HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >
    1. That mother made good choices I think, given her living conditions. I also think it's very sad that this treat probably will not happen again.

      I'm not a homeless mom but this really brought home the fact that we spend way too much money on food, not counting necessary groceries.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Gio

        I look at it a bit differently... I'm realize i'm lucky to be able to pay extra to let my kids eat fresher produce from the local farmer's market, organic meats, wild king salmon, etc. i'm not going to not do that or feel guilty about it just because there are others in the world who can't. But, the one thing my kids know is they are not allowed to waste. they ask for something, they are going to eat it. no excuses. i grew up in a home where my parents scrapped for everything and i knew it wasn't right to waste - although we're in a better position today, my kids better grow up realizing that as well and understand how fortunate they are.

        1. re: FattyDumplin

          Ten dollars is enough to save a child from blindness (vitamin A deficiency)...

          1. re: Chowrin

            yeah, but 10 dollars isn't enough incrementally that how i eat changes what i donate, if that makes any sense? Every year, I have a set amount that i decide to contribute via church, charities, etc., and even if i cut back on what i bought, that wouldn't really change what i donated.

        2. re: Gio

          I like to think of them enjoying the fresh cherries. I can't because of allergies (cooked works) and I wish I could join them. Fortunately, I _can_ cook them.

        3. Two things struck me on this, both relating to some of the criticism I see on Chowhound and elsewhere about other people's shopping choices. I wake up every day knowing that I am incredibly fortunate, to be able to buy fresh fruits, fish, meat, veggies at the farmer's market and pay reasonably high prices to do so. Reading this just makes me appreciate this again and want to find a way to help more...

          1) it's incredible how expensive it is eat a balanced meal. I saw this with my aunt's family, when she lost her job. They went from having a fridge that was stocked with fruits, vegetables and steaks that their kids could eat any time to a pantry stocked with (as we see in the picture above), cup of noodles... and my cousins would talk about eating 2 or 3 for dinner at night and nothing else.

          2) it never occurred to me that some people literally don't have stoves / fridges. and so the lady's explanation that she has to buy non-perishables really struck me.

          I get it, it's in our nature to look at others and judge their actions, and wonder why they're buying junk food and not healthier stuff, but i know for me, going forward, i'll be a lot slower in judging after reading this article.

          52 Replies
          1. re: FattyDumplin

            I am glad to hear this, FD, and yeah -- it's a good reminder of how lucky we are indeed: to choose whatever the fuck we want to eat on any given day.

            Perhaps that explains the judgmental attitude of some posters on this site towards people who are already the weakest members of our society. How easy it is to forget.

            1. re: FattyDumplin

              Yeah, it's hard to eat nutritious food when you're poor. No fridge or stove means probably limited storage space. So limited bulk purchases, no batch cooking and storing food. Possibly no car, which makes it hard to take advantage of sales on larger packages or those $10 off 10 items sales. We're left with the people who can least afford it spending extra money to buy food that will fill their kids' bellies but has little nutritional payoff.

              1. re: ErnieD

                sometimes, if there is a little money available, the choice is between buying fast/instant/packaged food or buying a pot so that you could cook better food in the future.

                obviously, the fast/instant/packaged food wins.

                1. re: ErnieD

                  Yes, I've volunteered at food banks in my neighbourhood, but the people weren't homeless and the women, in particular the immigrants, were brilliant at preparing nutritious meals for their families. It is far easier to do if you have a home, however small, a fridge, also however small (though a freezer compartment is a big help for poor families) and a stove or at least a hotplate.

                  Yes, indeed, if she had some kind of stable home, she'd be able to buy grains, beans and vegetables, and occasional treats.

                  1. re: lagatta

                    You've got a bit of selection there. immigrants tend to be high functioning, intelligent people -- and motivated too.

                    1. re: Chowrin

                      I almost posted something snarky, but after a moment, my thought became that you're right and it's sad this has to be pointed out.

                      disadvantaged does not = stupid. just poor.

                      1. re: hill food

                        No, actually I agree with chowrin about that (my graduate degree is in history of migrations). It did sound like "poor bashing", but I really don't think it was.

                        There are many kinds of disadvantages. On the other side, there are many workers with limited formal education, who did their jobs very well and made very good salaries in industry, who find it very hard to get another because of their limited education and computer knowledge.

                        One of the worst of clienteles of the "cuisine communautaire" was single men (often separated, divorced or widowed) who lived in little studio apartments on a certain street where there were many of those. I want to make it clear that this is NOT a negative stereotype about men; it is a certain type and a certain cohort of men. They really didn't know how to cook for themselves, though they certainly had a small fridge and some kind of stove or rangetop.

                        Some really got into cooking, though!

                        And then, some of us are overeducated and underemployed. Ageism is really a factor. But it is very important to eat good and nutritious food. and to have meals with friends!

                        1. re: lagatta

                          and actually I agree with you. sometimes these suggestions fail to take into account all the factors and logistics involved (that you, chowrin and others are aware of).

                      2. re: Chowrin

                        I think what's more apropos is that immigrants tend to live in communities where they share resources (like cooking, child care, etc.). The American culture of individualism and self-reliance with the idealization of nuclear families that live in separate, self-sufficient households has really hurt poor communities.

                        In addition, immigrants are more likely to be from places where knowing how to cook and make the most of inexpensive ingredients was the norm. Many Americans are two or more generations from having someone in the kitchen making from-scratch meals on a daily basis. Even if they had access to fresh produce they wouldn't necessarily know what to do with it. And it becomes a vicious cycle: people don't buy produce so stores don't stock it, especially since unlike shelf goods, produce has a very limited shelf life and a significant percentage will have to be thrown away -- and thus a "food desert" is born. Immigrant neighborhoods are usually dotted with corner grocery stores selling relatively inexpensive produce.

                  2. re: FattyDumplin

                    It's definitely not in my nature to look at others and judge their actions, and wonder why they're buying junk food and not healthier stuff. Never have. Never will. There's a reason that poor mother has to live the way she does. We must do whatever we can to help them along.

                    My parents were international travelers so the food on our table each day was the finest and best. When my children were growing up and beyond we did the same for them. Now that we're just two it's still farms, Farmers' Markets, and other wonderful foodstuffs as needed. Organic, seasonal, local.

                    1. re: FattyDumplin

                      #2 is so huge. While this woman is in a shelter with no storage, there are all sorts of other poverty living arrangements where stoves/fridges aren't options (i.e. insecure access to electricity, living in motels, etc.). It's easy to talk about the cost bulk rice and dried beans/lentils - but if you don't have a stove, it's not an option.

                      1. re: cresyd

                        Which makes me wonder, if one of the things that might be a boon to the truly poor, would be to donate crock-pots, white gas/propane camp stoves, electric hot-plates, basically small, portable cooking devices. It would certainly expand the range of options for food that could be considered.

                        1. re: AlexRast

                          Perhaps a crock pot, the camping stove and hot plate is not going to be allowed in temporary housing situations.

                          1. re: jrvedivici

                            Which would make me wonder in turn what the management of the temporary housing expected tenants to do in order to feed themselves.

                            I can probably anticipate the general form of the response in a lot of cases: "That's not my problem"

                            Which, I suspect, is at the root of the problem quite generally.

                            1. re: AlexRast

                              It's not the management of the housing that is the root of the problem, most fire codes have restriction(s) forbidding such cooking devices. Either fire code or insurance liability insurance is what rules out these out.

                              1. re: jrvedivici

                                Ahh, yes, the other aspect of modern "civilisation": try as best as you can to make poverty illegal...

                          2. re: AlexRast

                            I think further exploring the crockpot option might also provide a unique solution to cases where you have a single parent working very long hours and very young children are often left alone to fend for themselves meal wise. Often these kids are left with only microwave options, but a crockpot could be an alternative way around that where the kids just need to serve themselves from the crockpot.

                            1. re: cresyd

                              I use my slow cookers a ton, but I think that one of the bigger problems with this would be that the things that slow cookers tend to do well also tend to result in some leftovers, which without refrigeration, would just end up wasted.

                            2. re: AlexRast

                              They still need at least a little fridge to keep their food from going bad, especially in hot climates.

                            3. re: FattyDumplin

                              I lived in Sri Lanka for eight years - it's a third world country. When I first moved there in 2003, only around 2/3 of the population had electricity to their homes. Somewhere around that same amount have water piped to their homes. It's common in Sri Lanka for people to buy rice, veggies, meat (if they can afford it) every day, and they cook only what they can afford to buy that day. Only the relatively rich buy enough food to last several days to a week. Only the relatively rich have enough disposable income to be able to do that.

                              For those without water, in some areas, there are communal water taps that the entire neighborhood shares, and it's at these communal water taps that they get their drinking water, wash their dishes and their laundry, and they bathe. If there aren't communal water taps, then they'll go to the nearest creek, river, lake, or other water source and use that, no matter the condition of the water. Frequently, that creek, river, lake, or whatever is the same water they use for cooking that's also used for bathing and washing clothes.

                              Many people still cook with wood stoves. If they can, they upgrade to what westerners would call propane camping stoves. Only rich people (relatively speaking) can afford fridges and stoves. (My mother in law got her first washing machine only about twelve or thirteen years ago, and they're middle-income.) Most people, even when they have a stove that also has an oven, never use the oven. I really mean never. I don't think my mother in law (she's Sri Lankan) has ever used an oven in her entire life.

                              1. re: LMAshton

                                What a fun life you're having with all of the travel and rich exposure to multiple cultures. Way to go! But it also occurs to me that the "poor" of "third world" cultures have a few rich and distinct advantages that the "downwardly mobile" poor of America do not have. They ALL know how to cook! Unfortunately, that is not an advantage shared by all poor globally, most especially the urban poor of the United States.

                                I think that's key to this discussion. Our second and third generation urban poor in the U.S. are frequently people who have been raised by parents (single or married) who have had to work multiple jobs with no time to cook and no money for nannies, let alone no longer living in extended families with live-in grandparents to cook for the kids/family. Cooking is no longer taught in our public schools as a STANDARD part of a curriculum (as it once was) intent on preparing students for an independent and self sufficient life. We have urban poor in this country who are second and third generation people who have grown up with Pop Tarts and Happy Meals as their norm, or maybe evan with a school lunch as their sole meal of the day, and for whom cooking was something people only did on TV. Third world "poor" have some rich advantages America's urban poor rarely share.

                                It doesn't matter how little you make at a job or even if you have a job, if you regularly share a home cooked meal with your family, whatever country you live in, you have a richness money cannot buy.

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  PopTarts and HappyMeals are better than eating raw flour and butter.

                                  Cooking was a standard part of my school curriculum, and it sucked, and I hated it. I don't think I learned much of anything from it either.

                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                    I saw a photojournalism exhibit with a boy who had monkey pox. apparently they eat the monkeys even though they know the might die if the monkey had monkey pox.

                                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                                      Meat is tasty, and nutritive.
                                      (Monkeys are also really annoying).

                                    2. re: Chowrin

                                      Well, when I was a girl, "Home Economics" (Économie familiale) was standard for girls, but I never learned anything in it; we made nothing but sweets.

                                      My mother was widowed and I had to cook.

                                      Yes, I think there should be unisex "Life" courses that teach cooking, mending, basic repairs and how to put shelving up, as well as the rudiments of a budget.

                                      But if one is homeless, it is hard to apply those lessons.

                                    3. re: Caroline1

                                      No, not ALL know how to cook. The vast majority cannot afford nannies or hired help either. Most are poor, much poorer than most first world people can imagine. Did you miss the part where I mentioned that many don't have water piped to their homes (which are commonly 4'x6' shacks on land they don't own - squatters) or electricity? They use the community water pipe (if there is one) and cook over wood fire. They buy what they can afford that day. They are nutritionally deficient and don't get enough calories. Children's growth is stunted because of the caloric deficiencies and nutritional deficiencies. Free school lunches or breakfasts are not a thing.

                                      But you think they're better off than the American poor? Really?

                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                        Thank you. I am astonished that anyone could romanticize third world poverty by citing its supposed "rich advantages." As hard as some people in the US have it, at least potable water is almost always available here. So far.

                                        1. re: small h

                                          Yes! We have a vast array of government support for those in poverty that 3rd world countries simply do not/cannot have. I can't understand why people romanticize poverty. It stinks.

                                            1. re: lagatta

                                              Yes, in the US. We'll agree to disagree.

                                              1. re: Hobbert

                                                Well the problem in the U.S. is that when it comes to any "assistance" program, especially federal or state programs, they are fast sinking into failure mode. Why? Simply because our "tax based funding" has been gutted. There is not only no working together between our elected officials in our federal and state capitals, but even more insidious is the fact that between congress passing favored status legislation for mega corporations for decades now, those corporations have now out-sourced billions of middle class jobs leaving our tax base and infrastructure funding in a world of hurt! At the risk of sounding over dramatic, the World Trade Center buildings collapsed because aircraft collided with them and took out their middle. Basic physics in action. Remove the middle of anything and it WILL collapse! That is equally true of the economic structure of any government. We ARE in trouble!

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  didn't someone once write something to the effect of "without a strong middle the edges can not survive"?

                                                  which reminds me of high school physics class, the more extreme the orbiting protons and electrons etc. around an atom, the more unstable and radioactive it becomes and falls apart over time. - get too edgy and it falls apart.

                                        2. re: LMAshton

                                          Caloric insufficiency is actually pretty rare in the 3rd world, so far as I know...

                                          1. re: LMAshton

                                            Thank you for working so hard to misunderstand me. Ah well... Tomorrow is another day. Maybe I can work harder at being better understood?

                                            Just for the record, I have lived in countries and areas where conditions were "primeval." I am not new to this world, and I have seen first hand what no local development or potable water can do to the local population. I do know something about living without electricity. Been there, done that and found you CAN cook a good meal on a kerosene space heater without having dinner come out tasting like jet fuel. I've experienced war zones. I have lived where mothers intentionally crippled their own babies to ensure the infant's future success as a beggar... *IF* the baby survives that long. So I'm not new to the things you mention.

                                            HOWEVER...! I stand by what I wrote! I have seen such families and watched how, DESPITE their poverty and predicament, they often have rich family relationships that bring them joy within the traditions of their own culture. As a lifelong student of cultural anthropology, I long ago concluded that bringing disease control through easily available technology (mosquito netting, water purification, etc.) is something that should be spread globally. I'm just not convinced that forcing indiginous peoples all over the world to accept "western culture" in exchange for such disease banning technology is a fair trade for them.

                                            Anyway, for anyone interested in helping make sure at least some of the children living in total deprivation have clean drinking water, here is a list of such organization you may find useful:

                                            https://www.filtersfast.com/articles
                                            /Water-Charities-A-Comprehensive-List.php

                                            Ooops! That's a long URL! Well, here are some shorter ones to some of my favorites:

                                            The Water Project
                                            http://tinyurl.com/mhzklua

                                            Water Aid
                                            http://tinyurl.com/n7mf4cn

                                            Water is Life
                                            http://tinyurl.com/ovcro9b

                                            Ms Ashton, I hope you're a regular donor.

                                            1. re: Caroline1

                                              I donate more in the form of R&D, but I always did like force multipliers!

                                              http://www.heifer.org/

                                              1. re: Chowrin

                                                If it wasn't for R&D where would we all be? There's nothing more frustrating than recognizing needs but no way to meet them. Yay for R&D! ... ... ... Well, most of it anyway. '-)

                                                I love the Heifer project, Better a Fishing pole than just a fish!

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  Yeah. I hafta post about it, because I recognize there are folks out there of the Republican persuasion who kinda dig that sort of thing. ;-)

                                                  1. re: Chowrin

                                                    LOL! You mean those guys who think it's still 1776? '-)

                                              2. re: Caroline1

                                                <Thank you for working so hard to misunderstand me.>

                                                You wrote: "They ALL know how to cook!"
                                                LMAshton responded: "No, not ALL know how to cook."

                                                Seems pretty unambiguous to me. You made an incorrect statement, and LMAshton countered it. Where's the misunderstanding?

                                            2. re: Caroline1

                                              i learned nothing of value from that idiotic, waste-of-time, home ec cooking class.

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                I think you're the second person to say that, which leaves me wondering why I found it useful? But I've always said you can get a lousy education from a great school if you get the wrong teachers. As I recall, my home ec classes were fun. In cooking classes we learned things like making omelettes and how to jazz 'em up, biscuits and how to jazz them up (fillings, toppings, or placed raw on top of simmering stews and allowed to turn into dumplings). Stuff like that. I had some pretty creative teachers who seemed to realize that if they made what they were teaching fun students would learn more. Which is not to say every teacher I ever had was that smart. '-)

                                                1. re: Caroline1

                                                  My daughter learned to use pop and fresh dough, roll in cinnamon sugar and make snacks. I don't think they learned anything about cooking in that class that didn't involve processed food. OTOH, the instructor was a costume designer so they learned to sew some impressive things. At least she can learn cooking at home because she won't be learning sewing from a pattern from me!

                                                  1. re: chowser

                                                    I suspect that what we learn at any age has a lot to do with our mothers and what they did or did not help us learn. I eagerly learned to sew very early because my mother (she loved doing it but she truly sucked at it!) made school clothes for me that were a complete humiliation to wear. Think gored plaid skirt with each and every panel of plaid going a different direction! It was sooooo bad that no self respecting circus clown would wear it. On the other hand, all four of my brother's kids have fond childhood memories associated with her sewing. Every year she made pajamas for each of them, and every Christmas morning they would have a contest to see whose pajamas had the most straight pins left in the seams. True story! I'm also very happy to report she never once tried to make pajamas for my kids. She bought their "Christmas pajamas from Grandma." I suspect a lot of my learning was what psychologists call a "defense mechanism." I was protecting myself! LOL

                                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                                      My mom took a polyester double knit class when I was in elementary school. As in matching tops and bottoms. Quite the look when everyone else was wearing jeans and tshirts. LOL, I do remember the pins being left in too well!

                                                      1. re: chowser

                                                        LOL! I didn't know I had a sister until now! '-)

                                                2. re: westsidegal

                                                  I see that I was lucky to have learned so many cooking skills in home ec class, back in the late 60s. All those techniques like folding in, alternate, mix, beat, mince, dice, julienne... I learned all that in home ec. My mother taught my three sisters and me how to cook, but the actual techniques I learned at school.
                                                  We made meatballs (that I still make the same way, 40+ years later), spaghetti sauce, learned how to cook pasta correctly. And yes, we made cinnamon toast for our first lesson, but even that is a learning experience for those who have never cooked.

                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                    huh I did, my middle-school made boys and girls take home-ec and wood shop - I don't think most kids in my class had touched a stove or sewing machine or table saw in their lives. In the suburb I grew up in (we're talking late 80s Berlin Wall is falling) nannies packed lunches, mommies ordered takeout, gardeners mowed the lawn and daddies worked late. While my family did not quite fit that stereotype nobody was teaching boys to cook or sew and neither my dad or stepdad was exactly mr fix it.

                                                    I dont remember much - we fried donuts, sewed a pillow, we planned a menu and threw a dinner for our parents - I think it was spaghetti - in woodshop I made a box. I beveled it and stained it and added brass hardware I bought myself at the hardware store. I still have it. These classes did not teach you much - but they demystified the processes - a band saw, a table saw, a sewing machine, a fry daddy etc. There are some things you should be able to do in a pinch - drive stick, cook a chicken - sew a patch really not gender specific just basic life skills lots of people don't learn at home. Now that I live in a very different place with much poverty and low education levels I see many kids who cannot even recognize baisc foods - like knowing the difference between strawberries and cherries - some home ec - something well beyond the capacity of our school system would do alot of good for kids being raised in homes with little or no culture of cooking or knowledge of nutrition.

                                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                                    I just said something similar above. In Oakland, for example, while the African-American neighborhoods could be classified as "food deserts" the Chinese, Vietnamese and Hispanic neighborhoods have lots of markets -- big and small -- offering fresh foods. I often buy produce there because the selection and prices are better than the standard supermarket. I actually rarely buy produce at a supermarket -- I either buy it at a farmers market or in Chinatown or Mi Pueblo.

                                                    1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                      Ruth, something I was TOTALLY unaware of until a friend (affluent middle class stay home mom) told me about it a month or two ago is that many (all?) 99¢ and 1$ stores have food, including fresh produce at super deep discounts. And these are national chains. The bottom line here is that there are places where the homeless CAN get super cheap foods from the full range of groceries -- produce, dairy, frozen meals, bakery, the whole nine yards. From there it takes a certain amount of resourcefulness for the homeless to figure out where and how to reheat or cook a meal if they don't live in a situation that has kitchen access.

                                                      A major problem for homeless people is that their situation DOES cause depression, and that will seriously decrease their resourcefulness and creative thinking abilities, so there are situations in which homeless people are their own worst enemies because they are unaware of what is within easy reach. It's a vicious circle.

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        Yes, depression is a factor. It's also been shown that poverty causes cognitive impairment. http://www.slate.com/articles/busines...

                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          Ruth - yes. I've never been homeless, but I have been a member of the working dirt-poor.

                                                          poverty is indeed soul-crushing and makes it difficult to see ones options even with a working kitchen and bathroom.

                                              2. Great article. I live in an area without a lot of visible homeless people and they are definitely overlooked. Many are working but live in vehicles or cheap hotel rooms. They face the same issue as the woman in this article. There's just no way to store quality food and they may not be able to walk to the store every day or afford the gas to drive there.

                                                Thanks for posting this.

                                                1. Thanks for sharing this. Makes me glad I decided to run a food drive at work over the summer.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: 512window

                                                    Good for you...!!! That's wonderful. :-)