June 17, 2024

"White Trash" and The Politics of Food



Published May 14, 2023, 10:20 a.m. by Naomi Charles


There’s something about food that just gets people worked up. Maybe it’s the fact that we all have to eat to survive, or maybe it’s because food is such a personal thing – what we choose to eat says a lot about who we are and what we believe in.

Whatever the reason, food is one of the most political topics out there. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of white trash food.

For those not in the know, white trash food is pretty much what it sounds like – food that is associated with poor, working class white people. It’s the kind of food that is often mocked and derided by those who consider themselves to be of a higher class, but it’s also the kind of food that has a devoted following among those who love it.

There are plenty of examples of white trash food, but some of the most popular include things like canned soup, Spam, and Velveeta cheese. These are all foods that are cheap and easy to make, which makes them perfect for people who are on a budget or don’t have a lot of time to cook.

Of course, just because something is cheap or easy to make doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. In fact, many white trash foods are surprisingly tasty, and there are plenty of people who love them for that reason.

However, it’s not just the taste of white trash food that makes it so popular. There’s also a sense of nostalgia that comes with it. For many people, these foods remind them of their childhood or of simpler times when life wasn’t so complicated.

In a world that is increasingly complex and stressful, it’s no wonder that people are drawn to the comfort of white trash food. It’s a reminder of a time when things were simpler and life was a little bit easier.

Of course, not everyone is a fan of white trash food. There are plenty of people who think it’s disgusting and unhealthy, and they’re not wrong.

However, it’s important to remember that not all food has to be healthy or gourmet in order to be enjoyed. Sometimes, the simplest foods are the best, and that’s certainly true of white trash food.

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consider

the lobster the lobster is a modest

shellfish but it's garnered a reputation

for being fancy

in part because of how expensive it is

pound for pound

lobster is the kind of thing that your

parents taught you never to order at a

restaurant when someone else is footing

the bill

because it would make you look like a

selfish jerk

but lobster wasn't always this fancy

wealthy people food that we know it has

today

in fact in the 18th and 19th centuries

lobster was a trash food there was an

abundance of lobster in the coastal

cities of the u.s

there was more lobster than they knew

what to do with

they had to get rid of it but no one

wanted to eat it

so they fed it to prisoners and

indentured servants

and slaves so what changed how did the

humble

lobster climb the social ladder and go

from being cheap

and disregarded to being one of the most

decadent

dishes on restaurant menus

well summer vacation

seasonal tourists mostly wealthy came to

boston which had a booming lobster

industry

to vacation and like any good tourists

they wanted an authentic

taste of the city so they ate lobster

lots of lobster and they didn't hate it

when they went back home to washington

or new york or wherever

they still craved lobster though but

they couldn't get that good boston

lobster anymore

so they sent away for it mail ordered

lobster straight from the source

and they were willing to pay quite the

premium for it

so obviously the bostonians obliged i

mean they

really wanted to get rid of all of this

lobster they shipped out the lobster

at exorbitant prices which then made

lobster expensive

which then gave the impression that it

was fancy which meant more wealthy

people wanted to eat it

which continued this feedback loop until

lobster became

what it is today expensive

somehow a food once eaten only by poor

and marginalized people

became a food for the elite the

wealthy's desire for that authentic

experience made it so that authentic

food made its way up the social ladder

but the people

never did as the lobster became more and

more associated with the wealthy

the poor who had once eaten it stayed

poor

i want you to think of the trashiest

food you can imagine

it can be something pre-packaged or

something you prepare but either way it

needs to be

trashy in fact put it in the comments

because i really want to see

your opinions on trash foods

got it good now

would you eat it if you answered no

why not what is it about that food that

is so appalling to you

now i want you to imagine the person who

you think would eat that food

what is that person like what kinds of

clothes are they wearing what does their

body look like

what color is their skin why do you

think

that they're eating that food what makes

that food palatable to them

when it isn't palatable to you

now put a pin in that and keep it in the

back of your mind

as we go so trashy means different

things to different people

for some it's the same thing as tacky

where it describes

something with the veneer of quality or

elegance

but which is actually just a cheap

knockoff for others

though trashy elicits the idea of white

trash which is the specific brand of

trashiness that i will be focusing on

in this video white trash is similar to

tackiness

except that when a person is tacky

they're trying to hide

the lack of value of what they're

wearing or doing

but a person who is white trash

almost takes pride in it

white trash people are people who know

that their clothes

food appearance and actions are outside

the norm

but who don't care to actually try to

get back

into the norm so

what is white trash food well food that

white trash people eat obviously but

what does that actually look like

to answer this i want to turn to the

article that actually

inspired this episode trash food by

chris offit

in this article offit talks about how he

a man who grew up

poor in kentucky had to fight his whole

life to not be seen as

white trash and one of the things that

labeled him that way

was the food he ate in the article he

lists a few white trash foods

within certain communities it's become

popular to host white trash parties

where people are urged to bring cheetos

pork rinds

vienna sausages jello with marshmallows

fried bologna

corn dogs rc cola slim jims fritos

twinkies and cottage cheese with jelly

in short

the food i ate as a kid in the hills

if you do a quick google search of

trashy foods

you find articles and listicles and

reddit posts listing things like

tuna casserole velveeta queso

seven layer dip sloppy joes american

cheese

and pigs in a blanket so

what makes these foods white trash

well i have come up with a few general

characteristics

that they all have in common white trash

food

is cheap it has inexpensive ingredients

or it's available in bulk

white trash food has a long shelf life

it's not fresh usually not organic

think canned or frozen foods white trash

food is

simple it's very easy to eat or to

prepare

and it's made of versatile parts its

ingredients can be used in a variety of

dishes

so now the question is what makes these

elements trashy well to answer that

we need to realize that food isn't a

neutral thing it's tied

to culture and ethnicity and

availability

and seasonality and class

see white trash food isn't inherently

bad

it's only bad because of what it implies

about the people who eat it

to explore this concept a little more

let's return to chris offit's

trash food he ties food to class this

way

the term white trash is an epithet of

bigotry that equates human worth with

garbage

it implies a dismissal of the group as

stupid violent

lazy and untrustworthy the term white

trash food

is not about food it's coded language

for social class it's about poor people

and what they can afford to eat the term

white trash

is class disparagement due to economics

the thing about all of the foods that we

listed earlier

and the characteristics that define them

and tie them together

is that they're all poor people foods

white trash food is just another term

for poor people food

but why is it poor people food

well cheap is obvious you want foods

that you can get in bulk for cheaper

because

it's cheaper even for things like animal

meat

like deer or squirrel or even

farm-raised cattle

pound for pound it is way cheaper to

hunt it or raise it yourself

than it is to buy it foods having a long

shelf life

is also good it means that you can buy a

bunch of foods right after you get your

paycheck

and then that food will last you until

you get your next paycheck

it means that you can stock up which is

especially useful if you do seasonal

work

like agriculture foods being simple and

being made of versatile parts

means that they're easy to prepare and

part of that

ease comes from being able to just throw

a bunch of [ __ ] together

and know that it will taste good i mean

try this take a box of pasta or

any starch you can use rice or potatoes

if you want

plus two cans of any kind of vegetable

throw in some cheese and maybe some meat

and then throw that in the oven for 30

minutes

at 400 degrees fahrenheit and chances

are

it will probably be pretty good

now this is something that i actually do

a lot

i make these starch plus vegetables plus

cheese plus meat

casseroles a ton i do

rotini or farfalle which i just call

bowties

plus a can of tomatoes and a can of

spinach plus either mozzarella or

parmesan cheese

and then throw it in the oven and it's

really good

something else i do that i just had for

dinner last week

is rice can of tomatoes can of corn

can of black beans plus some shredded

cheddar and maybe ground beef

and it's also really really good

casseroles are cheap and easy and they

taste

good foods that are inexpensive

last a long time are really easy to

prepare a lot of different dishes from

and that taste good are really

valuable especially to working class

families

but now because of poor working class

and other marginalized people's history

of making and eating these kinds of

foods

our culture associates cheap foods

with poor people

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and if there's one constant in american

culture

it's that we kind of hate

poor people now i'm sure that there are

people in the comments

telling me how dare you how dare you

talk about white trash people like this

i mean

look at you you're all dressed up

drinking wine

this is cranberry juice actually by the

way

you don't know the first thing about how

these

people live

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[Applause]

[Laughter]

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well

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so

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i'm from appalachia i'm from a small

town

and my family actually lived outside of

town we lived

on a ridge far enough out that we didn't

have cable tv

we only had dial-up internet and we

really only had cell phone service on a

good day

we had a garden and a barn and

i played in the woods and never wore

shoes

we were also pretty poor like everyone

in our town was we were too far north to

be real coal country and too far south

and too far east to be in the rust belt

our town was an oil and gas town we had

pipeliners

come through raise our housing costs

ruin our land and then

leave and with industry dying

poverty and drug abuse seeped in even

worse than before

the default setting of our town

was white trash i grew up

being west virginia garbage

and we ate garbage at least by the

standards of outsiders

we ate casseroles and bologna sandwiches

and pepperoni rolls and grits and deer

and squirrel

we had a dessert called potato candy

that was literally just a tablespoon of

boiled mashed potato

mixed with three or four cups of

powdered sugar

rolled out covered in peanut butter

rolled back up

and then cut into bite-sized pieces it

has a similar taste and texture to

cow tales which i think are also a white

trash candy so i don't know if there's

actually a classy analog to potato candy

we also literally had a dish in my

family

unironically called and i'm not making

this up

white trash casserole

we ate trash we ate good food too

homemade ethnic foods baking from

scratch

good and good for you foods made from

what we picked from our garden

but when i was growing up i didn't

really see the distinction between

good food and trash food it was all

just food and it all tasted good

it was relatively easy to make it was

mostly inexpensive

just like chris off it i didn't realize

that i ate trash

until i left my hometown to go out into

the world and be an adult

or whatever it wasn't until i left my

family's little holler in the hills

that i realized just how trashy i really

was

i do really unironically love slim jims

i definitely felt a little embarrassed

when i realized that casseroles are

apparently a white trash thing

i was surprised like

why do you not realize just how cheap

and easy casseroles are to make

and they taste really good why would you

not want

to eat casseroles

around the time that i started to accept

my upbringing instead of fighting it

a weird thing started to happen

west virginia

[Music]

older than the trees younger than the

mountains

flowing like the greece

west virginia and appalachian culture in

general

became mainstream

things like fallout 76 for better or

worse

and hillbilly elegy for better or worse

started to make their way into the

public consciousness

suddenly people knew west virginia was a

state

they knew all the words to country roads

they knew what pepperoni rolls were

and they loved it just like chris

offit's experience with white trash

parties

i was starting to see people who did the

same thing with my

backwards trashy appalachian foods

they were being celebrated now you'd

think that this would be a good thing

right and yeah to some extent it was

i don't have to constantly explain that

no

i'm not from western virginia and yes

west virginia is actually a state but it

was

also just weird

it was weird to see things i'd been made

fun of for most of my adult life

suddenly celebrated and literally

devoured by the upper echelons of

society

suddenly what i ate wasn't weird

anymore well it wasn't bad weird it was

more

weird in a cool novelty kind of way

but is that a good thing i mean

what is it that has so suddenly turned

the tables and made my appalachian trash

foods

acceptable well

nothing good so what's the actual

problem with trash food it's the term

used for the food poor people eat

but now that white trash potlucks are

getting popular isn't that a good thing

i mean doesn't that mean that now the

stigma will be gone

and poor white trash folks can eat

whatever they want without judgment

well not quite

implicit in the menu of white trash

parties is

a vicious ridicule of the people who eat

such foods on a regular basis

people who attend these parties are

cuisinally slumming

temporarily visiting a place they never

want to live

they are the worst sort of tourists they

want to see the mississippi delta and

the hills of appalachia

but are afraid to get off the bus see

when people celebrate these foods they

aren't actually celebrating the people

who actually eat these foods they're

putting on the costume of

poor white trash person and wearing it

around for fun

because it tastes good because it's fun

to pretend to be something you're not

i mean imagine being so poor that you

eat

garbage like fritos or baloney ugh

gross but the thing is

when someone wears the costume of poor

person

they aren't breaking boundaries or

ending stigma

they're just perpetuating

classism the entire

concept of trash foods is classes

because it's not just about the food

it's never been about

the food it's about the people

and seeing them as less than people

seeing them as trash economic status

dictates class and diet we arrange food

in a hierarchy based on who originally

ate it

until we reach mullet gar possum

and squirrel the diet of the poor

the food is called trash and then the

people are

when the white elite take an interest in

the food poor people eat

the price goes up the result is a cost

that prohibits poor families from eating

the very food that they've been

condemned for eating

the status of the food rose

but not the people they just had less to

eat

see food can become a means of

perpetuating

prejudice when foods rise

up that social ladder even if only for a

night when they find themselves on the

dining room table of a wealthy

suburbanite throwing a white trash party

but the people stay down

you begin to see a whole group of people

a group of people who are already

struggling as

lesser as embarrassing and

gross and weird and

as trash

polite society regards me as stupid lazy

ignorant violent and untrustworthy

i am trash because of where i'm from

i am trash because of where i shop

i am trash because of what i eat

but human beings

are not trash

when we think of trash food we think of

food that's really

unhealthy i mean part of what makes

these foods so cheap is because of how

processed they are

but what actually shapes our idea of

what

healthy means where do we get our

concepts of

calories and how much fat and sodium

we're supposed to have in a day

i mean we might have some idea you know

scientists and nutritionists and

teachers and federal guidelines and

whatever

but what if i told you

that all of that is based on lies

force fed to us by food companies who

pay the government

to say that their foods are healthy

stick around for the next episode where

we will look into the

actual real conspiracy behind the foods

we eat

bye folks

[Music]

little by little piece by piece

i take back what's been stolen from me

little by little piece by piece

until i'm complete

[Music]

thanks for sticking around to the end of

the video this one i know is a little

different from my lovecraft series but

i'm trying something new uh so hopefully

you like it

uh let me know what you think in the

comments below

also feel free to follow me on twitter

at zoe underscore the b uh where i do

just a lot of angry tweeting especially

about education and stuff

and if you want to support me so i can

keep making these videos on my adjunct

salary

check out my patreon linked in the

description

below i do also just want to give a huge

thank you to everyone who has

liked and commented and subscribed the

feedback has been

really overwhelmingly positive and it

really does

mean a lot it means

more than i can put into words and i'm

an english teacher so that is quite the

feat

uh but seriously guys thank you all so

much for the kind words of support

you are all absolutely amazing and i'm

excited to keep doing what i'm doing and

making stuff that you all like

[Music]

so thanks guys

and i will see you in the next one

i actually really do love swim jimmy's

by the way this was like the most

exciting part

of making this was that i get to eat

some gyms it's great

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