Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Food, Class and Need

Over at BFP’s there is a post about a ten dollar sandwich.  Ten dollars is more than some people make in an hour.  Food and class go hand in hand and quite often unless we are struggling we don’t see the connection.

 image The ability to walk through a grocery store and place items in a cart without consideration of the bill is a sign of economic privilege.  Every week the unhusband goes shopping and spends about 175-200 dollars.  He comes home with fresh vegetables, fresh fruit and meat for every dinner we eat as a family.  We even have a snack cupboard which we stock for the boys to munch throughout the day.  It is not uncommon for my family to eat meat twice a day, whether that is in the form of Black Forest Ham at lunch or a steak at dinner. 

When the boys decide that they don’t like a meal and refuse to eat something it makes me realize our privilege.   The boys have never known hunger because there has never been a time in their life when their father and I could not provide for them.  They can choose to go hungry and skip a meal sure in the knowledge that another opportunity to eat will arise and it will involve different choices.

When we talk about privilege it often involves race, gender, or ability but how often do we engage in serious conversations about class and food?   We all must eat to survive and yet food is something that is not a part of our daily image conversations beyond mentions of new recipes.  On days when I am unable and the unhusband does not feel like cooking we simply pick up the phone and order food or we take the boys out to dinner.  At no time do we consider that we are paying ten to twelve dollars for a burger or entree at our local Mom and Pop place because we can afford to do so.  Even the cat eats well in our home.

We have been conditioned to think of hunger as something that happens outside of Western countries and yet daily more people have become dependent on food banks to make it through the month.  Project Share (my local food bank) has reported a 22% increase in the month of June alone. 

Project Share is running short of food and is desperate need of Baby Formula, Peanut Butter, Canned Vegetables and Fruits, Juices, Tuna, and Protein Items.  They are asking that you fill a bag and leave it on your front doorstep no later than Saturday at 11 AM.  They are attempting to collect the equivalent of 42 thousand pounds or a months worth of food.

image Hunger is not something that happens elsewhere.  It happens in our communities.  Of all the requests for food; baby formula fills me with the most sadness.  I will never forget being approached by a couple who stood outside a 7-11 begging for change in order to buy milk for their child.  The face of hunger is that of our children. 

Though we do have welfare in Ontario, after paying rent (if you can) what is left to spend on food and utilities ensures that at some point throughout the month you will go hungry.  Conservatives have often tried to blame the individual for their impoverishment, ignoring the ways in which the system is specifically designed to ensure poverty for certain members of society.   We are told that welfare recipients are lazy or that they simply want to live high on the government teat.   No one has ever been able to explain how eating three healthy meals a day constitutes an abuse of government largesse.   Even if we were to accept the premise that the poor are failing in their part of the public contract, do their children deserve to go hungry?  If a parent is poor, a child is poor and as a community don’t we all have a vested interest in ensuring that our children thrive?

I quite often think about the massive amounts of food we waste daily while people are going hungry.  If hunger was an issue of supply at least we could understand its perpetuation but in fact hunger is an issue of commodification.  Looking outside the dumpster of most restaurants or grocery stores one could find perfectly edible food simply thrown away.  Some places have even started locking the dumpsters to block access to the free food.  They cite a fear of being sued however once again this comes down to a monetary concern.  Had they donated this food rather than putting it in a dumpster to begin with, the issue would not exist. 

I cannot help but wonder how it is that such a small percentage of the population can continue to control our consumption to the point that people are being denied essential needs.  Food should never be considered a luxury.  The fact that we have so allowed our system to become warped to the point where so many are going hungry is a sign of how irrational the capitalist system really is.  The ruling bourgeoisie have constructed socialism as a threat to a free society however, nothing brings about an end to human life like hunger.