Those of us interested in public health and nutrition have heard a lot in the past few years about “food deserts” — places where it’s hard to get fresh and healthy food. It turns out that while poor people may have difficulty accessing healthy food, just as often it’s socioeconomic status itself that sets people up for unhealthy eating habits, especially parents and children:
Next to all the things poor parents truly couldn’t afford, junk food was something they could often say “yes” to. Poor parents told me they could almost always scrounge up a dollar to buy their kids a can of soda or a bag of chips. So when poor parents could afford to oblige such requests, they did.
Honoring requests for junk food allowed poor parents to show their children that they loved them, heard them and could meet their needs. As one low-income single mother told me: “They want it, they’ll get it. One day they’ll know. They’ll know I love them, and that’s all that matters.”
Similarly, this op-ed talks about the discrepancies in screen time between families and the tendency to let children use screens without limits. In both cases, poor families are being taken for a ride by corporations that make money off these minor indulgences.
I’m working on a longer essay about this, but I would quickly add other factors to the issue of food, including: lack of time to prepare, difficulty storing fresh foods in places often infested with vermin, and lack of knowledge about what is healthy and what isn’t. But more profoundly, I think poverty itself tends to foster a sense of despair and nihilism; poor people know that their efforts to save or defer gratification are less likely to pay off in the long run and so they are less likely to do either. Making the most of what they have now and enjoying what’s present is how they deal with scarcity and the cruel vicissitudes of life.
Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at www.MatthewAndMaggie.org