Being Mean to and Judgy About the Poor: Nutrition Edition

True or false?  Performing acts of volunteerism is license to decide what is best for the recipients of one’s generosity.

I can’t imagine having the chutzpah to call this true, and people who have this attitude infuriate me. Serving others does not mean ordering others’ lives for them.  By most definitions of service, at least.

My job sometimes requires us employees to volunteer as a group at the local food bank.  I rather resent this because I have a thing about compulsory “volunteering.” That aside, the job of us “volunteers” is to sort through salvage that has been discarded by local groceries and pharmacies, box that which is still usable, and discard those things which are growing fuzzy nasty mess or leaking.  This apparently causes certain people to start remarking on the nutritional benefits or lack thereof of what is being donated, and in some cases to assert that the poor might be better off if half the donated victuals were just thrown away.

Now whether or not up to half of donated food is unhealthy(for some value of that, which in itself is for some reason a subject of much angst and vociferous opining), we don’t really have the data from volunteering occasionally.  Food banks work through different donations on different days, and there is such a high volume of food going through it I sincerely doubt anyone tracks exactly what is being donated or catalogs it by nutritional content.  Even if half of donated food is unhealthy (for whatever value of that we have managed to compromise upon) so what?  Unhealthy food is better than no food.  Unhealthy food is also used for many celebratory and stress relief purposes.  I’ve lived below the poverty line enough to know that it’s a stressful situation and I found opportunities for really good meals a pleasantness and an anticipation.  We may mock Marie Antoinette for (actually not) saying that the poor could eat cake, but it’s not actually that much worse than trying to prevent people from eating cake.  That’s just mean.  Then, of course, poverty is not a respecter of blood sugar or insulin problems.  Sugar is needed by the body and some people need more than others.

It is a genuine problem that, in the U.S. at least, eating meals with nutritional value is generally more expensive and time-consuming than fast food or cheap junk food.  In some cases, eating well is prohibitively expensive and time-consuming.    Discarding donated food is, however, not going to help with that problem.   Doing that would be targeting the wrong people for the wrong problem.

Featured image is John F Francis’ Still Life with Apple, Cake, and Nuts, via Wikimedia Commons.  

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Elizabeth is a professional belly dancer, a flaky computer scientist, and a returned Peace Corps volunteer. She lives in Georgia (the state of the U.S., not the country) but is nonetheless somehow not a combination of stereotypes from Gone with the Wind and Deliverance. Her personal blog is Coffeefied. Operafied. Fluffified. Beglittered.

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