Thursday, August 18, 2011

Addressing Assumptions

So I recently emailed a question to "SimpleMom" Tsh Oxenreider which has generated a lot of awesome discussion on her site.  You're welcome to chime in with your thoughts here, but it'd be more useful to more people over there.  The gist of the question is "do I give a food pantry items that I wouldn't feed to my own family?"

In reading through the comments though, it amused me the assumptions people made about me (to some extent...on the very rare occasion, people were just mean).  I didn't feel the need to respond to each comment, but if anyone cares enough to have come over here to check out who this "Melissa" person is, I wanted to clear a few things up.

First off, my children are definitely _not_ "bubble" children.  We try (as the budget allows) to eat organic, but mostly I try to just cook from scratch with whole ingredients.  It didn't even occur to me when I posed the question that it would veer off (for some) into 'Melissa must be an all-organic, all fair-trade, all free-range, all hormone-free helicopter parent' kind of thing.  Right now our priorities are whole grains (except even I can't stomach whole-grain pasta most of the time), and minimization of food dyes, artificial sweeteners, MSG, and less so things like nitrites (nitrates?) and other preservatives.  After that comes a preference for organic.  Only after that would come fair trade/free range (sadly...I understand the issues there to a limited extent, we're just not quite there in our baby steps to becoming better stewards, etc.).  That's just where we are in our process.  Someday I'd love to be all of those things (except a helicopter parent), but we're far from there.

Secondly, it really amused me the number of times it was mentioned that I have clearly never experienced poverty for myself if this is my question.  That amuses me immensely because I _HAVE_ experienced poverty, not personally, but I've definitely seen it for myself, first-hand (and not even as a visitor - I lived there for over a year) - just not necessarily in America.  The poverty (not starvation, mind you, just poverty) that I've seen has been in developing countries and war-ravaged countries.  I think poverty looks VERY different here than it does in places like Iraq and Nigeria.  And that was/is a large part of my dilemma.

In Iraq, I could absolutely have given a sack of rice with no worries to a poor person.  They would have known exactly what to do with it and would have appreciated it immensely.  In America, those in poverty don't necessarily _want_ plain rice (or any other random shelf-stable ingredient).  They want Hamburger Helper and boxed rice with other stuff that can be microwaved easily.  They want pop-top cans.

We send a 5-gallon bucket of pasta, rice, peanut butter, flour, and oil to Haiti and a family can eat for a month.  I have those same ingredients in my pantry and my babysitters' mom worries that we can't afford groceries because my cupboards are "bare."

I absolutely don't understand poverty in America.  I've never truly experienced it first-hand, and what I imagine I would want were my family in that situation are NOT the things that are listed as "needs" for the crisis food pantry at my church.  Maybe because their emphasis is on homeless rather than just poor?  I don't know.

If this question had easy answers, I would have figured it out for myself!


Toby said...

Wow! I am amazed at what kind of person these strangers assume my big sister is. You aren't a helicopter parent, you are a space station parent.

I always struggle with questions like, "Is giving away my old clothes charity or just putting my trash somewhere besides the trash can?"

I would say we should give away what we don't use and beyond that we should give what we can. Once we've given it away, we have to trust God to bring our gifts to the people who can use them.

CaptainConundrum said...

LOL! Now that is hilarious, that anyone might call you a helicopter parent. Having watched your children, I can attest that they are... well, to put it concisely, perfect, and thier mom is awesomely mederate in both supervision and allowing them the freedom to learn for themselves. That said, I know what you mean about the poverty issue in America. In fact, I read an article listing households that live below the $50000 mark as "low-income to poverty" in America. When I made a comment on the post stating that, while the breakdown of figures in the article did check out for us, it was laughable to think of myself using the same word (poverty) as I might use to describe children in third-world countries who are starving to death. That initiated some interesting arguments from others about how just because we aren't as bad off as people in other situations doesn't mean we don't need to fix our own broken system. While I agree with them about broken things needing to be fixed rather than waiting for them to get worse, I did try to make a point that focusing on our own needs and desires and discontentment is exactly what leads to brokenness, like corporate greed and political corruption. It's amazing how people can start to take things that are preferences or desires and start calling them needs just because "most people have them," such as internet, television, two cars, etc. This past year has taught me a lot about that. It's also taught me a lot about Philippians 4:12, 13. :)

Roy and Sarah said...

I completely agree with you. I don't give the kind of stuff we eat to food pantries for the same reason -- I fear it will not be eaten or appreciated. The standard diets of most Americans are so poor that it is costing us not only in money but also in healthcare costs. What's really sad is that if we could all live on whole foods rather than processed junk, we would ALL save money and be able to help more of the poor. Beans and whole grain rice and bananas and in-season produce are not very expensive. Even buying canned beans and minute rice is cheaper than most packaged meals. The problem is our appetites and our perverted tastebuds. By the way, we eat a whole-grain pasta that I would be surprised if you did not like! It is organic brown rice pasta made by a company called Tinkyada. Some grocery stores carry it but I buy mine online at We did not care for the whole-wheat or spelt pasta. We managed to eat some kamut pasta in bean soup, but we eat the Tinkyada pasta on a regular basis. Add some beans and barbeque sauce and it is tasty and stretches even further.

nowhereman said...

Perhaps so, my dear. Coming from a person that is homeless and poverty-stricken I can certainly relate to wanting a hamburger or "pop-top" can rather than a bag of rice. What the heck am I supposed to do with a bag of rice? Cook and boil it right there on the sidewalk? I would hardly consider a street corner a worthy kitchen.