We were talking about this issue in my nutrition class recently. There are so many people who don’t know how to handle food. They don’t know what to grab for, how to shop, or how to prepare different food items. Or they never learned to eat a certain way. Hand someone who was raised eating highly processed grab-and-go foods a leek or rutabaga and watch what they do with it. Probably nothing. Those aren’t super common food items. Maybe to some, they are, depending on what is available locally and what cultural influences are present, but there are people who have been receiving well-rounded diets their entire lives who wouldn’t know what to do with these items either.
Lifestyle Changes Are Hard
It’s hard to make drastic changes to diet. That is the reason we don’t see many who can lose weight and keep it off. We see it time and time again as people try to make changes as small as cutting back on dairy or processed carbs, only to end up back where they started, or in a worse spot. It’s even harder to make changes when your entire life this behavior has been modeled to you, and your taste preferences have developed based on foods specifically manufactured to be as tasty as possible with no regards to longterm health.
Learning to Cook Can Save Your Life
One issue that our professor brought up surprised me, because it seemed like a no-brainer for people who had cooking skills, but there are workers here that go out into the community to teach older women how to cook for one. These women have always cooked for 4+ people, and now that they are on their own, potentially socially isolated and on a budget, they try and cook the same way only to have the excess food go to waste. It goes into the fridge and sits there. There are some elderly who turn to highly processed microwavable meals or other quick and easy options. These aren’t always as healthy. They can also be costly, although so is cooking meals for 4 and letting them go to waste- either way, this isn’t financially healthy on a restricted income. It seems so small- just make less! Turn around and ask me to cook for 4 people though, and I’d be completely lost and frustrated. I don’t know how much 4 people will eat. I know what I’ll eat, but multiplying that by 4 has never worked for me the couple times I’ve attempted larger meals. I only have so many years of being in charge of feeding myself, I’m not trying to change a 50-year cooking habit.
Learn the Difference Between a Carb and a Protein
Lots of people in my class had really poor results on the first exam- which consisted of identifying carbs, protein, and fat, along with reading nutritional labels. It was really shocking until I thought about how I was raised- by two people with solid cooking skills. My dad had some professional training along with a degree in animal nutrition, and my mom was a stay at home mom who was able to spend time sourcing out higher quality produce, visit multiple grocery stores and farmers markets, and prep and cook well-balanced meals.
Eating Right is Harder for the Poor
But there’s something that’s even harder for people in poverty to get around. Shelf-life. Buy a sugary jar of Apple sauce and it will still be edible years later. Frozen foods are the same, those frozen chicken nuggets are good for years. Get a fresh apple, if you don’t use it in a week, it’s garbage. If you buy fresh meat, 5-7 days unless you freeze it. Go down the list, and you have a person who can’t afford to waste anything being told that the healthy option adds an element of waste to their budget when they likely don’t have that much slack. Rich people think nothing of $10 a week in spoiled foods, but that $40 a month is money poor people just don’t have.