Food Snobs in the Soup Kitchen?

By Matthew Yglesias


Julie Gunlock complains at NRO that “food snobs” are ruining America by serving unduly fancy food at soup kitchens. It’s actually rare that conservatives get to combined their hatred of poor people with their hatred of “cultural elites” in a single argument, so Gunlock gets so busy dishing out the sarcasm that she can’t quite seem to deliver the “so what?” point where we see who is being harmed by this alleged trend.

But more perniciously, throughout the piece she runs together the idea of soup kitchens being too “snobbish” about what food they serve with the idea of soup kitchens being health-conscious about the food they serve. This is an important distinction to make, however. When people can’t get enough to eat, they become malnourished. The point of charitable food assistance is to help people avoid that fate. That means, however, that it’s foolish to ignore the nutritional content of what you’re serving. Oftentimes, the situation is so dire that you can’t afford to fuss too much about this. People in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa are teetering on the brink of starvation and need food by any means necessary. But fortunately for us, even in this economy the United States is not a drought-ravaged, famine-stricken, war-torn, malgoverned third world state. We’re not facing imminent mass starvation. So it’s eminently sensible for people trying to bring food to those in need to be paying attention to the differential health impact of different meals.


7 responses to “Food Snobs in the Soup Kitchen?

  1. RoboticGhost

    “A recent meal served at the Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND) kitchen in Pacoima, Calif., included pumpkin soup seasoned with browned butter and sage, red-wine barbecue beef on handmade puff pastry, artichoke hearts with meatballs marinara, roasted-garlic-and-turnip mashed potatoes, all topped off with fresh blueberries and sour cream. No wonder these places need a bailout.”

    It’s pretty clear Ms. Gunlock doesn’t do much cooking, or if she does its of the most pedestrian kind. None of the items mentioned in her cited line up are particularly expensive or “fancy.” Turnips? Garlic? The point of the “$30 meal” served to homeless there is about the quality of the preparation, not the dollar amount spent on ingredients. The pumpkin soup with brown butter and sage is probably a lot cheaper to make than a beef and vegetable soup she would probably heartily approve of, but its not something mom made back in the day so it seems exotic and weird to her. Marinara sauce is epitome of cheapness, but it sounds fancier than spaghetti and meatballs so she probably assumes its more expensive (and French!).

    One takeaway for everybody from what they’re doing at Miriam’s should be that good food doesn’t require a kingly budget, and that applied knowledge can turn simple, inexpensive ingredients into something more than the sum of their parts.

  2. unionmaidn

    this totally fits with the right’s hollow “deserving poor” meme dating back to the Pleistocene era, or at least the Reagan era. Like, there are “deserving poor,” who valiantly maintain their optimistic hope of becoming Oprah Winfrey even as they toil meaninglessly in a dead-end retail job and who would sell their children’s blood rather than accept welfare–and then there are the undeserving poor, who wake up around 3pm and lollygag over to the local soup kitchen for a lavish meal of lobster tail on a bed of wilted arugula.


    can we not evolve?

    do human beings not require nutrition in order to survive?

    oh, right–they don’t believe soup kitchen patrons deserve to live. let’s not even let them pretend to occupy any moral high ground.

  3. I’m only here for the food.

  4. The third to last sentence should have read:

    “But fortunately for us, George Bush couldn’t steal another election and his plan to turn the United States into a drought-ravaged, famine-stricken, war-torn, malgoverned third world state could no longer be executed.”

  5. We are a center-rightish nation, and yet the Dems have won the popular vote in 5 of the last 6 elections. Here’s my theory: about 20% of the nation is die-hard GOP, and about 20% will never vote for anyone but a donkey. The rest of us would really like to vote for the best candidate, but a lot of the time, we end up voting not FOR anyone but AGAINST the side that seems the most crazy. We don’t want to be on the team with the wack-jobs, so we vote for the other guys.

    And the arugulaphobes and nutrition-deniers are making that job oh-so-easy.

  6. What this is really about is the idea that the poor deserve to be punished for their poverty, otherwise how will they ever learn. If a poor person gets the occasional treat, such as a nice meal at a soup kitchen, well it’s rewarding sloth and indigence. They might experience dignity for once, and we can’t have that. They should be fed tough mutton stew and a slice of stale bread, while listening to haranguing sermons on self-reliance until they learn to be richer, like Ms. Gunlock.

  7. O f course, the ultimate irony is that it’s always the anti-cultural elitist who are trying to tell everyone else how to live.

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