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when charities help and when they hurt  RSS feed

 
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I read somewhere that sometimes charities do long term harm.  I'm throwing this out for discussion.  The article that I read noted how some good hearted soul started a ngo charity to collect used shoes from first world countries (I'm assuming mainly from the US) and gave them away to some 3rd world country to help the locals.  What could be better than free?  The article pointed out in this particular unnamed country, that the free shoes had driven the local cobblers out of business, since it had been several years, the skill set was probably going to be lost.  

This is kind of what happened when the US sent all our manufacturing out of the country in the 80s.  In the last year or so, as manufacturing tried to come back, certain skilled labor simply wasn't there anymore.  The old ones have retired and, with no demand, few young people came into the fields.  

The article maintained that free market was better than charity, because it encouraged local production.  

Don't get me wrong, I think charity is a wonderful and necessary thing, but it should be TEMPORARY, to get folks over the current hump so they can start helping themselves.

I read a while  back here in permies where someone in Africa said that many people in her town were not actively working because the NGO's were bringing so much stuff in they figured why bother.  (I read the thread a while back and might be misquoting it, if so, my appologies, please feel free to correct me with the proper quote.)

So, the question I am asking is how do we know when we're helping or hurting when we give alms, especially when we give to a non local situation, where we can't see for ourselves.  (I always look at how much is spent on overhead and donate to those with the least overhead, that parts easy).
 
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This isn't private charity, but food stamps cause unintended consequences.

It's not the steak or shrimp bought with food stamps that cause the most misery.
It's the soda,candy,sugar cereal and chips.
Better to allow prepared hot food to be purchased than that crap.

Free school breakfast/lunch presents a similar problem, with sugar laden cereal bars and good awful processed lunches,shipped in ,not cooked on site.

Even pantries give out a lot of past date baked goods, while fruit and veg rots on their shelves, unwanted by people who generally don't know how to cook,and are unused to any food that hasn't been processed to death.

Poor people in the USA are as often malnurished as they are undernurished.

It makes me wonder if the governments food subsidy programs, which favor corn,wheat and soy,are the worst charity of all.
 
Mick Fisch
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I heard recently that the further the giver is from the receiver of charity, the more entitled the receiver feels.  If I give you a lift somewhere, give you food or money, there is a human connection.  The more you know me, the more you feel the connection.  If you know my family is eating beans this week so you can eat, that matters.  If it's some nameless organization (Govt, NGO, etc), we tend to feel that they have really deep pockets and should probably be doing more for us.  I realize this is a generalization and therefor stereotype, but I think as a general rule, it passes the smell test.
 
pollinator
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I think educational charities can be pretty safe bets, if we know what is being taught.  For instance, some kinds of permaculture or other natural farming methods, if locally appropriate.  Or education about the benefits of something which otherwise would be misunderstood, such as the worldwide outreach of Bat Conservation International.

 
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William, you are describing a scenario where the government has been hogtied by the sugar industry.

In NZ there is a bit of legislation surrounding school lunches now. I'm not sure of the extent but it is certainly an issue that needs to be addressed. A sugar tax is also being bandied about. Big opposition as one might imagine.

Malnourishment has a whole raft of complications and keeps rich people obscenely wealthy. Follow the money to explain the stupid.

I've read science recently with westerners testing new crops to try and 'save African countries' by devising new methods of intense cultivation for already denuded lands. There is no apology for insults already placed on the lands by these same fertiliser shills, no recognition much of the ecological problems spring from their own crude extractive designs. Just delusional grandeur of what a great job they're doing.

The west give money to the third world to try alleviate the guilt of their own excesses and outright dishonesty surrounding it. We want them with their hands out so we can belittle their potential, and justify our 'status'.

Free shoes. Reminds me of those muppets who gave a tribal village i-phones in exchange for knowledge of traditional medicines which subsequently got patented, the prices get JACKED, and your sick relatives held hostage. Meanwhile, in the jungle, useless iphones for the locals and an ever enlarging stream of do-gooders come to save them from themselves.

Here's a great satirical take on the situation

jungletelegraph

And here's a brief overview of what occurs, namely, promises, promises, lawyers...

Pharmaceutical Colonialism

Sure there's things we can do to help. Emergency supplies for emergencies, but really, teach a man to fish... Geoff Lawton leads the way with greening the desert and similar initiatives.

We don't need more charities. We need more Geoffs to empower people who might then empower others.

As for our own back yards. Resist the stupid, actively preach against it through healthy happy living.











 
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Ooops! Somehow this thread got started outside of the cider press. I just fixed that and moved it to Politics inside the Cider Press.

To post in the Politics forum, a person needs 8 apples
(this is to prevent trolls from joining the forum just to start a flame war)

Please remember when talking controversial subject to be extra nice. Apple cores are prone to being given out in the Cider Press if someone is not able to be nice.

Thanks!
 
pollinator
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I have thought about this a lot since I found out that a lot of our donated clothes end up in third world countries and can negatively impact the economy there (as you mentioned with shoes).  

This is a simplified answer but I think in areas where it can have those sorts of impacts or where we can't see for ourselves the impact - if it can be produced locally, we shouldn't give it (clothes, food - other than short-term emergency aid for post catastrophes).  I think we should focus on fixing/improving systems - improving water access or systems that clean water if it's contaminated.  Teaching permaculture or how to save seeds and farm.  

I think the giving that should be done should be for things that can't be created locally - medicine or vaccines, for example.  Netting for areas that need it to prevent mosquito-borne diseases (I wonder if we could get a factory going locally for that though).  Equipment to improve systems that can't be sourced locally.

Years ago, I gave/loaned money through Kiva.  I heard so many good things about helping through micro-loans.  But either it was always crappy or got corrupted and now the interest rates on those loans and way it is run can do a lot more harm than good.  So I don't do that anymore.

All that being said, I set aside a certain amount each quarter for donations and then just keep my eye out for an organization that needs it and is doing good things for people.  I often read a memoir or book by someone involved with an organization that sounds great and then I research further before donating.  It is always random and since I started doing it, I haven't needed to repeat.  I just keep finding out about new places and giving as I can.  There are a lot of really great people out there doing great things.
 
pollinator
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I really do not have an answer to this, and I am not being snide, nor dodging the question. Katie and I give a lot, and honestly wish we were in a position to give more, but granted we are not a charity.

For us, we give a lot personally, and then through our local church which is truly Glocal (Global/Local).

I do like the churches policy of only giving a (1) time gift of $500 abouts, to a family that is in serious trouble for whatever reason. The key is "one time" so that people do not get dependent upon that money,and instead try to position themselves so they are out of the jam they are in, and not stay in it. This money goes to people inside and outside of the membership of the church.

If people need higher amounts, or continuing help...for instance a man in our church needed to get clean of narcotics, a plea was put out to the congregation, and so a person paid for his $9000 drug addiction recovery cost in a Christian based program. That resulted in him getting sober and is getting married in a few days...success.

But our church is not without failure too in my opinion. The church also supports a "sister church" in Romania, and has for 25 years. The problem with that is, it seems almost like a handout to them. To me it is not church planting, it is church subsidy-ism if you will, and I have a little heart burn about that. At what point do we say, "time to withdraw the checks and have you stand upon your own?" I do not have the answer to that question.

This also happens in certain parts of the world. I have a friend who grew up as a missionary in Guatemala, and so was her adult daughter until she moved last year to Columbia in the mission field. Her reason: saturation. Over the years I have spoken to many people and perhaps 75% went on missions trips to Guatamela. The truth is, it is close by, has abject poverty, and there is missionary opportunities. As my friend's daughter told us though, they would often have so many missionary trips, that they would have a hard time finding things for people to do. One local church there had (7) coats of paint because it would give missions trips something to do! In that case staying home and cutting a check would have been better off in some regards, yet also missions trips help American's...who even in "poverty" are often so much better off then people in third world countries. In that regard, it is good for people to see how well they actually have it!

Myself, for Katie and I, we give and will continue to give, and try to be prudent about our charitable giving, but also kind of take things for face value. I give because I truly feel it will help a need, but also trust that those who recieve will use it to the best of their ability. They however, are not accountable to me, but to God for the help we extend them.

 
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This is a fascinating and complex topic - and one best approached by using rigorous scientific methods than by throwing around anecdotes. The best treatment of it that I have seen is in the EXCELLENT book "Poor Economics", which investigates the economics of poverty. The authors look into all aspects of it, with the primary objective being to find the economic and social tools that can help start people on the rise out of poverty.

They do discuss some specific issues where charity has negative consequences. One example that stuck in my head was that of bed nets treated with DDT for the prevention of malaria. These are frequently offered by NGOs for free or at discounted rates. They described a situation where an NGO gave away bed nets in an area that had previously been served by a local entrepreneur. He was put out of business by the supply of free bed nets. When the NGO withdrew their supply 2 years later there was no local market to fill the gap. But worse than that, they had adjusted the expectations of the local population that these should be free and they were more reluctant to buy them after the exercise than they had been before.

The primary lesson from the book is that the world is a very complex place, and unintended consequences are very common. The best we can hope is to use rigorously designed studies to determine which interventions actually work, and then capitalise on those lessons. And we must stop using anecdotes to design policy.
 
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This is part of why I'm really careful about how and to whom I donate time/resources. If it's money, I'd rather spend it to protect people's access to drinking water, mosquito nets to protect people from malaria, or to support sustainable/localized agriculture education programs. I know a girl who's working in Africa teaching people how to grow nutritious, locally adapted garden crops so I'd probably donate to her if I was gonna shell out cash monies.
The problem with programs like food stamps is the lack of accountability towards people who are used to having no responsibility/not making their own choices to begin with. Case in point, about ten years ago I was helping a family who depended on WIC, foodstamps and section 8 vouchers to get by. The mom's boyfriend didn't work, just mooched off the resources intended for the four children. When he went to jail for possession of heroin, the mom spent most of her foodstamps on junk food for him to have in prison! Then at the end of the month, she didn't have enough formula left for the baby and had no way to buy it. When I talked to her about it, she had reasoned that the 11 cans she purchased would last the whole month since that's what the baby had needed the month before. Her. Fourth. Baby. There's no way she SHOULDN'T have realized that baby would need more food with each successive month as she grew. Since you know, she'd already raised 3 babies. But since she's not expected to solve her own problems, she doesn't think these things through rationally even though she actually really loves her kids. I got really angry when I found out at 3 months they were adulterating her formula with rice powder to make it keep her full longer, to cut costs and keep her from crying for food every 4 hours. Words fail to communicate how angry I was.
 
Sarah Koster
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Michael Cox wrote:This is a fascinating and complex topic - and one best approached by using rigorous scientific methods than by throwing around anecdotes. The best treatment of it that I have seen is in the EXCELLENT book "Poor Economics", which investigates the economics of poverty. The authors look into all aspects of it, with the primary objective being to find the economic and social tools that can help start people on the rise out of poverty.

They do discuss some specific issues where charity has negative consequences. One example that stuck in my head was that of bed nets treated with DDT for the prevention of malaria. These are frequently offered by NGOs for free or at discounted rates. They described a situation where an NGO gave away bed nets in an area that had previously been served by a local entrepreneur. He was put out of business by the supply of free bed nets. When the NGO withdrew their supply 2 years later there was no local market to fill the gap. But worse than that, they had adjusted the expectations of the local population that these should be free and they were more reluctant to buy them after the exercise than they had been before.

The primary lesson from the book is that the world is a very complex place, and unintended consequences are very common. The best we can hope is to use rigorously designed studies to determine which interventions actually work, and then capitalise on those lessons. And we must stop using anecdotes to design policy.



I never thought about this. Of course communities have a market for mosquito nets already, so definitely can destroy that supply chain by temporarily giving free ones. The mosquitoes aren't going anywhere, so I suppose half-assed and temporary measures will put more people at risk long-term. Perhaps education and working with local suppliers to make sure everyone has access would be better.
 
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William Bronson wrote:This isn't private charity, but food stamps cause unintended consequences.

It's not the steak or shrimp bought with food stamps that cause the most misery.
It's the soda,candy,sugar cereal and chips.
Better to allow prepared hot food to be purchased than that crap.

Free school breakfast/lunch presents a similar problem, with sugar laden cereal bars and good awful processed lunches,shipped in ,not cooked on site.

Even pantries give out a lot of past date baked goods, while fruit and veg rots on their shelves, unwanted by people who generally don't know how to cook,and are unused to any food that hasn't been processed to death.

Poor people in the USA are as often malnurished as they are undernurished.

It makes me wonder if the governments food subsidy programs, which favor corn,wheat and soy,are the worst charity of all.



So our school district has 40% of students on free or reduced price lunch. I get what you are saying about the food. Last year breakfast was served in the cafeteria. This year they decided to serve breakfast in the classrooms so kids wouldn't miss recess to eat. This resulted in the abolishment of hot breakfasts and now it's prepackaged stuff. I frowned when I saw it. My kids eat at home but the poor kids, man. Still, if you were hungry, and these kids are, some food is better than no food I'd wager.

Also, the school takes part in a grant project that supplies different fruits, veggies and edibles to the kids as a snack twice a week. One week they had flowers, another week peas in the shell, another was watermelon, etc. When I talk to the teachers they tell me my kids are the only ones who will try absolutely everything. (because I'm the weirdo Mom teaching them what they can eat when we wander around) Most kids won't. There's a whole other thread on that. So, simply changing everything to be healthful foods probably isn't going to end starvation in the poor. They'd likely starve rather than eat it.

Another interesting talk with my daughters teacher yesterday. My kids prefer to bring lunch from home most days. My daughter, who just started Kinder, wasn't eating her lunches but she was consistently eating the dessert I'd put in it. So I just stopped putting a dessert in her lunch. The conversation started because my daughter was eating her lunch to show me she could totally get dessert back in her lunch and her teacher overheard. She told me most of the kids only ate their dessert but I'm the only parent who noticed and stopped putting it in. Of course, I pointed out to her that 20 mins to eat lunch is something kids have to adjust to. When my son started Kinder he wasn't getting his lunches eaten either, simply because of the time constraint. It's hard to socialize and eat after all.

I guess I see the problem as complicated. There is no real solution.
 
William Bronson
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Let me offer some counter examples, from my own experience:
-The Saint Vincent Depaul charitable pharmacy here in Cincinnati helped my family after we ran through our savings paying for drugs out of pocket
They also taught me that time release medicines usually have an older version that requires taking more doses per day.
This older version is considered to be a different drug.
Thus,when you ask for a generic  version of the new time release name brand  drug, you will be told there isn't one.
Drug company's usually release the various time release versions of the original drug once generics become available, and use their drug dealers(sales reps) to push the new version.

-When I wanted to buy a my house, the government offered a class on home buying.
Take the class, and they would match your down payment up to certain amount.
Not only did it teach me to buy a house within my means, it hooked me up with an old school bank that did manual underwriting,a bank  that has worked with me when we got behind, that was able to do this
because it NEVER SOLD OUR DEBT.
I'm a customer for life, as are some other who I have steered to them.
Count me as one less victim of the mortgage crisis.

-My church.
We have asked for help, once.
We a have been given help many times.
We have made helping my church members a spiritual practice.
Plumbing, electrical, heavy lifting, rides too and from air ports,baby sitting , etc.
When I was suddenly out of work, my church family asked us to do what we had been doing- so that they could pay us for it.
They got us through a lean time.
I love this church.
I should really become an official member one day...
 
Michael Cox
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What I find interesting is the differing cultural perspectives that come to light when these issues are discussed.

I live in the UK where we have a strong social support infrastructure; job seekers allowance, council provision of housing, various benefits, NHS healthcare for all. Now I would never claim that the system is flawless - there are many perverse incentives built into it, like if a girl in poverty gets pregnant she is given priority in the waiting list for a council house which encourages people who already can't support themselves to have kids - but on the whole it works. It is a system which, on the whole, is not judgmental and tries to support all groups within the community.

Now, I have never lived in the USA, but I have read extensively and my understanding is that many of those social safety nets don't exist - the NHS is an obvious example, but not the only one. And in many regions those same roles in the community are fullfilled to a greater or lesser extent by charities. Those charities frequently have a religious element to them, and the way the resources are used is inherently biased. If you are part of a strong church community you are more likely to receive support in all its forms - financial, physical and emotional help. But access to that support is not universal and many, many people get left behind. Furthermore, that support frequently comes with strings attached. I'll give you this IF you do such and such. It comes freighted with emotional baggage.

I guess my point is that "charity" does a poor job when compared to a universal welfare system. It is more expensive, comes with many complicating factors, and fails to reach and support many people.

The book I mentioned previously "Poor Economics" describes an investigation into the impacts of wealth transfer schemes. Now, these are aimed at very poor communities of people living well below the poverty line of a $1 a day. They ask communities to nominate the poorest 10 families and the organisation gives them a one time cash gift of $100. They studied the long term impact of these transfers on the prospects of these families under certain conditions, and they put restrictions in place - In some of the cases the wealth was not to be spent on luxuries, in other cases they were given total freedom, with no strings attached. Typically, these cash transfers were used to eg buy a bike, replace a thatch roof with metal etc... Capital projects that would have long term benefits. However, they also found that many families invested the money in better food (not greater quantity), which improved their nutrition and health. Some used it to buy a mobile phone and others bought televisions. When they were revisited they expected the families who were given the transfers with no strings to be worse off, but they found that there was no difference in long term outcome. All families had better quality of life, better diets and better income prospects.

The take away from that study was that sometimes the simplest interventions - a gift of cash - can have profound impacts. But also that when we "give" but retain control of what can be done with that gift, for example by imposing restrictions that suit our personal world view, we actually get in the way of what can be achieved, and also make the process less efficient and more expensive to administer.

A cash gift of $100 is incredibly simple - someone turns up once and hands over an envelope. If you put conditions on how they spend it, it becomes incredibly difficult. Do you send someone out once a month to check up on them? Do you ask for receipts? Do you invoice them if they spend it on something you consider "inappropriate"?
 
Sarah Koster
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Michael Cox wrote:The take away from that study was that sometimes the simplest interventions - a gift of cash - can have profound impacts. But also that when we "give" but retain control of what can be done with that gift, for example by imposing restrictions that suit our personal world view, we actually get in the way of what can be achieved, and also make the process less efficient and more expensive to administer.

A cash gift of $100 is incredibly simple - someone turns up once and hands over an envelope. If you put conditions on how they spend it, it becomes incredibly difficult. Do you send someone out once a month to check up on them? Do you ask for receipts? Do you invoice them if they spend it on something you consider "inappropriate"?



This is totally true. When you exert control over a person, how they spend the money etc., they're not free to make choices. People know what they need better than an outsider does, and while they don't always make the best choices, they don't benefit much from having the choices made for them. What I received from a food bank mostly didn't get eaten, because it was cans of corn when I would have chosen fresh greens.
Let's do a hypothetical.
Family A receives $600 per month in food stamps. Since food stamps can't be used to buy things like cleaning products, cigarettes and diapers, they sell $300 of their food stamps to a neighbor for $150. They've immediately lost $150 of their assistance. They have $300 left for food from the grocery and $150 for everything else.
Now let's change it up a little.
Family A receives $600 per month cash. They use $150 for non-food items, such as cleaning supplies, cigarettes and diapers. They have $450 left they can use for food.

Psychologically, people are more likely to make better choices when they are trusted to make their own choices in the first place. If they're going to misuse assistance, control measures will only diminish the value/availability of the resource once they've done whatever they need to do to get what they want from it. This might mean $50 worth of bus passes turns into $8 worth of a controlled substance, or $600 worth of food stamps turn into $300 worth of food and $150 worth of sundries.
If people are continually in the position to make their own choices, most people learn to make better choices over time because they benefit more. If people are continually under the control of an authority, they don't learn to think for themselves, solve their own problems, or mature psychologically/emotionally. If people are assisted in ways that require them to make their own choices, they're no longer being treated like children, inmates or livestock and they are able to develop skills to become more independent.
 
Travis Johnson
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Yesterday my inlaws were up from out of State and were helping us move into our Tiny House...

So we wake up and there is this woman parked in our old driveway across the street and is there for quite awhile. So I go down and ask her what is wrong and if I can help her. Well she is going to work and ran out of fuel. Well I am already impressed because she is working and sadly has a car with a bum gas gauge...sure, I can relate. So she got some gas, but it was not out of fuel, but rather her fuel pump that was shot. Well she still needs to get to work, so I gave her the keys to my car instead, and off she goes.

My inlaws are BELIGERENT! How dare I let some stranger use my car!!

How could I not? If someone is in your community, and they need help, you better darn well lend a hand because tomorrow it could be YOU that needs help!

So anyway, she said she would be back with it at 4:30 PM, but we had gone out to eat...yet there was the car when we came home, more fuel in it then when she left with it.
 
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William Bronson wrote:
It makes me wonder if the governments food subsidy programs, which favor corn,wheat and soy, are the worst charity of all.



The USDA is a huge organization and there are a lot of food subsidy programs, so I would be wary of painting them all with any one brush.  Food stamps, for instance -- no longer stamps, but a program called "SNAP" distributed on an electronic debit card -- can be used to purchase virtually any food that's not already heated and ready to eat; so there's no way to say that program (the largest of them, I believe) favors corn, wheat and soy, except to the extent that our entire food system does (which might indeed be a fair complaint).  

Operating in parallel with SNAP, the old "commodities" system still exists; this provides the government with an outlet for any price-supported agricultural products that it buys up and/or stockpiles to support crop prices.  Nowadays these "commodities" are distributed through institutional partners (Indian tribes, food banks, and a wide variety of other community-type organizations) who typically make them available in a variety of ways to a variety of poor people; but the old-fashioned monthly commodities distribution is sometimes available (especially to certain tribal members) in lieu of and as a replacement for SNAP benefits.  Some tribes operate very fancy grocery-store type outlets where the USDA commodities are supplemented with tribal casino money to include fresh stuff of various kinds.  But the USDA items are very heavy on dairy (the stereotypical "government cheese" plus canned condensed and dried milk) and flours (wheat and corn, yes) and pasta and eggs (bizarre dried egg products mixed with corn syrup solids) and shelf-stable fruit and veg (shelf-stable 100% fruit juices, raisins, canned fruits, canned vegetables, canned tomato products.  Oddly, there isn't much "prepared foods" in any of it, beyond whatever processing is needed to make the stuff eternally storable in the government price-stabilization warehouses.  Even the canned beans tend to have no sugar and minimal sodium.  

Since I live in Indian Country in a matriarchal society, I often get borrowed by and lent to old disabled Indian women who need drivers for their errands, which is how I know so much about the intricacies of the Tribal Food Distribution Centers.  (I am overqualified as a bag boy, so I end up reading labels out of curiosity.)

William Bronson wrote:
Even pantries give out a lot of past date baked goods, while fruit and veg rots on their shelves, unwanted by people who generally don't know how to cook,and are unused to any food that hasn't been processed to death.

Poor people in the USA are as often malnurished as they are undernurished.



The phenomenon (very real) of poor people who do not cook is one of those social tragedies that gets all kinds of reasons ascribed to it that may turn out to be not supported by actual sociological research.  Some of these have a germ of truth (such as this one that they may not have the knowledge and skills to cook fresh foods) and some of them are cruel or racist (we often hear that poor people are too lazy to cook, for example, which doesn't take much unpacking to find a racist core in a country where "poor" so often has a racial component -- though nobody in this thread, I hasten to add, has so much as hinted at any such thing!) Other reasons that turn out to factor in is that cooking real/fresh/raw food has a lot of costs that aren't obvious to those of us who have been doing it all our lives.  Everybody on permies has a frying pan and a shaker full of salt and pepper and probably a kitchen full of spices and most likely half a dozen different condiments in the fridge and probably some other shelf-stable foods to mix-and-match as ingredients to go with whatever comes home fresh.  A knife to cut it with and a stove to cook it on and a dishrag to wipe up after and plates to serve it with.

But if you got evicted and then got a voucher and moved into a new slumlord place and it has a stove but only one burner works and it came with half a box of plastic silverware and all your stuff got tossed by the old landlord (illegally, but it's still gone) and you ain't got shit, what in the everloving FUCK are you supposed to do with a bunch of beets and beet greens that they hand you down at the food pantry?  The thing about really poor people is that due to whatever has gone wrong in their lives, they are full of these stories, one after another in an endless hard-luck chain.  And they are all real; this stuff really happens.  Maybe they need better education or life coping skills or fixed in 1000 ways beyond the scope of this thread, but that doesn't change the fact that they literally don't have, as my mom used to say, a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.  Which makes that box of fresh veggies not look like (because it really is not) food to them.

So: even if your momma taught you to cook, you can't make a nice meal out of those beets and beet greens without a pot to cook in and something to flavor them with and a plate to serve them on.  But if that same food pantry offered you a tube of stale "Everything" bagels and a tub of cream cheese, those you could bring home and immediately feed to your kids.  We shouldn't assume laziness and we shouldn't assume ignorance.  Poverty really really REALLY sucks, and too often, we don't think very hard about just how difficulty it is, or about the choices people have to make when they are in it.  

On top of that, layer in the fact that really poor people (if they even do have housing with kitchen access where they could hope to cook) may not be idle.  There's an awful lot of working poor at food pantries, juggling kids and inadequate day care and shitty transportation and doing it all on five hours sleep a night.  Doing all that and finding extra hours every day to cook food from raw ingredients?  Sure, it's a good idea, but it's another cost, and it's hard.  People not doing it may not be ignorant or lazy, they may be making rational, difficult choices about the hours in their day.  You often hear well-meaning well-established people suggest they should cook big batches ahead on their "weekends" (which low-wage workers often do not get, in the modern random-shifts system) but that assumes there's a reliable fridge or freezer available; I submit that people suggesting this have never shared housing with shitty roommates who will steal food, or lived in a crappy rental where the fridge was not cold enough for food safety, or where the cockroaches were so bad that you couldn't store *anything* safely.  

Again, nobody in this thread has made the horrible arguments that get me exercised.  I'm just pointing out that it's really complicated and hard to distribute fresh stuff to the poor and expect them to benefit from it the way everybody here would.  For all its nutritional horrors, prepared food has its purposes.  And distribution to people in poverty so severe that food preparation is a problem may be one of them.

That said, those tribal food distribution centers I was mentioning earlier?  They all have educational programs to go along with their food distribution.  When people come in they sit them down for fifteen minutes, give them a free kitchen tool for a bribe, and show them a little instructional video on how to turn all those basic ingredients into food.  The best charity is supportive and holistic.  Those food pantries that can't give away fresh food would, ideally, be operating as part of a system of charity (public or private, I don't care) that was helping bring people up to a level of security where they could, and wanted to, prepare fresh healthy food from scratch at home.  I don't see that happening in our society, but it would be the way forward here.


 
Travis Johnson
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I do see some poverty programs working.

I live in the most poor county in all of New England (the states comprising of Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire) and so the government stepped in and said we are going to help feed these people. Here everyone gets free Breakfast and Lunch, that is how poor we are.

But note I did not just say at school. They extended these food programs so that Free Breakfast and Lunch is extended during the summer and vacations so that from Monday through Friday, food is available free to anyone under 18 years old. Again, you might notice, I never said "at school" here because these programs are all over, including places like camps for kids, or local community centers, really anywhere there is a commercial kitchen, and where "there is a draw for people".

It is helping. About 1/3 fewer kids are not as hungary as previously were.

But here is the kicker: this all LOCAL FOOD. In fact our school district has won national awards for its local food program. Many schools have "harvest lunches" and that sort of thing, and some have their vegetables locally raised, but here our meat is all locally raised too. In fact it is so rural here, that across from the school is a big beef farm and that is where the beef comes from! It literally never leaves the county; from being born on the hoof, o plate of a child 3-18 years old, it is all local.
 
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