The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Fat, Unhealthy, and Poor

So, I’ve been poor a lot in my life. (I’ve also been well-off a few times. It comes, it goes.)

Today, I was at a supermarket and I noticed that the two-liter bottles of pop were $1 Canadian.

In the old days the rich were fat, the poor were skinny. Now it’s the other way around.

A large part of the issue is that the cheapest foods are things like pop, pasta, rice, potatoes, and various baked goods.

If you want the most calories for the least money, cheap is often the way to go.

Now it’s also true that you can cook relatively healthy meals for not too much money. BUT, the problem is that good, cheap food is also food that takes quite a bit of time to cook. Slow cooking is the rule for cheap food.

Meanwhile, the working poor are often employed at multiple jobs. To put it simply, they’re tired and overworked virtually all the time. And, so, labor- and time-intensive cooking tends to go out the window.

And even good, cheap cooking doesn’t have the calories/$ ratio of two liters of pop for $1.

You eat this sort of cheap food, which is a nutritional wasteland, and you put on weight and you become unhealthy. Pasty, unhealthy looking skin is one of the results, along with a general feeling of malaise.

It’s a nasty trap, and hard to get out of. Your job takes up all your time, you have little ability to eat well or take care of yourself in other ways (like exercise), and as a result the work and energy it takes to get out poverty often seems insurmountable.

All of this leaves aside that in many other ways, it’s very expensive to be poor (which is another article).

True poverty breeds despair. It’s one of the things that those who do poverty challenges, even long term ones, never really experience. It’s one thing to live on a small amount of money for a couple weeks, or even work for some months at a shitty job, living on the wages. It’s another thing for it to be your life.

The tourists know that if things go bad (they get seriously sick, for example), they have an out.

The natives know they are one problem away from disaster and the street and that their life is probably never going to be better.

There was a time in America (and Canada) where there was a good chance–a reasonable expectation–that poverty wasn’t for life.

But the stats now show that class mobility has collapsed. Where you are is probably where you are going to stay, and indeed, downward mobility has increased significantly as well.

There’s not much reasonable hope. And when people have no hope, when they’re desperate, when their entire future looks dismal, well, they become willing to do almost anything.

Politically, of course, they become demagogue bait.

Those who want a lovely country should remember this: People who have real expectations of a better future don’t vote for demagogues or to fuck the system. Those who have no real hope, on the other hand, do.

As you sow, so you reap. The American (and Canadian) middle class was down with the immiseration of the poor and the closing of hope. Then the upper class and rich turned on them, and now they squeal.

So it is.

The results of the work I do, like this article, are free, but food isn’t, so if you value my work, please DONATE or SUBSCRIBE.


What Jair Bolsonaro’s Unfortunate Brazilian Victory Means


Actual Sovereign Nations and the End of the Unipolar Moment


  1. XFR

    As you sow, so you reap. The American (and Canadian) middle class was down with the immiseration of the poor and the closing of hope. Then the upper class and rich turned on them, and now they squeal.

    Are there any reliable figures on class mobility in either country going back many generations? The late 20th-century study I looked had the U.S. and U.K. with equal class mobility to within the error margin while Canada’s was quite dramatically greater than either one.

    This comported well with my own personal observations at the time, but it flies so violently in the face of the nigh-universal presumption that Canada held fast to the U.K.’s social form while the U.S. embarked on a “great experiment” in egalitarianism that it makes me wonder whether we were all being sold a bill of goods on this matter right from the very outset.

  2. XFR

    Argh, the text I was intending to quote above was

    There was a time in America (and Canada) where there was a good chance: a reasonable expectation, that poverty wasn’t for life.

  3. Herman

    Michael Lind has a good article touching on the issue of class mobility.

    “Classless Utopia versus Class Compromise”

    Lind argues that genuine class mobility, even in places like the Nordic countries, is not that common. Instead Lind focuses on “class warfare constitutions” like that of Republican Rome and the post-World War II/New Deal settlements that moderated class divisions.

    This brings up another issue that Lind discussed in another article, the difference between meritocracy and a more egalitarian system where everyone sees their life improve whether or not they went to college and got the right degree. Lind argues that our current system claims to be a meritocratic one hence the massive amount of frustration felt by those who fail to achieve success within the system, which is arguably the majority of people.


    The American middle class threw the poor under the bus because the American middle class really believed in the meritocracy theory of their success. They didn’t realize that their lifestyle was due to the power that unions used to have or the fact that they went to college at a time when it was affordable to do so and a college degree in almost any subject was considered valuable and a ticket to the middle class. Instead middle-class Americans thought they were all special snowflakes who earned all of their wealth and comfort without any help from unions or the government.

    Sadly, I don’t think middle-class Americans have learned their lesson. I still hear plenty of middle-class people complain about unions. Next time there is a transit strike in your city see how many of your supposedly liberal professional-class friends all of a sudden start talking like Republicans. I also hear plenty of complaints about the gall of low-wage workers to demand a higher minimum wage. You see they didn’t get the right skills so they should be condemned to a life of misery.

    I vacillate between thinking that Americans are victims and thinking that they deserve their fate due to their greed, selfishness and love of punching down on the poor. My heart genuinely goes out to poor, unemployed and struggling people but middle-class Americans are often hard to sympathize with given the attitudes that I see all of the time.

  4. Ché Pasa

    It’s not so much that the middle class is disappearing as it is that the middle class is reverting to form as the expert-servant class to the ruling elite.

    The notion that factory workers or low-rank civil servants were “middle class” was ahistorical, and the brief period when it was allowed (1946-1976 m/l) was an aberration.

    For most of US history the vast majority of people were poor. Historically, the US was definitely third-world, but so long as the Natives could be dispossessed and massacred and the frontier could be expanded, there were upward mobility options that were vanishingly rare in Europe even during the height of the Imperial period when the upper classes were the only ones to show consistent economic mobility — sometimes up, sometimes sadly down.

    The poor today are in some ways better off than, say, the poor during the Gilded Age. Infrastructure and services still exist for now that provide a measure of health and comfort that was not available to many of our ancestors. But those provisions, such as they are, are being restricted more and more. Many of the excluded poor have few — or no — options. That’s by design, and it’s working as intended to place strict limits on the ability of the untermenschen to unite in common cause and flourish.

    Every time somebody rails about overpopulation, don’t forget there are many policies in place to ensure that the Lesser People do not breed to excess or if they do, that they cannot survive for very long — unlike Their Betters, who can breed as they wish and can be sustained more or less alive for far too long.


  5. elissa3

    Herman, Thanks for the link to the Michael Lind article. “American Affairs” looks interesting enough that I’ve subscribed.

  6. different clue

    A very good example of ” sow . . . reap” would be Riverdaughter herself over at the Confluence. She supported Slicky Bill Clinton and all his Free Trade and DeRegulationary initiatives and continues to support them unto this very day. She supported sowing NAFTA mass jobicide against the thing-making classes. But then she complained of the unfairness of it all when the Corporate Globalonial Plantationists turned their attention to the Drug Industry.

    And indeed, in some of her posts, she said that Scientists should form themselves a Guild. NOT a union, a Guild.

    She and hers . . . the Clintonites . . . created the social and economic vacuum which has come to be filled with a new birth of mass poverty.

  7. Troutcor

    The economic role of the working class used to be to produce things.
    Now, it is to consume things.
    Cheap, unhealthy things, but things.
    This is the reality behind the obesity epidemic.
    It is also the reason credit is extended so “generously.” So the lower orders can keep buying rubbish goods.

  8. Pat McGroyne

    Canada and the US lumped together?

    Interesting. There’s only almost all of Western Europe ranking between them and only the Nordics doing better than Canada.

  9. mago

    The ultra affluent don’t eat high fructose corn syrup.

  10. Ian Welsh

    The trend in inequality and class mobility is the same in Canada. It is simply starting from a better place. The research is clear on this. And we are seeing the rise of demagogues in Ontario.

    Also, I live in Canada, I’ve seen it.

  11. In the old days the rich were fat, the poor were skinny.

    I’m not sure that’s quite accurate. The model is skewed to the cities.

    Beans and rice. For breakfast. With salsa and eggs and hot corn tortillas.

    My long-time doctor whom I haven’t been able to see in half our relationship, one reduced to encounters at the health food store, tells me I’m in better shape than twice the guys half my age.

    I don’t eat shit.

  12. Pat McGroyne

    I don’t think I would say that. Here, the evidence pretty consistently shows inter generational mobility declined through the 80s but has remained stable since the 90s. Evidence in the US is more mixed, with some reason to believe that their decline persisted longer before stabilizing at their lower level. We can point to whole range of long-enduring policies in support of higher mobility that either don’t exist down there or are vastly watered down. There’s good reason for us to be concerned as to whether our trend is going to continue, but overall much less than down there.

  13. Joan

    When I was in food service in the US, the employees had to buy their shift meal. We prepared all the food, and then were forced to buy it, or else go hungry for eight or more hours. As a result, everyone stole their shift meal instead. I was too scared to snip food off the line, but the bottom levels of our fridges were for newly expired food that would be carried to the compost dumpsters at the end of the day, so I ate that. With health code, if it was newly expired, it was often still edible. I remember not having the time or energy to buy groceries on my way home each day. I’d eat at work, go home just to sleep, then go to work the next day with a grumbling stomach. My blood sugar was probably all over the place because I felt terrible while I worked there, not to mention standing on a hard floor with no option to sit/lean and take my weight off my feet.

    Then when I was underemployed, I wondered whether my excess time could be used trying to make myself less reliant on money, and therefore less vulnerable to an employer throwing me under the bus. My great grandparents survived the Dust Bowl and raised young children during that time, so I tried to figure out what they did. Of course they had to rely on their church and local civic organizations, but otherwise, they grew their own food in the backyard and inside with pots, then pickled and canned in their cellar while the world fell to pieces around them. Once the dust progressed enough that their backyard became less viable, they had to get in on the grain rationing coming from the church. My great grandfather did shifts guarding the church storehouse at night with other men, and when he was home he slept inside the cellar with his rifle. He was traditionally unemployed during these years but he made himself useful. My goal is the same: to be able to keep eating and maintaining social ties even when the economy writes me off and climate change further upsets things.

  14. totti fan


    It’s actually a myth that high calorie diets need necessarily lead to obesity. Pasta, potatoes, rice etc can be consumed in large proportions, relatively cheaply and guilt free because of the way that the human body metabolises carbohydrates, ie excess carbs don’t turn to fat. There have been numerous largscale population studies “China study”, “Seventh Day Adventists”, “Okinawans” and controlled trials, (sample group is given substantial increase in white sugar to consume relative to control group, no appreciable weight gain results). Intuitively we know that those who eat traditional Asian diets high in carbs (rice) tend to be leaner and look younger.

  15. it’s not the potatoes per se that are unhealthy – it’s all the fat added when they are french fried or potato chipped

    in general people overestimate how much protein they need, and underestimate how protein there is in plant foods

    a shift away from eating animals and animal products would have a significant effect on release of climate change gases

    you could look at

  16. SpringTexan

    Just as a practical tip, eggs are probably the cheapest pretty quick and easy food to prepare that is pretty wholesome. (Although hot eggs such as scrambled or fried are more enjoyable, you can hard-boil a couple of dozen at once and then take a few to work or grab one quickly for a bite — I still do that when hurried even though I’m not poor any more.)

    When I was poor we used to eat rice with fried carrots and bean sprouts (cheap then as you could get the seed cheaply and grow at home, but I don’t think they are any more) as well as of course beans (but beans take time).

    I used to crave meat but didn’t get it. Potatoes were a good staple (and can be fixed quickly in microwave), bought in 5 pound bags.

    Canned tomatoes and tomato sauce are also not too pricey. (And no matter what they say about fresh vegetables, plenty of canned and frozen vegetables are great — though some fresh vegetables like cabbage aren’t that pricey and can be delicious — also collard greens.)

    You can make a lot of things in a crock pot. There’s a great Mexican soup with a few strips of bacon (I used to go buy three strips of bacon from the butcher who always looked at me funny that I bought so few), diced potatoes, onions, and 8 ounces of tomato sauce).

    When they still had “welfare” and poor mothers weren’t all working too, they used to offer home ec instruction sometimes to poor people so they’d know about preparing wholesome food cheap — but it’s work. And if you are totally exhausted or sometimes have two jobs . . . people buy fast food.

    But the point about time and effort is true.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén