The Societal Schism Between Poverty and Vegetarianism
The cost of food is a huge issue for most families, but with tough times ahead, feeding your family will only get harder. On the surface of it, vegetarians seem to have an easier time of it. But is this true if you are a vegetarian who lives on, or below the poverty line? The more I read and thought about this topic, the more I realize that, as with many issues surrounding poverty in North America, it is also about race, class and education.As Michael Pollan points out in his book In Defense of Food, low income families are looking for the biggest caloric bang for their buck. That means canned spaghetti rather than fresh vegetable pasta sauce, boxed macaroni with cheese powder, soda pop rather than milk. The fact is, good fresh produce is expensive for many families. If a .99 box of macaroni is going to feed your kids dinner and a $1.99 bunch of carrots isn't, you can understand the choice. Unfortunately, the no-win choice leads to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
My local "No Frills" store caters to new immigrant and lower income families. The produce department is small by grocery store standards and the choice is pretty limited. There is a large Jamaican population in this neighbourhood, so there is always plantain, cassava and breadfruit available, but not so much local, seasonal vegetables. They are too expensive for this clientele to buy and so cheap, filling produce is shipped from around the world. Buying produce from the two local year round farmers' market is completely out of the question for these low income families. In the film Food Fight, food advocate Will Allen points out that many people in poor neighbourhoods in the United States buy all of their food from a corner store where fresh produce is entirely unavailable.
It is, of course, possible to live quite cheaply and well on a vegetarian diet, but it requires some planning, attention and some knowledge. As with pretty much everything, it comes down to education. Our education system has ignored nutrition for too long, and many people simply don't know how to eat properly. Parents may not know that their children are struggling in school because they are malnourished. They may not know that their kids are better off eating rice and beans than starchy canned pasta. They may not know how to cook at all.
As our economy worsens, many more families will likely need the assistance of food banks. As far as I can tell, there is only one vegetarian food bank in North America, and it is right here in my own city of Toronto. There is a great programme called Plant a Row - Grow a Row where people add extra rows to their vegetable garden and then donate the produce to their local food bank. It's not much, but it's something.
Challenge of the Week: Make a healthy vegetarian donation to your local food bank