Saturday, May 19, 2007

Time is money

Via slashfood, there's a blog chronicling one home cook's attempt to eat mostly organic on a "thrifty" budget (as defined by the USDA - the idea is the "supplemented" food budget of someone surviving on food stamps) for a month. It's a really interesting read, and as far as "pretend like I'm poor" stunts go, is at least a little more compelling than the "surviving" for one week on a food stamp budget stunt in which a few politicians have been engaging lately.

If you haven't seen already, kactus is generously letting us peek into her bank account as she spends her assistance money on food this month, which gives us a much better picture of how the numbers work for someone who is trying to eat and not prove a point, someone who can't treat poverty like a camping trip.

Another blogger who decided to try the food stamp budget discussed her approach, and included a really sobering list of the privilege-related factors that would have to go into her actually sticking to the budget. The list includes six reasons, like this one:
1) We have options on grocery stores. I can easily get to five chain grocery stores, a mom and pop, and the discount warehouse. One of my friends said she could easily spend $20 on gas to drive to get her $12 of groceries. Those with fewer options are likely to pay more. Those whose only option is a convenience store probably can’t live on what can be bought there for $21.00 per week.
The thing that sticks out to me about all of this is the amount of time that it takes - and what little payoff the privileged expect those in poverty to be satisfied with. The budgeting organic eater is taking up canning - something that requires knowledge and equipment and planning and time. Getting the best prices requires going from store to store to find the best deals. Pre-processed and packaged foods aren't an option, so you have to chop those onions and knead that bread yourself. I can't find the original link, but luckily kactus quoted a very memorable passage from brownfemipower's Poverty Diaries:
Life is so much slower for poor people. A bus ride to anywhere is going to take at least 40 min’s. Cooking everything from scratch means supper is often started the night before. A quick trip the grocery store is replaced with a day long biking marathon to buy as many groceries as can be stuffed into the kid carrier. Dial up often takes minutes to load pages (seriously, the best thing we did was put the computer into the kitchen–I can clean/cook while a page loads). Clothes hang dry on the line out back, and microwavable food must be cooked in the oven.
All this time and effort, and the only payoff is survival. I'm not knocking survival, but with my privilege and wealth and education, I can obtain a lot more with the same amount of time that it takes to soak the beans so they can be cooked tomorrow. (Me, I almost always used canned beans.) So when the privileged architects of public policy regarding poverty ask the "beneficiaries" of welfare to spend their time chasing jobs they'll never get or working at McDonald's instead of watching their children grow up, they ought to bear in mind the value of the time they're demanding.