Tuesday, April 10, 2007

SO WHAT DOES POVERTY TASTE LIKE?
A Sandwich, A Flashback, and Reflections on a Sadistic America

I've got a strong mind that doesn't have to be spoon-fed,
And I can read what doesn't have to be read...

-Revealed by the Prophet MC Serch, 3rd Bass,
From the epic poem, "Pop Goes the Weasel" [VIDEO],
Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-One, Anno Domini

OXFORD, Ohio (ZP) -- I stared down at my dinner plate, the startling revelation stripping me of my appetite as quickly as dysentery.

Before me lay a wonderful feast of a meal. The flatbread was moist and green with baked-in herbal goodness, the turkey covered in hummus and horseradish, the cheese sliced and fresh from the pre-sliced package.

I froze as I reached inside the bag of whitish, vitamin-filled seedlings, a strange sensation staying my hand from withdrawing the plant life.

* * * *

I flashed back to when I was a boy, back in rural Virginia, sitting on the porch of a childhood friend's family home, a four-room clapboard shack of a place, home to two parents, a grandmother, and five children.

You know, back in the ancient times, the Dark Ages. 1986, to be exact. Back when the cool kids wore red pleather jackets covered in zippers, while the rest of us waited for grunge to make our thrift-store flannel shirts cool again.

My friend and I sat on the porch, gnawing on leftover fried chicken and dry buttermilk biscuits smothered in melted WIC cheese. We split a warm can of Dr. Chek cola.

My friend's dad worked on a tobacco and soybean farm. Their entire family lived off maybe $500 a month. Without thinking twice about it, my friend's mother fed one more child than she could really afford to feed.

And it was one of the best meals I've ever had, sitting on that porch in Prince Edward County, Virginia, soaked in sweat from riding my bike all morning, savoring every bite taken as crickets chirped under the house, as the blacksnakes baked on the gravel county road.

I've dined in some of the finest restaurants in America. Emeril Lagasse's NOLA? I recommend the hickory-roasted duck. If you're ever in the Twin Cities, give the Loring Pasta Bar a try. Masa's is a must for any visit to San Francisco - great vegetarian menu. And the Tobacco Company's Escargot Rockefeller Stuffed Mushrooms remains the best example of Nouveau Southern cuisine to ever cross my lips.

But very few meals will ever top that one back in rural Virginia, the one given freely by a family that could barely afford to keep their electricity turned on or their rusted-out Olds Cutlass running.

* * * *

I slowly, cautiously, pulled a handful of sprouts from the package, careful not to waste even one sprig of the crisp, fresh greens.

Where I grew up, in red-clay poor Virginia, most people will never be able to afford such luxuries. Hell, there are folks who'll never see one lick of health insurance, will never have the opportunity to even complain about a dental plan. Think they're worried about additive-free food?

Right now, there are 14-year-old single moms who are the children of single moms that I went to school with, trying to split six bucks between diapers and food, trying to figure out the bullshit government assistance paperwork while (hopefully) trying to finish high school, too.

And I just whipped up a sandwich with a street value of more than eight bucks, one meal for one person.

Stupid fucking Conscience. Some nights, when I'm alone, it speaks the loudest.

* * * *

Back in the early 1980s, back before my mother went back to work after my sister was born, (my dad's factory job paid a whopping $800 per month, before taxes, which paid our portion of the farm expenses and kept food on the table), our family dinners consisted of cuisine that would send your average health nut running for the nearest treadmill.

Fatty, cheap pork chops, canned store-brand peas, and Top Ramen. Chopped Red Dye No. 4 colored wieners, stewed in pots full of generic, white-package Mac and Cheese.

My aunt made the world's best grilled WIC cheese and onion sandwiches, served with a dab of mustard and handfuls of deep-fried, trans-fat filled goodness from 99-cent family-size bags of cheese doodles. I had a distant relative who can make even the greasiest squirrel or gamiest opossum taste better than even the most expensive cuts of meat. The secret, of course, was in the sauce - Thrifty Made ketchup, a splash of vinegar, and about three pounds of salted lard and butter.

You know, it's a funny thing, poverty in America.

The United States is, in many ways, a sadistic society, a nation so twisted that its poorest citizens are made fat, and eventually killed, by a cornucopia of cheap foodstuff with barely enough nutritional value to be called food, while its wealthiest citizens are the only ones able to afford things like fresh produce, minimally-processed meats, and chemical-free cuisine.

Only in America do the poor get fat because they can't afford to eat like the rich. Only in America do the rich do terrible things to themselves to look famished, while the poorest folks are encouraged, through slick marketing and product placement, to Super-Size and Go-Large everything.

In other nations, poverty is marked by starvation or malnutrition. In the U.S.? poverty is measured, health-wise, in terms of morbid obesity and heart attacks.

* * * *

It wasn't the random flashback alone that disrupted my otherwise peaceful supper.

It was something that happened here in Oxford recently, while shopping at the local grocery store, that turned a simple meal and reflection into a painful, almost nauseating experience.

A group of young, affluent women - local undergraduates - had been shopping in the organic aisle next to me, buying some of the same foodstuff I was purchasing.

A very large woman (easily more than 500 pounds) was trying to make her way down the same aisle with a shopping cart full of all sorts of clearance and discounted items, mostly potato chips, soft drinks, fatty cuts of beef, and economy jars of mayonnaise and store-brand peanut butter. The woman had five young children with her, all overweight.

The clothes the family wore were old and stained, clearly hand-me-downs or yard sale finds. One of the kids, a cherubic blond boy, sported an Tupac Shakur tee-shirt from the mid-1990s, an adult shirt that stretched tight across his large preteen frame.

The woman seemed very self-conscious about her weight, as she was wider than her shopping cart, apologizing numerous times for having to pass through the usually not-so-tight aisle.

* * * *

After the woman passed, I returned to my shopping. The young, affluent, dangerously thin college students, however, were whispering and laughing to themselves.

"Can you believe somebody fucked that thing? Oh my God, if I looked like that, I'd shoot myself."

"Did you see that little boy? Like, talk about trailer trash."

"See Becky, I told you they had wiggers here. Fat ones."

It was the wigger comment that drove me to, well, force my way into their conversation. I'd had enough, really.

"Don't ya'll skinny-ass bitches have somewhere else to be? Seriously, you ain't all that, especially you with the buck teeth. You shouldn't talk. I didn't know Mr. Ed had a kid.

"And you? Who are you? I've seen better tits on goats. And what is that on your lip? You might want to wax that shit. You look like Hitler in drag..."

I lit 'em up. We're talking Old School snappin'. Haven't laid the verbal smackdown like that in years. Rusty, but I think each scathing remark was dead-on in terms of hitting its target.

Don't ever, EVER make fun of poor people around me. I was a big kid myself, too, and, well, being one of the very few white kids to graduate from a successfully integrated, ethnically diverse Brown v. Board public high school, I don't take kindly to the use of the word wigger.

The women just stood there, jaws maybe three inches from the floor. I thought one of the women was going to cry. I didn't care.

You see, people who view themselves as somehow perfect don't deal too well with the idea of imperfection. As long as there's an us and a them, there's aways a latent fear, some insult that tears deep into the psyche.

Why is it the self-described pretty people just can't take their own imperfections being exposed, but seem so quick to point out the imperfections of others? Do they not know it works both ways, that there's no such thing as perfect or universal prettiness?

* * * *

I managed to choke down my overpriced, homemade sandwich. Memories of my childhood and of recent experiences may have stripped my appetite, but my Conscience wouldn't let me walk away from it.

If you make a sandwich, even an eight-dollar sandwich, you'd better be willing to eat it, especially if you know what poverty really tastes like in Rural America.


Cause' I keep lookin' and huntin' just like a lion,
Let the suckas know that it's them that'll be dyin',
I show no remorse to the source of the tales,
And if they yell, then the hungry better battle...

- Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., in the Temple of the Faith No More,
"Just Another Victim," [VIDEO],
From the Judgment Night talking picture soundtrack,
Nineteen Hundred and Ninety-Three, Anno Domini

# # #


24 comments:

xboxgirl said...

This reminds me of when I ate just Ramen noodles with caned olives, caned tomatoes and sometimes green onions for a couple of years {pretty much} straight, that was ok, but having to eat only 'Jack in the Box' burgers every day for what seamed like years was bad [this bad diet stuff probably went on through about age 8 to 12].Because I got so tired of eating burgers, I ended up really hating burgers for a few years afterwords.

Anonymous said...

you know reading this reminds me of listening to the liberal hippy duche whine on south park. so you were a poor fat kid, big fucking deal.

Cat. said...

Er....

Speaking as a former teenage girl, I suspect their conversation was more about making themselves feel better about themselves, a la watching Jerry Springer and saying, "Well, at least my life isn't that bad." Mean, heartless and creepy...and very very human. I'd be more inclined to lecture them on sociopolitical stuff and tell them I'd check in on them in 10 years to see if they've crawled out of the muck yet.

On all other points in the post, however, I'm with you 100%. If I could be more than 100%, I'd be there!

Having never seen or heard the word "wigger" before, I am gobsmacked at its very existence. What an awful word, especially when used so completely mindlessly. I want to go disinfect my brain now....

The ZenFo Pro said...

Xbox:
Actually, I can't even stand the smell of canned LeSeur peas for that same reasons, or wax beans.

Lol, people always ask me why I don't miss being able to eat beef (food allergy). Um, well, getting up to 250-260 and having a cholesterol level more akin to a triple crown battling average kinda helped turn me off to the stuff...

Anon:
well, gee...thanks, I guess.

Cat:
Lol, you know, it is about making themselves feel better, but I've noticed, esp. around here, the rational approach rarely works with Local U. Millenials from EXTREMELY sheltered backgrounds, to the point of out-and-out ignorance.

I guess I should add that I'm talking about 21-22 y.o.s, about ready to enter the Real World.

A friend of mine once asked when I was going to finally develop "townie rage." This may be as close as I get, I think. I'd typically let things like this slide, be more diplomatic - if I were somewhere other than Oxford.

For example, the average Local U. student comes from a family with an average household income of over $200,000. For the non-student in this college town, the median per capita income $12,165, with almost half of the local pop. living below the poverty line. Almost 20% of children live in poverty, about 10% in almost Third World extreme poverty.

Trust me, many of the students around here have really been coddled, spoiled, and pampered to the point of near disconnect from reality. Sometimes, you just gotta go for the shock value, the verbal bitchslap.

Err...hope that makes sense.

jacob said...

Excellent post.

I had to refresh my memory of the wigger term. I was familiar with it but not enough to remember.

You're a very good writer.

I found this through cooper's site but admit that it was my wife, who sometimes flips through my blog links, who started reading you and suggested I start reading all your post more often.

Good stuff man.

I think it is great what I can find through links from other good stuff.

Jess said...

k dude you get a free pass for using yall in public :-) i did something like that last week in a store. these chicks were being so effing rude to this poor skater kid on the sidewalk b/c he looked poor. they called him white trash to HIS FACE! i went total fucking diva dude. hey i'm proud igrew up white trash and that makes me a survivor.

um i used to have buck teeth believe it or not. but i'll give you a pass on that

hehe no you *never* let things build up so you can brood about em later. And wtf? A FNM song I DON'T KNOW????

The ZenFo Pro said...

Jacob:
Hey, thanks. I've been known to lurk around your e-homestead every now and then...think I found it via Coop as well, actually.

Yeah, the Net is kinda like one giant Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, huh? :)

Jess:
Free pass? Lord...

Diva? Scared to ask. Doesn't surprise me, though. There are assholes everywhere.

Yeah, was wondering how many folks would take offense to the physical attributes attack. Trust me, there was nothing about "making fun" of looks involved at all, at least in terms of intent. This was, well, "strategery."

Lol, feel free to make fun of the spare tire around my obliques, my bad skin, large pores, scars, etc... and my mother's fair game, too. :)

cooper said...

I do think at times you are harsh on people but then again you are usually right.

This was an exceptionally good read. I often find myself passing through here and having to come back later to read in full because I want to give it my full attention.

You know how it is when you are flipping through the blogs sometimes you just give it a pass and a hey oh..not the case with you Jason.

HuneeB said...

This Jason is an excellent post, I know I mostly lurk but had to comment on this, I like this post. :)

The ZenFo Pro said...

Coop:
Wha? lil Inocent me? Harsh?

Heh. Probably a good thing that most other bloggers haven't ever had to endure the "By any Means Necessary" side of my offline personality.

Hey, at least I've yet to use "Some people will be the first against the wall when the revolution comes..." in a blog post... :)

Hell, I played in a hardcore band in high school whose anthems were songs about firebombing private boarding schools as an alternative to vouchers and selling hardcore drugs only in wealthy communities as an alternative to rural and inner-city self-destruction,as a means to "make paper."

Lol...I've at least matured a little bit... :)

Hey, thanks, hon. Seriously.

HuneeB:
Oh hey!!! Thanks for dropping the comment, chica! Long time, no hear!

Woeful said...

Thoughtful post ZenfoPro.

I grew up rather poor in the midst of a very affluent slice of America. Nothing like shopping at Goodwill when your peers are shopping at Neiman Marcus.

These things build character...

xboxgirl said...

He he he, I eat a fair amount of meat {though my cholesterol is good, partly because I'm rather active}, but ground beef [the stuff bugrers are made of] I don't eat to often. And you're the first person that I actually know of that has a beef allergy.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Woeful:
Gracias!

Lol, I heard that "character" thing a lot as a kid. And, you know, its true.

xbox:
Lol, there aren't many of us, actually. I still eat plenty of meat - and, lol, I admit that every once and a while, I still get a craving for squirrel...

Hey. What can I say? Those lil critters are tasty. I retired from hunting the suckers years ago, but...

Nah. Seriously,I try to maintain a fairly healthy diet, mainly because I'm running out of food that doesn'tmake me ill.

Chewie said...

i remember when you gave up squirrel..it was our freshman year in the dorms at greality and that damn stupid squirrel would rather eat a plastic wrapper than the apple you had gotten for it... that was so funny.. we yelled at that fat dumb squirrel for about an hour... good memories

xboxgirl said...

What do you mean when you say ''I'm running out of food that doesn't make make me ill'', do you have many food allergys, or something?

EsotericWombat said...

I'm trying to figure out if I've used "First against the wall when the revolution comes." Probably. I'm guessing you weren't referring to me though.

I've lately concluded that some of the denser forms ignorance cannot be dealt with gently. Good going.

Cat. said...

Point taken, Jason. I did think about mentioning the attack on their looks, btw, but was already grousing too much.

Re food allergies: have you been tested? My sister is allergic to corn, which is in everydamnthing (at least in processed food) and it took forever to nail it down. She's also got issues with MSG.

There's always tofu. :-) Unless you're allergic to soy..... OK, so how about lettuce? Lettuce should be safe. The ZFP Bunny.

Steph said...

And now I think I love you.

My Aunt married and Aboriginal man and chose to live on a "mission"= urban slum, with him. They raised five children and going to visit them, or have them visit me when i was a kid, nearly always resulted in me getting in various arguments/fights, with white, ignorant, middle class fucks.

Hats off to you. Good work.

The ZenFo Pro said...

Chew:
Lol, well haven't sworn off squirrel completely. I occassionally take squirrel and rabbit as "payment", esp. if doing volunteer work with local impoverished rural families.

Lol. Dumb Greeley squirrels.

Xbox:
Yeah, I have a few wierd ones. Can't drink cheap gin or Jager much, because I break out in a rash, etc.

Wombat:
Lol... okay, the fact that you would were trying to figure out if the "up against the wall..." crack was referring to you kinda proves, to me, your downright coolness, dude. :)

Actually, it's a phrase I use often offline, usually when something/one annoys me to the point of near snapping.

Cat:
Hey, I hope that didn't come across as rambling or offensive in any way. Grousing always welcome :)

I was actually reading another OxBlogger's hate mail when I was responding, just getting more and more pissed off, and lol, whenever I include something like that, I just get a bit defense.

When you read something like
... I will see to it that every single [Local U.] staff member will die cold, hungry, and alone ...
, sent via email from one student to another, wow...

Lol. I'm down with the bean curd. Oh hell yeah. Been tested, but, well, allergists are a bit like meteorologists...part voodoo.

Steph:
Lmao! Too funny.

I've heard similar things from your fellow countrymen in the past. The U.S. and Australia actually have some strangely similar problems with urban/rural cultural clashes, racism, various issues - sometimes, moreso than many of U.S. similaries with Canada.

Gracias :)

Kara said...

Jason~
I haven't left a message in a long while, but what you wrote is close to my heart. Even in the decent place that I grew up....there were times without food, heat and electricity. In fact, most of the time I was the one to get the phone calls and the find notices of foreclosure attached to the front door. I won't lie, it sucked. But I am thankful for it today because it taught me things that no amount of education or money can buy...things like compassion, empathy, and strength...Yes, I truly am thankful for those times...and for the current state of my finances, because I am continuously humbled. I am sure that you will not be surprised that your post about ignorance makes me think of a specific verse in Hosea..."My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge" Hosea 4:6. Anyway, thanks for the awesome post. I hope you are well!
Kara

Kara said...

J~
WHy would I leave just one comment when I can leave two?
Is there a reason that all of your menu options are showing up in Russian? I am trying to figure out if it's my computer or your site....I don't mind of course, since I understand it...but just wondering!
Lata~
K

The ZenFo Pro said...

Kara:
Lol. The Russian. That's all you, chica! I don't even have a cyrilic script installed anymore...

And yes, it is a wonderful thing to be able to know humility. It is something that cannot be purchased, or taught.

But it should be learned.

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