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Friday, April 3, 2015

What happens when a bank executive, an attorney and a CHOC vice president eat only food from a South County Outreach pantry? Answer: Nothing

At this point, I have written extensively about my mere brush against the fear of possibly facing poverty during the economic crash.

We struggled for two years while my husband looked for work and we took care of our twin babies best we could while managing a house we could no longer afford. We used government programs to supplement our meager income until we could afford to get off.

But what we never did? What we never did was face poverty itself. Yes, there are many in the middle class who are experiencing very scary changes in their lives. They are needing assistance, they are swallowing massive debt, they are forced to sell off their belongings, they can no longer afford the lifestyles they once had, even though those lifestyles may not have been anything close to resembling lavish to begin with.

They are like us. Scared of the very real possibility of poverty, but not poor. Not poor.

Those who actually experience poverty exist in a world that the 'new poor' have yet to have to deal with. My mother grew up in a world where if one of the children lost the week's paycheck, her entire family didn't eat that week. So many of my friends have to choose between keeping the lights on or feeding themselves. Moms go without meals so they can clothe their children.

That is poverty. And that is not what I experienced. And it is certainly not what three high-powered families experienced when they agreed to eat nothing but food from a local food bank for three whole days.

The rules were simple. No grocery shopping. They must eat what they get from the pantry only. Except not, because they could supplement with whatever food they already had in their pantry.

This, like all "I witnessed the other side for a week" stories, is disgusting to me.

First, the operators of the food bank talk about how lucky these families were that there was so much fresh produce that particular week. They said sometimes there's not nearly so much good food available.

Which means that those rich families took fresh food, a rare and hard to come by delicacy, from people who are actually hungry. Not for three days, or months, but as a life.

Second, three days of pantry food plus food they already have in their homes is not 'seeing how the other side lives'. It's a voyeuristic vacation, swathed in privilege and entitlement. It's insulting to see an article that starts out with spoiled milk and talks about a child asking her friends to pack extra crackers in her lunch and being worried that people will judge her for her different school lunches. It's insulting not because those things didn't happen, or don't happen on a regular basis for those who are truly in need. It's not insulting because of its attempt to raise awareness amid those doing better in their lives. It's insulting because taking the time to write about a few well-off families and their experiment with poverty for a few days makes a mockery of the very real struggles other people are going through day in and day out throughout their entire lives. As if this experience would make any difference at all.

You know what would have made a difference? If those families had pledged to donate money or time to the food bank they utilized for this event. If they had campaigned for better programs to help those truly in need rather than just sit back and say, 'wow, all those people are right! Poverty sucks.' then wiped their brows in relief over the knowledge that they were successful enough on their own to afford milk whenever they want or need it.

As it stands now, this is just another embarrassing experiment in classism.


  1. I am slightly offended by the experiment of those three rich families. My family visits a sort of a food bank on a weekly basis. It's not really a food bank, because you pay $25, but you get all donated and very close to already expiring food. And we are so grateful to have it. Last week we got about 15 zucchini. And the week before, 5 pounds of shredded cabbage. The groceries aren't ideal, but you except them with a smile and do what you can with them. We are nowhere near poverty, but I am offended that some people are making a big deal about them 'trying out' what it feels like to be poorer than they are.

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