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Examining Dave Ramsey's Advice to Eat Rice and Beans for a Year

Activist and granddaughter of immigrants currently living in Colorado Springs.

Could you eat rice and beans for a year?


I know that Dave Ramsey meant well when he told his listeners that if they ate only rice and beans for a year, they could be rich.

Oh wait, no. What he actually said was that people who already have money can make that money go a lot farther by eating rice and beans. Unfortunately, this gave birth to an "Eat Poor" ideology that has taken on a life of its own, probably far beyond anything Ramsey intended. The main tenet of this populist ideology? If you're not in the final stages of severe malnutrition and/or starvation, you're spoiled, harbor an unhealthy sense of entitlement, and are right up there with Bacchus in your need to indulge.

In theory, the rice and bean plan makes sense. Both beans and rice are a good sources of protein and fiber. They are nutritious and, periodically, delicious. The biggest issue is that most of his loyal followers, because of Ramsey's constant harping on beans and rice, now believe that people in food assistance programs should be forced to subsist on beans and rice and little else. After all, if Dave could do it, for at least 1,095 meals, why can't you?

The problem with this is that people on food assistance, if allowed to buy only beans and rice, would only be able to buy beans and rice. People on food assistance don't have expendable income to buy the extras that would make this scheme doable long-term. Extras like salt, pepper, or bullion cubes. Ramsey's loyal followers may have piles of debt, but it is offset by decent incomes. Your crushing debt isn't poverty. Your six-figure income and equal six-figure debt isn't poverty. It's not like buying that $1.25 candy bar with the pennies, nickels, and dimes you liberated from your couch means your three kids would have to share one hot dog for dinner. It's just that you have to summon iron will, Dave Ramsey's paternal advice humming in your head, while staring down that king size Snicker's bar in aisle six (in a brilliant strategical move, most grocery stores put candy in the same aisles as staples like beans and rice). You will not starve—your family will not starve—if you buy that gooey, peanutty confection instead of a bag of beans.

And don't feed me this nonsense about people in poverty-stricken areas of the world gladly surviving on rice and beans. Because they don't gleefully survive on just rice and beans, either, unless they are forced by war, genocide, government collapse, or famine into refugee camps. Even the poorest forage for or grow their own fruits and vegetables, there is occasional meat that they hunt themselves, and if they are lucky, they own milk-producing livestock. Do you think the people living in the slums of Haiti, India, or several countries in Africa wouldn't eat better if they weren't mired in extreme poverty?

And in that vein, what is with this "Who's Poorer?!?" competition we have going on in America? I noticed it a few years ago on the eBay Community boards, and it has since spread to nearly every comments section of any online article. A lot of us were making good money on eBay, which made these discussions even more puzzling. It was a special badge of honor to be so poor you could only afford to have your thermostat set at 50 degrees all winter. It was a special badge of honor that you could only buy canned fruits and vegetables, never fresh. Some people bragged that they could only buy one package of baloney or hot dogs, which had to last them a month. I would see people one-upping each other for how many days they could stretch a small box of generic mac & cheese or how many meals a packet of ramen really lasts. Some people were "so poor" (even with strong eBay sales) that they couldn't even buy condiments, they were forced to steal them from local fast food places.

Is this really what people want? To be so poor that your dinner is a half a can of peas and a quarter section of a slice of baloney? That must be part of an American Dream that no one told me about.

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But let's get back to Dave Ramsey and the "rice and beans for a year" thing. Eating just rice and beans for an entire year, with no additives (not even salt or pepper) is a daunting challenge for most everyone, save for maybe a vegan monk going for sainthood. Frankly, I don't really like rice or beans; I'm more excited at the prospect of eating white glue at every meal.

And after doing some research, a lot of people think the same way.

I looked up some recipes online. I thought Ramsey actually meant plain white rice and plain boiled beans. Well, maybe he did. But most people who want you to succeed with this diet don't post simple instructions on how to boil rice or soak beans. There are many creative and tasty-looking recipes, all of which include far more than just beans and rice. People suspiciously stick to dinner recipes. And the cheapest recipes I found were around $3, not the $1.28 promised by Ramsey. I'm guessing because there are very few people who could survive on the same meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire year. At least in anything but a famine situation.

Many of the recipes require time (dry beans have to soak or boil for hours) and equipment (like the black bean brownie recipe I found that requires mashed-beyond-recognition beans) that poor people don't have. All of the recipes have a lot of add-ins: tomatoes, vegetables, meat, spices, and sauce mixes. Many recipes require eggs and milk. These items aren't necessarily expensive, except when you start adding up how many of these extra items you have to buy to maintain your sanity after eating yet another batch of lentil cookies.

And again, these are mostly dinner recipes, with nary a whisper of the breakfast or lunch options.

Beans and Rice is Never Just Beans and Rice

There's no reason Americans can't live more simply, frugally, and less wastefully. But we also shouldn't force ourselves into a false sense of poverty. There are no winners in that game. Yes, there are a small number of people who take advantage of the food assistance program, but the vast majority on food assistance are there not because they had a "a bunch of kids they couldn't afford," but because of unforeseen circumstances, or just good ol' humbling life. Is it fair to say that people who are already suffering can't buy a gallon of cheap ice cream for their kid's birthday party? Is it right to say that because a person is poor they can't eat fluffernutters? Do we, the American taxpayers, really need to have so much control over other people that we will refuse them a prepared cooked chicken, even if they have nowhere to cook a whole, raw chicken?

We need to stop acting like it's a race to the bottom. Instead, we should prop up not only ourselves but also our communities so that everyone prospers. And if that means letting someone "indulge" in a $2.50 tub of marshmallow creme or a $1 2-liter of soda … if that is all it takes to brighten an otherwise terrible day and give that person a little bit of hope in life, why wouldn't we do that?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2015 Carrie Peterson

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