The Worst "Yes, But" of All

Last week, we talked about the pernicious defeatism of the yes, but conversation script.

In today's post we're going to discuss a different and slightly twisted version of the yes-but script. And the reason I want to go over this particular conversation script is for one reason: This specific yes-but script prevents more people from embracing healthy and affordable food solutions than any other single cause.

Learn to recognize this conversation script. Know it. And the next time you hear a friend, acquaintance or family member start to play this script, pull them out of the vortex.

I call this conversation script type yes, but by proxy, and I'll give an example below, using the exact same conversation starting point that I used in my last post. See if you can spot the psychological implications behind White's responses, and watch what happens as the conversation quickly goes off the rails:

Yes, But By Proxy:
White [whining slightly]: Healthy food is too expensive.
Black: You could try eating more lentils, or potatoes. They're extremely healthy foods and practically free.
W: Yes, but there are lots of poor people living in food deserts in the inner city who don't have the resources to take advantage of foods like lentils.
B: You can find lentils almost everywhere, even in the inner city. And they are so inexpensive! You can buy a pound for like $1.50 and eat them for days.
W: Oh sure, your solutions are great for you. But people who don't know how to cook, and people who don't have all the knowledge that you have, can't just "whip up" a batch of lentils.
B: You'd be surprised how laughably easy it is to boil up a batch of lentils. Seriously, anybody can do it.
W: Look, people working multiple jobs just to keep their bills paid just don't have the time to cook like that.
B: Okay. But there are lots of other foods which even easier to cook and are also inexpensive: potatoes, beans, carrots, celery, leafy greens like collards and swiss chard--
W [Interrupts]: Sure, easy for you, but people who live 15-20 miles away from the nearest Whole Foods can't take advantage of these foods the way you can.
B: Uh, wait, if you want to cook healthy food for less money, living 15-20 miles from a Whole Foods is an advantage, not a disadvantage--
W [Interrupts again]: Whatever. But just because you can eat healthy for less doesn't mean we all can.

Just like the sample conversation from my last post, you might think this conversation seems contrived and unrealistic. Nobody would be so ridiculous as to repeatedly fire off comments like the answers from White, right?

Uh, think again. In fact, the last three responses from White are actual statements someone wrote in another blog in response to my post The "It's Too Expensive to Eat Healthy Food" Debate. Go ahead, see for yourself. Sadly, this "made-up" conversation is all too real.

Okay. It goes without saying that White is being defeatist, and even a bit ridiculous. But there's a deeper problem with each one of White's statements that makes his position totally indefensible. Can anyone see what it is?

Readers, share your thoughts in the comments section, and I'll come back tomorrow with a follow-up post that discusses the answer.

Related Posts:
A Reader Asks for Help
The Worst Lie of the Food Blogosphere
The 25 Best Laughably Cheap Recipes at Casual Kitchen
Spreading the New Frugality: A Manifesto

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Unknown said...

OK, here's my guess:

It seems like the psychology of someone who is defending a position (healthy food is too expensive) regardless of wether their defense has anything to do with their argument. In the answer, I hear: "unavailable" (food desert, no Whole foods), "no time" (working multiple jobs), no knowledge (don't know to cook), but I never hear "expensive."

I also hear "there are people who" - by finding someone, somewhere, who is an exception, it invalidates your whole argument. Regardless of the percentage of people it would actually apply to. By the time we're done, Healthy food is too expensive for people who are: poor, don't know how to cook, working multiple jobs, and live 15-20 miles away from Whole Foods.

Little Les said...

This might be more psychology than you want here, but how about if Black says something like "Yes, it can be expensive, but I know how to cook healthfully for very little money, would you like some tips?" rather than just starting in on telling White what to do. This would allow White to demonstrate whether he is open to Black's information, and would save Black from having to "debate" his knowledge with someone who is not receptive. Conversations are two-way; I think Black could improve his approach.

Diane said...

They don't want to be responsible for their own argument.

Since I don't engage much with "yes but" it doesn't matter much to me though. You cannot convince someone who doesn't want to be convinced.

allyspie said...

I get the arguement, I see it A LOT (and not just with respect to food, but with other things) and basicially it boils down to White not wanting to change his/her ways, and trying to justify it with excuses. I just get this kind of icky feeling reading this, that it comes from a financially priviledged point of view... sure lentils are cheap, but what about access to a stove? Not everyone has that. Not everyone was has the time to boil lentils for their family because they work multiple jobs.
Again, I completely agree with the core arguement in this post... and I know I sound like "White" with my excuses. I just don't like the example that was used. To assume because something is easy and completely doable for you doesn't mean it's doable for everyone. I feel like I'm not expressing myself well, so I'll just link this amazing post and leave it at that.

Daniel said...

Thanks for the insightful comments so far. I don't want to interfere in the conversation, so I'll hold off on addressing the comments just yet to give more people time to share their thoughts. However, I do want to briefly address Allyspie's point by asking these two questions:

1) How do we know that Black is addressing this from a financially privileged point of view?

2) And do we know anything AT ALL about White's financial situation?


Elizabeth said...


Long-time lurker (I love the blog!), first-time poster...

I think the attitude I see the most here is that White doesn't actually _want_ to change, and is looking for ways to justify that choice, by saying that it's not as easy for him as it may be for others. And that may be the case - maybe he lives in an area where it is harder to access a grocery store, to have a stove, to learn cooking skills. I think that are some very real hurdles for some people.

For example, I volunteer at a youth drop-in centre in my city's inner city. The families there are struggling in many ways - financially, physically (health), academically, socially, etc. Life is not easy for them. We always serve a healthy snack at the end of a night's program, and I'm not kidding when I say that when we serve salad, some kids have never seen it before. Economics play a powerful role in determining what families do to feed themselves - if you only have 5$ to spend on that days' food for your family, pasta is going to go a lot further in filling you up than are vegetables. So, I think it's important to acknowledge that for many people, there are some huge hurdles to overcome.

Having said that, I have also seen some amazing families in the area who have been able to do better. The difference? They have made it a priority. They go without some of the non-essential items (cell phones, more expensive clothing, beer, etc., that a lot of the families in the area see as "must-haves") to be able to spend a little more on groceries rather than junk food and to have a little more time to prepare food. I'm not going to pretend for a minute that it isn't hard for a lot of people in the world. What I will not, however, agree with is that it's impossible in the Western world, where we honestly have a ridiculous wealth of resoucrses available to us - it's more a matter of priorities.

The main difference is in moving your attitude away from being a victim of your circumstances ("I don't have enough money to eat like that" "I don't have a stove", "I don't have a car to get to the grocery store"), placing blame on something outside yourself, and changing to an attitude of _choosing_ to take as much control over your life's situation as possible, recognizing that though life may have dealt you a bad hand, you can still choose to do as much as you can with it ("I'll look for a hotplate at a second-hand store", "Maybe my neighbour would like to split the cost of a taxi so we can both go shopping", "I'll ask at the library information desk to fing some cookbooks that teach about low-cost cooking"), and not feeling a need to place blame for the difficult situation on anything or anyone else - including yourself.

I guess what I'm boiling down to is my feeling that everyone is resonsible for his or her own life - if you want to eat healthily, DO! There are so many resources available to help people to this, and while you may have to be a little more creative with it than others if you are working with a tight limit on resources, if you make it a priority and are willing to sacrifice other things for it, it can be done. Nearly everyone (except the ridiculously wealthy, who really aren't as common as we believe) makes sacrifices in life for their priorities. If you decide that other things are more important - that's your choice, and I will respect your ability to make that choice for yourself, - BUT - don't compain about your problems if you're not willing to put in some effort to fix them, or if they are caused by the order of priorities that you have chosen for your life.

Whoo, sorry, that was a little longer than I anticipated it would be. :)

allyspie said...

I based White's financial position on the fact that he/she seemed to be referring to poor people as people other then him/herself (ie., did not say "I live in a food desert..."). But, the fact that they referred to other people that may not be able to eat healthy (in their mind) and not him/herself does more to defeat the arguement, which I'm guessing White is getting in because they themselves don't think they have the money/time/effort to eat healthy foods. Like I said, I completely agree generally with how unhelpful and frustrating these types of discussions are, and how the only real point to them is so party A (being White in this case) can justify to themselves why they are not doing something. My disagreement only comes with some of Blacks responses about how easy it is. I really agree with a lot of what Elizabeth said about making health a priority (IF you want it to be... and which while would be possible for most but still not EVERYONE), and I wish that Black's arguement had said something along those lines instead of the assumption that everyone has access to a working kitchen (or stove, or hotplate etc.)
Just another quick point I wanted to add, which probably isn't the point of this post at all, is that I find when dealing with "yes, but" people sometimes the best course of action is to try to look at things from their perspective so you can really form a logical arguement while also admitting that you see WHY they feel that way, and then offer them another way of looking at it.