Monday, December 12, 2011

The Political Class Vs. The Working Poor, And The Elusive Perfect Diet

Land Of The Free, Home Of The Hungry: Nowhere Is The Chasm Between America's Political Class And Its Working Poor More Vast Than In The Demand To Cut Food Stamps, The Guardian, 9 December 2011
  • According to Gallup polling, one in five Americans reported not having enough money to buy food in the past 12 months

  • An analysis by the New York Times revealed a 17% increase in the number of school students receiving free and reduced lunches across the country between 2006/07 and now.

  • Between 2008 and 2011, the number of those living on food stamps, assistance to those who lack sufficient money to feed themselves and their families, soared by 50%, putting one American in seven in the programme.

  • "This is a special interest group that not many people talk about because they don't have the wealth to lift a candidate to be president of the United States," explained D Jermaine Husser, the former executive director of South Carolina's Low Country Food Bank.

  • A new measurement of poverty by the Census Bureau, which takes regional cost of living, medical payments and other expenses that do not intrude on the official poverty count, found a third of Americans are either in poverty or desperately close to it.
The Census Bureau says 100,000,000 Americans are in or near poverty. Is that high for one of the wealthiest countries in the world?

Interesting that Gary Younge chose to describe the two ends of the wealth chasm as the "political class" and the "working poor." The working poor, "not so much the destitute – America is always forgetting about them," vs. the political elite, a group opposed to the tenets of Populism, "political ideas and activities that are intended to represent ordinary people's needs and wishes."

Another notable bit, from the New York Times article that Younge links, adds weight to the notion that food assistance programs are, in effect, grain subsidies:
"Congress passed the National School Lunch Act in 1946 to support commodity prices after World War II by reducing farm surpluses while providing food to schoolchildren."
Does that imply that cutting food assistance programs could affect supply? Perhaps increase it? Lowering the price farmer's get for their grain? I don't know. I marvel at the days farmers were paid to keep their fields fallow.

The Perfect Diet

Back in my engineering classes, we were taught not to chase the elusive perfectly built structure. You could, of course, imagine designing a perfect building, using the best materials, taking all the time you needed, but you wouldn't produce something that was on time and on budget. It would be merely an academic exercise. (Boy, did we get grilled in finals if we were overbudget!) In the real world, there are constraints, mistakes, and sure-as-shootin', politics. So you compromise.

In the same way, I've learned there is no such thing as a perfect diet; you cannot provide all the best materials to all people, not logistically1, not economically, and not all the time. You design a diet for each person that is within their means and that matches their particular needs. I may want to configure a house with oak and marble; it won't happen on a pine-and-formica budget.

The Budget Diet

In the spirit of cooking on a budget, here's one dietitian's "grocery list to help you cut food prices while you boost nutrition."
1 Less Than 1% of American Cropland Is Organic

The photo is from the cover of David Shipler's book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America. Not a book I've read but it's on my list:
"Shipler shows how liberals and conservatives are both partly right – that practically every life story contains failure by both the society and the individual. Braced by hard fact and personal testimony, he unravels the forces that confine people in the quagmire of low wages. And unlike most works on poverty, this book also offers compelling portraits of employers struggling against razor-thin profits and competition from abroad."

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