Precarious poverty

Being poor is very expensive, but also unhealthy. I ususally think about a post for several days before I start writing, and sometimes the whole post is more or less ready inside my head when I start writing. This one started out being quite straightforward in my mind. It was going to be a short post about the financial side of being poor, how being forced to choose the cheapest alternative sometimes makes you pay more in the end. I realised as I started writing that this is more a question about health. Staying healthy when you have a low income is very difficult.

My hometown Haugesund is the latest of many towns that have a tollgate, or as I like to call them, the enforcers from the mafia. This is another sign of how greedy the authorities are. We pay a road tax and at least 80 % of the fuel price at the petrol station is taxes to the government (a litre of 95 ledfree cost about $ 1,75 now, which is crazy concidering Norway is Europe’s largest oil producer). So it shouldn’t be necessary with these tolls to pay for roads, tunnels and bridges. This toll is a good example of how much it costs to be poor.

This mafia-system registers your license plates every time you pass, and you get a bill in the mail regularly. You have to pay 14 NOK ($ 1,75) every time you pass, but if you prepay you get a substantial discount. You get the biggest discount if you pay 4900 NOK ($ 616). I would love to have that 50 % discount, but that is never an option, so I pay twice as much.

It’s the same story if you buy anything in large amounts. Firewood is probably what I buy in the largest quantity, and it would have helped if I could buy enough for the whole winter, but I usually buy for one or two weeks. That is inconvenient and of course I also have to make a lot more trips to the store. I used to buy the wood from a farmer for the whole winter, and he would deliver it to my house without charging more. But of course that was before I moved to the expensive city. I guess that’s one of the prices of living here.

For some reason children like this tasteless variety of lunch meat (only 62% meat). It’s also one of the few options we have for gluten and milkfree lunch meat, but it has five e-numbers listed.

As an autistic family we have some issues with regular food, so we are staying away from anything containing milk, gluten and yeast. The ideal thing would be to go paleo (a diet our ancient ancestors would have eaten, such as meat, nuts and berries), but we can’t afford that. So we do the best we can afford. That often means the less healthy alternative. If you buy cheap lunch meat for example it’s more likely to have a lot of e-numbers, substances that are used as food additives. I recently bought a package of something called Super Salami. This is supposed to be healthier because it has more meat and they have used canola oil. That sounds good, but is it? I looked up some of the e-numbers. E401 Sodium Alginate is a thickening agent produced from seaweeds. E412 Guar Gum is also a thickenig agent and it comes from the guar shrub in India and Pakistan. E516 Calcium Sulfate is a natural mineral prepared from calcium salt and sulphuric acid. This is a stabiliser, meat binding agent and is also used in pharmaceutical preparations.

Europe has pretty strict regulation, which is why some additives that are used i the USA, are banned in Europe. These e-numbers are legal because they supposedly have no side effects in the concentrations they are used. That may be true, but wouldn’t that depend on how much you ingested combined? I wrote a post about aluminum a while back. Authorities all over the world claim that this is harmless, while some experts say that aluminum is a heavy metal. It is apparantly not without risk because the Norwegian FDA warned against deodorants a couple of years ago. These contain a lot of aluminum and together with what you get from food, medicine and the environment you could get too much.

I don’t know if t’s the same with harmless substances from seaweeds, shrubs and other sources, but I think it would be best to limit the use of these additives. Guar gum is used a lot in cosmetics for example, and I wonder how much they take into account the different sources when they make recommodations. According to E516 has no side effects when used in food (does that mean it has when you use it in other products?) and acceptable daily intake has not been determined. That doesn’t fill me with a lot of confidence!

Candy and chocolate is a difficult one. It’s so easy to grab some of it as you pass the candy section in the store, and of course the bad things are the cheapest. I like fresh fruit, nuts, dried fruits and banana chips almost as much, but that is of course very expensive. The problem is greed. If I bought less I wouldn’t spend more money, but I so want to sin and surrender to gluttony, greed and lust.

I also recommend The Tipping Point

18 thoughts on “Precarious poverty

  1. John,

    I can so relate to this situation! I have volunteered in food banks/food pantries in my community, and have been horrified at the poor quality of the “food.” Technically, most of it was not actually food. It was chemical substitutes for food, that might fill up a a person’s stomach and keep them from feeling hungry, but did not provide any actual nutrients. Most of the “food” was nothing but heavily processed foods loaded in sugar, or carbohydrates and starches (lots of starches, which is why so many poor people are obese). I remember talking to one of the directors and telling them we needed to get some donations of protein (meat), and made some suggestions on how we might go about it, but they looked at me like i was speaking Greek.

    Of course, there was very little produce. Some times there was donations of produce from grocery stores, but not much. ANd sometimes there were eggs. I believe that poor people should have to eat garbage.

    A couple of years ago, I had to join the line of folks at the food bank. Since I eat a similar diet as your own (99% Paleo) at the direction of my doctor, and like you, I get very sick when I don’t follow the diet. There was so little I could actually eat. Just some canned vegetables for me. Even the canned meats we couldn’t eat because of some of the ingredients. We were allergic to the eggs. My son got sick from some of the food he ate. It was scary, but fortunately for me and my child, this situation was temporary.

    But every since, I can’t stop thinking about all the people who have no choice but to eat from food banks regularly. I wonder about the ones who are diabetic, or gluten intolerant, or need to eat the way we do. What are they supposed to do? Get sicker?

    Our community is one with many, many churches, and I have wondered why all these churches don’t plant gardens on their property, to allow people who are having a hard time to not only have access to fresh vegetables, but to also contribute to the gardens and therefore retain their dignity.

    1. I like your idea of church gardens. In fact, that’s a fantastic idea and it is strange that no one has started a program like that. We have had a similar debate in Norway concerning disability, and it doesn’t make any sense for the Labour Party to be against it. The Conservative government we’ve had for less than two years want people that are able to, work for their benefits. Everyone acted like they were targetting weak groups and blamed them for being lazy. I would agree with that criticism if we were talking about serious illnesses like Crohn’s and fibromyalgia, but many are disabled because no one wants to hire them. That is a major issue with autism spectrum disorders for instance. They have skills, but not skills that could give them an income.

      Instead of having them be completely passive it makes sense to me to give them something useful. I believe work, as long as it feels meaningful, makes most people feel good. I’m in a situation myself now where my income isn’t enough. I’m not disabled, but I have pain and autism related challenges that makes regular work impossible. I have some activities that help me, though. Writing helps and I plan to gather some food this summer. My mother has a big garden at her country house and I plan to pick plums and red currant
      there, as well as fishing on the sea. I used to have a vegetable garden there, and I think I might revive that one as well. We have to see how I feel. Food always tasts better when I have to work for it.

  2. John,

    It is hard to struggle financially in a culture which relies heavily on consumerism. By “consumerism”, I simply mean the buying and selling of goods rather than the selfish consumerist mentality that often can drive the beast.

    Prices are trending upward at an alarming rate. And sadly, the quality of most consumer goods has completely disintegrated to the point that a current major purchase (ie appliance) should not be expected to last beyond 5 years…even though its 20-year-old counterpart is still running. And many expensive edibles are hardly recognizable as such.

    I expect that the added difficulty of health concerns makes your load even heavier. Your earlier articles indicate that (although you contribute a significant amount of your income via taxation) you don’t get much financial support from your health care system when it comes to special nutritional needs. That can’t make your situation any easier.

    There is a notable cost advantage to buying products in “bulk” form…if you can actually afford the purchase price.

    Out of curiosity, I googled a cost of living comparison between the US and Norway, and was surprised at how much more you all must pay for pretty much everything. I’m assuming these costs are in addition to the taxes you pay….

    The chart is based on averages, but I entered our state capital vs. Haugesund (I believe you said this is your hometown?) and was dismayed to see that your average grocery cost is closer to 39% higher than ours, rather than the 23.59% of the generic chart.

    1. I’m impressed that you did the research. It is true that we pay a lot in taxes and it just gets worse. I lived part of my childhood in a flat that costs about 30 000 NOK in the mid 1970’s. It was possible to manage on one income then. The same apartment today cost 1,3 million NOK + 3000 NOK per month to pay for a joint loan for all the apartments in the low-rise. This wasn’t exactly the projects in my childhood, but it was concidered very low income housing. Today you couldn’t live there without two high incomes, and as a result you don’t see families with children there anymore. This is an apartment you can only afford later in life, unless you have rich parents. That is a factor that has contributed to the enormous increase in housing prices.

      As for food, the government is not satisfied with tax on income. They charge 25 % of everything you buy (15 % on food products). I have always maintained that producing food should be a part of national security, but instead thousands of farms are closed down every year, and we have to import more and more of the food that we could produce ourselves. It will be easy to starve us like Britain did when they stopped traffic between Denmark and Norway during the war with Napoleon. These high expenses work as long as you have a job, and although the authorities won’t let you starve to death, being on the disability that many seem to envy, is not pleasant.

      On the other hand we haven’t felt the turbulent situation in the economy like many other counties have. It has been less dramatic.

    2. It’s amazing how much the cost of living has increased over the years.

      15-25% additional tax seems excessive.

      Your idea to find alternative food sources is wonderful! We’ve been able to do this, to a degree, and it can help to offset food bills a bit.

      If you are not able to manage a garden plot, it is also possible to sprout various types of seeds on your kitchen counter in order to obtain fresh vegetable foods. I often soak and sprout dried beans/lentils before cooking them.

  3. RE: Deodorant. I use baking soda/water paste with a drop of lavender or tea tree essential oil. It doesn’t interfere with sweat glands doing their job and actually works better to neutralize smell than any of the natural commercial versions. It can be a little messy to mix fresh every use, but it’s cheap and effective.

    Paleo: There seems to be some debate about what eating paleo actually is. For instance, some completely disallow dairy while others encourage raw products from non-hybridized cows. Some discourage any form of sugar while others allow even a small amount of refined stuff. It can become confusing, especially when some traditional diets rely heavily on vegetables and some form of starch while others included a higher proportion of meat and fat.

    I suspect that many of the food-intolerance-related issues we face today come largely from eating a more processed, pesticide-laden (and genetically tampered with) diet in general, and with the fact that we don’t need to be as active physically as our ancestors were.

    It’s just an amateurish guess, though.

    Candy and chocolate:

    You said

    The problem is greed. If I bought less I wouldn’t spend more money, but I so want to sin and surrender to gluttony, greed and lust.

    Sugar tends to be a huge temptation for me so I can relate to your struggle there. It’s especially problematic if I’m shopping while hungry or stressed about something.

    I do think there is an element of truth to the gluttony and greed sentiment, in that I don’t “need” candy at all. And, if I buy a bag of something with the intention of not sharing any, it definitely qualifies as sin.

    On the other hand, I think that applying the biblical principle of moderation can allow for an occasional treat, if one is willing to include others and can budget around it.

    If you are convinced that an activity is sinful, you should probably avoid it. But sometimes, I have placed an artificial load of guilt on myself for enjoying something that is not inherently sinful. The problem is not really in the “thing”, but in my own self-serving attitude while participating in a behavior that involves that thing.
    In such instances, I’ve discovered that there are few activities I can do with a clear conscience. The list of potentially guilt-inducing interests will grow until I feel as though there is nothing I can do right.

    When I become less self-focused, the emotional distress often resolves on its own.

  4. Hm. more wordiness from this quarter of the globe:/
    But I think this will be the last entry.

    As one who has spent nearly 20 years chasing after the latest information in order to discover the most perfect human diet, I have consistently read conflicting arguments from many different perspectives. I’ve experimented with several different recommended macronutrient ratios, paleo, raw vegetarian cuisine and traditional food preparation methods: all of which seem to work well for SOME people.
    This suggests our knowledge of nutrition is incomplete at best and should only be used as a guideline to help you find what works best for your own needs.

    Personally, I believe a lot of unnecessary stress can be created by trying to rigidly follow alleged expert advice which insists on an unattainable (for most) level of purity in practice.

    My experience is that my family’s diet eventually became my religion and I literally began to consider it a sin to eat a piece of bread or whatever happened to be on the forbidden list of foods.

    Of course, you need to do what you can to avoid substances you know to be harmful for your family. Just don’t make the mistake I did and assume that God is frowning on you if you find that you cannot achieve the status of dietary perfection that the leading experts think you should. Ten years from now, they will likely be telling us something different, anyway.

  5. Correction: earlier I forgot to include the word ‘not’ in the following sentence: “I believe poor people should not have to eat garbage.”


    I don’t think there is a “strict” definition of “Paleo.” My doctor recommends a Paleo diet (generally) for most of her patients, but there are certain restrictions that might be allowed for someone else. For instance, I can’t have milk, so dairy is excluded from Paleo for me. Sugar is excluded, but honey and maple syrup are ok. Most Palo does not exclude starchy root vegetables or say, tomatoes or eggplant. But for me, since tomatoes and eggplant belong to the nightshade family of plants and are inflammatory, and I have a problem with inflammation, they are banned from my diet. The starchy vegetables are mostly banned due to how they affect blood sugar and insulin levels. I am at risk for insulin intolerance, so my doctor aims to keep my blood sugar levels as level as possible, and you can’t do that with starches. (Of course, I am “bad” at times! 🙂 ) But if I am too bad, I get symptoms, that encourage me to behave myself.

    I don’t consider it to be a sin to be “bad” with my diet, but if I do it much at all, it is painful and unpleasant and I don’t want to keep doing it.

    Of course….chocolate might be an exception. It is not prohibited, but it does have cane sweetener, and I know I eat too much chocolate, and I know I am selfish with it and do not want to share it with my son. (Hey, he can wolf down a whole bag in one sitting, so he doesn’t appreciate it and savor it…….or such is my justification.)

    1. Jay,

      It sounds as though you’re following a plan that resembles PaleoMom’s autoimmune protocol. It is absolutely true that some people must adhere to a more strict diet when they are focusing on healing a specific malfunction.

      Although I’ve never been officially diagnosed as intolerant, there are definitely foods which don’t agree with me. At any rate, it is helpful to know how your system will respond to a given food substance, and what sort of consequences to expect if you choose to eat it.

      I hear you on the chocolate caveat. It can be difficult to willingly share the stuff…

  6. Heather,

    Yes, you are right about the protocol I am on. My doctor actually referred me to the Paleo Mom website, and I love it. Many recipes I use come from that site, along with Elena’s Pantry.

    Avoiding foods that bother us, even without a diagnosed intolerance is a good idea. The body seems to have its own “sense” if we just have the sense to listen to it. An exception to that appears to be the weird paradox that the foods we crave the most are usually the most problematic ones for us, or the ones it turns out that we are allergic to or sensitive to.I craved cheese nearly all of my life, and I have both a dairy allergy and a casein intolerance. After a year or so on the Paleo diet and steadfastly avoiding dairy products, the cheese craving is not so powerful and it is no longer a struggle to resist it. I think there is a connection between “food addictions” and allergies.

    Has this been your experience as well?

    1. I think there is a connection between “food addictions” and allergies.

      You are probably correct. I’ve heard of the addiction phenomenon being generally connected with food intolerances. Dairy and wheat seem to be huge culprits.

      I know that basic low carb diets (a’la Atkins) have gotten a lot of bad press over the years, but he really just hit on a form of elimination diet which helps to identify problem foods which happen to be carb or dairy related.
      It was during my introduction to this way of eating that I realized how “hungry” I can feel after eating certain starch based foods. Only, it’s not true hunger, but more of a compulsion to go eat a half-loaf of bread or a dozen cookies or something equally ridiculous.
      When I don’t eat the stuff at all, I tend to not crave it. But eating “just a little” can often mean a huge fight to regain control. This seems to be the experience you’ve had, as well?

    2. Yes, that has been much my experience, as well. I craved popcorn, and thought it was healthier than chips. So, I would fix a HUGE bowl of popcorn every night (cooked healthily on the cookstove in olive oil with natural spices). Later, I learned about my grain sensitivities, and learned how that most corn in the U.S. is genetically modified and one of the most glysophate-laden food there is here. GMO corn absolutely destroys ones intestinal tract…..and here I was gorging on the stuff. Sometimes my bowl of popcorn was the only thing I ate for dinner. i was often so tired after work I didn’t have the energy to fix dinner, so I just ate popcorn. Didn’t know that it was part of the problem.
      Oddly, after being off it for awhile, and then tasting some, it didn’t even taste good anymore. That being said, when I am at my parents, I do sometimes indulge in their home-made popcorn–my father makes great popcorn.

      My other food addiction also appeared healthy. I made this great Greek salad: chopped raw tomatoes, black olives, green and red bellpeppers, cucumbers, and feta cheese drenched in plain balsamic vinegar. It was delicious. Sounds healthy, right? I loved it, and ate it literally every day (often served up in WHOLE WHEAT pita bread). I never got tired of it, which was odd in itself. Eventually, it came to be that my entire body itched all over ever time I ate tomatoes. Now I know that the tomatoes, the bell peppers, and the feta cheese were all food problems for me.

      Another one was those Quaker rice chips (look like miniature rice cakes), with the ranch flavoring. Well, I thought these were healthy, but it turned out I have a rice sensitivity which causes inflammation and other problems in my body, and of course, the ranch flavoring had milk products. Duh!

      Like you, I have noticed that in most cases, it has been carbohydrate/starchy foods that I tend to crave (the Greek salad was an exception). Eliminating these foods tend to eliminate the cravings. When I visit at my parents, I end up endulging in these foods, and then for days afterwards I have intense carb cravings. If I can tough it out, it gets better.

    3. Jay,

      It can be difficult to navigate the forest of “healthy” food imitators.

      I know what you mean with regard to stuff that ought to be good for you, but isn’t. I really like Greek salad, and don’t seem to have any problems unless I use balsamic vinegar. For some reason (sulfates, maybe?), it causes uncomfortable facial flushing.
      My brother in law, however, is highly allergic to tomatoes and has wheat issues as well. Your salad in a pita meal would have made him quite ill, too.

      The rice based snacks seem to be popular with gluten free people, but I think most flavored chips and crackers probably have some form of msg as well as dairy. That stuff seems to be everywhere and gives some folks migraines. I’ve never had that happen, but usually get tired, really thirsty and a little nauseated.

      We’ve done the popcorn for dinner routine, too, but I don’t eat it much. Thankfully, there is a local shop which offers organic, gmo-free corn, and I was able to switch to that when the corn warning came out. I do seem to recall hearing something about the majority of tainted corn is actually used in the production of ethanol, but don’t remember where I got that one…

  7. John,

    I agree with you about the work issue. It is sad that the only work that seems to be valued in society is that work which produces money or income. I think this is partly why the work of stay at home moms is not particularly valued.

    I wish I was able to do some work, and it is my hope to eventually recover enough to at least do some occasional volunteer work. I have volunteered one hour a week this semester with an after-school tutoring program, only to realize that I just do not have the patience or energy or focus to work with children anymore. 😦 I hope to get others interested in the church garden idea, and then perhaps I could help with maybe grant-writing, some outreach, etc. to help things along. The actual work of the gardens would be beyond me, except perhaps watering the plants or something. But coordinating getting the food to food banks, or organzing volunteers MIGHT be something I could do.

    With grocery prices soaring here and the drought in California quite likely to cause actual food shortages, I think churches (and all communities) should be proactive. Jesus told his disciples to “feed my sheep,” and though I know He was speaking of spiritual things, but He also fed huge crowds on a couple of occasions, so I would think church gardens would fit right in with His ministry.

    And John….remember to your American readers that “garden” means a garden producing food. Most Americans don’t know that for Europeans a “garden” generically refers to what we would call a “yard” or a “lawn.” There are churches in my community with HUGE lawns. And they use a lot of water keeping those lawns all pretty and green. Everytime I see those lawns I see vegetable gardens, and all that water to keep the lawn green could water the vegetables.

  8. Comparing notes…

    In the mid-nineties I moved down to the Texas-Mexico border. During my transitions, I volunteered with in Harlingen, Tx, and learned a good deal about food banks…. part of my indoctrination into the many different types of ministries Christ works through. Street ministry and food banks definitely help meet needs such as distributing food. So it’s good to know that they’re available as a safety net, and as easily accessible as being willing to do general labor type work. There’s always something to haul, sort, clean, repair, etc. along with plenty of prayer and far too many of what passes for church services.

    One learns that restaurants and such at the end of the day have plenty of food they’re happy to give away to ministries. The same applies to many many different types of businesses. If someone will come and haul it away.

    So it’s hard to be destitute when you’re humbled enough to accept gratefully and share what folks are willing to give. And in that ever flowing river of goods there’s plenty enough to keep well sustained.

    Back then and likely still a major ministry that would contribute semi-truck loads of goods to wotc was Feed The Children. The point was to deliver the goods to the third world locations just across the border in Mexico, down to central America, especially Nicaragua, and even on to Peru. Goods and gospel, along with a haphazard medical care and venues for short term missions groups from many churches.

    One of the lessons I needed to learn was that my military, academia, and corporation honed technical skills weren’t really all that prized in the Kingdom of Heaven. The point though is that for those willing to be part of the river of life (transporting lovingkindness to others) there’s much abundance. (not that I can say how that works out for secular groups so inclined)

    Gotta say that it seems to me the worldly merchant system insures that government systems are no threat to making money at others expense, keeping public services perfunctory (barely adequate) at best. Barely passing if given a school grade. The top marks are given to businesses that service the elites for the extra polish and illusion of success that they demand. Of course that leaves the bulk of most everyone else in the less than polished, more than barely adequate, situations where the blind lead the blind in jesting with windmills.

    We might grade the world in these terms…
    A. sell your soul to service the elites
    B. two steps forward, one back
    C. barely adequate government services
    D. drugged and drunk desperation
    F. criminals and kooks

    You know what they say about crazy. Doing the same old thing in the same old way is by definition “crazy.” Take a risk! Do something different than what the worldly do.

    ~ (Pacific Garden Mission, indoor gardens, Chicago)

    1. Nomemoleste,

      Thank you for sharing your experience and observation. I agree that there is a great deal of generosity in the area of the food banks, etc. There is so much need, and for those who want to serve in these areas, there are many opportunities to serve.

      But despite all the donations…..the problem remains that the quality of that food is not always good. Much of it (that I saw) simply isn’t nutritious at all. For people with certain medical problems, like me and my son, and John and his family, such food will make us very sick. The non-organic, GMO food makes us ill. When my son eats tomatoes that are not organic, the tissue lining the inside of his mouth peels off and is very painful.

      My experience eating from a food bank was humbling, and I noticed when I was in line that most of the people were actually working people. Some I recognized from small businesses around town. This experience was not only humbling, but made me painfully aware of the need in my community. And it made me extremely concerned for those people who need special diets, yet can’t afford the food they need to maintain their health. That has been a burden on my heart ever since; I have just not found the people yet who share it, or are in a position to help. But I am working on it.

      I believe one reason God allowed me to experience this was to show me this particular area of need and to give me a burden to help do something about it. (John, this is one of those things that I think relates to the discussion on Joining Cells)

      P.s. I tried the web addresses you posted, Nomemoleste, but I can only get the last one to work.

    2. Jay, Ok. I put a tilde ~ just before each link when listing more than one, so John won’t have to release the comment from moderation. In those links, what caught my attention is the indoor food gardens at Pacific Garden Missions in Chicago. Yes, home grown makes good sense. I found out decades ago that anything citric – or syrupy sodas cause me ulcers and indigestion. I used to think it was carbonated beverages, but non sugar based carbonated beverages don’t cause any problems. Same result with grapefruit, etc. And gassey veggies are most unpleasant. So on your son’s behalf, and an aspie, let me offer – “just say no to fruits and veggies!” (Which does make it a challenge to get enough of what we need from them.) Lettuce is the worst!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s