Friday, August 5, 2011


One of my readers posted a comment in my post Too Poor to be Thin? and added some additional commentary on her own blog

Here's what she had to say:
I always feel bad when otherwise intelligent bloggers post something that is so far off base that I kinda want to reach through the screen and give them a good shake and a healthy dose of reality. Today it was from one of my favorite bloggers at Losing Weight after 45 is a Bitch, who started off by mischaracterizing the study she was reporting on by saying "that you have to be rich to eat right." In all fairness, AP mischaracterized it as well in the same fashion. First off, she criticized the study for talking about "adding" nutrients, but the article clearly says "adding MORE .." (emphasis mine). She also talks about substituting a bag of potatoes for potato chips as an example. First off, A SINGLE Russet (baking) potato is $3.99 at Albertsons this week. A big bag of chips is $1.99. Second, potatoes: a lot of starch... not so much nutrition, except for the potassium. A lot of people who are poor live on filler foods like pasta, rice, and potatoes (when they can get them cheap) and use filling snacks like chips just to feel full. Beans are another item you have to be careful of but poor people eat a lot of... beans are also high in starch.

I've written over and over and over about this topic. It's important to know. And it's also important to know the difference between someone who is firmly in the middle class and feeling the pinch of a changing economy and people who are genuinely below the poverty level. A while back (in 2007) I posted on the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge and discussed some of the foods the Congressmen (and women) who took the challenge ended up buying on their equivalent of food stamp budgets. You can see the official blog with information on those politicians who agreed to try to eat on what the average per person allowance for food is in families who are on food stamps. It's an eye opener.
Look, I like to hear divergent opinions, but $3.99 for a single potato?   Around here you can buy a 5 pound bag of russets for less then that.   I don't profess to be an expert on regional food prices, but if that is the case, then something should be done so that fairly priced produce is available nation-wide.

Another point, yes, a potato is a lot of starch, but it is still healthier than a bag of potato chips.    I was trying to do somewhat of an apples to apples comparison.   If you have a choice between eating a bag of chips or a baked potato, which do you feel you are better off eating for both your health and your weight?

And beans are simply an inexpensive protein source.   Yes, you probably are better off eating a leaner, meaner protein source such as fish, but the point was to try to be as cheap as possible.   Around here a pound of whole wheat pasta costs about $1.50, a can of lentils $2.   Add some garlic, olive oil, herbs for around another $2 more and you can feed a family of four for about $5.50.   Now, you could go to McDonalds and feed that same family on Dollar meals for about the same price, but which one do you think will lead to at least one member of that family being overweight?

But beyond that, let's get to the reality.   If someone on food stamps weighs over 300 pounds, they are eating an excess of calories.    Because processed food is so cheap, it leads to over consumption.   The problem we have in this country is not that people on food stamps are starving, it's that they are often-times obese.   They actually should not be consuming the overall amount of food that they are consuming.   They can afford to be eating more fruits and vegetables because they can and should be eating less.

But I realize that for the poor, the perception is that they have to "maximize" their food dollars by getting as much food for each dollar as they can.   My husband has a friend from college who is on Food Stamps and weighs over 300 pounds.   My husband relates to me about how he goes to McDonalds with this friend (who claims it's the only place he can afford to eat) who then super-sizes meals to get the biggest bang for his buck.

This guy weighs over 300 pounds and has serious health conditions (which is why he can't work and is on food stamps).   He doesn't need to be getting the biggest bang for his buck, he needs to be sitting down to a meal of rice and beans or a couple of baked potatoes even if it's overall less food then that super-sized McDonald's meal.  

And, let's not forget the inherent health costs of the diet of that supposedly more "affordable" diet of potato chips and McDonald's.   It's where the maxim "penny wise and pound foolish" comes into play.   The poor may be spending less on food now, but their future health costs will more than make up for any perceived "savings" later. 


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  2. Here's the deal: If you're eating little except white rice, pasta, and breads... which is typical for below the poverty line, you're going to be fat. You're going to be fat because you don't get enough food, not because you're eating cake all day. It's because if you have enough bread to make you feel as full as a salad and a small grilled fish, you're getting more calories and less nutrition. When people are genuinely hungry, they eat what they can get. Again, I recommend you to the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, and see what well educated, normally well-to-do individuals were able to do on that amount of money, and what the health side effects were.

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