Starving for Change

I always seem to get excited for May. It’s the wonderful time of the year that I get to see flowers bloom, I get out my bike to go cycling and here in Columbus, the farmers’ markets open. It’s perfect.

However, something is souring my local-made goat cheese. Something doesn’t seem to sit right with me, and maybe this is why I feel like addressing it and those who may be reading.

We live in a food elitist culture.

No seriously, it’s something that I have noticed over the years since I started participating in the local food movement. People go to farmers’ markets not just to get local, healthy products sans middle man, but also as a form of status. I see it all the time in the Clintonville Farmers’ Market here in Columbus.

Sure, you get college kids and local granola moms with their babies carried in wraps. But as I park my bike at the bike rack, or get off the bus, I see them. Yippies. My portmanteau of “yuppies” and “hippies.” Rich, white suburban middle class folks appropriating the liberal progressive movement with a green and health conscious idealism. They come in their SUVs or Jeeps, with their Starbucks, cellphones and oodles of cash and start loitering around the farmers’ markets. I don’t judge them, but I just find it ironic. Nothing is more amusing than a Sierra Club sticker on a Honda Pilot some other kind of SUV.

But the point I am getting at is that this is a symptom of a bigger problem. I was raised with the notion that poor people aren’t allowed to eat good food. That healthy, good, sustainable food belongs to rich people. Only the affluent are allowed to eat well. This was drilled into me as a kid, because local organic food is expensive and cheap food isn’t always nutritious. This bizarre divide is why I often feel guilty going to the farmers’ market. So many things make me think about this: getting fresh bread, talking to the vendors, sharing stories, making friends, and buying whatever I want. I feel guilty because I don’t pay with cash, but with EBT tokens I get exchanged at the main booth. Vendors don’t care, they smile and take my tokens. But I feel like I am the only one who uses food-stamps to get healthy food. Food that isn’t cheap, food that I was raised to believe I am not allowed to eat.

So when I see the rich or at least the well off go to farmers’ markets, I get sad. Because I know their kids are being raised to believe that they deserve this food. The thing is, everyone deserves this food, but this is not being taught. Instead, we are shaming the overweight for not buying marked up cauliflower or fresh green beans that last a few days. Instead, we are refusing to take EBT tokens or opting out of the program  at farmers’ markets, which furthers the divide between the poor and the rich.

We shouldn’t see food as a symbol of status. Getting local organic milk or gluten-free bread from a bakery doesn’t need to be a sign of money or wealth. Everyone needs to wake up and honestly start talking about food deserts, about food elitism, and about making farmers’ markets more EBT accessible. Everyone deserves fresh food and milk and bread and so many things. It hurts so much to see the belief that the poor should go hungry while the rich feast unchecked.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the idea of food being used as a status symbol?

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Corbin

Corbin is a trans man living in Columbus Ohio with his fabulous ginger boyfriend and their two pet rats. He is a disability rights activist, fiction writer and collaborative storyteller, localvore and seeker of all things queer and geeky.

17 thoughts on “Starving for Change”

  1. In my area (I live in the Netherlands), organic food is trendy. I work at a supermarket in a white rich upperclass large town and it made me realize that food is indeed a status symbol. Most costumors buy expensive, tasty and nutritious food – smoked salmon, soya yoghurt, cashews, biological eggs and meat, strawberries, fresh juices, etcetera. If you really want to eat well, you need to spend more money. As a student (and a vegetarian, maybe) who had to start cooking for herself, I started to realize that. Lucky for me, I’ve been raised in a lower- to middle class family – we went camping in our own country for vacation, but we still went on vacation almost every year. We got fresh vegetables and fruit every day – not the fancy ones, but still, they were fresh. My parent doesn’t have money to support me anymore, but as a 23-year old I can support myself now, and I buy fresh food most of the time. Going with the seasons is a good idea to save money, but if you don’t like every vegetable and fruit that means that your food intake might be less diverse (compared to when you can buy ”whatever you want”) after all. I tend to think that this distinction will always be there. A (maybe naieve) idea would be to start teaching people (e.g. at school) how to grow your own food again. I know that that does imply that you have a garden, where poor people most of the time don’t. But I can dream.

  2. I’m the daughter of a foodie and ex chef du cuisine. For me food with status are things like caviare and oysters. The boring, tasteless stuff. Besides that it is drilled into me that good, healthy food isn’t expensive and shouldn’t be expensive. That means -most of the time- eating with the seasons. And lessening your meat intake, because good meat doesn’t come from farm factories.

    This is also why I’m not bothered with paying up to an euro or 2 more for food I feel comfortable with.

    Before I sound like the people you’re writing about: I definitely think that the hierarchy in (organic) food needs to go. But I also think that yippies are free to keep their snobbery if it helps the people they buy from to lower their prizes to non-yippies. Besides that there’s still a bridge to gap about how people view organic food, which still isn’t common enough.

  3. I buy vegetables, meat and eggs at my local farmers market (FM) all of which are readily available at my local chain grocery store. In the winter months I buy these things at the chain store b/c I don’t have the option of shopping at my FM and occasionally at this chain store I see people using EBT payment.

    I read your post as saying that “poor” people don’t have the option of buying the products I buy at the local chain store and at the FM. I’m confused b/c your post says that you buy products at the FM using EBT tokens and my experience is that the same products are available at both the chain store and the FM and that EBT is allowed at the chain store.

    So, why can’t people using EBT get fresh foods from the chain store or a FM?

    Is it the organic and gluten free aspects of FM food that are your sticking point? If so, I don’t agree that organic green beans, for instance, are more nutritious than non-organic or that pasture raised eggs are more nutritious than factory farmed ones.

    Are you comparing a FM to buying food at a gas station/convenience store (which is what I think of when I hear food desert)? If so, then I would definitely agree with you that everyone deserves access to fresh foods. However, I don’t agree that shaming people who are privileged enough to have access to/afford to shop at a FM is the answer.

    If you are trying to give a personal account of how you were raised to think about food, I’d be interested to here why you were raised like that and who instilled these beliefs; your parents? Society? Other authority figures?

    1. QUOTE: “However, I don’t agree that shaming people who are privileged enough to have access to/afford to shop at a FM is the answer.”

      I am sorry, but I see a lot of class privilege from those that can and have access to FMs. I am not shaming as so much reminding them that have that privilege. One that many don’t have. And one that many flaunt as being trendy.

      QUOTE: I read your post as saying that “poor” people don’t have the option of buying the products I buy at the local chain store and at the FM. I’m confused b/c your post says that you buy products at the FM using EBT tokens and my experience is that the same products are available at both the chain store and the FM and that EBT is allowed at the chain store.

      No. What I by from FM is not the same as chain markets. Unless they have a contract. I rarely see local farms sell at chains. The two I’ve seen is Snowville Creamery and Jeni’s Artisan ice cream. The rest are obviously commercial brands. I haven’t seen many of the local family own farm products being sold at ‘Giant Eagle’ or “Kroger’ which are our change store. Or even the more organic chain. “Trader Joe’s”

      If you mean the same kinds of foods yes, I might find some cheve cheese or some ohio grown tomatoes, but some of the products have higher markup prices than the ones sold in the markets.

      Food is also pricey as well and EBT is limited. I have about 90 a month, if I am going to get groceries at the chain and at a FM I need to really figure out my priorities. Is getting a $10 loaf of bread for a chicken stew worth it? Is getting $8 for a bag of apples that will last me a month worth it? I have to figure everything out. Which leads me to this.

      Quote: If you are trying to give a personal account of how you were raised to think about food, I’d be interested to here why you were raised like that and who instilled these beliefs; your parents? Society? Other authority figures?

      My Mom. I was raised with the idea we were too poor to eat good food. I was guilted by mom when I wanted to try new foods that she though were too pricy to by. I also lived in a society when food is still a luxury. I don’t think I had fresh vegtables grown up unless they came from our garden. They were canned mostly because even frozen veg was pricey.

      My point is that I have been show that food is a luxury and that Farmer’s Markets are treated as trendy hip things rather than accessible places to get local food and ethical food. I am glad more markets are EBT accessible but I still see so many that are not.

  4. Food is certainly a class issue, but one I’ve more often seen framed as “poor people don’t know how to eat properly,” with little discussion about how expensive good food can be. I’ve not seen much that suggests only rich people deserve good food. Of course, that’s the end result, so even if that’s not explicitly stated. . .

    EBT tokens are accepted at Farmer’s Markets throughout Portland; this was heralded as a good thing. And it is! Some markets only allow tokens, and so that way no one would even have to know that your tokens were for EBT and not just regular cash.

    1. Ours are color coded. Red for EBT blue or Debit. Farmers apparently can op’ out of one or the other. This honestly bother’s me. On the other hand. All of the stalls are SNAP and EBT accepted so I don’t have to ask and get a confused look and a ‘no sorry’ so that is all good. Though so far only Clintonville and North Market have EBT access. Worthington’s market doesn’t and Easton didn’t either. So I have no idea about the others. My goal is to see if the Grandview and the Pearl Alley markets have EBT access.

  5. There’s a program in my state that makes SNAP money worth double at farmers markets. So far as I can tell it’s win-win. Local business gets more money and folks get good food. Food ethics can get complicated, but this seems like really good common sense.

      1. It’s run by the Fair Food Network, which is a NPO, not by the state itself. It’s only for the first $20 (so $40 to spend overall) per market day, but it means that the amount that farmer’s markets are taking in in EBT money has gone way up in recent years, and there’s talk of extending the program to local grown produce that’s sold in grocery stores for neighborhoods with no farmer’s market.

  6. The closest farmers market to my apartment reopened in early May as well, and I went to buy some snacks for a group of friends meeting that night. The market–located in the most ethnically diverse zip code in the US–was full of rich white people. There were a few granola types, but mostly the people there were white middle class folks. I was in and out quickly and walked away with a loaf of bread, two small wedges of cheese, and 6 pears, totaling about $30. I wasn’t really paying attention to the process as I went, so I was surprised after the fact when I realized how much it cost. No wonder there wasn’t more diversity (class wise) in the market.

    1. I usually spend at least 70+ at the farmer’s market if I am getting food for a meal rather then filling some pantry holes, or getting a few luxuries. I usually have to check prices and find deals with vendors if I want more bang for my buck.

      1. Haha, yep! :) This was the Columbia City market I was talking about, Alyson. I do like it and plan to go back for certain items, but I can’t really afford to shop there regularly. Technically, I live on the border of Hillman City/Brighton area. When were you here?

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