the biggest target should be the companies that supply the delis and tiny supermarkets, and finding ways to force them to change what they sell to these stores. Or, if we're gonna indulge in pie in the sky dreaming, force Kraft and McDonalds and so on to make some hard choices, and begin selling products that could be realistically defined as food.
But back in reality, giving the poor more money to afford healthier food is about half of what needs to be done. It's just as important to give those folk better options, which they will take, if given a chance. Despite Megan's biases, no one wants to be fat and listless, but they gotta eat, and MikkyDs is right across the street.

Megan's real problem with the idea of giving the poor more money to afford healthier food is that she thinks aid to the poor should be a simple cash giveaway, because it's disrespectful to people she has no respect for to ensure they use the aid given them by society in a way which actually aids them (and their kids). I'll let her explain.

Why not food stamps?:
1) The poor don't need more food. Obesity is a problem for the poor in America; except for people who are too screwed up to get food stamps (because they don't have an address), food insufficiency is not.

2) Food stamps only imperfectly translate into increased cash income, meaning that the poor will spend . . . more money on food.
See, if Megan didn't blithely dismiss the actual fact that the link between poverty and obesity is based on the food the poor can afford and have access to, she'd be totally right. To her, spending more money on food = fatter poor people, because she thinks poor people are morons who are poor because they're dumb n lazy and weren't born into a very well off Upper West Side family that gave them every possible advantage in life. Instead, just give 'em cash handouts, so they can be happy fat poor crackheads. Come to think of it, ever seen a fat crackhead? Maybe she's onto something.
The point, however, isn't even the poor people at all, it's the companies who profit off of selling food to poor people. DUH!
3) If the increase in food stamps takes the form of expanded eligibility, rather than larger grants, the administrative issues and public outreach will delay your stimulus until well after it is no longer needed.

4) The limits on the type of goods available to food stamp consumers, and the growing season, mean that some (it's hard to say how much) of the food stamp spending will simply draw down perishable stocks rather than generating new economic activity. Eventually this will probably generate more economic activity, but probably well after your stimulus is needed.

5) The economy doesn't need a food sector more distorted by daft government programs than it already is. If you want to give money to the poor, give it to them. Even if they spend it all on drugs, it will hardly be much worse than spending it all on increasing their already astronomical obesity rates.
Y'hear that, you do-gooder hippies? The problem will fix itself before you can do anything, and Megan doesn't think that it'd have the intended impact on the bottom lines of the food producers. The question to ask is not whether it'd benefit the poor child of a single mother who works two jobs and still can't make ends meet, but whether it'd impact the value of Megan's shares of KraftCo.
I'd expand further, but my patience is exhausted. Fuck you, Megan. Try eating only things you can get in a cheap ghetto deli for a month.

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