“Tiny Tim,” said Mum, “stop savoring that gruel before someone thinks we’re not poor.”
Megan McArdle posts a letter from a reader which argues that poor people wouldn’t be so fat if they loved money more than Cheetos:
As someone who works in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles–land of the perfect body–I totally agree that government pressure will do nothing to make people lose weight. People will only give up one pleasure in exchange for a more intense pleasure. And if you’re poor and miserable, and eating is the high point of your life, you’ll always reach for the cheetos.
I suspect the only way people will change their behavior is a sudden desire to move up the social ladder. Being thin and attractive gives you a competitive edge, especially if you live in a city with lots of talented people. The moment someone I know suddenly gets ambitious, or makes partner, or needs investors, they start losing weight. In California, being fat will hurt any career, whether you’re a doctor, lawyer or accountant. We all take our cues from television/movie industry and the message is clear: you must be sexually appealing, no matter what you do. And so we tune out the Dominos commercials and reach for the tuna. Thank God for sushi, or we’d all go crazy.
No one I know is starving, but no one is ever full. But the point is we’re compensated in other ways…
There’s a belief about poverty, evinced most commonly in the “why you has cell phones?” argument, that anything involved in poverty which has utility or, god forbid, pleasure attached to it is ultimately an indication that the person is not really poor. Even worse, the presence of anything even remotely pleasurable (and pleasure is being defined as loosely as humanly possible as “things which are not soul-rendingly terrible”) is evidence that poverty is itself a choice, the most comfortable thing for people without the drive or ambition to do more than work three jobs and wait for the bus at 5:40 in the morning.
This comment, and McArdle’s tacit endorsement of it, are a depraved level of stupid. It would be the equivalent of me saying that the reason people have children is because they’re too intellectually incurious to figure out other things to do with their free time, or that the reason people become faux-libertarian faux-economist bloggers is because being six feet tall and female makes you otherwise unemployable in socially useful pursuits.
Poverty, theoretically, should not make you the marionette of others’ social expectations. High-calorie, low-nutrient food is insanely cheap. My local Meijer is selling both boxes of Cheese-Its and bags of Dole lettuce mix at three for five dollars. A cup of Cheese-Its has 312 calories, a cup of lettuce has seven calories. A rational person with little money, even if they absolutely love the leafy crap out of lettuce, is going to go for the higher-calorie food, even if it’s worse for them. Making anything even remotely filling out of a lettuce is going to require you to buy other vegetables, cheeses and proteins, which pretty much means that for a budget-conscious shopper, it’s not only a useless purchase, but perhaps even a counterproductive one. A package of microwaveable brand-name hot dogs is $2.50, a package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts requiring seasoning and cooking is $2.39. Hungry Man dinners and Healthy Choice dinners are the same price, and one promises twice the calories of the other. A pound of generic Cheetos is $1.25 a bag, as is a bag of baby carrots. Healthy eating is the pleasure denied here. Except for the microwaveable dinners, the ability to buy food which requires the purchase of yet other foods in order to constitute actual meals is the luxury – not to mention preparation time, the shorter viability for fresh foods, even the fact that they require types of storage that a box of crackers doesn’t. You have to spend extra money just to make the food you actually bought worth buying.
It’s really very sweet that McArdle and her reader are willing to understand the plight of the miserable poor who just can’t derive as much pleasure from being a highly successful professional with a paid electric bill as they do from eating puffed corn coated in authentic orange dust. However, on behalf of the poor, I respectfully ask that both of them stop being fucking morons.