The disconnect between cooking tips and reality

I noticed a topic posted and then withdrawn. However, because the title so intrigued me, I did a little bit of research and found this: ‘Why Budget Tips are Useless for Low-Income Families’ and I have to say, it really contributes something essential to some fairly tiresome debates.

Namely, ‘The often overlooked reality is that it’s actually not simple for many people, especially low-income parents and other caregivers. Obstacles like unpredictable shift work, unreliable appliances, lack of easy access to fresh food and the very high expectations of modern parenting can make budget cooking (and thus, any fresh home cooking) downright unreachable. For those folks, there’s simply not enough time to prep inexpensive staples from scratch, and not enough money for time-saving market solutions afforded to others.’

I know I have grown weary of those Michael Pollan styled critiques of all the ways people eat and the advocacy for forms of simplicity and affordability that ignore the hidden associated costs. This involves ignoring the realities of food apartheid (the term for food deserts that recognises the systemic and structural aspects rather than naturalising with some idea of accidental landscapes) which not only curtail accessibility but which require additional time and transportation resources. It also involves ignoring the realities of how not everyone has access to or space for working appliances and equipment or storage.

If you’re like me, you might appreciate a link that says what needs to be said so that you don’t have to write it all up yet again when someone smugly announces how low cost their home made dinner made from items carefully picked up from 10 farmers markets, 3 supermarkets and their home gardens were-- not to mention healthful etc. It drives me crazy that people cannot comprehend the realities of what it means to be poor. Of course, I doubt those people would read this, but at least it’s a link and not a fully and carefully crafted essay you wrote hoping to clearly communicate ideas to someone who is just ready to blame the poor for everything they face.


I read that story and was going to post it. Glad you did.

I hadn’t really thought about it in terms of food - at least the way the article describes - but it is something I stress for some of my clients with respect to technology. People (and municipalities and governments) often talk about how easy they’ve made things … “now you can just do it on your phone” - forgetting not everyone still has a phone, an updated enough phone to use their platform, or reliable data plans.

It was a good read to think about those same limitations when food is involved.

I remember having a discussion with someone and they brought up Costco’s chicken as an example of cheap healthy food. Had to remind them of the members ship fee - and not everyone can afford the cost of buying in bulk (and have to have a car to get all the bulk items home) - maybe that was in the article too. I should re-read it.


At least in the UK, the dominence of supermarkets has been a significant contribution to the lack of availability of fresh food in low income areas. They are generally located on the edge of urban areas so not readily available if you do not have your own transport (couple that with a local of public transport in rural areas and there is a major problem). Supermarkets have put out of business many local butchers and greengrocers which would have previously served low income areas. And, even if one can get to a supermarket, you have to buy in the pre-packed quantities which may well be a waste for, say, single people.

a BBC article on food poverty in the UK -


I’m really not impressed at all with the article. That is not to say there isn’t a problem. The article is not going to the root of the problem and is foundational for the culture of being a victim and a multi-generational dependence on social services. Note this is from a US perspective on an article about conditions in the US.

I agree entirely that “budget healthy eating” that includes appliances like an Instant Pot (a stupid device in my opinion regardless of income) are not helpful. Here in the US we have lost the life skills young people used to get in home economics and shop. In poor communities we have a demonstrable lack of familial support for the value of education.

I also agree on the foolishness of “cheap” meals based on driving all over town, especially for those without cars. Food deserts are a reality here in the US. People in my town walk to Rite-Aid for groceries at high prices, with limited choices, because Giant Food is too far and public transportation is not very good.

I will say that the article implies that meal planning happens when you aren’t doing anything else. I would point out that sitting on a bus to work is a grand time for meal-planning. You can’t do that in a car. I see elitism in the article in this respect. The problem is not in planning. It is in knowledge and access to shopping.

We need to do much better to break people out of dependence on social services. We need to do better at education for life skills AND job skills. We need to do better at public transportation.

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I’m skeptical this thread can avoid becoming political as it has already veered that direction.
@Harters Do they use the term food desert
over there?

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We do.

This newspaper article discusses the issue. You’ll see map of the UK which highlights a number of areas. One is Hattersley. It’s a large low income social housing estate in the borough where I used to work.

It was always an area that was going to have issues. Created in the 1960s to rehouse folk whose original homes were being demolished as slums were cleared from the inner city. The immediate problem was that it was miles away from their original homes - and employment!


I’m not sure why you had to confirm with Harters, seeing as I’m ‘over there’-- ‘food apartheid’ is the term some are adopting for the reasons I outlined.

As to ‘political’, probably, but also, so too are those posts that are giving the tips without thinking about the systemic issues. Food is political. But let’s hope this doesn’t become a s***show.

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Inherently. As is poverty - which is at the root of this particular discussion.


No intent to sleight your input and experience.

OK, I will cross the line into politics with my take on this (for the UK).

Apartheid is a good description. Poverty is probably the great divider in society. It is not just food, but housing, education, health (and health care), life expectancy, becoming a victm of crime and, no doubt, other indicators. Folk who live in the poorer areas of the borough where I worked will be disproportionately adversely affected by all these indicators, as compared with the better off areas of the borough. It is, indeed, almost the very definition of apartheid as “separate deevlopment”. Here, it is blatant and nasty.


Interesting article from The Guardian. The terminology “food swamp” was new to me. My town of Annapolis MD has a lot of transitional areas where housing for the poor nestles up against more well off housing. No food swamps, in fact quite expensive restaurants are more available than fast food. Thus shopping for groceries at Rite-Aid (a chemist for our friends across the water).

An observation in the article quite struck me.

A survey carried out as part of the study found that nearly a third of respondents reported that lack of money was the biggest barrier to eating healthily (29%), followed by lack of time to cook (22%). Some 18% said they did not know how to cook healthy meals.

I lump “lack of time to cook” in with not knowing how as in most cases that is–my observation–the real problem.

I’ll elaborate on my rant above about life skills. Children are becoming adults without knowing how to budget, plan meals, shop, cook, change a tire, hang a curtain, or fix a door knob. When I was in school (why does writing that make me feel old?) almost all the girls took home economics and most of the boys took shop. I was fortunate. My junior high school (now called a middle school in the US) had an outstanding Industrial Arts program (shop) so when I got to high school I took home economics and typing. THAT was a challenge to get through the bureaucracy. grin I count myself lucky and not just because all the girls where in Home Ec. Here in the US most school districts have looked at those programs as discriminatory and disestablished them. sigh Instead of opening them up better they cancelled them. As a result we have kids going off to college or uni who cannot take care of themselves. Of course we can say that parents should teach life skills. There is a good deal to be said for structured instruction. We know it isn’t working as cooking groups on Reddit and Facebook are swamped with kids asking how to feed themselves in school.

Certainly there are many things we can do to improve the lives of those less fortunate. How do you make up for a lack of basic skills?

We can go on at great length here on HO (and have) about whether ricotta or bechamel is more authentic in lasagna while there are people who aren’t comfortable cooking pasta and heating a jar of sauce. We’re talking about healthy eating for people who can’t–or won’t–steam broccoli.

In my view, and others may reasonably differ, the place for life skills is in school. Parents can add to that, as they can and many do at home. Jeepers, we had dinner table discussions about applications of calculus. I thought everyone had homework assigned at dinner. grin

I agree we’re skirting politics here. I’ll try to step back from the precipice. Much as we enjoy cooking ourselves we should look for ways to share that enjoyment and the skills that support it with those who follow in our wakes.

Now about ricotta v. bechamel… grin

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Dude, you didn’t skirt politics, you jumped right in once you decided that your personal perspective could rewrite what is mean by ‘not enough time’. You also did so when you presumed that people weren’t already multitasking. Being a caregiver (of children, of parents, of others) and holding multiple jobs AND managing one’s own household takes a massive toll on available energy and space in the mental load. Assuming one can jump in and tell people they aren’t managing it well (and as a heterosexual man, you are statistically more likely to hold much less of the mental load in your household) IS a political act in that you refuse their realities in favour of yours.

And we haven’t even begun to factor in matters of location, appliances, transportation options, and health. Meanwhile, race, class, and gender cut across all of those.

It takes tremendous privilege to be able to indulge much of the advice, however well meaning. It is a serious political problem when people refuse to think about these dynamics, and declare them off topic because they are ‘political’. Ignoring these is also a political act.

I know you mean well, but no amount of grinning will temper these growing problems.


You make many assumptions. The only one that is correct is that I am a heterosexual male. I do most of the household management. My wife and I both have 60-70 hour/wk jobs but I am better disposed for work around the house. Location is important. I noted public transportation and food deserts. We would be in a bind without cars as the nearest public transportation is a two mile walk. In fact public housing in my town has more options than we do. If you have a stove and an oven appliance arguments are moot. An Instant Pot is not a meaningful contribution. What else could you mean? Race, class, and gender are not relevant. Poverty and knowledge are the issues.

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Since our son began is food adventures at home before he started school, our belief has always been life skills and awareness of the world begin at home then enhanced and grown thru other forms of education.

Empathy and expanding your world view can and should be ageless anyway.

You don’t need to be a educator to be a mentor or volunteer.

We all eat. Placing limitations on food access leads to loss of potential greatness in every community.


I only declared it political because I’ve already been taken down in a previous thread, as were others, for discussing food in a political way.
Choice of the management what they want to allow. I want to abide by the rules.

Yikes. Good quality food access is most definitely tied to socio-economic status, so these topics will invariably swerve political, IMO.

My own personal experience, growing up with 1st generation immigrant parents who definitely fit the lower-income bracket, is that my parents were lucky to get away with both working 1 job each and getting subsidized housing. Back in those days, working FT for each parent would still allow for them to raise a family.

In my city today, I think that is almost unthinkable that families living in the lowest bracket can survive living on 1 job. Wages absolutely have not kept pace with the rising cost of food, housing and other necessities. I know many who have to take multiple jobs to afford housing, transportation, food and other necessities for children. Maybe there is the possibility of small luxuries like a cell phone, internet, and other items that would make finding a better job easier.

To say that most of these people don’t know how to cook healthy foods is certainly not reflective of my experience or the people I know. I know many who already cook and would readily do more of it and cut down on processed short cuts, if they had the time to do so. With that being said I do think there are whole segments of the population who don’t cook because of lack of interest or skill, and I often find these cooking tips to be geared toward that narrow segment.


This can apply to folks lucky enough to work one job but sacred silly into thinking full retirement is an option when every news outlets tells us to keep working if you are able.

The reality is uncertainty. We can all benefit from seeking skills no matter your age, financial situation or time management. Eating is a part of that life choice.

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If your parents and grandparent never cooked, chances are you never learned how to. I took a couple of Home Ec (girls only back then!) classes in high school, butmy mother was a good cook and there were other good cooks in my family, so I was lucky. I had a good friend come over for dinner once, we were in our 20s. I served steamed broccoli. She didn’t know what it was, or how to eat it, she’d never seen it before- and her parents owned a restaurant! It was actually a really good Mexican restaurant, broccoli isn’t historically a traditional Sonoran ingredient, but good lord- there were six kids in that family. She said her mom would make ONE box of Kraft mac & cheese for all of them. That was forty years ago and it still blows me away.

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It just means I didn’t learn to cook at home. I started learning in college. I’m a PBS cook: Julia Child, Jeff Smith, Martin Yan, and others pre-dating Food Network. FN when it was about cooking instead of game shows. Classes (I can butcher cows, pigs, sheep, …). I did some home ec in high school which did at least tell me what the questions should be.

If the Internet was available when I was in college I would have been one of those kids asking how to feed myself. I had to learn other ways.

The New York Times recently published a recipe from this cookbook (the author is likely already known to the UK folks on this thread, but I’d never heard of her before). I thought it might be of interest.