A story:

Over the holiday season, my husband, sons, and stepdaughters served food at a community event for the poor, hungry, homeless, and elderly. The organization that sponsored the event was thoughtful and caring to do so.

But they could have been more thoughtful about the food they served!

At least one third of the audience did not have strong enough teeth to chew all of it. It was a thick slice of ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, apple pie, a crusty roll of bread, and green beans. All but the mashed potatoes required good teeth.

Ruby Payne servesThe reality of teeth and poverty:

Dental health in poverty is often an unaffordable luxury. So teeth are left unattended—if they hurt you, you pull them. And you don’t replace them. If you get in a fight and they are knocked out, they are not replaced.

Often a tooth has a big cavity you can’t afford to fix, and you chew on the other side so you don’t use that tooth. Or there are certain foods you don’t eat because your teeth are weak and it hurts to chew on them.

If you have only gums and no teeth, you stay away from nuts, crusts of bread, and sharp edges of meat.

As I served the food, I thought to myself, I wish they had served chopped turkey or chopped ham or chopped beef.

I wish they had served a soup with only small cuts of soft vegetables in it. I wish the bread hadn’t had a hard crust, or at least they could have served cornbread that can be crumbled and eaten.

They could have served pumpkin pies instead of apple pies. And I wish they had served custard or muffins to better accommodate people without perfect teeth.


Those who came were so grateful for the food. And those who could not eat their food gave it to someone who came with them who could.

But if the food could have been eaten by those who were missing teeth and could not chew, the gratitude would have been even greater.

Click to learn more about Ruby Payne.