the upper middle class made me eat it

Dana, I tried to respond to your comment with this post, but it sort of veered off in another direction. I’ll try again later!

I think what you eat has a lot to do with your social class. I mean, it’s not just me– all of the people who do the studies about these things agree. Are you living in an upper middle class, multi-degreed, white collar community? (You don’t have to be upper middle class yourself– you just have to live there.) There are probably a lot of whole wheat options. There are probably a lot of fresh vegetables. Some people might think you’re being ironic if you eat PB&J on white.

Class is interesting. It’s something I think about a lot these days. I just took Charles Murray’s little class test. It’s from his new book Coming Apart. I actually didn’t realize when I first read about it that it was exclusively about white people. Oops. He says the upper middle class is totally out of touch with the majority of Americans– that the cultures are totally different at this point. That basically, if you have two degrees, like me, and live in Brooklyn, like I do, and are not an evangelical Christian, as I am not, then there’s a decent chance you’re in an elite bubble and have no idea what the rest of the country is up to. Personally, I don’t like Charles Murray’s tone. He’s just itching to call people snobs. I can imagine him using the term “Opera lover!” as a slur.

(A popular restaurant in the city. source)

Anyway, I took the test, and waited for Charles to sneer at me and say mockingly, in a snooty liberal voice, “It’s a lovely day for some croquet in Turks & Caicos, after we finish up these vegan cracked spout smoothies and our conversation about Derrida and the politics of identity marginalization.”

My score said that I’m a “first generation upper middle class person with middle class parents.

Which is true in some ways, but there’s a little more to the story. Like, I went to college and grad school, and my parents didn’t. When I was little, we lived in a pretty rural area, surrounded by farms and a smattering of neo nazis, where we learned all the different kinds of hunting seasons so as to avoid being shot by various projectiles (everyone thought an arrow would be the worst). There were years when my dad did not draw a salary– he was running a business out of the basement. I wasn’t isolated from poor kids or even evangelical Christian kids (shocking! I know!). But my parents were self-educated and cocky about it, we weren’t allowed to watch TV, and my mom grew a giant vegetable garden and bought chickens from the Amish market down the road.  No one watched Nascar. No one ate Denny’s. We didn’t eat out at all


And now here I am– in the big city, where many of the people I know take it as a sign of weakness to cook with spices you didn’t grind yourself (my father also grinds his own spices). Where it feels like an act of rebellion to eat a donut. Where health is on everyone’s minds, at every moment. I am always the only one in the room who doesn’t belong to a gym (I tried it briefly). I am usually the only one to take a second helping of dessert.


I am also one of the only ones to cook dinner regularly. I make diabetic-friendly, balanced meals. No carbs. Lots of veggies, meats in creative sauces. Last night it was a huge pot of beanless chili. Tonight is buffalo chicken with celery sticks and baby bok choy (there’s a lot of culture clash in my cooking).

But I love carbs. You guys know. I love them and I sometimes feel very guilty for loving them, and I know that the people I know are pretty sure that they will kill me. And I know that a mark of being a part of this educated, relatively wealthy bubble is eating a certain way. Having more willpower. Working out regularly. I know that because we are so educated, we are supposed to be smart enough to know how to eat for longevity. I don’t have an excuse. Even my degreeless parents emphasized healthy eating.


But here I am– craving donuts. Loving pasta. Making my own alfredo sauce so that it feels more acceptable. I don’t like vegetables for their own sake. Occasionally I really enjoy them, and then I feel proud of myself, like maybe I’m turning into someone respectable and responsible. I don’t have a refined palette. I never want to order the fish. I wish they were still serving the lunch menu at dinner, because dinner looks so boring and carbless.

For me, food and health don’t always feel completely intertwined. Or maybe my health feels bigger, longer, and capable of adapting to some ice cream. Or maybe the ice cream feels worth it, because it makes me happy, and because my happiness feels like an important part of my health. Besides, I’m a New Yorker– I walk everywhere. That’s exercise. Not enough! It’s something! You’re killing yourself! I’m young and healthy! Train for a marathon! I hate running! You wouldn’t hate it if you could do it for more than, like, one tiny mile! I don’t want to do it just because everyone else is doing it! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE? Because they’re right. Stop throwing a temper tantrum.

I can’t help thinking that my relationship with food and health means that I’m ignorant. Uneducated. Greedy. Missing some basic point. Falling behind.

(the entrance to Per Se, in the Time Warner Center. source)

But then, defiantly un-upper middle class, like my roots are supposed to be, I want the right to eat “regular” American food. I want to politely ask my neighbors to stop judging me for what’s in my shopping basket. I want to eat for pure pleasure, as well as cook vegetables in honor of the future. I want to be a complicated tangle of different classes and philosophies and stories and tastes. A whole person– not just a person who fits in.

And occasionally, if while traveling, I stop in at a Waffle House, I want to enjoy every bite.

I might have kale for dinner. I might save some waffles. Kale and waffles! Yum. Celebrate diversity!


* *  *

What does your community eat?

Unroast: Today I love the way I feel when I’m curled up in bed with Minute, my tiny golden cat. I think she complements all of my outfits very nicely, particularly my pajamas.

P.S. Being fat is considered “low class.” There’s something to think about.


Kate on February 6th 2012 in food, new york

52 Responses to “the upper middle class made me eat it”

  1. katie responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Gah, I’ve just been thinking about a post like this! I truly enjoy healthy food and healthy cooking. I love vegetables, and I do like whole wheat better than white. BUT I also LOVE lucky charms and york peppermint patties and sometimes (can’t believe I’m saying this) sandwiches from a gas station. I know. Shame. But one of my favorite things about road trips is that they give you an excuse to eat crappy food! Yay!

    Also, I repeatedly have this feeling when I’m reading or watching the news that I am, in fact, out of touch with the rest of the world. Which feels weird to me. I didn’t think I grew up in some sort of weird elitist bubble, but now that I’m a 3-degreed, Vermont-living, dansko-wearing lesbian, there’s just no hope. Even though I grew up eating fish that my dad caught and deer and rabbits and squirrels (yes, squirrels) that he killed and never ate salmon or sushi until I was in college or tofu until I was in graduate school, I’ve fallen so deeply in with the liberal foodies that there’s really no way out. Which is mostly okay because I like it here. But I do feel like I have to hide it when I buy a box of lucky charms.

  2. Kerry responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 2:18 pm #

    Yowza. I’m with you on disliking the tone of that test. It activated my ex-Catholic latent guilt muscle for some reason. And, I’m pretty sure that feeling guilty over any sort of test is equivalet to (minus)1000000 points on Mr. Murray’s scale. Fascinating.

  3. Alpana Trivedi responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    I’ve been a vegetarian all my life, but ironically, I’m told I don’t get enough greens. I love carbs like bread, potatoes, and rice. And I loooooooooooooove dark chocolate. I think the one time I AM snobbish is when I see people skip meals. Or when they grab a quick granola bar in place of a meal. I LOVE lunch hour. And a lot of people are surprised that I actually use it for lunch instead of taking a nap. Whenever someone from my crew says, “Oh, I don’t have breakfast” I tend to cringe as if they just said something blasphemous. But it’s their life, right? And I’m not supposed to judge. But sometimes I do. And I feel bad about it.

  4. Anna responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:06 pm #

    Oooo I love quizzes! Thanks to growing up in a small town, I got a 33, aka also a “1st gen uppermid-class with mid-class parents”. I guess that sums me up if I’m putting myself in a limited category BUT I’d say that while I may have an uppermid-class mind, the paychecks and Whole-Foods lifestyle haven’t kicked in yet! And I’d never say no to a trip to Denny’s or a mass produced beer.

    p.s. I bet that “reading healthy living or progressive woman-power blogs” also deducts 1000 points.

    P.s. on your p.s. So ironic that a century or so ago, being fat meant that you were rich.

  5. Krystina responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    I ate Taco Bell while reading this! LOL ( It was good. )
    Ok, I live in Kentucky so we eat a pretty good mixture. Casseroles, cornbread, potato salads, chicken fried steak, greens, burgoo, okra, barbecue, fried green tomatoes, beer cheese, loads of veggies and pimento cheese. Most everybody has a small garden so our veggies are usually fresh. Lots of fruit, esp in the summer. We do breakfast big here. We will have eggs ( usually fresh ) bacon, sausage, buttermilk biscuits, red eye gravy, grits, fruit, apple butter, country ham, orange juice, cinnamon rolls… if you eat a big breakfast like this then we typically skip lunch. My favorite is sweet potato casserole and the broccoli casserole. For dessert, there is always home made bannana pudding, fresh cobblers, sweet potato pie, chess pie, dump cake, and bread pudding . In the winter we do alot of soups, mainly soup beans with fatback, onions, and cornbread. My all time favorite soup is potato. Chili is popular but we add a lil bit of pasta in it. Chicken n’ dumplins is also a staple and you can make a big fixin and eat on it for awhile. Winter is also the time when we use the canned goodies from the previous summer. At my house that’s typically green beans, salsa, bread and butter pickles, freezer jam, and tomatoes. We eat big meals with our families but in my household we are also very active. We ride horses, work cattle, walk the dogs and I attend zumba and toning classes twice a week. In the summer there is ton more outside work to be done….

  6. Liz responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Wow. That test is harsh. I scored the same as you, Kate, and I feel sort of uncomfortable after reading the explainations why. I kind of want to pretend I didn’t read that, but that seems bad too. :(

  7. Layla responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    It’s funny because being fat used to be a sign of being upper class, that you were wealthy enough to afford luxuries like sugar and cream, and only the poor people ate vegetables. Now it’s the other way round.

  8. Haley responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:46 pm #

    “Or maybe the ice cream feels worth it, because it makes me happy, and because my happiness feels like an important part of my health.”

    I love this. I take my happiness very seriously. :-D

  9. Raven responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Not only is his test somewhat insulting (*coughopera-lovercough*), it doesn’t take into account people who started out wealthy and are now poor, or people who’ve always been up and down, or . . . well, a lot of other factors (e.g. disability, allergies, economic expression of other family members, etc.).

    I know it’s all a generalization on his part, but I’ve been all over the economic spectrum and lived in various parts of this country (and Europe), and his perspective of the behaviors of people at various economic levels is skewed. They’re supposed to be archetypes, but I’ve never known a lot of people to fit into archetypes, much less the stereotypes he’s trying to slide in here.

    My own experiences are so varied, and my parents, step-parents, grandparents, and other family members all had different expressions of their wealth or lack. Not every poor person likes beer and cigarettes, not every wealthy person eats healthy food and avoids fast food chains or family restaurant chains. Personally, I eat better food now on food stamps than I did as the step-daughter to a multi-millionaire (who loved places like Denny’s).

    No economic scale determines one’s love for opera (per your example), either, because exposure to a particular art form depends on the adults around a child as much as any other factor–if a poor parent loves opera, s/he will put on CDs or turn to the radio station and share it with the kids, and a wealthy person who hates it will never bring it into the house or allow it to be played on the radio. Wealth does mean more opportunities for certain behaviors, but it doesn’t guarantee them.

    I had a completely different rant written about my own lived experiences, but decided not to post it here, since I think it better to fling it at Charles Murray directly. ;)

  10. Claire Allison responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 4:17 pm #

    Whatever. Dude is a lousy writer. Passive voice much?

  11. Melanie responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    I eat a ton of veggies and mostly fish for protein. But I allow myself one steak, and two burgers, per month. I try to know where my meat is sourced but sometimes I get meat at the Chinese store and have no idea where it came from. My mom grew up dirt poor, but ended up the head oncology nurse for Sutter in our town. I definitely grew up middle class, toward the upper end. I, however, latched on to my Broderick grandma roots. I bought a house in a Mexican neighborhood that most people think is “the hood” and I absolutely love it.

    I eat less than 1600 calories, and 20 grams of fat, 5 days a week. I splurge on the weekends. But even while splurging I am very aware of what I am eating. I love eggs and bacon Sunday morning. And I have a weakness for Taco Bell, as that is where my love of sporks began. I am 5′ 9″ and weigh 215. I am medically obese (which I think is bullshit). I work out an hour, at least 4 days a week. I’m not willing to do more to have a body that others find “healthy.” I have gained and lost, and gained and lost so many times. I finally got to where I know that health for me, doesn’t equal skinny. So I’m adjusting. I have overheard women at work saying, “I bet she goes home and pigs out” since I eat 8 oz. of yogurt with flax seed for breakfast, and a lean cuisine with fruit for lunch. And you know what? I feel sorry for those women that they have to concentrate on my diet. It’s really sad. I don’t love the way I look, but I’m healthy, and I’m staying this way.

    I find myself judging when I see a basket full of processed foods at the supermarket. I’m working on it. I recently cut out coffee because I drank it with Coffeemate creamer and I am really whittling down my processed food consumption. The only thing I have left is my boxed diet lunches, and I’m pretty sure those aren’t going anywhere any time soon. I cook everything for dinner from scratch, so the processed lunch will have to do for now.

    When I first moved here I got strange stares at the corner market and the panaderia, because I am usually the only white person in there. But they’re getting used to me. :)

  12. Jason responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    I grew up with upper-middle class parents, Dad was an engineer and is still doing rather well, Mom is a real estate agent now that all the kids have moved out and she can do that stuff. We grew up in mostly suburbs, but with that said I have spent a fair amount of time in tiny american towns overseas :)

    And on that, I scored a 55. But I also fit into none of his neat little molds that he seems to have this great big desire to cram people into. Realistically, my folks are upper-middle class. Mom is probably best described as first generation upper-middle class, as my Grandfather spent 20 years as AD Navy Enlisted and Dad is at least 2nd Gen in that regards. But me? I’m lower class, blue collar to the bone. I’m LDS(practicing), and regularly argue with a couple of friends who are both far to the left(I am very much a fiscal/social conservative) about politick and all that. I’ve been living on the poverty line since I got married 4 years ago and love every minute of it. I have indeed owned a pickup truck and quite frankly would love to own another one, if gas wasn’t so bloody expensive.

    But all said, he is a condescending ass, and can go take a short walk off a long pier, IMO.

  13. Kate responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    It was one of my fondest childhood dreams to own a pickup truck…I still think about that sometimes.

  14. Spelling responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 5:51 pm #

    The last comment you made, about fat people being low class… isn’t it strange that fat used to be a sign of wealth? Just 100-ish years ago? In 100 years from now, will fat be in style again? Society is so messed up!

    In some ways, your parents gave you a gift, not exposing you to “modern conveniences” as a youngster. (I’m assuming) you now appreciate them more than someone who has had them all their life would, because it’s been more of an experience. Not just something you were used to, but something you got to learn to cultivate a taste for. And that’s sort of a gift. It sounds like you grew up in a much healthier way then many of today’s kids (or even the kids who grew up when you did). No TV? No public schools? No fast food? Vegetable gardens? Home-ground spices? Sounds pretty good to me… simple is often better!

    Personally, I would have loved to have grown up like you, learning to love and appreciate education. (Something it seems no one can do these days!)

  15. Kate responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    I really, really loved my childhood, even while I was living it :-) And I didn’t care about not watching TV. But I wished we could eat a lot more donuts…

  16. Jen responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 8:21 pm #

    I scored in the “first-generation middle-class person with working-class parents” bracket, which seems pretty accurate. I hadn’t ever really thought about the fact that my family lived under the poverty line a few times in my childhood, especially that year-plus when my dad was laid off from his factory job and mom kept food on the table by waiting tables at a crappy diner. Probably everyone in my extended family has been in that financial situation at least once; we’re very blue-collar and three of my grandparents were immigrants. I just finished a PhD, which makes me the first doctor of any sort in my entire extended family. The end result is that I feel like a bit of a poser both around my family (since my life is so different) and around my colleagues (as most of them had very different childhoods from mine).

    It’s funny: I don’t eat at any of the chain restaurants that Charles Murray listed in his test, but that’s because I spent a hellish summer waiting tables at one of them, on my feet for 12-hour shifts. After seeing what passed for labor and cleanliness standards in the kitchen, I swore off of eating food from that particular chain. Later, a food allergy and a realization that the kitchens in the other chains were probably similar combined to kill any interest I had in eating at such restaurants. Besides, I’m a good cook now, and it’s so much cheaper to eat at home. I wish I could still eat donuts (stupid food allergy).

  17. Marina responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 9:45 pm #

    “Or maybe the ice cream feels worth it, because it makes me happy, and because my happiness feels like an important part of my health.” – I love this quote. And wish more people would recognize that health doesn not mean just physical health. For example, many seem to think that fat-shaming is acceptable because it encourages overweight people to lose weight, which is “good for them”. Ignoring the question of whether shame is ever really a catalyst for change, and the assumption that all fat people are fat because of their terrible diet and exercise habits, how is making someone miserable supposed to help them become HEALTHIER?

  18. Anne L responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 10:25 pm #

    Give the guy credit, he writes one helluva quiz. He nailed me and I’m guessing he nailed you. But here is the question. Why so defensive? Why not be who one is? If you were fortunate enough to have privilege then be grateful. Life is long, if you never step out of your comfort zone, so what?
    Where did we get the idea that we all want to be part of the “huddled masses”. I work in medicine in an urban downtown, I see how the poor live. I do my best for them but I see no virtue in wanting to join them. And I certain don’t want my grown, doubled degreed children to live as they do. While Charles Murray may have made a fortune for himself ridiculing the affluent I bet he wishes that he authentically belonged. Be yourself… It is a simple as that.

  19. Kate responded on 06 Feb 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    @Anne L
    Yeah, I’m not sure where that upper middle class desire to fit in with less privileged people comes from. I agree– it’s better to just be yourself. But I also think that that self doesn’t necessarily fit smoothly into a class stereotype. There’s a LOT of context involved.

    I’m not sure if you’re addressing me or being rhetorical in your questions in the beginning of the comment, but I also think being grateful is incredibly important. But it’s not gonna stop me from writing posts about social quirks. If all I did was sit around being grateful, I think this blog would be a lot more boring, or maybe not exist :-) It’s OK to work things out, too

  20. Anne L responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Kate, it was, of course, rhetoric. In reality, there is nothing personal about the discussion. The “you” was not you.
    I agree that we do have to look at societal quirks, I just think that sometimes we belabor the glory of the common man too much. I find it both fascinating and repellent that Charles Murray has developed a career, or lucrative endeavor, chastising us about the rifts in society and our ignorance there of. It was ever thus. The nineteenth century was full of those who sought to mix with the poor. The settlement houses are a perfect example. I think we need aspiration… I don’t think that eating at Denny’s expands one’s knowledge of the class structure, and walking a factory floor doesn’t give one much insight either. The thought processes of the different classes are unfathomable to each other but commerce was built on the differences. Production and demand… And then we find ourselves with Marx and Engels, and it’s too early for that!
    The idea that the upper classes are the “foodies”, old nomenclature but I am ignorant of the new parlance for those who obsess over the latest and purest, is silly. In my experience the really wealthy are not very interested in food or nutrition, they generally are detached from it except as fuel and the sentimental treats of their childhoods. It is the Arrivistes who have created fetishes about food , it’s an inexpensive way to differentiate themselves from those who do not have the luxury to choose food, but who must settle for economy and expedience.
    I cook, I cook well, I cook almost every night. It is necessity, not fetish. Perhaps it is this obsession with differentiation between the masses which has led to the preoccupation with food that seems to be gluttonizing America. Less thought about food might put it back where it belongs. As I used to explain to my children when they complained about a food I was serving. ” it’s not a lifetime relationship, it’s just fuel, eat it or don’t eat it, there will be another meal that you will like, you aren’t going to starve” and I guess that is the real difference, I could be confident that there would be another nutritious meal in our future, and perhaps that is where the real obsession comes in, the idea that there might not be exactly what one wants available at any time. And that is the hallmark of the Arriviste. He knows it can all be taken away, so it must be celebrated and fetishized.
    And I still maintain that chowing down at a chain restaurant does not give one unique insight into class structure, just an insight into what advertising and class aspiration can do to society.
    And yes, I do think it is very important to examine these issues but I wish you, Kate, didn’t suffer from all this as much as you seem to. My wish for you is an internal locus of control about everything, stuff your appearance except for your opinion, stuff the people who try to dictate the latest trends. I hate to say it but Anna Wintour is a perfect example of an arriviste, and she seems perfectly miserable, and ashamed of her own over-weight daughter. How tragic is that situation. Resist these people’s blandishments and look inside for the arbiter.

  21. Jessica responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:47 am #

    It’s interesting that you associate wanting to eat junk food with being lower class. I also live in Brooklyn and feel like the abundance of “classy” junk food here has been a major contributor to my weight problem – the cheese shops, donut shops, all of the ice cream, etc. None of that is cheap! Also, a meal at Per Se is going to be at least a few thousand calories, especially with wine. When I was living somewhere with fewer delicious options, it was a lot easier to avoid eating junk. French bistro food tastes a lot better than Burger King and is just as unhealthy!

  22. Mary responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Ok, I took the test already knowing it would score me as “upper class spoiled brat” because my dad is a doctor and compared to everyone else in the tiny town where I grew up, we did pretty well financially. However, this bit was hilarious: “The stereotype of the overeducated elitest snob as a teenager issomeone who either went to a private school where team sportswere not a big deal or went to a public school where he held him-self aloof from the team sports and collateral activities that aresuch an important part of the culture of public high schools.”

    Huh. I thought I didn’t play sports because I was awkward, not very good at them, and simply more interested in books and the choir.

    However, I think this guy is making some interesting points about class divisions in America.

  23. Stephanie Ivy responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 10:59 am #

    Hmm. I scored 2nd generation (or more) upper middle class. Which is probably fairly accurate but doesn’t take into account geographic distinctions. Growing up in the south, we ate at plenty of chains simply because for a while that was the mainstay of what our city had.

    It’s also fascinating to me — I see that in my Dad a lot more, that I get the upper middle class traits from him. My mom is more first generation middle class, and I can see in her a lot of the traits there; I’m aware of them but don’t reflect them in my own life as much. It’s a weird sort of tension, though.

    It’s also interesting in light of a recent Cracked article about bad financial habits you learn growing up poor — a few friends commented how that was so accurate for them and I felt a little bit ashamed to be thinking I had learned the opposite in most cases. I think we have a lot of work to do in this country about trying to understand different worldviews and how they are shaped.

  24. Jackie responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 11:35 am #

    I live in New York too! I live in a apart of Queens that’s near Manhattan and kind of acts like a mini-Manhattan itself, so we have lots of healthy options in the grocery stores, and there’s even one all organic store near me. The community is everything from lower middle class to upper middle class, and because I work in a grocery store, I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen overweight, food-stamp using customers buying ONLY frozen foods like pizza and no fruits and vegetables at all, and thin, young yuppies buying organic vegetables and hummus with their credit cards. I definitely understand what you mean about healthy eating being a class issue now, and it’s sad.

    The media pressures everyone to lose weight and be healthier, but they don’t explain how someone with a lower income can justify the cost of all that healthy food. In this economy, it often makes more sense to cut corners and get what’s cheap and convenient, even if you know it’s not good for you.

  25. Sooz responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    I grew up eating German and Polish foods. That my mom cooked every night. (I was born in a South American country and then I was adopted by Americans). Everything was healthy and any junk food was heavily monitored. Plus I was told I was fat and ugly (now looking back I see I was neither). As an adult, I find myself angered by the expectations of others with regards to food and being “healthy” and “the right weight”. I can’t tell you how annoying it is to listen to grown folks constantly talk about how much they are restricting their food intake and how they only eat veggies and fruit and work out 2 hours every day. I am overweight. But all my numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) are all good. As in the normal range. I am pretty healthy. I don’t smoke and I don’t drink. I work in a school so I run all around the building all day long. I am not a supermodel. I am not thin. My body jiggles with every step I take (and continues when I stop). I have cellulite on every inch of my body (and NO I am not exaggerating). I have short hair and lots of wrinkles. And I am sick of every commercial and magazine and talk show telling me how imperfect I am and how if only I’d do this or that I could be like the supermodel Giselle or any of the victoria secret models. And how that would make me happier and life just plain better. I rebel. I say no. I am wrinkled and round and imperfect and I am STILL awesome and I DON’T want to change. I don’t want to worry over every little thing I eat and I don’t want to waste precious time working out. I have better things to do. Like be with my children. Like see my husband. Like hang with friends. Like read a book. Like read this blog. :) So, I guess your article really triggered a deep reaction about food. I was brought up eating a certain way and b/c it was so restrictive I have rebelled. I eat what I want…how much I want…when I want….and I try not to feel guilty ever. Thanks for another thought provoking post. :)

  26. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Some of my best moments are when I realize that I am awesome without any of that stuff– the long legs or whichever variation of the standard look I’ve just seen on a poster. Last night, for some stupid reason, I looked through a men’s magazines “top 100 sexiest women of all time” list. There wasn’t one of them with a bump on her nose. Not one. And I know…who cares? Someone else might not have noticed. But I’m so used to noticing, because I’m so used to looking, hoping there will be someone who looks a tiny bit more like me.
    And then I sat back and took a breath and thought about the fact that I am doing other things with my life. I am not modelling. I am writing. And one day, maybe I will make it onto a list of “top 100 kickass writers.” And maybe not. But maybe that’s the list I should be thinking about.
    I’m glad you’re thinking about this stuff, too. It sounds like you’re making progress. You are awesome. And you shouldn’t change.
    Also, your comment made me think of this piece:
    Check it out!

  27. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:17 pm #

    @Stephanie Ivy
    Was it by John Cheese? He writes some great stuff.

  28. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:18 pm #

    That part cracked me up! It’s like if you didn’t play sports that means you HATE SPORTS AND EVERYONE WHO LIKES THEM. Sheesh.
    But yes, some of the points are definitely worth checking out

  29. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    @Anne L
    It’s sometimes hard to tell, with the rhetoric, in comments :-)
    I guess that’s true– you can draw some lines between the very wealthy and other people. I don’t really know the very wealthy, honestly. But I’ve read stuff that backs up what you’re saying, at least in NYC, about their tastes. But it’s certainly true that the “foodies” are everywhere, where I live, and where many people I know live. Actually, many people I like fall into that category. It’s not necessarily about how much money they have– it’s about the culture around them.

    As for your wishes for me– yes, it would be nice to be supremely confident. I wish that for everyone! But honestly, I’m OK with where I am, too. I’m figuring things out. And it’s almost inhuman to not care or not notice what’s going on with the people around you. We’re social beings! We’re influenced by everything we see. Which is not to say it’s impossible to have an internal barometer. We should strive for that. That’s what this blog is about.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

  30. Valerie responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    I took the test and scored a “life-long resident of a working class neighborhood”. I knew I wouldn’t be surprised by the results, but I took the test anyway.

    I know that, from the comments, a lot of people don’t tend to agree with the author’s view of socio-economic status and I can’t say I blame you if you’re from a slightly better position on the socio-economic scale than “working class” so nothing I am about to say applies directly to anyone in the comments.

    But lately I’ve been subject to a group of people that are well above upper-middle clas and they certainly “don’t get it”. They don’t understand that healthy food is expensive, they don’t understand that not everyone has a million dollars in savings, they don’t get that not everyone can afford to not work and just travel for leisure all the time, and they don’t generally understand anything outside of their elite bubble. It becomes frustrating and annoying to deal with people who are clueless as to how the rest of the world has it. They pretend like this poverty stricken lifestyle simply doesn’t exist.

    That being said, there is an elite bubble. I’ve seen it and I’m currently dealing with people that live in, but the author, I think, is mistaken on where it actually starts. I personally don’t think it starts at upper-middle class.

  31. Valerie responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Oops, sorry for the typos! *Class and *live in it. Hope that helps!

  32. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Thanks for this perspective.

    I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about how at least half of the people in my social circle went to Harvard. Not just an Ivy League school– Harvard, specifically. They’re not wealthy people– we’re all pretty young— but they are certainly a TINY elite minority of the population. Sometimes, I feel like everyone went to Harvard. This is embarrassing, but sometimes I’m embarrassed that my undergrad degree is from a state school. Sometimes I forget how hard it is for so many people to go to ANY college, because college is insanely expensive and it’s pretty difficult to qualify anyway, especially when you grow up in an area where schools are underfunded, overpopulated, and inadequate. I grew up in an area like that– but I was homeschooled.

    So yes– there’s a bubble.We should recognize that. I think we need to work harder both to burst the bubble, and to pay attention to who actually ends up inside it. There are always surprises.

  33. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    Didn’t even notice! :-)

  34. Valerie responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:46 pm #


    The fact that you recognize that there is a bubble means that you’re more aware of the world around you than most people. It may make you feel grateful and at other times it might make you feel ashamed of what you’ve had in life. The awesome thing is that you’re aware that not everyone lives the same exact life and that makes all the difference in the world.

    I think that’s what the author was trying to get at…you know, the people that don’t acknowledge the bubble.

  35. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 3:53 pm #

    Thank you!
    I don’t know how good I am at it, but I think that allowing for differences is really, really, really (and a hundred more really’s) important. Not just economic. But every kind. The differences are often where the most critical information about someone hangs out– and from a writer’s perspective, they’re also where the best stories are.

    At the same time, it always surprises me a little how similar everyone is, in certain ways. I think because of that, we should try even harder to be aware of each other’s needs. Because we can imagine how bad it feels to be ignored, or misunderstood, or stereotyped.

  36. San D responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 4:02 pm #

    The appearance and attitude of “class” is a convenience for some in that it can be used to curry favors, or to influence people or to feign empathy. As the saying goes there is “old money” and “new money” and many books have been written about that (Read Edith Wharton). I read the test and laughed at the questions. There should be a study done on the predictability of those questions and what it says about the author and his perceptions of class. I prefer to think I am in a class all to myself.

  37. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    @San D/ everyone
    Aahhh!! This is so interesting. I love these responses!!

  38. Krys responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    Well I live in the Turks and Caicos…and we don’t play croquet (there is one croquet “lawn” at a resort with real grass on the island and the golf course has green grass, but as grass attracts fire ants, most of us have cactus and bougainvillea LOL. We also play Soccer/football, rugby, have a huge roller hockey league, and tennis. I grew up in Texas and Virginia so I have a Southern background and my husband in British, but we have lived here for 17 years which is the longest I have lived anywhere so I consider this home.

    Our country is very diverse and given that we only have 25,000 people spread over 9 islands, actually we all know each other and it’s a pretty blended place. With 30% being Turks Islanders and the expat population mainly being Haitian, Dominican, Filipino, British, Canadian, Jamaican and then lots of other European countries, some Aussies and South Africans as well as a small Israeli contingent and a few Americans we’re all in the minority LOL.

    What do we eat?..well, first of all everything is imported and taxed over 30-40% so it’s expensive. We have no fast food chains so most of us cook at home as going out has been compared by many tourists as NY prices, so you eat with food prices in mind. And because we are from all over, you get to try all sorts of new foods (although a lot of times it’s at friends homes). My kids love conch which is standard restaurant fare and many of their friends love sushi. My kids can go on a play date and have some Danish main courses or my workout partner who is a Filipino married to a New York Italian will make some amazing noodle dishes. A number of us will get together at a house for a girls night and bring a “native dish”. Last time we did that I think the group comprised of ladies from Israel, Britain, Canada, the Phillipines, the Turks and Caicos, China and America…It was a tasty evening.

    I make a lot of my bread, ice cream and meals from scratch not because I am a snob but because it saves me a ton of money! (flour and staple ingredients are not taxed). We don’t grow anything (desert island) and don’t have a big fishing industry (restaurants get most/all the fresh fish from the fisherman) whatever is at the store is what you get. If I want to try a new recipe, I bring 3-4 different recipes to the store and usually I’ll be able to buy the ingredients for one of them if I am lucky.

    So we may have Roast dinner and yorkshire pudding, sushi, conch fritters, paella, fried rice, pizza, dumplings, bratwurst (the Germans do a great Octoberfest), latkes (sp???), Jamaican patties, peas and rice or lobster…the only thing we seem to lack is a good tex mex anywhere (or anyone who might make it). Class wise, while there are some that would be considered very upper class, most of us are middle class and are just hardworking trying to raise our kids. Our tourists are mostly upper/upper middle class but that’s different than the residents. My girls classes in school are with kids from 17 different countries and social classes where one or two may fly on private planes and one or two live in a one room apartments with the whole family. And they are all colors of the spectrum. However, because there is little shopping here, and only 4 paved roads on island and you have to import anything you want with a hefty customs duty, we tend to be a group of women in flip flops, t shirts and 10-15 year old cars. I was laughing with a friend today about duct taping a piece of a car back on that had rusted off…her family is very well off, but you wouldn’t know it…rust, island dust, and customs duties are the great “equalizer” they affect all of us!

    At the end of the day here…we all eat what’s on sale at the supermarket (no matter what class you are)…although we will make sure to have a glass of wine or beer with our friends, you can’t scrimp on everything.

  39. Lila responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I took the test. I was raised in a way similar to you (rural w. self-educated, cocky parents). When I was taking the test, I thought my rural upbringing would rank me as working class (esp. since I went to the local HS. I’m thinking of the close friend who got seldom got better than Cs question). It ranked me as 2nd generation upper middle class person who made a point of getting out a lot. I def. wouldn’t say my parents were upper middle class financially (hippie farmers). However, they made a huge point of getting out a lot. Bc I was raised so rurally, they felt it was important to expose me to as much as possible. I was surprised by how accurate the quiz was. I dismissed it as like a Cosmo quiz or something.

  40. Krys responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    I got way off track there…sorry…but there probably is a bubble in places where there is lots of choice. In many places, If you only have one option to buy your food, the choice is made for you. Is that class? or location? or a little of both?

  41. Anise responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 9:44 pm #

    That quiz is very messed up. He distinguishes between upperclass and middle and lower classes simply by the tastes and experiences of the average American. Certainly the upperclass is by definition not average and they may sequester themselves away from the rest of society, but they are certainly not the only group to do that: for example, immigrant groups, fundamentalist religious groups or other subcultures.

  42. Kate responded on 07 Feb 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    This was SO SO interesting! I’m sitting here rereading your comment for the third time and being fascinated all over again.

    But please don’t tell Charles Murray that you don’t play croquet over there…He’ll get very upset.


    (I don’t know where I got croquet, really, and Turks and Caicos seems to be a really popular vacation spot among rich New Yorkers)

  43. Becky responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 8:40 am #

    I took the quiz and found it very interesting, although I am from the UK so a lot of the cultural references don’t apply. For example, nobody here really has pickup trucks, although some farmers might have something similar. And instead of a question about NASCAR I’d put in a question about football (soccer). Hardly anyone here will have heard of Branson, we don’t have the same chain restaurants, and we don’t have many evangelical christians, although there is one who stands around the town centre with a placard where I live, telling people to repent. Actually, thinking about it there is a lot more that would have to be tweaked so it represented life in the UK as opposed to the USA, but I got the jist anyway.

    From definitions of classes in the UK, I know I am middle-middle class, from middle class parents. My mother is first generation middle class from a working class background, and I’m not sure what my dad’s background counts as, because his father worked as a science teacher for most of his life, but only actually got a science degree when he retired at 60. He did write books though, so it probably counts as middle class.

    The quiz didn’t seem to have an option for a middle class person with middle class parents, though. It seemed to assume if you had middle class parents you would be upper-middle class. Maybe the definition of upper-middle class is different in the US, but I am definitely not upper-middle class, and it would be quite hard to go from middle-middle to upper-middle in the UK, as the main things that make a person upper-middle class are a public school education (what you call private school in the US) and some kind of ancestry to the upper classes. The first one would be impossible on a middle-middle class income, and the second requires ancestry which I obviously would not have. So unless I end up becoming incredibly rich in the future, “making up” for this to some extent, I can’t see this happening.
    There’s some description of classes in the UK here: and the kind of definitions I’m going by.

    I’m still at the stage, however, when I’m just post-university and trying to figure out what to do next, and the next few years may involve a certain amount of poverty until I figure it out. So my class is defined more by my parents at the moment, and what I become remains to be seen. I will most likely be lower-middle, hopefully working up to middle-middle during my lifetime. That’s just going by my education, job aspirations and help I have received from my parents.

    I don’t really know what my point was when it comes to all this, except that the quiz is not perfect and that the definition of upper-middle class may be very different in the US, as here it is very privileged indeed, and people from that class have to work very hard at seeming “humble” and “normal” to be liked by the rest of us (and often fail- eg David Cameron, trying to seem normal when he went to Eton, and who is very disconnected from Britain as a whole).

  44. Lila responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:44 am #

    As somebody who grew up somewhere poor and rural, I can assure you that location is class. Maybe if you are from the city or the suburbs, you don’t have that experience. I’ve had the luxury of growing up in a 900 person town and having a sparkly NYC life. The questions on that quiz are 100% accurate. I think they are interesting ways of gauging class bc they are kind of backdoor about it.

  45. Lila responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:49 am #

    As for class, didn’t you get your wedding in the NYT? You live in DUMBO. Your boo is a hedgefund man. You are v.v.v. privileged. I mean, even the fact that most of your friends went to Harvard speaks to that.

  46. Sooz responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 6:48 pm #

    @Kate Thank you for recommending that post on the jane site. It was very good. I may even have to check out that book “Beyond Beauty”. :)

  47. Marisa responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 8:51 pm #

    Either class is just another stereotyped generalization, or what matters isn’t actually the quantity of money you have but the mindset you bring to that money. When I was a baby, my dad supported the three of us with a working-class income well below the poverty line. We lived on a (fairly nice) block of the lower-class end of town. However, because we had no TV, no microwave, no dishwasher, no answering machine, no computer and no car, we could live comfortably, eat healthily, take some trips to cool places, and feel completely different from most of our neighbors. The other people in our homeschooling group, who we spent most of our time with, were all liberal and middle-class (or headed that way).
    My dad came from a working-class family and hated school so much that he got himself through high school and swore off any further institutional learning (hence the homeschooling me). He has, however, a taste for ideas and books and discussion, and he definitely learned far more than I did in the process of educating me. He freely admits that he finds many working-class people ignorant and uninteresting, most of the middle class complacent and uninteresting, and most of the upper class self-centered and uninteresting. At least, that is my perception, slightly exaggerated, of his opinion.
    My mom comes from an upper-middle-class family, but feels so strongly the need to make her own way that she paid her parents back for her whole college education.
    And so you have me. Privileged mindset without the money to back it up. The government paid for most of my liberal arts education, and now I share a house with four people in a small Vermont city and eat quality, local, organic food for $500 a month. Period. End of living expenses. It doesn’t seem hard to me, and I have definitely never felt poor. I work part time at a newspaper and part time running my own bakery. I don’t want anything I don’t have.
    On my income of ~$15,000 a year, I scored in the same category as you on the test. And that’s because of what’s in my head, not what’s in my bank account.

    P.S. Thanks for writing about homeschooling and relationships and food and other interesting topics. My girlfriend and I—both twentysomething homeschoolers, and she never even went to college—enjoy discussing the posts on both your blogs.

  48. Kate responded on 08 Feb 2012 at 10:54 pm #

    Your dad sounds a lot like my dad. My dad did a vocational program in high school to get out of the building, and because he liked doing “real” work. Your family sounds awesome. You sound awesome. I want to meet you in person at some point! It’s always cool running into other twentysomething homeschoolers!

  49. Mary responded on 11 Feb 2012 at 3:59 am #

    After reading the comments I had to take the quiz. I scored a whopping 9 points, which means I am “2nd gen. upper-middle class”, a “person who has made a point of getting out a lot.” After reading the statistics he gave, I can see how this is true. I have lived in a bit of a bubble, but I think much of it, at least for me, has to do with my location. I grew up in a west-coast metro area, and currently live in the “city”, which is also considered by many to be in it’s own progressive bubble. I happen to like Applebee’s and Ihop, but there aren’t any located close enough around here, so I hardly ever eat at them. I went to Catholic school (sorry, many of us were overachievers (and few below-C students) and there were no evangelical Christians), and I preferred ballet to sports. I have done quite a bit of fishing in my life though, as it’s one of my dad’s hobbies! Not only that, I live in a city with a high cost of living, am 27 (and therefore still young in my career), and my modest middle-class income doesn’t go as far as I’d like around here. I think the “upper” part of middle class is a bit of a stretch! I don’t think my parents really became so-called “upper middle class” until they were adults and married, as my father worked his way up to being a chief engineer in the merchant marines. (His father was a machinist in the Navy, my other grandfather was a carpenter.) I guess my point is that this quiz comes across a bit like there is a one-size-fits-all category that I am supposed to fit into, and I really don’t believe this to be true. And some of the questions are more about personal taste or preference, such as the restaurants, popular movies, sports in school, and nascar. I admit, I was pretty surprised how few questions I could answer “yes” to, which makes me feel like, whoa, I really do need to get out of here more often. All in all, it was good food for thought, and I enjoyed reading the comments and others’ reactions as well.
    (Sorry if this post is a little disjointed, it’s been a long day and my brain’s a little fuzzy!)

  50. Kate responded on 12 Feb 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Thanks for this! I really enjoy reading people’s reactions to the test, and it was cool to learn a little about you and your family. You seem to be thinking about this in a pretty balanced way.

  51. Marguerite responded on 28 Mar 2012 at 9:31 am #

    This test seemed accurate for me. However, I must say that I detest the transplants to NYC who denigrate natives’ accents and eating habits. The transplants are usually the upper middle class brats who get daddy’s money in order to leave their otherwise boring lives. Sorry, the truth hurts.

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