Monday, July 21, 2008

Food and class

Foods that indicate low status
Anything from jars or cans
Junk food
Fried foods
Frozen juices
Asian food (especially Curry & Stir-fry)
Skim milk
Cooking with oil instead of butter

Foods that indicate high status

Meat (boneless, skinless, and white)
Non-water beverages (coffee, juices, milk, etc)
Cheeses that aren’t cheddar
Fresh produce
Foreign (read European and Mediterranean) foods
Bakery/hard-crusted bread

Varied condiments (ie. More than one type of mustard, salsa, etc.)
It was important to my mother that we didn't eat "like poor people." When I would petition for vegetables (and eventually when I came out as a vegetarian), my mother would scoff and say things like "we can afford meat so we shall have it. Why settle for things beneath you?" It was similarly important that we were not the kind of people who ate processed meat, who ate meat from a can (to this day I’ve never had tuna salad), who ate meat that had been pressed into patties; we were the kind of people who ate white meat, who ate pulled meat, who bought boneless everything. My mother bought an extra freezer to house the bulks of bargain priced flesh. More than any other aspect, food was the way my mother choose to assert her class ascendancy.
When I would complain about chicken again, she would tell me of days when she was of a lower military rank (with a correspondingly lower pay scale) and she would eat an English muffin for dinner three nights a week. I once told her, “You could buy so much ramen for the price of a pack of English muffins” Disappointed that I had missed the point, she embarked to instill in me that if you have to, then you should eat less, not compromise the quality.

What the thing poor people didn't understand was how to shop wisely (buy in bulk) and how to buy foods that were nourishing. Her tone would be full of judgment as she would list the junk food in my aunt’s cupboard (they were on food stamps). Surely I could see that it was a grievous miscalculation on the part of the government to let poor people decide what to buy with their aid.

Things seem to come full circle as I stall grocery shopping in wait for Wednesday, when I can apply for food stamps…

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