Published Feb 22, 07 AM
By Kate Stone
It started with a sweeping generalization and inherently racist comment about produce consumption in Chicago.
“Well, they don’t care about buying organic,” my terrible roommate said about the entirety of low-income food-shoppers.
“Huh?” I said. My brain rallied quickly enough to ask, “What makes you say that?”
“The stores in those neighborhoods barely even have vegetables. And they don’t even sell organic produce at all,” she said.
Huh. This is true. Low-income urban neighborhoods do not have Whole Foods stores. When presented with a map of urban grocery store distribution, you will find pockets called “food deserts” where there are no supermarkets at all. In the corner of the south side of Chicago where I used to teach, my students bought most of their food from the corner convenience store.
And the reason for this, by my roommate’s logic, is that poor people clearly do not like food (let alone organic) enough to insist that it exist within walking distance.
I have nothing against any of the recent food movements. In fact, I see and tout the benefits of vegan and gluten-free diets. But to partake in these food choices is a privilege of the non-poverty-line variety that I am now fortunate enough to enjoy. It is not yet a right that everyone has.
Not everyone has a spare five bucks to spend on a bottle of kombucha that definitely won’t make you feel full and might possibly make you vomit. It is a beverage for those with disposable income and the privileged fortitude to acquire the taste. Quinoa retails at least four dollars above pasta for the same sized box. We pay a premium to avoid pesticides and GMOs. And who, outside of elite pockets of the world, even know about kombucha, quinoa, or GMO-free foods?
And what about fresh fruit?
On Fridays in my classroom, I would bring in breakfast for those of my students who had earned the most points for the week. Points were earned by behavior, homework completion and dedication to class work. I asked them what they would like me to bring in and they always asked for donuts. And I always obliged, this being a special treat for the week and all. But I also always brought fresh mango or strawberries or pineapple. They were amazed.
There were always leftover donuts. There was never leftover fruit.
The point is, if you don’t know that pineapple even exists, how would you know to ask for it?
How would you insist on grocery stores with better produce, with organic options, with bulk prices? It – the food-war conversation – ends with this bigger point. That to tell someone how to eat food is to assume they have endless access to resources.
Which is an inherently foolish assumption to make.
About Kate Stone
Kate started taking yoga in middle school as a rebellious move against sports camp. After years of gymnastics, not having to flip over after a backbend was a relief, and the practice stuck. After college, Kate moved to Chicago to teach mean children how to read. She was marginally successful but felt severely, physically ill-equipped to deal with the fighting in her classroom. As someone who takes things literally, she became a personal trainer. Kate spent eight years in Chicago working in gyms, bars and museums, feeling like she was supposed to have a real job. Last year she realized she doesn’t ever want one of those. Kate spent all of her money on yoga training, and is now a yoga teacher, writer and bartender living in Boston.