Despite economic growth in middle-income countries across the global south, pockets of food poverty persist in the countryside. An accepted account suggests that many of the poor are stuck in a 'truncated agrarian transition' where neither agriculture nor labour markets provide sufficient opportunities. Yet, statistics indicate that many have moved out of poverty, even as undernourishment continues. Exploring an Indonesian periphery, this paper interrogates this conundrum. It describes a 'sideways scenario' where change fails to map onto both expectations of forward development and stagnation described by established theory. While many progress in quotidian terms, persistent food poverty and stunting remain. Here, 'advancing sideways' amounts to a paradoxical form of progress.