Tag Archives: food

Making good food choices

One of the themes that I’ve seen in the Ministry of Health literature that I’ve been looking at is the idea of healthy eating. It’s always framed as a choice – making good food choices for yourself and your family prevents obesity, protects their oral health, and promotes a healthy lifestyle. So why would anyone not make ‘good food choices’?

Shall we talk about how expensive it is? Fatty mince can be picked up for $8 a kilo – good lean mince can be up to $14. Chicken wings and drumsticks are much cheaper than lower-fat breast, and fatty chops are cheaper than steak. A good quality sausage will set you back $13/kilo, while crappy precooked horrors are less than $8. Just looking at meat, ‘good food choices’ are expensive, at out of reach for struggling families.

Spuds and onions are cheap, but peppers and tomatoes and greens can be very expensive. Eating a wide variety of vegetables just isn’t practical. Apples are often cheap enough, but that’s not a great variety on the fruit front. Maybe oranges for a change? If they’re in season, that is.

Milk is expensive, but coke is cheap. Cheese is expensive, but chips are cheap. Lean ham is expensive, but luncheon meat is cheap. Good food is expensive, but crap is cheap.

Personal tastes also come into it. If a kid is going to refuse broccoli and throw it on the floor, it’s a waste few poor people can absorb. Better to feed them food they will eat than waste the food we can’t afford, is the (very logical) thought going into this.

It’s not always about making good choices. It’s about making the choices you can with the resources you have.

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The voice of privilege speaks on college and travel and debt

Today’s post is brought to you by a chef names Alton Brown, who I had never heard of until today. I understand he’s pretty good though, explaining things in everyday ways rather than throwing a French dictionary at his watchers. That kind of everyman approach is pretty cool. What’s not so cool are his remarks on college (university) and what people should do there.

What he says just reeks of privilege. All the while, he claims that he was completely broke in college, but then he says that every college student should travel abroad while studying. This may be possible for the privileged ones with money backing them, but for the less well-off, travel is just a dream. Just earning enough money to eat at the crappy job they work is too much of a struggle sometimes, never mind dropping several hundred on spring break in Mexico or several grand on a jaunt to Europe. It’s something every student should have the opportunity to do, but in reality it’s way out of reach for some.

A little later, he says the biggest piece of advice he can give college students is “don’t go into debt”, to drop out before they start incurring debt. This is perfectly reasonable . . . if you have money backing you. If you’re poor, what then? Don’t go to college? Don’t try and get a good job? I know that the American student loan business is a horrific sea of loan sharks, but for many people it’s the only possible way out of poverty, and even going to community college is going to incur some debt. A pronouncement like this can only come from someone who’s never experienced poverty, nor needed to climb out of it somehow.

Even if you’re awarded a scholarship, college can incur debt. You’ve still got to eat during that time, and buy textbooks if they’re not included, and pay rent, and all these things that require money beyond what you can earn part-time at Papa John’s. So a scholarship is not a magic bullet for poor people to get through college debt-free.

It is interesting to see how Brown sees himself as poor, given what he considers essential for a college kid’s refrigerator – eggs, butter, herbs, hummus, cheese, and wine. Cheese? Butter? Are you kidding? What about ramen and rice? That’s more like it when it comes to being actually poor.

This guy is probably a good guy, but he’s so out of touch with what poverty is and what it means for kids trying to pull themselves out of it. For so many good jobs, you need a degree. Any degree will do, a lot of the time, as long as you have proven that . . . well, whatever a degree proves. I’ve just completed one, and I have no idea. Still, it’s what you need for so much – corporate, government, even mid-range management requires one. Putting yourself through college, as opposed to having someone help you through, is expensive and requires sacrifices that he just doesn’t understand.

Feeding a hungry family well on a benefit

Is it even possible? Today’s rant brought to you by WINZ benefit rates and the Healthy Eating, Healthy Action report for the Ministry of Health. In particular, sole parent benefit rates and the estimated cost of feeding children, and how they measure up.

Let’s tot up a typical sole-parent benefit rate for someone living in my home town, which is just outside Wellington. Close enough to have similar food costs, and usually higher transport costs, but far enough out to be a bit cheaper rent-wise than many Wellington suburbs. An Area 3 kind of place, for those that know the WINZ Accommodation Supplement system. Our sole parent has two boys, who are 12 and 15.

So. Incomings. There’s a base benefit rate of $300.98, whether on a Sole Parent benefit with under-5s or on Jobseeker Support with older children. Then, there’s the Area 3 Accommodation Supplement, which comes to $120. Finally, there’s the Family Tax Credit, which is $92.73 for a first child under 16, and another $64.44 for a second child under 13. So, all up, $578.12. Not a terrible amount, I guess.

Now, outgoings. It seems that you can get a liveable home at the moment in a cheaper area for about $315 or so a week, give or take. Power for a 4-person family home during the day with electrical heating and hot water apparently works out to about $240/month on Meridian (who were the only people nice enough to give me some sort of online estimate tool), so that’s around $60 per week. Internet/phone is another $80/month – $20/week. So, for the bare-basics that’s $395/week, and there’s no allowance in there for transport, or clothes, or shoes, or school supplies, or doctor’s appointments, or prescriptions, or really much of anything you need to live. But, after these bare basics, we have $183.12 per week left over. That’s pretty decent, right?

The Healthy Eating, Healthy Action report (p.17) is lovely in that it gives us some estimates (that are way out of date as the report was written in 2003, but it’s the newest that I can find) of how much it costs to feed a family. Using the low-end estimates, it will cost $83 to feed each boy, plus $62 to feed Mum, which comes to $228 per week, and that doesn’t include essentials like toilet paper and bleach. There’s a bit of a gap there.

Poor families get lambasted all the time for eating poor diets and being overweight and unhealthy. But the government’s own figures show that it’s actually not possible to feed a family well on a benefit. How do we condemn people for their bad choices when they’re the only choices they have, and they’re the only choices they have because they’re the only choices they are given by those in power?

It doesn’t matter what ages the children are, either, or whether you get disability allowances or any other normal benefit. The numbers just don’t stack up no matter how you tweak them. Being on a benefit simply precludes the option of feeding your family quality food. It’s a shameful situation – that people actually believe that poor or unemployed people don’t deserve to eat healthy food, or live in warm dry homes, or any of the things that every human being should have. If they believed that the unemployed were equal human beings, then they would advocate them having the same rights as those with good jobs and nice houses and good food on the table, but the poor aren’t equals in many minds. They’re lesser for being born into less fortunate circumstances, or for having personal disasters, or whatever has put them in a bad position. That thinking, the thinking that condemns the poor and unemployed to living hard lives and opens them up to judgement for it, is cruel, and should be criminal.

If you really gave a shit about kids . . .

“If you really gave a s… about kids and public health, you’d feed them right at school, full-stop, and you’d teach them about food at school, full-stop.” – Jamie Oliver

The man has a point, you know. Kids shouldn’t be a political football – they should be a priority.

As of 2014, 260,000 kids live in poverty in New Zealand. 180,000 regularly go without essentials like food, appropriate clothing, or heat. those numbers are terrible in a nation with so much wealth. We simply have to do better.

Jamie Oliver’s solution is the obvious one. Feed the kids, because leaving a child hungry is inhumane, and teach them about food, how to grow and cook it, so that they’re set up for a better future.

I cannot understand people who would argue over where the responsibility lies for hungry children, while those children stay hungry. Someone who says that it’s their parent’s fault and leaves them hungry – for what reason? To teach the parents responsibility? It doesn’t work like that! – just does not understand the misery of going to school hungry, the lack of ability to think on an empty stomach, the temptation to steal lunches from other kids or teachers just to have something in your belly. Whatever the reason, the kids don’t deserve to be hungry, and if parents can’t or won’t pack a lunch, someone needs to step in. Punishing a kid because their parent is poor or lazy is cruel.

I don’t have much time for libertarian types who say that we need to ’empower communities’ and help them be more self-sufficient. For one, a community may well be too poor to support the needs of the thousands of kids that go hungry in this country. For another, community responses are very variable that in some communities there will be wonderful programmes and in others almost nothing, depending on the skill level and enthusiasm and connections of the organisers – I think that a centralised response would be more even-handed and thorough.

So feeding the kids. It’s an idea I believe in, and I am deeply disappointed in our government for rejecting the legislation that could have made this possible. What kind of people are they, that they are ok with thousands of children starving? I don’t know where to go from here, but I think we need a new government and a new go at doing this for our kids.

The other part of Jamie’s plan, to teach kids about food, is an interesting one. Basic food skills are so important, and every child should be provided with them. Can opening, food reheating, knife skills, a few solid recipes to be able to fall back on, they’re essentials. I do believe that every child should be taught this stuff. But how useful are these skills when the cupboards are bare? We need to be addressing poverty at home, as well as feeding the kids at school. Making a dinner of toast and beans needs to be a thing that kids can achieve – both the skills to make it and the materials to work from.

My solutions to food poverty at home are the usual ‘pay people more’ type things. Not very creative, but creative and targeted solutions aren’t my thing. They’re hoops to jump through, condescending attitudes to deal with. Giving people enough money to live on is simpler and affords the poor some dignity which is seriously lacking in our attitudes at the moment.

I can’t pretend to be an expert in this. Maybe my ideas are very wrong, and someone can explain to me why targeted funding is a better idea. But there’s not a person on earth that will convince me that we don’t need to put a plan in place to feed kids that don’t get three good meals a day.

Side Effect Hell, part 14: FEED ME!

Over the last few weeks, the hunger that hovered in the background of my existence has broken its cage and become a raging demon. I just want, no, need, to eat EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW DAMN IT! I eat a good meal, and I have the oddest feeling – I’m full, and desperately hungry. This is doing my head in.

Since going on olanzapine, I’ve gained somewhere between 15 and 20 kilograms. I don’t know exactly, because I don’t know what I weighed beforehand, but I was a size 12-14 and now I’m a solid 18. I used to weigh more than I do now, and I was comfortable in my skin, but this time around I feel awful. I feel like I’m not me any more, I’m buried in a ball of lard. The numbers on the scale and on the tag of my jeans are becoming an obsession. I need to lose some of this weight, because it’s bad not just for my body but for my mental state as well.

The drug makes it hard. It’s nothing to do with willpower  – when I decide that I’m going to do something, I do it, and I don’t really cheat. The problem is that the weight will not shift. Even a week on less than 1200 calories per day resulted in a loss of just over half a kilo. When trying even extreme restrictions doesn’t show results, it gets all very sad.

My psychiatrist has recommended a low carbohydrate diet, both to lose weight and to help smooth out mood swings caused by blood sugar spikes. Since I started a couple of months ago, my bad days have increased quite a bit. I don’t know if it’s related, and the couple of weeks on a high-carb diet were in a high-stress environment, caring for people, and I thrive on that. (I ate whatever was put in front of me for the couple of weeks I lived in ‘grief camp’ with some friends after someone I knew well committed suicide). So having pretty good days coping-wise during that time could be related to the carbs I ate, or could be because of the environment I lived in during that time.

All this mess in my head of needing to lose some of this weight is butting up against the fact that I’m starving. All the time. No matter what or how much I eat. I’m eating smallish but sensible portions, regularly, with occasional snacks. Just generally sensible eating habits for someone who wants to maintain or lose a little bit of weight. It doesn’t matter. I’m ravenous, even when I couldn’t eat another bite without exploding. I could eat myself sick. It’s awful.

My psychiatrist was wary of giving me any type of appetite suppressant last time we talked about the hunger problem, because apparently they can be very addictive. I think we need to revisit that decision, because my relationship with food is getting very messy. Being hungry all the time means that food is an obsession, and that’s not good for me. It becomes about what is ok to eat, what I’m allowed to eat, whether I’m allowed to eat, and it needs to change before it becomes a real problem.

This is not very interesting, and all about me. I need to vent, though. I will try and be more interesting in the near future

Ah, silly assumptions

A friend of mine mentioned lactose intolerance, and it didn’t take too long for someone to call milk ‘poison’, and another to say that we’re not ‘supposed’ to drink milk. Well, I’m pretty sure milk is not poison, given the number of cultures that consume it around the world and the sheer quantity of people that do that consuming. We’re not all dropping dead, so I would dispute anyone saying it is a poison. Sure, some people have bad reactions to it, but that’s not enough to label it a poison to everyone. If it were, then we would have to label water a poison because there are people out there who are allergic to it. Sunshine, too. Calling it a poison is just nonsense.

The claim that we are not ‘supposed’ to drink milk is an interesting one. There are a few arguments that come under this umbrella. There is the ‘it’s for babies not for adults’ argument, the ‘it’s for baby animals not humans’ argument, and the ‘prevalence of lactose intolerance’ argument. The vegan argument (it’s for baby animals not humans) is one that I’m not keen on having. It’s an ideological argument, and I just don’t buy in to the vegan ideology. It’s just not my thing, and not something I’m interested in enough to argue about.

The ‘it’s for babies not adults’ argument generally says two things. First, that milk is a concentrated form of nutrition that is suitable for fast-growing babies but not for adults, and second, that lactose intolerance inevitably develops after infancy. Milk is a very rich food, and full of good things like calcium and B vitamins, but it’s also pretty calorie-heavy. So drinking litres of it every day may not be the best way to stay trim, but it’s still a good source of nutrients. As for the development of lactose intolerance, I do not know enough about the biochemistry behind it to know about its patterns of development.

The argument that really gets me though, is the one that says that there are so many lactose intolerant people out there, so it’s obvious that humanity did not evolve to drink milk. This is one of my favourite fallacies – that humanity (or any species, for that matter) reached a point of perfect adaptation to their environment and just stopped evolving. It’s rubbish – evolution is always happening, as evidenced by the sheer numbers of people who have evolved lactose tolerance since the domestication of farm animals in the last ten thousand years or so. If we stop changing, if we stagnate, then eventually the human race would die out as its environment changed around it. But we can’t stagnate – biological processes continue to move us onward.

So. Milk drinking. Do it if your body can handle it and you like it. There’s no good reason not to.