Did you know that the most expensive pizza in the world is called Louis XIII and costs about $12,000? Or that the world’s most expensive tacos called the Grand Velas costs $25,000?
These are just some of the most expensive dishes in the world, but once you label a dish as “gourmet” or “fancy” the price tag skyrockets. I have been fortunate enough to dine in such places once in a while and I have always been surprised by what I have been served. You pay so much money for a dish and what you get served is barely enough to fill you. But in places like these you are not allowed to critique them because then they will look down upon you as if you have no taste.
Growing up my parents would take us to fancy hotels and restaurants on special occasions only. And it was fun when I was younger, but now not so much. Can you believe I once paid about $30 for a plate of pasta. The only difference was the presentation. And it didn’t even fill me up.
Over the past few decades, food prices across thee globe have risen drastically. When I go to the grocery store these days, I have to think twice before picking up fresh fruits and vegetables. From world class hotels to high class grocery stores, the relationship between food and class reveals quite a lot about our society. Looking at the price tags of food items these days make you wonder: What are we eating? Are economics and class to blame?
A Cultural Issue
Food prices may seem expensive today, but they speak to a much larger, much older issue.
B. Seebohm Rowntree published a book called Poverty: A Study of Town Life in 1901. For a part of his study, he examined weekly grocery shopping and food expenditure of 18 working-class families and six servant-keeping families. And by no surprise, he concluded that the working-class families were dangerously underfed and living in poverty.
“I did not set out upon my inquiry with the object of proving any preconceived theory,” he writes, “but to ascertain actual facts, and that I was myself much surprised to obtain the above result.”
The foods we consume and the food-related choices we make come down to cultural issues. Things like race, gender, and income dictate our food consumption. We may not be conscious of the fact that who we are impacts the food we eat. And while we can control some of these factors, others not so much.
When we speak of quality and social justice, the term “privilege” always seems to come up. And within these contexts, people still have difficulty understanding what exactly the word means. It is understandable why confusion may arise as the term is thrown around in many situations by people who do not fully understand what it means. So, let us define and understand “privilege” together.
It is difficult and also unfair to restrict the word to a few chosen words as the its application varies from situation to situation, but let’s give it a try. We can define “privilege” within the context of society as the following:
Let’s look at a simple example. You go to the grocery store to purchase chicken and you have two options: organic or battery farmed. You are on a tight budget and organic chicken is costing you too much so you end up purchasing the battery farmed chicken.
“The financial ability to make an ethical choice is a social privilege.”Summer Worsley, Eco and Beyond
Income is only one facet of your personality that plays a role in social privilege. Race, ethnicity, class, language, sexual orientation, gender, etc. are a few others.
Privilege vs. Food
So you may be wondering, if this article is about food why is there a discussion of social class and privilege and all that? Well, this concept of privilege is one of the most dominant influencers of your food choices and we are going to see how.
“Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed. And statistical analysis does indeed show that oppositions similar in structure to those found in cultural practices also appear in eating habits.”Pierre Bourdieu, French sociologist and author of Distinction
I know that whatever you just read probably went over your head, I am guilty of the same when I first read it. But what Bourdieu is trying to get you to understand here is that the foods we eat every day and the tastes we take in are not arbitrary. They are dictated by our social status and privilege.
Understanding how income plays a role in food choices is one of the easiest ways to see the relationship between eating well and privilege. Not everybody has the means too purchase foods that are ‘organic’, ‘vegan’, ‘gluten-free’, ‘clean’, etc. Especially if you are a working parent with multiple mouths to feed at least three times a day and on a budget, jam and toast doesn’t seem so bad.
Remember the $12,000 pizza I mentioned earlier, only certain people with money can afford that. Food is a basic necessity, but not in a capitalistic society it seems.
For many lower or middle class working families, experimenting with foods is not really an option given the hefty price tags. The children in these families grow up exposed to only a certain group of foods. If your kid grew up on pasta, soup, and white bread, they wouldn’t be too happy about kale chips. And you as a parent may not be willing to waste money on kale no matter how nutritious it is if no one in your family is going to eat it.
Yes, we are beginning to see more and more sustainable, ethical, and organic food items hitting the shelves. the prices for theses items, however, are still up for debate.
Believe it or not but having free time is a privilege not many have, especially who are not working a fixed 9-5 job. These people have to rush home to feed their families and that gives them less tome to plan and actually prepare the meals. And this often leads to a high consumption of frozen or microwave ready foods which are not that nutritious for our bodies. For many, having two working parents is more of a financial necessity just to put edible food on the table. And before you start judging and saying “Oh, why don’t they just meal prep and buy healthy foods,” I need you to check your privilege. you may have the means to do all that, but not everyone does.
For decades now, advertisers have been targeting specific racial groups for their food items. the digital age lead to more specialized market segmentation tactics, so advertisers were able to choose the types of people they wanted to target. In fact, a 2016 study proved that African American children were consuming about 50% more junk food commercials than their white counterparts.
It is worrying to see that such discriminational tactics being used to target those who have been historically marginalized.
It all comes down to this: food is a privilege. Whether we like it or not, it is a fact. So many factors are involved in purchasing good food and eating well. There is a reason why food insecurity plagues only certain classes within our society. While I wish we could make all food affordable and easily available, there is a larger systematic issue at hand. If you are able to, donate organic, clean, and healthier foods the next time you visit a food pantry. maybe even make visits to shelter and food kitchens to find out how you can help their food crisis. It may seem like a small step, but it definitely is an important one.
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