Poverty and Eating Well: It’s Not So Easy


By Phoenix Calida

I’ve always hated the food shamers.
The people who think it’s easy for a family in poverty to eat healthy/vegan/vegetarian. The articles that talk about poor people food and then showcase recipes actual poor people can never afford. 

So to make a point I walked around the local Walmart (low price leader) and took pics. 

I’ve had a hankering for a pan full of roasted vegetables.
Since I have to feed myself and my children (and possibly my parents depending on the day)
 I wanted to see exactly how much a healthy vegan dinner would cost.

So my recipe would be something like…

1 onion
4 Yukon gold potatoes
2 red bell peppers
1 eggplant
1 zucchini
A couple carrots
Portabella mushrooms
2-3 beets
1 rutabaga
2 parsnips

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And maybe some tofu. 
That meal, made solely of veggies. No fruit. No juice, no broth, no meat….

total cost before tax = $27.67

Nearly $30.

$30. For one meal. With no meat. At this rate I would spend $90 a day on food. 
Ok. Just think on that. 

$90 every day on food. And there’s 30 days in a month?

Hell, even middle class folks can’t afford that. My entire monthly food budget is a very generous $500. If I cooked meals like this one, I’d squander my entire monthly budget in under a week.

And just to further the point, while it’s un healthier, Hamburger Helper, a pound of meat, and a can of veggies is $6 and enough to feed myself and the kids.


Or… for the same price I could get

4 pounds of pork,
5 pounds of rice
8 lunchables
6 cans of fruit and veggies
1 box of instant potatoes
And a gallon of milk

One pineapple:


Equals three cans of ravioli


And people who can only logistically get 1 store? It’s walmart because it has groceries, clothes, and cleaning products.

Fuck letting people have options and the ability to actually live well.

All photos courtesy of Phoenix Calida.

7 thoughts on “Poverty and Eating Well: It’s Not So Easy”

  1. ” $30. For one meal. With no meat. At this rate I would spend $90 a day on food.
    Ok. Just think on that.

    $90 every day on food. And there’s 30 days in a month?

    Hell, even middle class folks can afford that. My entire monthly food budget is a very generous $500. If I cooked meals like this one, I’d squander my entire monthly budget in under a week.”

    ? Did you mean to say “…can’t” afford instead of can?

    I would also expect to see a listing of the costs for each food item in your $27.67 healthy meal.

    I would also like to see a deeper analysis than the fragment and flippant remark you ended with.

    ” And people who can only logistically get 1 store? It’s walmart because it has groceries, clothes, and cleaning products.

    Fuck letting people have options and the ability to actually live well.”

    What did you mean by ” and people who can logistically get 1 store?”?

    for those of us who actually paid attention and actively participated in school, we know that a store sells products at market prices.

    Each store has a set inventory, that it must sell to be profitable. The older the items ( ravioli cans ) the less they will be sold for as the store can only hold onto a product before it must be moved off the property to make room for new products to sell.

    In the case of food, the ones that require refrigeration and water will cost more logically. Also, the decomposable non processed foods become inedible faster and losses are typically had due to this fact.

    Many businesses are now passing savings along to consumers by purchasing large quantities and then putting then on sale.

    As you learn in home economics class or current events class, consumers do not have to shop at only one store and it is good to read the deals before shopping.

    if you are on a budget, then planning comes first.

    Many people grow their own vegetables or go to a farmers market or participate in a community garden.

    There are alternatives to WalMart however they must be sought out and made viable through effort.

    One thing they will never teach in schools is that corpos are responsible for meeting the needs if the people and it is the job of the corpo to change its behavior in line with its consumers’ desires.

    No, those days of consumer privilege are gone until the next material overproduction cycle occurs. Even then the feedback mechanisms are shoddy and bureaucratic at best.

    The ‘customer is always right’ never was…

    ….’ the consumer has your money’ give them a push to buy more… Is now the paradigm.

    If you really believe that the corpos should be responsible and provide healthy alternatives to the public then get a large group of concerned citizens together and buy all the stock in a major shopping center that sells food.

    Own it, then change the policies.


    start your own food co op as many people are doing across the world.

    the article hits a great subject….you need to honor that subject with a more methodical approach while interviewing the manager of the store and contacting walmart’s corpo office to find out what their strategy and policy is around selling food in their stores.

    then offer solutions to empower your readers such as alternative sources of food.

    Think outside of bigbox stores.

    1. You obviously have never lived on a reservation, where there is only Walmart or a convenience store that sells a pint of expired milk or $4.
      I would love there to be food co-ops and the like in poor urban areas, reservations, or other food deserts. But, to sit there and be blind to the fact that some times big box stores are the only shows is just willful ignorance.
      Things won’t change as long as our government subsidizes rich farmers and their price fixing.

    2. You my friend, do not live in my world. The article is spot on. I am a retired nurse living on a fairly good fixed income, but I frequently pass on certain food items (healthy), because of cost. Fresh leafy veggies for instance, are sold in bunches that are so small, they shrink up to nothing when cooked. So that 2.98 price tag may look good in store, but if I had to feed a family of five or six, it’s not going to go very far. I suggest you take your head out, and either go do some experimental shopping, or stop posting your smug ignorance as fact, discussing things you apparently know nothing about! The food co-op? Been there, done that…A lot of logistical problems that make it not so simple. This is NOT a political issue, folks. Perhaps if you stop trying to make it one, solving the problem might be a little less difficult. P.S. Sometimes transportation is also a problem, getting around to all those other stores that may offer better prices can be a bitch! Maybe you could be a volunteer shopper for someone?

    3. Yes that i had a typo, thanks for catching it.

      If you want to see the thread and all photos, they are here- https://m.facebook.com/phoenix.calida/posts/1508032246109310?comment_id=1508519329393935&offset=0&total_comments=143&ref=m_notif&notif_t=feed_comment_reply

      This is the list of food items in question-

      1. I package of mushrooms $2.38
      2. 1 bag potatoes $3.97
      3. 2 beets @ $1.98 each = $3.28
      4. 1 bag carrots $1.48
      5. 2 bell peppers @ $1.64 each= $3.28
      6. 1 rutabaga $0.92
      7. 1 eggplant $1.38
      8. 1 bag parsnips, 2 parsnips per bag, $2.48
      9. 1 package tofu $2.28
      10. 1 small acorn squash $1.18

      Total not counting onions (because I forgot to snap pics)


      after the onion was $27, and I didn’t even add the tomatoes to the total because I forgot to price them.

      And moving to your other comments-
      You seem to have a lack of awareness of various people actually live. I’m a chicago kid.
      we don’t have access to low cost fresh produce in the winter because of the climate.
      There are farmers markets in summer, but generally not in low income areas. So accessibility *is* a very serious issue.
      People in poor neighborhoods usually do not own cars. This means they can’t be choosy shoppers and pick their favorite grocery store. They have to go to the store that is within walking distance or a store that is easily accessible by public transportation.
      We also have very cramped living areas in cities, and most folks don’t have yards to plant their own veggies.
      We also have to obtain permission for community gardens, which means a few things-

      1. Permission can (and has been) arbitrarily denied or revoked
      2. People need to have the time, knowledge, and resources to cultivate crops.
      3. Because these gardens are on public property, you can’t protect them as well as you might hope. An entire seasons worth of work gone because some kids trashed the garden? It’s happened.
      These factors all make it more difficult for folks to be able to just up and grow their own food.

      So your comment of “think outside box box stores” is not only an impossibility, it’s down right insulting to suggest these people are in this situation because they lack motivation. It’s more insulting still to tell someone living in poverty wages to just “try harder” and then they can beat a multi billion dollar global franchise.
      Maybe you should have a better under of the problems before trying to offer solutions.
      There’s several factors at play. Not of which you mentioned. Perhaps you should some more time studying urban poverty and food deserts before making judgments about the people who live under these conditions?

  2. You are buying all the ingredients but totaling up “One Meal” incorrectly. One meal is ONE plate of food, one serving. It’s not what the receipt says when you leave the store. I’m not saying you are wrong about food prices and eating healthy, but he could at least get the Units and the Math right. Do you really cook all the food, eat one portion, and then toss out the food and buy more the next day?

    1. Actually I’m not adding incorrectly. I have to feed 5 people. The only food item that came in bulk was potatoes. So outside of a few extra potatoes, and *maybe* 1-2 servings of possible left overs, that entire bill would be for ONE meal for my family.

  3. Damn, truth!! Thank you so much for posting this. I have the privilege of living in an urban area, and was lucky enough to find a local farm that does CSA shares that I can buy into with my food stamps at $24 in food stamps per week. I am so fortunate in that… but so many people take the kind of access that economic privilege, and the privilege of living in an urban environment for granted, it drives me bananas. Before I had food stamps, I could never afford the CSA, and before I found a job that allows me to set my schedule I probably wouldn’t have been able to meet the pickup time anyways!

    I also don’t have children… I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have to feed children and work… not to mention food deserts and so many other structural things that keep folks from accessing healthy, affordable meals. Thank you for posting this… I’m tired of all the food shaming. Before people talk out of their asses, shaming people’s dietary choices, they should work on making societal change that makes healthy food accessible to everyone.

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