Dr. Oz and Poor Peoples Food

by Kathy | Disclosure

Dr Oz and Poor Peoples Food

Poor peoples food. Just the phrase has a grating feel to it, doesn’t it? Just like a sneer.

This week Dr Oz wrote an article for Time that implied that those who actively question the quality of supermarket food are simply food snobs who are seeking an elevated status based on the purity and sophistication of their food choices. This article contained a sneer, but this one was for people working hard to get better food for their families and not for poor folks. The article implied that the only reason anyone would buy clean, real, organic food is so they can be seen to be the kind of people who can afford to completely avoid supermarket food. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is waking up to the fact that ordinary, processed supermarket food is not wholesome or good. And increasingly it is being seen as poor peoples food. And people are getting mad. The issue is that not everyone can eat as much clean wholesome food as some are able to do. This is an issue of economics and ultimately has little to do with snobbery … that’s just a red herring.

But I think we should talk about that red herring. This article is not the first place I’ve seen this kind of argument in the media. There have been many articles with basically the same stuff but from less well-known authors. It’s important to talk about because it is really distracting. Everyone has strong feelings about this it seems. Nobody wants to be looked down on, or become the the kind of person who looks down on others. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes people really upset! Spinning the argument this way gets people off the topic of the availability and affordability of wholesome food which are the real issues here. So let’s see if we can put it to bed and get back to the work of finding ways to make real food more affordable so we can all have more of it in our lives.

A Kernel of Truth

Like most arguments, this one contains a small kernel of truth. Have you ever felt that people look down on you for your food? Felt that you were looked on as lower class because of your choices? I know I have. The bag boy at Whole Foods who asked if I made Hamburger Helper with all the ground beef I bought. The HEB cashier who seemed to pity me for my cart with dried beans, rice and unbleached white flour. The coworker who implied I was ethnophobic and narrow-minded for my dislike of sushi to name a few instances. I think we all have experiences like this from time to time. And the truth is there are snobs out there who do in fact pride themselves on their high-class food. They enjoy these little moments where they can boost their ego just a bit at the expense of someone else.

And then there are little food snobberies brought on by advertising. What, you don’t buy brand name beans? Instead you buy the store brand. Or you never buy processed foods. Believe it or not when I was a child this was a mark of poverty. Middle-class families bought processed store brand foods. People thought you were poor if you had to pinch pennies like that. No one would buy from scratch ingredients with the work it entails unless their budget forced them to. While this attitude has completely flipped now, I still see some remnants of it here in Texas. Like the HEB cashier I mentioned above. It was hard for her to understand why I was buying poor folks food ;-).

I live in an area where you can find people who will skip meals to afford to eat at a hot local restaurant. Where some folks are embarrassed for people to know what the actually normally eat when no one is looking. They don’t have a lot of money to eat this expensively all the time but they’d like for people to think they do. This to me is the real snobbery, using food as a status symbol and an identity at the expense of health. I doubt this is all that common though really. For whatever reason we do see some of it here. And this kind of snobbery is relatively common in the media. This is the snobbery to which Dr. Oz refers.

Behaving this way isn’t healthy so health is clearly not the top concern. They are missing meals or eating ramen and mac-n-cheese when alone, so they can eat expensively when someone is looking. While they give lip service to healthy eating it just isn’t the main worry, or they would balance out their food budget more. This lip service to health makes it easy for the doctors of spin to mix these folks up with those who just want healthy food for their families In logic, this has a name: conflation. The media is deliberately muddying the water by mixing the two groups together.

The Doctors of Spin

Dr. Oz implies in this article that average people will happily accept the compromised food found in the average grocery store. That only the 1% eat well, and the remaining 99% of us can be satisfied with supermarket fare. This is stated as an irrefutable, unchangeable fact. So we the 99% should just accept it. He thinks that the 99% will just ignore or not understand the firehose of negative information coming out about GMO’s, pesticides, herbicides, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, excitotoxins and other food additives. That we don’t need to concern ourselves with way the animals we eat are raised. That we won’t realize that the poor are dying younger than the well-off, a statistic that is getting worse now for the least educated of the 99%. He implies that to do otherwise is to become a wanna-be snob. In contradiction of the facts he asserts that “the American food supply is abundant, nutritionally sound, affordable and, with a few simple considerations, comparable to the most elite organic diets”. I don’t know about you but I don’t find the “considerations” needed to avoid toxic foods all that simple. I suspect Dr. Oz doesn’t either.

Make no mistake the PR firms working for the the food industry are well aware of the awakening to the state of our food supply. They are seeking to spin this situation to their advantage thru a kind of divide and conquer. But we are smarter than that :-).

All of Us Want Clean Wholesome Food

And I mean everybody! That includes the people who boldly say they don’t care while pounding down cheetos and coke. The difference between those who eat pretty well and those who eat really badly isn’t really about caring. It’s about believing you can make changes that will make a difference. Those who say they don’t care have lost hope of meaningful change. They feel 100% good food is unaffordable so why bother at all. The people who want to be seen buying expensive food also want clean wholesome food all the time. They just aren’t willing to give up higher status to improve their overall diet.

I think part of the reason why people become discouraged in their efforts to eat better is anxiety about being on the outs with everyone! Their friends and family who don’t know a lot about eating better might think that they’ve become food snobs who feel they are superior in some way. And those real food people who do everything so perfectly may look down on me for the compromises I have to make to fit the budget, to keep peace in the family or just to satisfy a little whim here and there.

Nothing could be further from the truth! Come on in the water is warm and inviting. We all make our compromises and we’re all just trying to keep abreast of the food news and keep our families as well fed as we can. And as for your friends and family, they do truly want what is best for you. And who knows, maybe the changes you make will inspire them to make changes of their own. Making those changes didn’t make me a food snob and it won’t make you one either :-).

You might be interested in my series Real Food at Walmart. It’s a tour of Walmart with the idea of getting as close to a 100% real food diet as possible. I figured you can get about a third of the way there so it’s a great start for people transitioning from processed food to real food.

This post is shared at The Chicken Chicks Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Healthy Home Economists Monday Mania, Hartke Is Online’s Weekend Gourmet, The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop, Nourishing Treasures Make Your Own Monday, Natural Living Mamma’s Natural Living Monday, Cooking Traditional Foods Traditional Tuesdays, The Polivka Family’s Family Table Tuesday, Mamaldiane’s The Gathering Spot, Penniless Parenting’s Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday, Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday, Deep Roots at Home’s My Picks of the Week, We Are That Familys Works for Me Wednesday, Holistic Squid’s Party Wave Wednesday, Whole New Mom’s Traditional Tuesday, Day 2 Day Joys Healthy 2 Day Wednesday, This Chick Cooks Whole Foods Wednesday, Thank Your Body’s Thank Your Body Thursday, My Cultured Palate’s Tasty Traditions, The Nourishing Gourmet’s Pennywise Platter Thursday,Real Food Freaks Freaky Friday and Deborah Jeans Dandelion House’s Farmgirl Friday .

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Granny LOVES a great discussion! A thoughtful, in-depth look from all angles benefits us all. If you disagree let us know! But please remember you're in Granny's house and be respectful of that. If you wouldn't say it in your Grandma's hearing please don't say it here! No name-calling or foul language. Those comments that don't respect Granny's home will be deleted.

Yolanda Breidenbaugh December 9, 2012 at 8:18 pm


I am a little shocked to hear that Dr. Oz would write an article like that. It makes me wonder what is REALLY behind it…

Over my lifetime I have gradually learned a little here and a little there. My mother was very nutrition conscious, and talked about it frequently, which has been such a blessing to me. I grew up on Wonder Bread, but at the time, it was thought to be the best thing! We cooked from scratch, at least. :) I am so grateful for the internet and also for “Nourishing Traditions” and all the wonderful food bloggers who have been so helpful in recent years.

Rachel @Time for Good Food December 10, 2012 at 8:05 am

Great post, Kathy! I too am surprised in Dr. Oz’s stance. He seems to be contradicting his own advice. Makes me wonder if some “power that be” is behind his embrace of GMOs and big agra. Very unfortunate!

Kathy December 10, 2012 at 9:17 am

I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to Dr. Oz but this article really hooked me this week. It was a summation I felt of a number of similar articles I’ve read on main stream news sites recently. I gather that Dr. Oz was previously a strong advocate for organic foods for all. It’s a pity! So glad to hear from you Rachel! Love that gorgeous pound cake post … I might have to make one for the holidays this year :-). I’ll have to convert it to honey though … sugar doesn’t agree with me even in little doses. Still learning how to alter cake recipes. They are the toughest! But it should be fun :-)

Heather Jackson December 10, 2012 at 3:07 pm

Shame on Dr. Oz! We usually think our poor people food is far superior to what we can get in the store or a restaurant. Eggs so fresh they are still warm, 1/2 a cow from a local farmer, veggies from my garden. We just sit back and say “I wonder what the rich folks are eating tonight?” You can check out my menu for this week if you like, http://www.greeneggsandgoats.com/2012/12/menu-plan-monday-dec-10-16.html I would love to hear where I could do better if you have a chance!

Gudrun B December 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm

mind if i link this on my site? because i am way too lazy to write about Oz :)
i totally lost interest in him when his show kept advertisements on Soy milk and such running
i am aware his shows need to be paid, but who determines how much one needs to be paid (to be profitable) – oh the snobs, so they can afford healthy food? :)
money will always rule the world, some people can be bought at any price, others only over a certain amount few can resist! I might tell them i will no longer put the show on if i have to market… or conform; by golly he should not need the money at this point! But you get used to a certain life style and, and, and…. so he sold out sadly :(

Kathy December 11, 2012 at 5:21 pm

Sure I’d love it if you’d like to link to it :-)

Grace December 12, 2012 at 1:02 pm

Could you please provide a link to Dr. Oz’s article? I can’t seem to find it in your blog. Thanks.

Kathy December 12, 2012 at 1:05 pm

Hi Grace … unfortunately Time only makes it available to subscribers … that’s one of the reasons why I didn’t link to it. Perhaps they make it available after some time has passed?

Brooke December 12, 2012 at 11:11 pm

Hi Kathy – great post! I was really bothered by Dr. Oz’s article as well and you did a great job of rebutting it. Thanks for standing up for us “food snobs”! Never in my life did I think people would try to shame me for trying to be healthy. The problem isn’t people trying to “act rich” or whatever Dr. Oz was saying. The problem is that we don’t have enough local food, local farmers, and local distribution networks to provide food for people who don’t have enough money. I was just listening to a Google Authors talk that Joel Salatin gave a few months back and he addressed this issue head-on. He said, which I agree with, that very very few people have no choice on how to spend their money. The same people who say organic and local food is expensive are the same people paying $200 a month for cable TV or buying $100 skillets and purses (my friend on welfare buys these things but complains that healthy food is too expensive). I think we are starting to see the status quo change and the old status quo is starting to get mad. Thanks again for a great post!

Lisa Lynn December 15, 2012 at 1:40 pm

I was surprised to hear that he said this also…he is usually pretty even keel.

Thanks for sharing this post with us. I would love to have you link up to Wildcrafting Wednesday next week! Here is the url to this week’s hop…

Kathy December 16, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Thanks for the invite!

Kendra at New Life on a Homestead December 16, 2012 at 11:36 pm

GREAT post, and very well said. I used to love to watch Dr. Oz (before I got wise and ditched the tv!). I’m saddened that he isn’t taking a stand against what is going on in our nation food-wise, that he isn’t fighting for REAL food.

Thank you for linking up to the Homestead Barn Hop, and for helping to spread awareness about the battle that’s going on between Big Ag and those who want real, natural, nourishing foods.

Amber K January 1, 2013 at 11:24 pm

I was really surprised by his article. I don’t know who has him in their pockets….

Peggy February 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

I love this article you wrote. Very well thought out and written well.

Lon Overacker March 1, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Just found your site – love this blog and will explore more. Great article – maybe I missed it, but is there a link to the article? I’d like to read and reference it, but can’t find it. spent a few min on Dr. Oz’s and Time’s website, still no luck. Anyway, thanks. Love the premise of your blog.

Kathy March 2, 2013 at 9:59 am

Hi Lon … so glad you like the site :-). I didn’t have a link to the Time article since it’s behind a paywall on Time’s site. You have to subscribe to read it.

Eva March 23, 2013 at 6:55 pm

So glad to find another great article.
I saw red when I read the Dr.Oz Time magazine piece.
I honestly could not believe that he called organics “elitist” – yeah…. cause I’m such an elitist snob trying to make sure my family doesn’t snack on pesticides and herbicides…..
Nice rebuttal.
I would have used my “angry” words. :-)

Elisabeth Gibson March 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

Dr. Oz’s ridiculous comments are one more reason to pay no attention to him. It’s always going to be about media attention, and never about what is correct. Saying this, I have no doubt that he is completely detached from those of us who work at putting good on the table, and have the brains to figure how to do this on a budget. My family is as chemical-free as I can get it, and we never step foot into Whole Foods. There are ways, Dr. Oz, and you can’t discourage us.

Kathy March 31, 2013 at 1:00 pm

Preach it Elisabeth! Amen :-)

Dana H May 1, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Now that we have started our journey to making our “partially-real-food-kitchen” into a “almost-all-the-way-real-food-kitchen” (every little step counts) I find myself getting mad when I grocery shop. Just wanting simple ingredients and real-food options that don’t cost twice as much as the crap-laden alternative is so frustrating. But, I can’t go back to the other way of just getting what is cheap and what is getting a lot of airtime in TV ads. I guess I am in the category of a “food elitist”…whatever!!

Vonnie July 4, 2013 at 11:07 pm

Old post, I know, but I gotta rant. I have access to many online publications, including Time, through the organization I work for so I was able to read the article. Wow, way to play the class envy card there, Oz! The article is also vague and confusing. Basically, it’s “packaged food is okay, except when it’s not. Read labels. Good luck with this!” It’s just not that helpful.

When I was growing up, my family just barely got by. What was worse, is that my mother was disabled and often sick so cooking and shopping for healthy food was pretty much out. My dad did most of the shopping and cooking and he did the best he could, but it meant growing up eating a lot of boxed macaroni and cheese, canned tuna, processed cheese food slices (rarely did we ever have real cheese), Hamburger Helper, and TV dinners. These are the kinds of foods I think of when I think of poverty food. This is the only kind of food that people live in food deserts can get because they are stuck with shopping at liquor stores. A lot of these people depend on SNAP and you can use that to order real food through Amazon. So, yeah, people in that situation have fewer options, but I don’t see how my choosing to reject that kind of food makes affects them. If anything, it’s the real foodies who are demanding change and more accessibility to real food for people everywhere at every socioeconomic level. It’s real food markets and trucks run by non-profits that are going into these food deserts, not the corporate supermarkets. Yeah, we’re a bunch of snobs.

As for what some store employees think about what I buy, who cares?

Kathy July 5, 2013 at 1:47 pm

Great rant Vonnie! I’d like to comment on the why I think the snide comments and sidelong glances matter. I grew up in a house where saying that we didn’t care about what others thought was daily fare. It’s an attitude I’m really familiar with, and really sympathize with. While it helps people cope with being different, it doesn’t help to explain peoples behavior which is what I’m trying to do here. These little indignities of status do matter to people, in fact they matter a lot, and they do affect behavior. Some psychologists indicate that they believe being placed comfortably in a status hierarchy is the single biggest motivator of human behavior. I watch what people do, and man, I believe it.

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