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Canadian women: We're fat, our kids are fat, and we're letting other people raise our children

Today's news stories come with a heavy dose of woman and mother-blame.

  • Canadian women getting fatter, and fast...: In the Ottawa Citizen, Sharon Kirkey reported that Canadian women are becoming overweight faster than almost any other women in the high-income world. At least this article ended with a couple of suggestions on tackling structural issues in society that may be contributing to obesity.

  • ...while kids of working moms are far likelier to be obese:  Also in the Ottawa Citizen, Sharon Kirkey reports that researcher Taryn Morrissey doesn't intend to make mothers feel guilty, but "after looking at nearly 1,000 children living in 10 U.S. cities, Morrissey and colleagues found that a child's body mass index rises slightly the more time a mother is employed over the child's life-time." This is, of course, "just one of many factors at play in the current epidemic of childhood obesity" according to Morrissey, but also the only one making headlines in the paper.

  • Conservatives draw fire over comment on child care: The Toronto Star's Susan Delacourt reported that Conservative Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said "It's the Liberals who want to ensure that parents are forced to have other people raise their children. We do not believe in that."

Why can't people see past the statistics and the rhetoric and realize that the problem isn't women or mothers? The problem is that our society is working against working mothers instead of evolving to create a better and more supportive environment for them.

  • Where are the companies offering convenient real food for moms to put on the table instead of marketing us crap and telling us it is nutritious? (Nutella, Gerber Graduates, Pizzaville)

  • Where are the flexible workplaces for moms and for dads (in practice, as well as in theory), that allow parents to spend more time with their children even if they are both working?

  • Why aren't our children being given enough time to run around and be active each day at day care and school instead of focusing on excelling on standardized testing?

  • Why are our day cares and schools offering meal programs that pretend to be healthy, but that are often no better than fast food?

  • Why isn't anyone doing anything about the fact that junk food is cheaper than real food?

  • Why isn't the government offering more generous parental leave programs (like some European countries) so that parents can opt to take more time off if they want to?

  • Why isn't more blame placed on the companies who keep increasing and increasing portion sizes?

Ultimately, what the "blamers" don't seem to realize (or don't seem to care about) is that high income Canadians are more likely to be able to stay at home with their kids, to buy and prepare healthy real food, and to have the time and money to ensure both they and their kids get out to exercise. Low income Canadians are more likely to have to have both parents at work (sometimes both working multiple jobs), to have to buy unhealthy foods because healthy ones are less accessible and less affordable, and to be less likely to have the time or the money to participate in fitness activities.

Working moms are part of our reality now. Rather than blaming them for stepping out of the 1950s and stepping up to support their families financially, I'd like to see researchers and politicians dig deeper and find the real reasons behind challenges our society is facing. Sure, some people can overcome those challenges sometimes and it is worth it to try in spite of it all. However, we would have more success and more happiness as a society if it were easier for people to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle.  We need less blame, more solutions.
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Reader Comments (71)

Yes, yes, yes. By simply blaming moms, we divert attention from the real issues. Childhood obesity does not happen in a vacuum and there are many social, cultural and economic causes that contribute to the problem. I promote family dinner becuase I think it is one route to helping parents and kids to eat healthier and be more connected. But I do not feel it is just the mom's job to do it. In two parent households, both parents need to work together. In the broader environment though, better policies need to be in place to support flexible work schedules, healthy school food and better incentives to make fruits and veggies affordable. There are many routes to attacking the obesity problem, but merely placing blame on individuals, especially moms, just isn't going to cut it.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGrace @eatdinner

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by phdinparenting and Arwyn, Jennifer Jackson. Jennifer Jackson said: Canadian women: We’re fat, our kids are fat, and we’re letting other people raise our children http://bit.ly/i1DYj3 #bfing [...]

And this is why I'm oh-so-grateful to be living in Quebec. We have the almost-perfect parental leave plan - BOTH parents get to take significant time off (up to a year!) I'm fortunate enough to have a job that *is* flexible enough to allow me to care for my family even though I work full time. And yes, the weather positively sucks in the winter, but I've never once felt disadvantaged as a result of being a working mother.

Except when I tried to enroll my child in private school, but that's a whole other story.

And while what you say is true, we have to keep in mind that people are stuck in a mindset. A bbq chicken at Loblaws is cheaper than a bucket of fried chicken at KFC - but where do you think the low-income family is heading for dinner? At some point, people need to take responsibility for their choices.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjulie

Oh, and I totally left out the part about $7 (okay, really $15) a day daycare. And for the record, mine does serve exceptionally healthy food - breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 snacks.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjulie

I totally agree with you. The reporting on the study about the link between childhood obesity and women working out of the home is, not surprisingly, misleading and myopic. It's so much easier to blame individuals (mothers, especially) than to look critically at the structural impediments to healthy living for all—e.g., Big Food. This issue is touched on in some of the reports, but never delved into the way it should be.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenternorthTOmom

Sigh, yes. I read that political comment this morning and the top of my head just about blew off.

Great post, Annie. How long do you think we'll have to sing this song before somebody listens?

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDaniGirl

Oh yes I so so so hear you! I read the first two of these articles in this morning's paper, on the same page (!) and thought of about a thousand angry responses. Couldn't the paper EVER report things like this along with balanced research into, I don't know, how much healthier moms are mentally when they work outside the home, or also publish an editorial expressing the views you have here? Or how about also providing some opinions from nutritionists, or psychologists or whoever on proactive things that could be done with the (biased) findings in the case of the child care/bmi study?
And I take SO SO much offense to the notion that other people are raising my daughter while she is in daycare. That is nonsense. Freakin' Conservative minority government nonsense.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commentereva

The problem is, whenever there is discussion on trying to get to the real causes of obesity, the large majority which much prefer to warble on about "personal responsibility." Basically an attitude of, no one needs to do anything because fat people are fat because they choose to be.

Which, if anyone chose to think about, is completely ridiculous; and personal responsibility means nothing if society forces people to decide between a myriad of bad choices. However, it still persists. Why? I'm guessing it's because the overweight and the obese are still ok to shame.

This has been weighing on my mind for the past couple of day, also due to news articles. The first was tackling how we treat the obese, suggesting that "fat shaming" does nothing to help people lose weight. Can you guess what the commerati had to say on that one? "Fat shaming" doesn't really begin to describe it.

Then yesterday I read the coverage of the fact that someone is finally suing Nutella for it's blatantly false advertising. The mother who brought forth the lawsuits was called all sorts of nasty as it was decided that the consumer just needed to be smarter, rather than the company truthful.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhypatia

You really nailed this one for me when you pointed out that "Ultimately, what the “blamers” don’t seem to realize (or don’t seem to care about) is that high income Canadians are more likely to be able to stay at home with their kids, to buy and prepare healthy real food, and to have the time and money to ensure both they and their kids get out to exercise."

Almost all of the mother-blaming rhetoric around children's health and nutrition is based on classist arguments and a lack of compassion for or understanding of other people's situation.

I personally think the whole childhood obesity panic is itself a shining example of classism as it plays in out in modern democratic Western societies. Attaching a moral value to food and to body mass (even if it's packaged as a health concern) means that people whose bodies don't fit the prescribed model for whatever reason - and the reasons aren't always clear-cut or easy to remediate - can be safely villified and their parenting / life choices impugned at will. Just a new iteration of the old undeserving poor rhetoric for mine.

NB: I am not suggesting that conversations about food, nutrition and exercise aren't necessary, or that focusing on these things to the extent that one is able isn't a good thing. I just believe that these conversations would be better had in the absence of the body-shaming and simplistic assumptions about why people eat what they eat, why people (including children) might be fat, and what to do about it.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathy

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Elizabeth@Spilt Milk, ZucchiniBikini. ZucchiniBikini said: Great post on PhD in Parenting abt mother-blaming and childhood obesity panic: http://bit.ly/eDElg3 [...]

Thank you! Everything you write holds true in the US as well. In addition to the fact that processed, horrible-for-you-crap is cheaper than whole, nutritious foods, they also take less time to prepare. So if you are working like crazy out side the home, in one or two jobs, and have a limited amount of time and money, you're going to choose the cheapest and fastest way to feed your family. And chances are that if you're at work all day, the last thing you want to do is take MORE time away from your family to hit the gym and exercise. We need to make good, nutritious food more affordable and available, and we need to arm families with the know how to prepare them quickly and easily for their families.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSara

Personally, I'd love to see things shift so that families could more reasonably be supported on one income. Studies show most mothers would not choose to work full-time if they felt they had the financial freedom to do so, and this obesity study is just the latest in a long line that show that time at home with mom is generally better than time in daycare. I don't think anyone would welcome an era where women were again considered less capable of working, but that seems besides the point to me. I think most women don't really want to work, at least not much, but they feel like they *have* to. If we won the lottery (unlikely since we don't buy lottery tickets) my Hubby would stay home in a heartbeat too-I don't think it's just women. Why would anyone want to work more than they absolutely have to??

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMaman A Droit

Hear hear! I read this post minutes after reading an article about accusing women who opt out of having kids of being selfish. I'm a working mom and I can't count the number of times I was criticized for going back to work after my son was born. I breastfeed my son, who is now 18 months and we do spend a lot of time together because luckily, both my husband and I spend a lot of time working from home. We can afford healthy food and afford time off to go do physical activities outside our home, we can afford to sit down for dinner together every night because we earn enough income. Many do not have that option, but does that make them guilty? Mothers and women always get the blame, especially in this era where conservatism is definitely not siding with women... It should not be an either or situation...How can we expect to have a healthy society if all its members are not given recognition?

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterElodie

What I took away from this upon first reading it was not so much blame, but personal responsibility. Who's choice is it ultimately to buy the not so nutritious food? Every morning I could send my daughter to school with $5 to buy the junk food they sell in the school canteen or I could pack her a lunch. Or to plan (financially, and in all other ways) for the impact having and raising children will have on our household? My husband's cousin worked like a dog through her 20s so that by the time she started her family in her early 30s, she had a financial cushion so she could stay home. Yes, having more flexible workplaces would be awesome. I do part-time contract work when I can find it because that's the only situation that works for us. My husband works like mad as well to make sure we can pay the bills. And we're not "high" income...we've been on a single income for the majority of my children's lives...but we still manage to buy and prepare healthy food, to make sure the kids are getting enough exercise...it's been tight for us financially some years but we get by. I think that's why the articles and post struck a chord with me...it was almost insulting to me to insinuate that if we're not high income and we're both working then our kids will be lazy and fat...I could look at our situation and blame others for it...blame food companies, blame the government, blame employers, schools, society, the tax system, the free market...but that would just keep me powerless in my own mind. I prefer to look at it as, yes, the situation is not ideal for us in many ways but what can I do in my own family to make it the best it can be? What steps can I take in my own world to mitigate some of what's amiss out there?

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

@J. - There's two levels here. On the personal level, I agree with you. Sitting around shaking my fist at society doesn't help me. It doesn't make my life one iota better. So on the personal/practical level, I do everything I can so that I keep myself and my family healthy. I take responsibility for my choices, I work a bit harder and have fun a bit less so that I can spend more time at home, etc.

However, there's also the social level. We need a society that enables smart choices and empowers its citizens to make them. Encouraging pro-family public policies is *not* shirking individual responsibility. Saying that, on average, it's the high income people who have the luxury of making smart choices is not saying that low income people are doomed. You're confusing two very different levels of discourse...

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

Maman A Droit:

I like this idea, but would prefer to frame it differently to focus more on allowing parents to spend more time away from work, rather than just allowing mothers to stay home. I think you were moving in that direction at the end of your comment. Personally, I like my work. I don't want to have to work long hours and I do like to spend time with my family, but I wouldn't give up my career in a heartbeat in order to stay home. In fact, I think I would be pretty miserable.

However, I do think it would be ideal if families could be supported on one income, whether that is one person working or both people working part-time. Friends of ours manage to both work part-time, which I think is an excellent solution. They both have a lot of free time and a lot of family time and still manage to pay the bills. I think part of that is individual planning and part of it is making the workplace more flexible, food for affordable, and flexible childcare more available.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Perhaps I am...I just look at it that as individuals, we make up society. From my limited perspective, I can wait for society to be more pro-family...I can wait for TPTB to institute the changes that will benefit my life...better leave and childcare options, flexible workplaces, more nutritious and affordable school lunch programs, lower food prices...or I can look at it from a more grassroots view that works to create change from the bottom up through practice, activism, awareness...whatever. That can be anything from community gardens and CSA to parental childcare co-ops to job sharing...whatever. We do this already in my local community here. Not on any official basis. We watch each other's kids as a co-op. We grow our own produce for exchange with each other. We work to create awareness that there are other ways of doing things.

I just don't have a lot of faith that government or corporations will "do the right thing" without a reason to do so (either politically or monetarily)...without an entire population of individuals who currently tolerate the status quo undergoing a seismic shift so dramatic that it cannot go unnoticed and the change that is being called for has to be implemented. But in the meantime, that magnitude of societal change has to start somewhere. Why not with groups of individuals leading the way? Perhaps even creating models that can be adapted for use by government or business down the road? To me, the two levels of discourse are related.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Junk food is not cheaper than healthy food. Try out the website www.soscuisine.com and type in 'Budget' menu for however many are in your family and you'll quickly see that it costs pennies to feed a family healthy meals. It's a great Canadian site and should be used by more families.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

It is of absolutely no benefit to Big Food and Big Pharma for families to be able to afford to have one parent stay home (or two part-time jobs - whatever - some way to be able to actually spend time with children). We are all supposed to consume - food and commodities - at as high a level as possible, and to do that we have to get sucked into the consumerism vortex, which is very difficult to get out of again!

Not only is junk food cheaper than real food (maybe on the surface - I'll check out that link), but I was amazed when traveling to Nova Scotia last year that decent food in general is MORE expensive in areas that are less affluent. What gives? Far cheaper to buy diet pop than milk. Okay, you could drink water, but most people, especially children, don't want to drink water all the time...

The answer, as far as I can tell, to each of your bulleted "why" questions, Annie, is PROFIT and POLITICS. More money to the corporations, and we often don't notice we've been sucked in until it's too late.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJuliette


I also live in Quebec and we were able to use QPIP for our second child (it didn't exist when our first was born, so we had to use the regular EI one then). I do think it is good, but I wouldn't call it almost-perfect. In some European countries people can take several years off. Also, depending on how tight someone's finances are, they may not be able to take the year off, even with QPIP because it only pays a percentage of your salary and only up to a specific maximum amount.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Chest bump, sister. Good roundup.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterkarengreeners


I think we'll be singing this song forever. So while some of the comments on 'personal responsibility' grate at me a bit (because I don't think it always comes down to just that), I don't know what other choice there is for a lot of people. Not that personal responsibility is a bad thing, but people shouldn't have to jump so many hurdles to take control of their own lives.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Yes - I wrote about the http://www.care2.com/causes/real-food/blog/taking-nutella-to-court-over-nutritional-claims/" rel="nofollow">Nutella lawsuit on the Care2 Causes site.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

Thank you, thank you, thank you. A million times, thank you! While I love living in Canada it is so frustrating to live in a country that pretends to value family!! I decided to become a stay at home mom when my maternity leave was up in September (my son was 10 months old when I should've gone back to work) and I am now facing the reality that I may have to return to work much sooner than I'd hoped. Unfortunately my job search (that has been going on for 2-3 months now) has been be unsuccessful, but the thought of putting my child in daycare devastates me! Also, due to our financial situation I had to buy Kraft Dinner for dinner tonight because it's cheap and we have a mortgage to pay. I am so ashamed to be feeding my 16 month old KD for dinner!

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDevon


I agree. I think discussions and education are a good thing. But I think it needs to be combined with greater access and opportunity to do the things that are being discussed and taught.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I also wanted to mention with regards to the Loblaws vs. KFC comment that you need to consider access. I know of one large, low income neighbourhood in Ottawa that does not have a grocery store. There used to be one in the mall, but when it closed at was replaced by something like Winners, there was nowhere in that whole area for people to buy fresh food. They could go to a convenience store or to buy fast food, but they couldn't go to a regular grocery store without taking a bus for a significant distance. Unfortunately, that does make it more difficult for people to get to a quality store to buy the kinds of food that are less expensive and healthier for their families.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I think there can be two forces working simultaneously, but I don't think that the problem will ever be solved with just one force or the other.

On the one hand, we need people who are able to make better choices to make those choices, because that will create market demand. If I buy more organic food, hopefully that will make it more commercially available and cheaper so that others can take advantage of that too.

On the other hand, we also need structural changes. We need regulations, standards, best practices and government programs to be implemented to help create new opportunities. The fact that I could opt out of the workforce and start my own company is not going to create a more flexible workforce for someone who doesn't have that option. So something else needs to change to make that possible. The fact that I choose healthier foods may make them more available in the areas that I shop in, but it will not stop junk food marketers from pushing their garbage in less affluent areas.

It isn't personal responsibility OR societal change -- it needs to be both.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


Thanks for the link. I've signed up and I will check it out.

I agree that it can be cheaper to buy healthy food than junk food, but it assumes a certain level of literacy and also easy access to a store that has a good variety of healthy affordable food.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I agree that it is profit and politics. I find it upsetting when people say that it is all just "personal responsibility" and they do not see the damage that is being done to our society by corporations and politicians.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

It also takes time. My husband and work really hard to cook at home far more then we used to. And certainly we save money buying fresh healthy food, rather then eating out. But it still takes time and organization to pull off. It takes the time to cook, but also the time to plan out what you are going to have for the week to make sure you have the right ingredients on hand. We both work a full 40 hour week. For families that may have one or more parents working multiple jobs I could see how this would become really difficult. Even for us it is difficult. We sacrifice other things to make it work because it is important to us- but it's not easy.

I totally agree with other comments about the importance of both societal and personal responsibility. We need better options. We need better labeling, portion size, affordability in our food and we need the time with our families to eat right and exercise. We need a healthier society.

February 4, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen (amoment2think)

I feel like this - all of it - is SUCH a complex issue. There are so many factors that contribute to so many of the problems our society faces today. Where do you even begin? Is it possible that articles like these - even though they may place blame - are beneficial simply because they at least open the topic up for discussion? I'd rather someone wrote a bunch of inflammatory short-sighted articles that got people talking about some of the factors for some of the problems than nothing happened and nobody talked about solving any of the problems, you know?

I think you're right - we DO need to start focusing on and finding solutions to the real problems we face today. We need to fix things so that our children don't have to, so that they inherit a better world. We need to get our heads out of the sand: parents need more support and better family benefits, children need more parental involvement and attachment, society needs strong families and healthy children, parents need more education and less blame and guilt, children need healthier childhoods with more nutritious foods and rigorous physical activities, and society needs to get together and figure out how to make things like this possible. I don't know what the possibilities are, much less the answers, but I hope we figure it out soon. I don't think any of the mothers I know need more blame in their lives and I don't think any of us feel satisfied with the way things are for our children right now.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

After reading J's comment over and over, I think I agree with you that it needs to be both. But I think maybe J's right, maybe it starts with personal action at the very least. And maybe it always does need to be a little more personal action and responsibility than societal change? That kind of makes sense to me.

The only thing is that right now, it's like a runaway train. We can jump off, hold on, and skid our legs on the tracks to stop the thing as much as we'd like and yeah, we'll make a small difference. But we need a HUGE movement to get the train to stop. That sort of action takes education, and that requires at least a drastic shift in social perspectives.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Kathleen - My husband and I spend WAY more time now selecting and preparing food than we used to. I can see how it would quickly become complicated too!

A few months ago, we went to some exhibit around here where they were talking about the differences our society has seen over the past century. At some point, they talked about food and how we always focus on all of the bad stuff that's happened to the food industry, but we forget that it happened because there was a demand for less kitchen time. It wasn't too long ago that the average family required someone spending five to six hours of dedicated kitchen time EVERY DAY.

I wish we could find ways for healthy foods to be incorporated into our diets without spending five to six hours a day in the kitchen doing cooking stuff. As it is, between my husband and me, we spend about four hours per day in the kitchen cooking. That's alot of time. It's rough.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

Yes, it does need to be both. But the structural changes that we desperately need relies on individuals to bring it about...the committed ones who do all the small continual things to make it happen: write their MPs, write letters to the editor, speak up at community meetings, organize local community groups...the ones who become the squeaky wheel that the government needs to address. And while opting out of the workforce may not always create a more flexible workplace in some cases, in others it does. I know of quite a few WAHM-started businesses who employ other mothers and in their particular situation it does allow for the flexibility they require.

Like I mentioned previously, I don't believe that government or industry will do what is right without a real perceived benefit for them to do so. Perhaps part of our task is to keep pointing this out to them--what they stand to gain long term from instituting these changes. If we want to see the change, we also have to be the drivers. It'll be too late for me anyway (in terms of the childcare issue), but it doesn't mean that I can't help to bring about a better future for others. And I'm still there at P&F meetings, still asking about what can be done to put healthier food choices on our school canteen menu, and about school sports clubs for the kids.

And I do have faith in individuals...that they can make the best choices for themselves. Sure, junk food marketers can spin it how they want and still push garbage, but most people can see beyond this...I like to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are savvy enough and think critically to see through the hype. Even my daughter sees this...She is in primary school and knows that even though the McD kids' meal comes with milk and apple slices, it's still fast food, still junk food...and not something she can incorporate as part of a healthy diet.

I think the changes we want to see will come about. But it will also require a massive segment of the population saying, "You know, this is NOT good enough anymore," and until that happens, it will be a slow process.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJ.

Toronto, in particular, is known for having "food deserts" - large areas without access to real grocery stores. The Toronto Community Foundation made something of a fuss about it in last year's Vital Signs report (http://www.tcf.ca/vitalinitiatives/vitalsigns.html).

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

I'm really confused about this post. All these points you raise, healthy food, active kids, work life balance, are choices to me.
You are calling for companies to provide healthy fast food yet the prepared food industry is making more money than they know what to do with. We can choose to participate in that industry or not.
We can choose to speak to our employer about flexible hours or not.
Change starts at home.


Some people (like you and me) are privileged enough to be able to choose whether to participate in that industry or not. Not everyone is though. For low income families, where sometimes both parents have to work multiple jobs, it isn't always as easy. They don't have time to spend hours each day in the kitchen. Some employers will outright refuse requests for flexible hours and will penalize employees for even bringing it up. Some areas of the city have no grocery stores in them.

When I was living in Berlin, everyone had access to three years of parental leave, there was free daycare, and there was an extremely affordable fruit market on every corner. Most stores were closed on Sundays, which guaranteed that people at least had some time off with their families. It made it really easy on a daily basis to access nutritious food, to find the time to prepare it, and to spend time outdoors and being active with the family.

Some people can easily make better choices here in Canada and the United States. But, there are still things that could be done to make it easier for people to make good choices. Until some of those barriers are removed, I don't think it is fair to place the blame squarely on the shoulders of mothers. Even once the barriers are removed, I think if there is blame to go around, it should be shared equally between mothers and fathers.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

agree with so much of what you write, but "Rather than blaming them for stepping out of the 1950s and stepping up to support their families financially"? really?

why do so many women, to elevate themselves, have to put other women down?

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLori


In the 1950s, women were expected to stay home, to be doting mothers, perfect housekeepers and obedient wives. Men were expected to go out, get a job, and provide for their families. Now, we have choices. People can CHOOSE to stay home to care for the kids and run the household (both women and men) and people can CHOOSE to go to work to support their families financially (both women and men). Not everyone has those choices (in some families both parents have to work, in some families one parent is disabled and can't work, etc.), but for the most part people can choose and that choice is a good thing.

So when I speak of people stepping out of the 1950s, I am speaking about them stepping out of a time where society told them what their place and their role was, rather than a time when they can choose what works for them. I am criticizing media reports and studies that suggest that by choosing to step out of that traditional role, that women are harming ourselves and our families.

I am not criticizing anyone who chooses to stay home. My husband was a stay-at-home dad for 5 years and I was a stay-at-home mom for a little over one year total (if I add up the three times I stayed home). I think it is great when people can make that choice.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting

I really want to address how income affects choices (and limits them). Annie has done a great job of emphasizing that this is a bigger issue than personal responsibility, but I am still seeing some privileged perspectives in the comments.

I hear online all the time that healthy eating is cheaper or as inexpensive as eating processed food, but it is just not a practical reality.

I have access to one grocery store where I can spend $200 a month to buy food for my family. A month. There are 3 of us. The majority of the food I buy is produce, dairy, fresh bakery and meat (when I have the money). At out store, a pint of grape tomatoes is a dollar more than non-organic. Those dollars add up, so I don't buy organic.

At the end of my $200 budget, if I don't have food for a meal, but have $5 in my account, what are my choices? I can go to McDonald's and get 3 hamburgers for less than that (Subway cost at least 3 times that), or go to the grocery store and get some bread or a veggie. I know it's not ideal, but it fills bellies.

We have a fresh farmer's market that is seasonal. I will go there in the summer and get grass-fed beef and fresh veggies, but, I can only spend about $20 at a time, which might get us through the week. In the winter that's not an option.

Access is important. Cheap, healthy alternatives are important and need to be made accessible. If I have to feed my family McDonald's hamburgers to get us to tomorrow, I will.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSue

I'm in the US so I don't know anything about the politician you are writing about but one of the things that drives me crazy in the US is the rhetoric coming from conservative women who have benefited tremendously from feminism but refuse to acknowledge it. Who was raising the children of Phylis Schafely (sp?) when she was out campaigning against the ERA? Like most upper class women, she had help to raise her children. But because my daughter is in daycare, I'm letting someone else raise my children??? These women are hypocrites. Sarah Palin can have her TV show on Fox because she has the resources to provide adequate daycare to her children. But women like her are actively working against expanding access to adequate daycare to poor and lower middle class women.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJen

Sue, I completely disagree. I live ten miles from a farmer's market and thirty miles from a CSA and I don't live within what most people would term "walking distance" of a grocery (I beg to differ - legs are for walking, I don't care if it takes awhile), but I make it work. We spend $120 a month on food to feed two adults, a toddler, and host at least two extended family dinners and two girls' nights in. No fast food, no processed food, no GMOs, only organics, mostly veggies and grains, and only pasture-finished meats. We don't have much money and we arguably don't have much access, but we get creative and we make things work. I'm obviously more privileged than many peoplem but I also live in a bedroom community that backs up to one of the lowest income and highest crime neighborhoods in Los Angeles County. The people who live here are also some of the healthiest in the county - because they don't have the money and because many of the parents are forced to work multiple jobs and the population is overwhelmingly immigrant, they've been forced to get creative too. Last summer, I cycled ten miles to the farmer's market, daughter in tow, to bargain bottom barrel fruits - that is, the ones that are all mashed and bruised and gross and nobody buys them so the farmer chucks them. I brought $100 that we'd saved up all year and I bought hundreds of pounds of various fruits and veggies, then spent my last $8 paying for one farmer to drop them off at my house on his way back to the desert. We canned them into sauces and fruits and froze the leftovers and we've been eating them all winter. Maybe we're privileged because we found the time to can, but I think what's more important is that we changed our entire lifestyle because this was a priority for us and we got creative. It's cheaper for us to have me stay at home than it is for me to work and pay for daycare, so we had to get creative if we were going to provide healthy food for our family and we did. We made access. I couldn't afford the gas to go back and forth to the farmer's market every week last summer, so I bicycled sometimes or hitched a ride with friends who worked nearby and walked home, etc. Even so-called privileged families don't always have the resources to make healthy eating work easily, but if it's a priority for them like it is for us then you go to great lengths to make it happen. I don't like eating cast-off blueberries that spent two days mashed at the bottom of a cardboard box while everyone else bought the good ones, but I didn't have an alternative. Buying those blueberries at the grocery, where they have a pre-set price that I can't afford, wasn't an option. Buying fast food, where they have a pre-set price that I can't afford and health impacts I don't want, wasn't an option. This year we can afford the gas and afford to buy a few foods full-price, so naturally I will. But I'll never forget what it was like the year we couldn't - and I don't think I'll let anyone say I was able to make it work because I was privileged. I made it work because I was willing to borrow a bike, spend a day getting to and from the farmer's market while breastfeeding a baby, barter my ass off, then function on very little sleep because I was up late canning.

Cheap healthy alternatives are out there. People just need to know they're there. Then they need to want to take advantage of them. Then they need to make choices about whether or not to make it work. If I can make it work on $120 a month, then so can other people. If you only have access to one grocery, then yes, you're biggest problem is access. But most people have access to more than that if they're willing to be creative or willing to make sacrifices. Not everyone, but many people.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

I should say: I still think there needs to be large-scale social change. I just think that personal action and responsibility is an enormous part of that. You can't achieve social revolution without many individuals taking a stand, regardless of whether or not they're "privileged."

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com


To be fair, food is more expensive in Canada and fresh produce is less available (and more expensive) in the winter than it is in California. Our farmers markets are generally closed from November until about May.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphdinparenting


I hear you... I understand, as a parent particularly, why there is a demand for 'convenience food', particularly when both parents work outside the home. As our economy shifted and more and more time is spent working it makes sense. I love working outside the home and I wouldn't have it any other way... but I wish there were more flex time and hours for parents so that it was a little easier to making cooking and healthy eating a priority for all.

I think the time issue is often left out of the discussion. We always talk about the cost of healthy food, but I can think of lots of families where healthy eating is a very difficult 'choice' to make. For example, a single parent working two jobs and taking transit to and from work and child care. I could imagine that parents day would start at 5am and not be done till 10pm. How do you fit 4-6 hours in the kitchen with that? So society, economy and work-life balance is deeply intertwined in this debate.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen (amoment2think)

This is very very true. And here, even when the farmers markets are open, their produce prices are usually more expensive then grocery store prices. At least in Alberta... because we only have limited local produce that grows here so much of it is still transported in. Some from BC or Washington and some from as far as California. So our Farmers Markets work a bit differently from farmers markets in places like California.

I do think personal responsibility and choices play a role. But I also think that society puts up huge barriers for your 'average' person.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKathleen (amoment2think)

I'm sorry Eva, but I'm about as left as you get and *I* believe, as a SAHM by choice, that I am spending many more hours each day being with, connecting with, supporting and guiding my children (some might call it 'raising') than a mom with a child in daycare. I do not have a problem with my mental state. I have 'sacrificed' by choice a working life outside the home. You can't do both the same as if you were doing only one...so why can't people just admit that they are making a choice that involves sacrifices and live with that choice without being so defensive about it? Your rant pretty much negated my existence;-/. Who are you most concerned about?

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

J. - Perhaps I misunderstood your original comment. I never said that people shouldn't take personal responsibility, nor that we should just sit back and hope that the government "does the right thing."

I was responding to this vein in your comment: "Who’s choice is it ultimately to buy the not so nutritious food?" I was saying that there are two levels to the issue - the first is individual, of course, but the second is social policy that facilitates individual choice (and promotes the education that enables people to make smart choices in the first place). I never said anything about what strategies should be used to get social policy changed.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

@Sarah - As others have pointed out, location makes a huge difference. Here in Ottawa, $120 barely gets me and my husband through a week. We're looking at spending at least $600-700 a month on food, and a large part of that is because we opt for healthier choices. I can get enough fresh meat for one meal at $5, or I can get a pack of frozen breaded chicken cutlets with heaven-knows-what in them for $10 that will last at least 3-4 meals. That's a substantial difference.

Not to mention that making healthy food choices doesn't just mean choosing single-ingredient stuff over packaged stuff. It's also about the proportions of food in your meal. When I was in university and we were living entirely on my husband's minimum wage earning, we learned real quick that a big plate of sauceless spaghetti will fill the belly and keep us going until the next day - and will fill us up a whole lot better than if we ate the equivalent cost amount in veggies. At that point, it doesn't even matter whether we're buying whole-wheat or not...

I think it's great that you have such cheap and easy access to good foods, but please realize that this is not the case everywhere. Geographical location has a huge impact on the accessibility of good food.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMrPopularSentiment

First of all, I realize that this isn't the rule for everyone. I live in a snowless climate, so it's easy to grow things year-round. And California is a huge agricultural powerhouse.

However, our farmer's markets are also closed from November to April (not quite May, but close) and healthy food isn't always cheap. My city doesn't even have a grocery and I have to go two cities over to find a tiny little health food shop. My husband and I used to spend $500 a month on just the two of us eating the same foods we do now, we just reached a point where that wasn't feasible financially anymore so we made sacrifices and met farmers and learned new ways of doing things. Nobody likes to beg a bike off their neighbor to ride for freaking ever in 100+F heat with a baby just to spend every penny they have on second-rate fruit, but if you are unwilling to compromise healthy foods and you are unable to afford anything else, you do it. To get better quality meats, we've traded our help slaughtering. I don't like gutting a bison, but again, if you can't afford to buy the meat in the grocery store, you get creative.

That was my point. Social change is absolutely necessary, but some of it does fall on personal action. That isn't a ridiculous notion. Some people are able to make things like obtaining healthy food work in less than desirable circumstances (I have less access than many, even if I do live in a better climate for much agriculture). That doesn't mean we're privileged and out of touch with reality. It means we worked our asses off to whittle down our grocery bill in favor of better quality food. It took us years to get to this point - years of thinking outside the box, meeting farmers, bargaining, canning at 2am, learning how to bake bread, etc, because we couldn't afford the $1 macaroni box. Doing that does not mean that I'm privileged. It means I'm persistent.

Nobody should have to go through the things we went through to provide healthy foods for our family over the last year, so obviously we need larger social change. But it still starts with personal action, with people like us who don't have a penny more than $120 and don't have any options but to make it work. And when I do make that work, I don't think it's at all unreasonable to say, hey, look, it's possible to buy healthy food for less than processed foods. Now let's find a way to make it even more possible, because dude, I'm tired of this shit.

February 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah @ BecomingSarah.com

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