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March 10, 2004



so well said, thank you!


Hugo, I feel like you're always making incredibly good and compelling points that address an issue in a way I had never even thought to consider it. You've done it again and I love it.

Brian Auten

I agree, and I don't.

Yes, it is true that economically-disadvantaged neighborhoods are plagued with fast-food chains, liquor stores, check-cashing places. It is true that families in poorer areas usually have little to no time for exercise or planned meals, and, like you say, don't have the disposable income for $7 sushi and Hansen's. No quarrel there.

Nevertheless, it does not follow that fast-food places are liable in any legal sense. There's no addictive substance involved. There is no compulsion. There's a clear lack of choices, but McDonalds, etc. are not legally responsible for that lack of choice. A lack of choice may appear to be compulsion, but it is not. This is, pure and simple, a case of McDonalds, etc. being viewed as potential 'deep pockets'.


I broadly agree with Brian, but are things really that bad? Here, even the poorest can afford at least some vegetables. (Tofu, no. Cabbage, yes.) Many choose not to,(Maori and PI especially seem to prefer fatty food, like the kind of food they'd have had in the Islands) but everyone can. Is that because NZ is an agricultural country? And if it is, and the US is different, why are farmers still paid subsidies in the Midwest, if LA is desperate for vegetables? Something doesn't add up here. Can you explain this?


Thanks all of you for good points.

Brian, I do agree that liability is a separate issue. My real issue was with the way Anderson phrased the problem, as one solely of personal choice.

John, in suburban areas, the choice and quality of vegetables is superb. It is much better than it was when I was a child! But because supermarkets are afraid to open in urban areas, excellent produce is rarely available.


"To make choices freely, Mr. Anderson, one has to have the income to afford choices. One has to have access to the choices in the neighborhood in which one lives. And one has to have the time to prepare and consume a healthy meal."

Hugo: You are one of the busiest people I know; a persoanl chef, fixing good, healthy meals would certainly help. But, you can't afford that. Yet you still find a way to eat healthy. Income impacts the number of choices; it does for all of us. But, it doesn't take away all choice. To assume that it does infantilizes those with fewer choices.


Oh Steve, why do you insist on drawing distinctions when I so love my sweeping generalizations? Really quite irritating! ;-)


Can I make your statement as my signature? I give you the credit of course :)


You betcha!


It doesn't take away all choice, Stephen, but as you say, there are degrees of choice, and pretending that they are all the same ('they CHOOSE to eat that way') is mistaken. It's not infantilizing anyone to point out that the affuent inhabitants of a wealthy town with farmer's markets and nice grocery stores have more healthy food choices than the financial-assistance dependent residents of a city that has plenty of convenience stores but no produce market.

La Lubu

Amen, mythago.

Plus, Stephen, the lack of transportation limits food choices. If you have no car, and bus service is limited to daytime working hours only (and limited Saturday service, and no Sundays), you're going to have a hard time making it to the store. Or if you live in an even smaller city with no bus whatsoever, and need to rely on a friend or relative to take you to another city to shop for groceries, it's that much harder. Meanwhile, there's the local fast-food joint....it's there, and the closest store is a five-mile walk one way (which takes time, and in the evenings may not be a safe walk, particularly for women). What to do? Well, most folks opt for the fast food.

And they know it's not healthy. But neither is getting hit on the head by some mugger, and having all your grocery money stolen. Or trying to march small children on that ten-mile walk.

John, here in the U.S., the trend for grocery stores is to maximize profits by creating "superstores"; usually located by highway interchanges or large shopping malls. There aren't neighborhood grocery stores anymore, really---they're an endangered species. Combine that with a lack of transportation (being too poor for a car, or being disabled and thus not able to drive). Now, mix with a liberal dose of destruction of community (high mobility, fewer formal or informal community institutions), and voila! lots of food in the suburbs, very little choice in the isolated, impoverished inner city and rural areas. I assume things are different there in NZ.


While I can accept that poverty is indeed a bitch, I refuse to let go of the fact that thus country remains, despite its more recent shortcomings, the land of opportunity. There are many people here, who despite having been born in to this land where anyone can strive for a good middle class life, refuse to strive for anything and therefore end up with "not much."

And while I have sympathy for them in the ideal sense, in the practical / real sense, my sympathy is limited to pointing out that each individual alone is responsible for their own choices.

Marrying the wrong person and having kids with them? No sympathy from me. A woman divorcing someone and having the nerve to act surprised when she and her children fall victim to poverty and low motivation from the children? No sympathy from me. Having group problems and yet refusing or being unable to come up with an intelligent political solution to your own problems? No sympathy from me.

Hugo is right, poverty does tend to limit choice. But enough poverty in this country is self-imposed, and too many solutions involve taking money from my ass to support someone else's ass I've never met - and that will never fly with me.


and too many solutions involve taking money from my ass to support someone else's ass I've never met

Welcome to living in a nation. My tax dollars go to support things I don't use and never will. That's the nature of the beast.

As for "poor choices," I'm going to assume you've always had perfect information and the ability to see the future; therefore, you would never make a perfectly reasonable mistake in a relationship, such as failing to recognize a psychopath, or choosing somebody who subsequently develops an addiction.

It's also false that everyone has the same set of choices, freely made and freely available. Your choices are affected by your parents' and your immediate society's choices. Anyone can "choose" to go to an Ivy League college, but it's a heck of a lot easier for somebody going to good schools, with involved parents, who gets enough to eat and enough to sleep, than for somebody whose only living parent is a drug addict,who attends substandard schools, and who has to work part-time to make sure his younger siblings have food on the table.


mythago - I don't know what to make of your second paragraph. Personally I've made plenty of mistakes, but have only outright failed at three things: teaching at West Islip High school, trying to create love with a girl when the circumstances were very against it, and trying to let love with another girl develop from a strong friendship. But when I've made mistakes, I've always been the one to come around and correct them, or suffer the consequences. I don't expect anyone to bail me out. I expect anyone else who wants to be seen as an adult to do the same.

But if it was for my divorce comment, those two reasons you gave are adequate reasons for divorce - but very few actual divorces stem from those reasons. Many times a woman will just "not feel in love with you anymore" and use that as grounds for a divorce. If she suffers as a result of that, that's her problem, not mine.

As for your last paragraph, I agree with you - but I fail to see how that's my problem. Class inequalities will always exist. Jesus himself even said so! But I fail to see how it's my responsibility to correct problems which the supreme being himself said are insoluble.


but very few actual divorces stem from those reasons. Many times a woman will just "not feel in love with you anymore" and use that as grounds for a divorce

"Very few" and "many times" are rather vague actual reasons.

But I went by what you said--which is that you don't have sympathy for someone who marries the wrong person.

Jesus didn't say that it was therefore OK to sit on your butt and do nothing, or enjoy your privilege. There's a saying in the Talmud that it's not your job to correct the world--as Jesus said, clearly impossible--BUT that does not excuse you from making any effort. (Jesus also told us to give away all our worldly possessions, you may recall.)


Just another bit to throw into the mix: Along with the fluorescence of fast-food availability, working single motherhood, and all-around urbanization in _any_ locale, there is a marked decline in Americans' basic knowledge of how to cook with the aforesaid vegetables and other healthy foods. NCLB and college prep both put the squeeze on Home Economics enrollment/availability. When even the middle class don't know much about cooking from scratch (despite access to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's), it's hard to imagine an impoverished resident of south-central L.A. whipping out a cookbook to prepare a healthy home-cooked meal.


Actually, what Brian said is NOT actually accurate. If you read "Fast Food Nation" and do a little checking with your old chemistry professor, you will find that there ARE additives placed in food in several fast food "composition vats", if you will, that DO make that food more addictive to the palate.

Not even taking into consideration the media literacy that's required to even know that information sources exist that can even raise this issue, I find it even more infuriating than Professor Hugo that these restaurants are quietly urging Congress to divest them of any liability when they are literally actively contributing to the growth of fast food addiction in this culture.

I say this as someone who has lost sixty pounds by relinquishing fast food and doing a layperson's study of nutrition and exercise requirements - it was almost like getting another degree just to learn how to eat in this culture where most of the nutrition is leached out of our food - and no one even really knows it. I'm not even going to get started on the price and availability of organic food - and I live in New York City, where EVERYTHING is supposed to be available to ANYONE.


Two thoughts:

1) What happens if we allow lawsuits against fast food places? They go out of business or raise prices. Then people in poverty stricken areas will have nowhere to go for cheap food.

How does that solve any problem?

2) Why don't those people who are so concerned about this issue pool their money and open supermarkets in poverty stricken areas? They can then solve the problem themselves by selling cheap, healthy food.

Or is this another case of people not wanting to put their money where their colelctive mouthes are?

La Lubu

Joseph, I wouldn't recommend filing a lawsuit against fast-food establishments, but I would recommend not spending your money there!

There's certainly nothing wrong with pooling money and trying to start a store, but the thing is most folks just don't have that sort of money! It's the type of business that requires more than a shoestring's worth of investment. Much easier is starting a neighborhood bulk-buying club or a food co-op. However, the mobility of most cities, especially in poor and/or working class areas, makes even those enterprises hard to sustain. They are low-money, high-personal time investment operations. When I first moved here, there was a food co-op that I eagerly joined---I didn't have a car and had a hard time accessing affordable healthy food. (I happened to walk past it shortly after I arrived, otherwise I'd never have known of its existence). I paid my dues and did part-time work at the co-op. But as the years went on, most of the people involved with starting the co-op moved away, others had kids (and hence, less time to devote to the co-op), and there were few people left to keep it running. Add to that a few frequent moves (due to property changing hands; we were renters) and the cost/pain-in-the-ass thereof, and eventually the co-op folded.

Some cities are recognizing this (food access) as a problem and are starting initiatives to attract grocers to lower-income neighborhoods. And the bold folks at City Fresh Foods are providing hot, home cooked meals for schoolchildren and seniors (who even have the choice of traditional, Latin, Caribbean, or Russian cuisine!). Hope that becomes a trend. Farmer's markets are gaining in popularity, as are neighborhood gardens. My neighborhood has a garden across from my daughter's school now---much better than the trash-strewn, weed-filled empty lot it used to be. The technical expertise is volunteered by one of the larger urban organic farms (nice guys, they are). They hope to be large enough to start a CSA program next year---another workable idea for bringing cheap, healthy food to folks who need it.

People will put their money where their mouths are when it comes to buying food---if there are options on where to spend that food money.


Fair enough answered.


Where do you buy your tofu? For a dollar, I can buy enough tofu for six people at the local ethnic market. There are ethnic markets in Compton. Not every corner grocery is a liquor store/ lottery outlet rip off.

At an ethnic market, I can buy bananas for $0.25 a pound, broc for $0.49 a pound, limes 10 for a dollar, apples $0.40 a pound, raw peanuts a dollar a pound and so on.

If anyone here really cared about the poor, their food sources and independent family owned businesses, you'd shop at your local family-owned ethnic market rather than the snooty organic wannabes, the chain supermarkets gone delis and the big box retailers. Who are you really kidding?


Even in the face of poverty and the fact that big corporations take advantage of that, everyone can make choices. I know. For years, I was poor as punch. Just thinking of spending what little I had on food was an every day anxiety attack. Yet I managed to remain a health-conscious vegetarian during the bulk of that terrible time. It wasn't easy, but vegetables are relatively cheap (maybe not tofu, but legumes are), and if you take the time to build up a small pantry (even if it's in your clothes closet), cooking is cheaper than a Big Mac habit (which overtook even me for a short while).

Also, personal responsibility is all we have in the face of these disgusting corporations. If any business owner's would think to open a healthy, yet cheap "drive-thru" in these neighborhoods, which would they choose? I'd be curious to see.



Why do we keep insisting that a healthy diet is more expensive than a cheap one? I live in Harlem and Work in the South Bronx. Any visit to a Chinese restaurant will show you why so many in the inner city are obese. Healty lunch sized portions of steamed chicken and vegetables or hearty soups are passed over in favor of more costly dinner portions of deep fried chicken, french fries, ribs, ect. A relatively low calorie slice of pizza costs $1 per slice, yet people spend 4 to 5 dollars more on high-calorie McDonalds meals. Every bogega sells fresh fruit for 25 cents a piece, yet parents routinely line their children up after school at the Mr. Softee ice cream truck to pay several times that amount for ice cream bars. Further, when people cut chips, cookies, doughnuts, high-sugar cereals and sodas out of their diets and fill up more on beans, legumes and fruit, they SAVE money. I could go on, but you get the point.


A Big Mac may be cheaper than some healthy restaurant, but aren't poor people allowed to cook at home? Or is that a choice only rich people can afford? To me, it would make more sense for poor people to quit complaining about fast food joints in their neighborhoods, and save money by cooking their own healthy food at home. The truth is that many poor people aren't unhealthy because they're poor. They're unhealthy--and poor--because they make bad decisions. (In America at least--in other countries the opportunities do not exist. However, in this country many people choose to drop out of school, do drugs, have children, curse out their bosses and then complain about being poor.)
People argue that we should have freedom of choice, but then they argue against people suffering the consequences of their choices. You can't have it both ways.


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