Sunday, October 23, 2016

Four Hundred Miles of Bad Road, aka What's Wrong With South DeKalb?

Arabia Mountain Trail
My partner, George Chidi, is running for the DeKalb County Commission, to represent the "super-district" 7 which comprises the eastern half of the county and runs all the way from Doraville down through Tucker, Stone Mountain, Lithonia, and to the area of south DeKalb between Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area and Panola Mountain State Park, which is where we were today.  It's beautiful there, with a hiking/biking trail that stretches from the south end of Arabia Mountain and passes Stonecrest Mall on its way to Lithonia proper, the kind of woodsy suburbia typical of Atlanta, built up with comfortable subdivisions interspersed with older homes. It's an easy 25 minute commute to downtown via I-20. I had work to do for my teaching job, so I left him to it and went in search of a coffee shop where I could set up my laptop and put in some caffeine-fueled productivity. I've done this several times on other days in other parts of the county.

I couldn't find one.

Eventually, I located a Panera, which was almost but not quite...they have coffee and wifi, but they are really a volume restaurant business, so they do not encourage people to linger that long.  Translated into practical terms, they don't have wall outlets so the limit of your battery is the limit of your stay.  Mine, alas, was dead, so I didn't get much done.

I thought to myself, "How does this place not have a Starbucks?"  Apparently that's a common question.  It may seem like a trivial one, but...having an "office with coffee" is both a marker of and an impetus to economic as well as social activity.  People have meetings.  They work.  They have random encounters and conversations.  There was plenty of that going on in Panera, to be sure, but...that's it?

Understand, the area around Stonecrest and Lithonia is pretty resolutely middle class, both in appearance and demographics, and also typical of similar areas in the county; imagine the small-town vibe and easy highway access of Tucker, with the greenway and park placement of Stone Mountain.  It's a little more spread out...but for many of us, that's a feature not a bug.

It's also weirdly economically depressed.  Boarded up houses, abandoned commercial buildings.  What ought to be prime real estate along the greenway doesn't seem to be as valued as it would be elsewhere in the area.  Real estate values have bounced back from the crash in 2008 and then some south DeKalb, not so much.   What's going on here?

The residents have noticed, and complained, and mostly been ignored. The prevailing theory in some quarters is that Those People In North DeKalb (ie, white people) are keeping all the goodies to themselves.  This idea has driven much of the animus between the north and south ends of the county, and the political deadlock, for some time now.  It is a fact that the most significant difference between Tucker and Lithonia, which are otherwise pretty much mirror images of each other, is racial makeup.  People can be excused for being suspicious.  I'm pretty much on board with the idea that if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a racist duck.  I just don't think the residents of north DeKalb are the source of the problem. It doesn't make logical sense from a sheer, bloody-minded, self-interested perspective:  more economic development in south DeKalb means higher property values which means more tax revenue which means everyone's taxes go down.  Everybody wins!  There may indeed be someone who is profiting off of limiting opportunities for south DeKalb, but it's not the average resident in the rest of the county.  They are also getting screwed, if more indirectly.

Well, and what to do?  I don't know; but driving around I also noticed that the roads were (like the rest of the county, and perhaps more so) not in good shape.  I have heard two things from my ringside seat at many a wonktastic discussion of local politics:  that businesses base placement decisions partially on traffic counts, and that DeKalb County has 400 miles of roads that need re-paving.  The condition of the roads isn't the only thing that affects traffic counts, of course, but...surely that's a place to start?  Blight, artificially depressed property values, infrastructure...the shape of the problem seems to be the same in many parts of the county.  I'm surely biased, but I haven't heard a lot of concrete ideas about how to solve it except from one person. Ask him.

Meanwhile, if you live elsewhere in the Atlanta area, check out Arabia Mountain.  It's pretty there.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

"I Don't See Color" and Other Stupid Remarks

Look, I get it. I was raised in the South, not too long post-desegregation, when the divisions between black people and white people were no longer enforced officially but definitely were policed socially. In the aftermath of such a visible dismantling of legal apartheid, and when the actual incidents visible to you as racism are mostly interpersonal, it can seem logical to conclude that racism as such persists mainly in the form of people being assholes to one another.  And since you can only control your own behavior, and the main way to influence others is by example...well the solution there is obvious.  Don't be a jerk.  Combat stereotypes by seeing people as individuals.  Object when racist language (that you understand to be racist language, never mind that some of that is subtle and keeps shifting around) is used.  Befriend some people different from yourself to demonstrate your open-mindedness (never mind the awkwardness of trying to be friends with someone on that basis).  Problem solved!  If everyone would do the same, things would be great! 

Why are you still talking about it?  Why can't you just move on?

I'm getting a little snarky.  I hasten to point out that I actually do think that in the end, personal relationships and the way we treat one another are an important key to this mess. I got up and made a speech about it at the Athens Human Rights Festival one time, even.  I said, "Justice begins between you and me."

The problem is, that isn't enough.  Justice begins between you and me, but it ends somewhere else.

Racism is not just a personal moral failure; you're thinking of prejudice, which can exist both independently of and interwoven with systemic racism (though the impact when bolstered by the weight of social institutions and widespread pervasiveness is different). Racism is a collective and social evil, and therefore can only be addressed in collective and social ways.  In related news, people in the same society can have widely different experiences of it, and those experiences can be largely invisible to people who aren't in the same position. 

It is a fine thing to see someone as an individual.  However, when you are seeing them that way, you might take into consideration that their experiences as an individual may include things like regularly being followed around in a store.  (This happened to my major professor.  In the same town where he teaches college.)  And it's ok, even, that you might be unaware that this sort of thing happens to people...because it doesn't happen to you, and the people it DOES happen to are probably tired of talking about it.  What is not ok is when someone starts to explain this or another circumstance of their ordinary daily life and you interrupt, dismiss, change the subject or otherwise clearly indicate that you don't believe them and/or don't want to talk about it.  Because that, my dear, is an asshole move.  Even if you say it nicely, and express vague wishes for a better world that don't happen to place any taxing burden on you.  Trite solutions ("I don't see color!") are condescending as well. Among other issues, it shows that you don't have the slightest grasp of the depth and complexity of the problem.

It is deep and complex because it is social, collective, and systemic rather than individual.  For mostly good reasons we tend to take our social institutions and customs for granted and not think about them too much; consequently, when they are screwed up it can be hard to even see the problem much less analyze it.  Change requires even more effort, and meanwhile new people keep wandering into the conversation saying things like, "But I don't see color!  Why can't we all just get along!" which keeps knocking the framing of the question back to the individual level...which demonstrably does not work.

Your lack of prejudice is admirable, in precisely the same way as your avoidance of peeing in public or kicking puppies.  It does not, however, actually solve the problem. If individual moral choices could solve the problem, we would have had this one tied up a long time ago.  We do not, which indicates it can't be solved by your individual moral choices.  You are not the Chosen One.

Unless you are the Chosen One, in which case I have to ask...where the hell have you been?

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

I Am Not Your Goddamn Justification

"I have noticed a great disdain for race mixing White women within the White nationalists community, bordering on insanity it. These women are victims, and they can be saved."--from Dylan Roof's apparent manifesto

"You're raping our women."  --what Dylan Roof reportedly said at the scene after shooting nine people, six of whom were women

"There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched."-- Chloe Angyal, "I Don't Want to Be an Excuse for Racist Violence Anymore" 

"My mother used to say that the black woman is the white man's mule and the white woman is his dog. Now, she said that to say this:  we do the heavy work and get beat whether we do it well or not. But the white woman is closer to the master and he pats them on the head and lets them sleep in the house, but he ain't goin' treat either one like he was dealing with a person."  -- Nancy White, quoted by Patricia Hill Collins

I have to admit, when I first read Roof's rambling screed I blocked that part out.  In that way that you kind of can't see something because to look at it too hard will blind you with rage. I'm writing through that rage now, with varying success, so please bear with me.

This is an old poison. I don't think there's a clear estimate of how many times white men have used white women as a justification for the murder and oppression of black people, one way or another.  Black men are described as a threat to white women, either in general or in specific.  We, white women (sometimes glossed as "families" or "homes"), must be protected.  The threat must be dealt with...generally, violently. Or corralled into a different part of town. Or locked up.

Never mind that, historically speaking, black women have been many times more likely to be the victims of rape at the hands of white men, than the reverse.

Never mind that, because like other forms of violence rape is most often done to you by people you know, if you are a white woman you are far more likely to be raped by a white man.

I won't speak about my relationship with an actual, not mythical, black man, because then I really won't be able to say anything that isn't incoherent with rage.

It was never about reality or anything remotely connected to facts or truth anyway.  It was never about us.  Not as human beings. Only as possessions:   "Our" women.  And if you stop being "their" woman...if you date or marry someone who is not white, or not a man, if you have a thought in your head, if you defy, or if you simply refuse to go along with the bullshit....then you will be an object of contempt.  Or a "victim."  But you will never be a human being to them. Not ever.

Because this is about power, and the brutal exercise of it, and only persons have power.  You are not a candidate for that even if you wanted to be.  Not really, not in the end-game. The best you can hope for is to be a prize in a choreographed display.  Not even a real fight, because the game is carefully rigged, but a sham.

If you collude with that, as countless white women have, you are a fool.  Perhaps a victim of the peculiar version of Stockholm Syndrome that women have been burdened with for millennia, or perhaps filled with short-sighted malice, but a fool all the same. 

I believe though that it is not enough to merely infuriating as our would-be rescuers/putters-in-our-places will find it. And it's not enough to simply express horror at the most extreme iterations of the White Knights of Swooping In to Save You Racist Patriarchy Division. We have to speak up...which means educating ourselves about the myriad insidious ways our collective brains have been washed in the first place.  We have to do something.

Other people have clearly been thinking along the same lines; there's a veritable spate of articles on the topic, which I find heartening.  And then there's Debbie Dills, who spotted the shooter's car, called it in, and tailed him until he was apprehended.  And Emma Quangel, who put up $49 for a reverse whois search...which is how the manifesto quoted above was found, along with a trove of photographs which are likely to seriously undermine any insanity defense. That is what you call putting your money where your mouth is.

I don't know Emma Quangel's ethnicity and I am not saying Debbie Dills was thinking about the intersections of racism and sexism at all.  I am just saying...This is how it is done.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A Bad Man, and a Very Bad Wizard: Tom Owens Goes To Decatur

Imagine Sacha Baron Cohen made a movie and set it in the DeKalb County Courthouse.

That's what it was like at the hearing to clear the temporary restraining order against George.  It was like a comedy, only one of those terrible, cringy comedies where people publicly embarrass and hurt themselves which I don't actually like.

Let me be clear:  Tom Owens and his crew manifestly deserved it and absolutely did it to themselves. But it was still painful to watch. There were points at which I actually couldn't look at the people talking, because it was that awful. And I don't mean "they are saying mean things about my boo" awful. I mean, "holy crap, I don't like you but you absolutely do not see the abyss you are digging yourself into. Please, for your own sake stop" awful.

Tom Owens represented himself.  I don't know whether this is because the three of them (him, Wayne Witter, and Joe Newton) between them couldn't pay a lawyer, or because no lawyer they approached with this would go for it, or they didn't think they needed one. Any of these are plausible but the latter seems likely.  Because, as I was explaining to someone who was present at the hearing and who asked the very reasonable question, "what were they thinking?"....These are the same people who took out the TPO in the first place. Any attempt to parse their behavior and choices or try to make them fit into some kind of logical sense should refer back to that point.  In related news, the answer to the question, "Who thinks it's a good idea to take out a restraining order against a reporter for asking them questions?" is:  These guys.

Tom Owens in particular is a stupid man. I mean genuinely stupid. I don't generally mock people for their lack of intellectual skills. As someone who was labeled "gifted" as a child, I've always felt that making fun of people for lacking those qualities with which I have been unusually blessed is unseemly, as well as mean-spirited. But, having chosen to represent himself, Mr. Owens not only did not grasp the concept of questioning a witness, he was unable to follow the judge's very clear and simple directions.  He called three witnesses and in each case the judge had to take over questioning for him in order for the hearing to proceed. I actually appreciate the amount of patience and forbearance that Judge Cynthia Becker displayed.  No one reasonable can say that Mr. Owens was not treated fairly, and given every possible opportunity to not screw up. 

The centerpiece of the evidence he brought was a video which purported to show George behaving in a "threatening, out of control" (Mr. Owens' words) manner.  What it actually showed, among other things including George explaining why it's important for a reporter to ask questions, was Joe Newton getting up in George's face and yelling various insults at him, while George responded with admirable restraint, if a bit of snark:  "I know you! You're Joe Newton! Goodness gracious me, you're worse than he is. You are a genuinely terrible human being."  This is the sum and total of the meanest thing George did. Truly, a dangerous man.

Tom Owens' compatriots, Wayne Witter and Joe Newton, as well as Mr. Owens himself, then proceeded to take the stand and testify in ways that contradicted both themselves, each other, and the video.  Which they  had brought, and presumably watched. Evidently none of them had thought to make sure what they said matched their big piece of evidence, or else were actually unable to do so. It was a festival of incompetence.

In the ongoing circus of the last week and a half, I kept hearing that many people have found Tom Owens unpleasant to deal with, and some were genuinely afraid of him.  I confess that I have been concerned about George's safety, since "I was in fear for my life" with no corroborating evidence has been known to be accepted as a murder defense. I wish all of those people had been in the court room yesterday.  It was like the moment when Toto pulls the curtain back to reveal the Wizard of Oz huffing and frantically pulling at levers, or the moment in Hook when Wendy says, "He's just a mean old man without a Mommy."

I think Tom Owens and his friends are malicious.  They have the will to do harm. What they lack is the ability to carry out any plan for harm that is at all complex in a way that doesn't hurt their own cause in the process. This is a kind of blessing...on them, though they may not appreciate it. Certainly on the rest of us.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tom Owens Is A Racist, And It Matters

There, I said it.  Somebody needed to. 

In case you haven't heard, the First Amendment is in trouble in DeKalb County, Georgia. George Chidi, a journalist who writes for Peach Pundit ("Fresh Political Pickins From The Peach State") was writing a profile of a candidate for a DeKalb County Commission special election, and in the process showed up to two public events and called the man.  Tom Owens, the candidate in question, took exception to all this and took out a temporary protective order.  

The Washington Post covered the First Amendment issues fairly authoritatively, while Bill Torpy at the AJC covered the low-to-the-ground craziness of it all.  Nobody, to my knowledge, has talked about the racist undertones...and overtones, and middle-tones...of the situation.  I guess I can see why.  There's so much to discuss, and the utter outrageousness of a politician using the courts to suppress coverage he doesn't like pretty much drowns everything out. A white man using the law to harass and attack a black man is, sadly, not news...though the fact that it can still happen should certainly engender outrage. However, I'm an academic, not a journalist, and my habits tend less towards reportage and more towards analysis...among other things, of the status quo and what's screwed up about it.

Full disclosure:  George is my...well, we're both in our forties, and "boyfriend" is a bit teenagery, but let's just go with that. Things have been interesting at my house lately. In any case, it happens that I have opinions about this situation, and a unique perspective from which to view it.  And since I, too, am a writer, I mean to express them.

Premise:  Racism, sexism, and the like are social evils, not merely personal moral flaws. Therefore, you can be unintentionally racist, if your behavior fits a pattern of racism that exists in our society. (The thing to do once you figure this out is to apologize and move on. Or change your team's name, as the case may be). I don't actually think this one was unintentional, but it's just possible Mr. Owens and his compatriots, on the way to fabricating a pack of lies and abusing the court system in order to piss on the Constitution, were racist by mere accident. My point being, I don't have to know their exact motives to see that their behavior fits a racist pattern, any more than I have to shave an itchy cat to prove she has fleas.

It so happens, though, that Mr. Owens has what one might call a history suggestive of problematic racial ideologies.  He's an anti-immigrant activist, has been in a protracted feud with the mosque he lives next door to, and spit on someone's door because he thought she was helping Muslims. Then there's this:

"It’s like, you know what? I don’t really like the n–ger speech. I don’t like that other speech. … That was the red flag. The n–ger speech, and like n–ger motherfu–er, and the f-g-ass. You know what? I’m busy. You’re busy. Thanks. Good bye.” -- James Burkart, speaking about Tom Owens

Incidentally, George is the son of an African immigrant and an American-born mother...the exact same demographic as the President (and we all know how fair people are to that guy). He tells me he was questioned rather aggressively by Mr. Owens' campaign manager Wayne Witter as to whether or not he was a Muslim.

 In other words, I am not making a great leap of assertion here.

At any rate, in the last few days Mr. Owens and others who are close associates have done their best to muddy the waters and make themselves good as they can. The cant of their arguments is revealing:

"I am not attacking freedom of speech because I didn't know George Chidi was a reporter.  He didn't identify himself, so it's his fault."

So many things wrong with this, including the fact that ordinary, non-professional-journalist citizens have a right to ask questions of candidates for office at a public forum. Even, and perhaps especially if, they are questions those candidates don't want to answer. It's just that reporters have additional protections for obvious reasons.  But there is absolutely no way on God's green Earth that Mr. Owens didn't know George was a reporter before he filed that TPO. Aside from the fact that you can hear him on the video which accompanies the Huffington Post article identifying himself as a reporter, when he is working on a story, it's the second thing out of his mouth:  "I'm George Chidi, and I'm a writer."  Or, "I'm George Chidi, and I'm working on a story." Like that.  It's a reflex. 

"He was loud and upset people."

By "people" Mr. Owens clearly means himself, and by "upset" he means "asked questions I didn't have good answers to."  George is also unfailingly polite to people who are polite to him, and usually even when they aren't.  It is possible he may have been a bit loud by our genteel Southern standards.  That can happen when he gets excited.

Last I inquired this was not actually a crime. And for those of us who have gotten used to the idea that Atlanta is a big city which attracts people from all over the place, and also that there are human beings in the world who are not exactly like ourselves, it's not actually hard to adjust when people follow different rules and don't quite behave precisely the way we would. That's what my Mama taught me was polite.

"He threatened me."

Mr. Owens has a history of claiming this, that, or the other person has threatened to kill him. I confess I can see why he might imagine that people hold him in deep contempt. But in this case, the narrative that he and others (including Bill Simon of have tried to construct casts George in the role of Scary Black Man.  They could hardly have picked on someone less suited...

...but that hardly matters.  Stereotypes don't truck with reality, they just hew to people's prejudices.  And in the minds of people like Tom Owens and his friends, it's not important that George is actually a friendly goofball who narrates the inner thoughts of any dog he meets.  Black and brown men are scary, violent, criminal, and dangerous, and that trumps everything. Truth and common sense...and the Constitution...can go to hell. 

Now, Mr. Owens is no respecter of persons...or position, or race, or gender...when it comes to his (heavily documented) harassing behavior. But the Scary, Threatening Black Man is not just a stereotype or a media's an internalized false belief that research shows is widely held, and given his other behavior, Mr. Owens is unlikely to have an isolated quirk of fair-mindedness about it. I think he did feel threatened by George's questions...not for his safety, as he claims, but for his political aspirations. It was an easy leap from "I feel threatened" to "he is threatening me" and from thence to trying to use the courts in order to quell the threat.

This kind of thinking all too often turns deadly.  In this case, it has only turned into a three-ring stupidity circus and interfered in my life and George's life.  But there's a connection, and an important one:  bigotry means you only see people like yourself as fully human, and therefore you don't reflexively offer those who are not like you the same mental "space," including respect for their basic rights.  It's why women get imposed upon walking down the street.  It's why young men get shot for holding sandwiches and wearing hoodies.

I actually think Mr. Owens is telling the truth about this one thing:  He didn't think of what he was doing as an assault on the First Amendment.  He was, after all, just trying to get a black guy to shut up.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Commonplace Book

I've decided to start using my blog as a commonplace book (some of the time), meaning a place where I record what I'm reading, some relevant quotes, and my comments.

Self-Segregation:  Why It's So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson by Robert P. Jones in The Atlantic.

"Clearly white Americans see the broader significance of Michael Brown’s death through radically different lenses than black Americans. There are myriad reasons for this divergence, from political ideologies—which, for example, place different emphases on law and order versus citizens’ rights—to fears based in racist stereotypes of young black men. But the chief obstacle to having an intelligent, or even intelligible, conversation across the racial divide is that on average white Americans live in communities that face far fewer problems and talk mostly to other white people."

"Overall, the social networks of whites are a remarkable 93 percent white. White American social networks are only one percent black, one percent Hispanic, one percent Asian or Pacific Islander, one percent mixed race, and one percent other race. In fact, fully three-quarters (75 percent) of whites have entirely white social networks without any minority presence. This level of social-network racial homogeneity among whites is significantly higher than among black Americans (65 percent) or Hispanic Americans (46 percent)."

"Widespread social separation is the root of divergent reactions along racial lines to events such as the Watts riots, the O.J. Simpson verdict, and, more recently, the shootings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. For most white Americans, #hoodies and #handsupdontshoot and the images that have accompanied these hashtags on social media may feel alien and off-putting given their communal contexts and social networks.
If perplexed whites want help understanding the present unrest in Ferguson, nearly all will need to travel well beyond their current social circles."

I both find this hard to believe and know that it is 1) important and, 2) true. It explains so much that encounter on a regular basis. Not only do I have "black friends" I have several people who are significant figures in my life.  This makes a difference.

What it feels like to be the last generation to remember life before the Internet by Leo Mirani

"Harris, like your correspondent, grew up in a very different world, one with limited channels of communication, fewer forms of entertainment, and less public scrutiny of quotidian actions or fleeting thoughts. It was neither better nor worse than the world we live in today. Like technology, it just was."

Slightly hyperbolic. We have no idea what new technological revolution is just around the corner.  People were saying the same stuff about telegraphs and later telephones, I'm pretty sure. 

Metaphors for Graduate School: a post-lette  by Outside Higher Ed 

"God help me if we’re in metonymy; that would be bad indeed."  
Snarky commentary on the state of academia

What Lies Beneath Stonehenge? by Ed Caesar, Smithsonian Magazine

"The researchers have found buried evidence of more than 15 previously unknown or poorly understood late Neolithic monuments: henges, barrows, segmented ditches, pits. To Gaffney, these findings suggest a scale of activity around Stonehenge far beyond what was previously suspected."

"Gaffney’s voice lifted. He spoke about Jerusalem Syndrome: the feeling of intense emotion experienced by pilgrims on their first sighting of the Holy City. In the prehistoric world, there was no conception of God as he was understood by the later Abrahamic faiths. But, said Gaffney, as Stonehenge reappeared before us, 'whatever the ancient version of Jerusalem Syndrome is, that’s what you’re feeling now.'”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Eating healthy and cheap

A couple of people I know are having trouble with still having month left at the end of the money.  Like a lot of people out there. Jobs are up this year, but we are still in an economic hole created by the finance industry playing drunk chicken with one another. Collectively, we need to get over the idea that if you're poor or struggling that it's somehow a moral failure, but I digress...Practical solutions.  If you're weak from hunger, it's harder to plot revolution.


I have found the Cook For Good website and basic cookbook to be a good resource, but of course if you're broke you don't have money to spend on a book. However, she has plenty of free recipes on her site an in her newsletter.  My summary here includes some of her ideas, some of my mother's, and some of my own.


  • Buy for maximum nutrition, not calories. Nutrient-dense is a better use of your money.
  • Buy versatile and cheap "pantry" ingredients and make them work in multiple recipes. 
  • Beans are your friend; they are cheap and easily flavored in multiple ways. 
  • Borrow a principle from every traditional culture everywhere and stretch one food to make several meals.  Bake a chicken, make stock from the bones, use the leftover chicken to make soup. Cook a big batch of beans and eat with rice the first night, then put the rest in a soup or bean salad or mash and refry them for burritos...etc.
  • Buy fresh and in season, and use every bit of what you buy.  Peelings and ends should go in stock. Fresh "conventional" fruits and vegetables are better for you than packaged "organic" ones. (Just wash them well to get rid of any pesticide residue and you're good).  Put the organic fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt back and get plain yogurt and fresh fruit; you will eat less sugar that way too.
  • STOCK.  Make stock out of everything. Chicken bones, beef bones, odds and ends and wilted vegetables.Then use the stock to cook beans, rice, vegetables, etc. That way you don't lose any of the nutrition you paid for, AND stuff tastes better.
  • Reuse other things too.  Leftover grains, vegetables, and legumes aren't leftovers, they are ingredients. Put them in stock with some spices and you have a whole new meal.
  • Make your own bread. Even cheap bread is more expensive than home-made, and yours will be more nutritious. Also, every kind of bread in the world can be made into toast, bread pudding, and/or dressing.
  • You can make cheap and nutritious desserts and you should. It will add to your calories and nutrition and keep you from feeling deprived. Home-made rice pudding (made from leftover rice!) is your friend.
  • Sodas on the other hand are too expensive for what they are. Drink tea instead.
  • Learn to forage.  It's blackberry season where I live.  Half the stuff growing in my yard is edible in a salad. Even in an urban area like Atlanta, there is free food growing by the side of the road if you know where to look.
  • Grow food if you can, even an herb in a pot in the window means flavor and nutrition you don't have to buy.
  • Finally:  The biggest detriment to someone struggling to make ends meet is our current cultural attitude that it is some kind of moral failure. That is bullshit, and it's not even part of actual traditional American culture, because our ancestors were smarter than that. Whoever set it up so that smart, motivated, capable people in the richest country in the world can still be poor is at fault, not you. Mentally tell them to kiss your ass and keep moving.