Special Edition: Food Privilege and Knowledge/Ability

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Alright, it’s the final post in this short series on food privilege and food insecurity. One of the biggest barriers to food, in my opinion, is knowledge. As a reminder Food Insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” Here we are focusing on reliable access.

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded by advertisements everywhere we look. From television to radio to podcasts and influencers on social media everywhere you look someone is trying to get you to purchase a product and they do it so well. What’s crazy to me is that so many of these products are labeled as “healthy” or “good for you” and yet maybe they aren’t. So many thing I see online are like “buy this protein bar and you will lose weight because it’s healthy,” “try this new diet where you eat 800 calories a day and inject yourself with pregnancy hormones,” “do the beach body diet where you restrict your food to carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, and Shakeology.” Every single day we are bombarded with new products and diets, and food items claiming to be healthy or good for you or necessary to live a life of abundance. However, what do we really know about these items?

In order for labels to include the word healthy the US Food and Drug Administration the food item must meet what looks to be like very rigorous requirements, but really if you drill it down, the food items must be low in fat and sodium… but what about sugar? what about the amount of preservatives? what about a million other things? When you look at a label (if you ever look at a label) do you really understand it? Don’t feel bad if you don’t because for the longest time I didn’t understand them (and to an extent still don’t). And until about the 1980’s these labels weren’t even required! Can you believe it? All of this to say, it’s hard to really know what’s in our food and yet every day we go and pick food up off the shelf to consume.

But that’s not the only issue here. This is a compound issue, we depend on items that have all these ingredients we can’t pronounce or that we have no idea what they are because we don’t have time nor do we know how to cook these items from scratch. Yes, that is an issue, as a society we don’t know how to cook anymore. Making Mac and Cheese from a box is psuedo-cooking, but do you know how to make a cheese sauce from scratch? How about tomato sauce or fried chicken or any of your other favorites? I grew up on processed foods. I knew how to throw chicken nuggets in the oven and pop open a box of hamburger helper and make it in a skillet, but I didn’t know how to create my own masterpieces, my own combinations of flavors. Until I decided one day to really get into making food for myself at home, food that tasted good and cost less.

Sure, my mom taught me what she could about cooking. I knew how to boil water, make scrambled eggs and the like, but I didn’t know much else. There weren’t cooking classes at school. There wasn’t time to seek out cooking classes, nor was there money for them. That’s the reality for a lot of people today. We are a society that depends on the prepared food sections of the grocery store (which is getting larger every day) or on the drive thru window. We think- oh its a salad so of course its super healthy- but is it? We don’t know about the food we consume. We don’t always know what is in it, how to make it, or where it came from. We are so disconnected from our food that we just eat it and move on without another thought. We rely on social media to tell us what we should and should not eat these days. We rely on flashy labels to tell us what’s good for us and what’s not. We rely on others to prepare the food and hope that they will tell us if it’s good for our bodies. We are no longer in control of what we put in our mouths, which in my opinion does not give us reliable access to food.

But to have knowledge and ability means you have to have time and money. Time is needed to learn the skills, to do the research, and to read every label at the grocery store. Money is needed to have space to store the tools needed for food prep, the cookbooks (unless you get the recipes online or books from the library), the food and more.

Sure, there are some companies out there looking to remove some of the time hurdles for people. Hello Fresh and Blue Apron will send you all the ingredients you need and a step by step guide on how to make a meal, which is nice, but at what cost? (The answer $8.99 per meal- I’m working on a blog about my Hello Fresh experience for all of you to read soon.) Having reliable access to food really relies on money, time, space, transportation, knowledge and ability. Without one of these pillars you open yourself up to food insecurity, and I’m not saying you are food insecure now…but you may become insecure in the future.

Not a lot of people realize that they are food privileged. I run into people day in and day out who have time to read labels, to do research, to meet with doctors, to have tests run, to hire personal chefs or afford meal subscriptions, and they don’t give any of these a second thought. They don’t worry about money, transportation, ingredients or health factors. They simply know that they can afford that $200 grocery bill including all organic and fresh produce and they either know someone who can take all of those ingredients and prepare them into a culinary masterpiece, or they will be able to do it themselves.

At the end of the day food insecurity is real. It doesn’t look the same for everyone, but it is out there and there are a lot of people who don’t talk about it, because to them this is just everyday life. They try all the products advertised to them and they don’t see any benefits, just a drain on their bank accounts. Food insecurity is a symptom of a larger systematic issue, and one that a lot of people actually don’t know how to fix, including myself. I hope that you’ve learned a little throughout this series. Food privilege and food insecurity exist in the world, whether we see them or not. Please just remember this, but compassionate towards your fellow human beings.

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