Frozen Pizzas and the Cycle of Poverty, Part II

The beauty of "to be continued" blog posting is that it entices people to come back for a follow-up (as evidenced by my friend Christine's latest post on her blog). I mean, let's be honest here. I am not just keeping a blog for the sake of a personal online journal. Yes, it is nice to revisit my thoughts now and again, but part of my desire is to have an influence on visitors and meet bloggers from other parts of the world. So, the drawback is that there are no deadlines for blogging and therefore I can lose inspiration when I take a two or three day hiatus from a "to be continued" post. Note to self: when writing a post with the intention of drawing people back for more, write the follow-up immediately following the first post (or fairly soon thereafter).

Now, where was I. Oh yes, the pizzas, or poverty in the inner cities rather. Upon finishing Part I, I read through my thoughts again, which were more or less stream of consciousness, and I realized this: I bit off way more than I can chew. But, you know, that's okay. We've got to start somewhere. And my buddy, Roland, was quick to jump in with me and offer some initial thoughts and questions to deepen the discussion. If you haven't read his comments on Part I, I encourage you to do so now. Roland is a Marketing Ph.D. in Champaign and the thrust of his research is related to functional literacy and decision-making in relation to nutrition (correct me if I'm off). Now, the central questions I raised earlier were:

What can we do to bring redemption to our inner cities? To educate and enable and empower impoverished families in the inner cities to buy groceries at reasonable prices? To see the futility of spending each week's paycheck on overpriced food and other items at the local corner store? To break the cycle of poverty?
When spouting off these questions, I wanted to begin taking a serious look at how we can go about teaching people how to fish and to not just give them fish. My intention was and is to look at this within the framework of the following: government and public policy versus private sector (faith-based initiatives and philanthropic programs) and their role in impacting the poor in relation to nutrition, literacy/education and employment and the role of corporate America. Let me pause here and say that we have a lot to learn from impoverished as well.

I would be remiss if I didn't say that when I ponder these issues, I do so with a Biblical worldview. The Word of God is the paradigm with which I see and understand the world. As one who is seeking to follow Christ, I see him as the greatest source of redemption in these areas, because before we can ever find sustained hope in this life, we must find a restored relationship with our Creator. But I do not believe that Jesus only cares about our life after death; he desires for his followers to bring Shalom to this life as we proclaim the gospel in word and deed, to redeem the broken places of this world for his glory. And Jesus gave us the perfect example of what it looks like to step out and love the poor.

So my desire to bring redemption to the impoverished peoples of our inner can not stem from guilt or a desire to give handouts and "charity", it must be rooted in humilty and a strong desire to bring continued hope and renewal come to the marginalized and forgotten, to pattern myself after Christ. Now that I've established that I am incredibly wordy, I am afraid I must continue this on next time, because people are probably dropping like flies reading this rambling.

In Part III, what's Wal-Mart got to do with it?


Anonymous said...

JK, I'm following what you're saying and I'm very interested. I'm not sure how to contribute, especially from the UK but keep going because it's a worthwhile conversation.

Colin Lamm said...

Hello From Canada,

I'm very interested in reading what you have to say in part three of this posting. If you check out my personal profile you will see that i have just a little bit of a vested interest in this question.

I have struggled for years over the items that low-income people in Canada tend to buy with their social assistance cheques. Indeed, prepared foods such as pizzas, pop and chips can be purchased at a much lower price than more nutritional foods.

You are posing some great questions and i will definitely tune it for the next segment.

Anonymous said...

p.s. JK why do you want the guy to switch from pizza to fish? :-)

Anonymous said...

So much of what I do is instinctive, observational, and off the cuff, which is a fairly vast departure from many of my colleagues, who are often much more methodical than I am. But, what I have seen in the retail setting is that familiarity is often the heuristic (simplified decision making rule) that people follow.

Why are you buying this? I bought this last time, so I'll buy it this time.

Why did you buy this last time? It's what I've always bought.

Why have you always bought it?
It's what mother bought.

Why don't you try something else?
It may be bad, and I know that this won't be bad.

But the new one could be better?
But it could be bad.

One of the things that easy to do is to blur low income and low functional literacy. They're distinct characteristics, though they often show up together. But, one thing that I believe about the low functional literacy population is that they are inherently risk averse. They have had a lot of bad things happen to them. The believe that they are cheated at the store (whether or not this is true is another story altogether). They think that people judge them because of their inability to read or count. They're ashamed of their lack of ability. As a result, they fall back to "safe" behaviors that they know won't be disastrous. They're willing to sacrifice the attempt at something better for something that won't be bad.

Now how does that manifest itself? Some behavioral outcomes are that people will stick with the same brand, even if better options are available. People will avoid price promotions if they can't calculate the price, even if it is a good deal. People will buy less food, or pay for it one item at a time for fear of running out of money.

From an evolutionary standpoint, when people are avoiding risk, they tend to limit their fields of perception, they don't engage in very complicated analysis, and they settle for satisfactory outcomes, rather than optimal outcomes.

Now, from Canada or the UK, you'll have a different social environment, but I think that there are some core cognitive and emotional traits that folks who are low functionally literate will share universally.

Of course, if you approach this from a different view, you'll get some interesting thoughts generated, too. For example, can we use income as a focal point, and consider some sort of a resource-allocation way to look at this issue? Or how about using family makeup as a focal point and examining this from an anthropological view?

Lots of ways to peel this onion.


Jonathan King said...

It would be interesting to see a data set from the inner city demographic and see how things like family size and income level would be correlated to certain purchasing habits and resource allocation. We could have a much easier conversation about this if I were in Champaign...when we could enjoy those macadamia nut cigars or some more Dim Sum.