Choice or Privilege or Something Else?

A new ad-campaign for a federal nutrition program caught my eye. It shows a family sitting down to supper, and says, “Because a well-balanced meal should not be a privilege.” My first reaction was, “It’s a choice, especially this time of year.” I can choose to eat junk food, or choose to eat veggies and a good protein and fat source, or toss it all out the window and go ice cream all the way. So can most people. Granted, some face much tighter constraints, as I did when I was flying charter in Flatter-Than-You’d-Think state. One month I made all of, oh, four hundred dollars. Rent was $370 a month. Plus utilities. I had some savings to scrape by on, but I ate a lot of “discount protein and dented can stew.”

But yes, there are some people for whom this federal program is a very, very good stop-gap until things improve and other resources become available. And there are some people who never learned how to cook, and others who live in true utility apartments or hot-bunk and don’t have a place to store perishables or time to cook them.

Still, the description of a balanced meal as “privilege” implies that it is actually a right. That’s where I hit a mental wall. It’s the same wall that rises up before me when I hear non-emergency medical care called a “right” or fast internet access as “a right.” Who is taking whom to give to whom? Because, with a few exceptions, routine medical care costs someone. Even if the doctor is donating his labor and knowledge, or is a nurse in a religious order that provides health care to the truly desperate, someone has to pay for the lights, and the supplies, and so on. Someone has to pay for the wire or cable, and the router, and computer equipment, and other things to make the internet flow.

“Privilege.” From privas lex, later privilegium, private law. These were rules, or exemptions from rules, that only applied to one individual or one small group. Later it came to mean special rights belonging to a group or an individual, then the idea of a special advantage. In early English legal writings, privilege had a negative connotation. It was unfair, and the law should apply to all equally.

“Right” Recht, in German, a straight line, a legal entitlement that follows a straight and proper path. That goes back to the Proto-Indo-European sense of a good, straight path or road (or piece of wood.) The older sense was a piece of property, later more intangible things – fishing rights, justice no matter one’s weregeld or social position so long as he was free-born.

Interestingly, the Latin still has a whiff, strong whiff, of negative connotation. Food of some kind should not be only for the favored few. It is correct and straight dealings for people to have [noun].

More and more, I hear things described as “a human right.” Clean water, clean air, internet, free medical care, private housing with air-conditioning and comfortable furnishings and all the amenities. A smart-phone. Internet access, presumably whenever the person wants it, so she doesn’t have to go to the library and use a public-access terminal. In other words, a late 20th Century, middle class or upper lower-class standard of living, with the diet to match. The person declaring this often also declares that materialism is evil and we should all live simply, with fewer possessions and amenities (air conditioning) and spend more time in public spaces because that’s where true inner peace and satisfaction come from.

My brief taste of a greatly simplified, much harder laboring, lifestyle cured me of any desire to live that way, or to impose it on others. There was no bucolic, rural Arcadia outside of Romantic paintings and Rousseau’s fevered imagination.

Life, liberty, and property. Those are rights. The right to defend yourself and your family. The right to clear title for what you purchased. The right to relocate when I choose, to where I choose, so long as it doesn’t interfere with other people’s rights. The right to determine, as far as possible for your time, place, and talents, how you will earn your living and what hobbies you pursue. The right to believe or not believe as your conscience commands. And even with employment choices, one might be limited by the rest of the people around you. I have a right not to have my goods stolen, so you don’t have a right to make a living as a thief. Most people also oppose human sacrifice, so no Aztec revivalist religion, either. Your rights stop where mine start. Where exactly is that line? Well, we humans are still sorting out a workable, consistent answer. If there is one.

None of those depend on other people giving you anything, or paying you simply for existing. Or for the government providing things. Actually, what our activist above called rights – internet, housing – are actually privileges in the legal sense. A private law and grant is made, consisting of a service or a good.

I have no problem with encouraging people to eat balanced meals. I will happily donate produce, or help sponsor cooking and nutrition classes for people who want and need them. But if someone chooses to make decisions about how and where to spend their funds that lead them to living on pizza, burgers, fried chicken, or mac-n-cheese, or tacos and burritos . . . That’s their choice. Especially if someone has tried to help the person make better choices.

It’s not fair that I can afford canned tomatoes and corn more easily than some, and have the time to find discount meat at the grocery, and can cook. Or that I have time to cook big batches so I don’t have to cook later, and the cost is lower per serving. But those are my choices. Not a privilege. My privilege is living here, now, when all these things are so amazingly cheap and plentiful compared to 100 years ago.


17 thoughts on “Choice or Privilege or Something Else?

  1. Hmmm.
    Looking at your list of things you (and I, for that matter) recognize as rights… collectivists would call privileges that must be revoked. Their list of rights consists almost entirely of what I (and perhaps you) would call entitlements, that is, things to be given by (or by command of) the State.
    We may take these truths as self-evident, but the opposing faction has its own self-evident truths, however implausible those might be in terms of economics and human nature.

    Back to the topic of food: I noticed a few years back that the celebrities who were bemoaning the impossibility of eating on some low-ish budget all seemed to be shopping at Whole Foods, and not looking for bulk rice & beans and sensibly-priced produce at the local EthnoMart. Not that any of them would know how to cook rice, never mind beans.

    • The scary thing is, even if you can’t cook, you can do cooking-equivalent prep, cheap, with canned and frozen items plus yesterday’s rotisserie chicken. Example, can of corn, can of green beans, can of diced tomatoes (flavor chosen by personal preference), half a rotisserie chicken breast, warm and serve over instant rice. (or go even cheaper with a $20 rice cooker, two cups water one cup rice hit button) Sprinkle with shredded cheese bought on sale for the same price as brick, you can keep it in the freezer.

      I literally “teach” gaming friends these things because they’re faster than takeout or an instant meal.
      $5 for the chicken, 50c-75c a can for the veggies, rice is very variable but we’ll go high and say a whole 5c for the two cups, and I’ll even say a whole dollar for enough cheese to make it all turn into a gooey mass. How many servings that is will depend on the person, and you can mix those cans into a ziploc box then dish up and microwave– comes to about five and a half cups before the chicken is added.

      One of my latest favorite “just dump it in” additions for our home is “beans in chili sauce.” It’s more like faintly flavored bean and tomato gravy than chili anything, but you don’t have to rinse the beans and it does a great job of stretching a dish when it turns out to be not as ample as you’d expected. (making 7 cups of “stick in the fridge and dish over rice, cover with cheese”)

  2. Reminds me of the Idiots who talk about “White Privilege” and those idiot writers may have been thinking about that nonsense. 😡

  3. They are not dealing straight about a ‘balanced meal,’ any road.

    The way it shifts any time it becomes too obviously easy is the ‘tell.’ They don’t like canned vegetables, even though those are both easy to use and much higher quality than fresh– they’ll demand organic items, which are known to at best be the same nutritional quality as standard growth items. Inexpensive, simple dishes like canned beans and rice with chicken cooked in a slow cooker, then frozen vegetables added and thawed before serving, are utterly ignored in favor of things that require close monitoring over hours to produce.

    Don’t get me started on building meals with 500 or less calories as a norm.

  4. When fresh veggies are available (we didn’t grow summer squash this year, but the neighbors had a huge surplus), we’ll do something simple. Normally, I’ll peel and slice squash, spray a bit of oil and season with steak&chop rub, and grill. However, with the air quality somewhere between “that sucks” and “my eyes hurt”, I’ll do something similar (peel and slice into 1/4″ medallions, spray and season) and nuke until warm, but al dente. Tomatoes don’t seem to mind the air pollution, and the greenhouse is less disgusting to work in than outside, and the Oregon-specific hybrid (Siletz) is ripening, so salads or sliced tomato helps.

    Off season, we shop for beans (green, kidney and black) for salads. Green beans & canned corn, three-bean, or cold green beans are standard 3-season salad fare. Pintos get cooked for use in lunches. If we have a spare soup bone, it’s flavoring plus a bit of meat.

  5. Well said. Fried potatoes and onions made more than one meal in college, but that was MY choice. The frustrating fact, to me, is those that spend $$$ on clothes, vehicles, phones, etc. THEN go beg for food… Or those that ‘sell’ their EBT cards so they can buy booze and cigarettes/cigars, then go mooch or panhandle.

  6. The Daughter Unit, because of her situation, is currently on SNAP and WIC benefits, and it is really astounding to us how much heathy, cheap ingredients those benefits provide – basically enough of everything, save meats. Fresh, canned and frozen fruit and vegetables, yoghurt, cheese, milk, beans, rice, breads and tortillas, eggs… I seriously cannot imagine how incompetent a cook you have to be to not be able to wang together something edible out of all that.

    • Alas, it seems that a lot of people never learned to cook. It’s gone multi-generational by now; I expect many of my college classmates who had no clue about basic cookery now have grandchildren who have no clue about basic cookery.
      It’s something you pretty much have to learn at home, so having at least one parent who cooks meals on a regular basis is important. Once you pick up the basic concepts, there’s plenty of opportunity for independent learning, getting new ideas out of books (or this newfangled Internet thing), looking for classes, or whatever… but it helps a lot if you have some idea where to start.
      Kids who grow up thinking that food comes from restaurants and freezers don’t have the starting point.

      • Alas, it seems that a lot of people never learned to cook.

        It’s worse than that — they were taught that “cooking” is stuff like making scratch-cakes in ghee butter frosting colored using only hand-made dyes you created yourself.


        With organic ingredients.


        A kind of life skills class would be very helpful in school, far more than sex ed– “here is how you make a roux” (sauce and gravy base, REALLY EASY but sounds fancy) and “this is how to run a dish washer and laundry machine,” “this is how to cook with raw vegetables– canned vegetables are cooked, you can add them right at the end to warm” and “here’s how to safely cook eggs in the microwave, without needing to clean it,” or “here’s how to cook meat to done, with the instant read thermometer.”

        Just….basic stuff.

        The teacher that did it for us also taught us how to set, and use, formal dinner place settings, which yeah we knew we’d probably never need but it was FUN.

        • It’s worse than that — they were taught that “cooking” is stuff like making scratch-cakes in ghee butter frosting colored using only hand-made dyes you created yourself.
          Ah… yeah, I bought a big flashy book on pizza recently. Had I not been doing DIY pizza, in my own style, for many years now, that book would have been exceedingly daunting. As it is, I can cheerfully disregard the food snobbery and the considerations that only apply if one is trying to run a restaurant and just rummage through for tips and inspiration.

          A kind of life skills class would be very helpful in school
          If memory serves, my junior high school had a home ec class. Girls were assigned to that. Boys were assigned to shop class. I think it was possible to cross over, but It Simply Wasn’t Done.
          Fortunately, I learned most of the home ec stuff at home. I never had any use for the stuff we were taught in shop class, but long afterward taught myself how to use a lathe, mill, MIG welder, etc., which even if the school had had such things I wouldn’t have been allowed near them given my general ineptitude in the required classes.

          • Yup – I was in HS home ec classes, for cooking and sewing, which for me were basically useless, as I already knew how to cook and sew. But girls got those classes, boys got wood, metal and auto shop, which I would have really have loved… and found useful, long-term. But in the late 1960s, girls got home ec, boys got shop, save for those girls who had an indeterminate name, and were assigned shop classes only as long as school administration took to realize the goof…

        • > here’s how to cook meat to done, with the instant read thermometer

          Eh? [clickety] It’s a meat thermometer, except with faster response than the old kind. I’ve never come across them before.

          I’ll order one tonight. Normally I wind up cooking meat until it has Burnt Crunchy Bits, since cooking by time is iffy for frying or barbecuing. In the oven or pressure cooker, I figure it’s done when it’s dried out or falling apart.

          Cooking is one of the times when that “color” stuff would be useful.

          • I second the recommendation on insta-read meat thermometers. They tend to be smaller than the older kind, and are very good when you have an uneven cut of meat, or are trying to get something to just the right temperature without achieving “over-well.”

          • Eh? [clickety] It’s a meat thermometer, except with faster response than the old kind. I’ve never come across them before.

            Oh, I LOVE them!

            We got a new BBQ, and I am the world’s WORST at making even beef patties, so every one of them has to be jabbed if they look a little bigger than the rest– instead of taking fifteen twenty seconds per patty, it takes longer to get the probe located properly.

            Husband’s mother cooked by color… including pink pork. That *can* be OK, but…um… without a good thermometer, eek.

            I compare it to the candy thermometers that you could stand there 30 seconds and still not be sure, and it’s crazy.

            The fancy, BBQ-brand-named, heavy duty, yada yada yada one I got was under twenty bucks.

  7. The ILOH’s fisking of a ‘coooking is tooo haard’ article led to someone disinviting/banning him from a game convention.

    Critical theorist nutjobs use a definition of privilege, that may be what was intended here.

    For a druggie, a balanced diet is a bullet.

    So, if you do not want to shoot the druggies, and charge the bullets to their families, that is totes for sure the moral equivalent of wanting them to starve. 🙂

    So, yeah, I shorted my sleep a little last night, have a mood that isn’t productive for discussing things, am not doing to work to have anything sensible to say, and am not making myself shut up either. Might be a sinus infection.

  8. If you are a farmer in 1840, and you believe you have a ‘privilege’ to get sufficient food, go ahead and try to collect on your privilege. Same if you’re an American Indian who lives by hunting. Or any of 95% of all humans throughout almost all of history.

    It is only a very wealthy society that can indulge in such delusions….delusions which, if acted on, would ensure that the society is wealthy for not much longer.

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