If You Haven’t Been On Food Stamps, Stop Trying to Influence Government Policy

by Latoya Peterson

This is a public service announcement intended for journalists, news outlets, bloggers, folks in charge of creating policy, and people who have been lucky enough to have never relied on government assistance for basic necessities like food.

Just stop. Just stop the madness.

The latest in this ridiculousness? Fast Company weighing in on what people should and should not be eating on food stamps.

The writer is pulling all of these assumptions out of the air, based on what can theoretically be purchased on food stamps and an assumption that silly poor people don’t know that they will need to maximize their monthly allotment.  They also seem to ignore that some people do eat well on SNAP – there isn’t much data about what types of food are most commonly purchased using EBT cards, but national studies don’t really show much of a link between eating well or eating poorly and food stamps.  It really depends on the person.  Which is why lines like this are infuriating:

[I]f you live in cities like New York City and San Francisco, you should revel in your clean tap water, and save your food stamps for other things. [...]

If [the New York soda ban] passed, the ban would prevent people from using food stamps to buy carbonated and non-carbonated beverages that are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup or sugar and have more than 10 calories per eight-ounce serving. Is this over the top? Quite likely. But it’s an interesting thought experiment: What would happen to obesity and diabetes rates if soda was taken off the food-stamp approval list? [...]

One fancy lobster would suck up a good portion of a monthly food stamp allowance–and if you can afford to do that, you should just use cash. Not that poor people shouldn’t get to enjoy lobster. They just shouldn’t use our tax dollars.

13% of Americans are on SNAP.  It’s certainly one of the highest rates of SNAP usage since the program has started but let’s be real here – if every single person on SNAP was completely healthy and fit, we wouldn’t make a dent in America’s problem.  (And, in general, when people talk about issues with America’s health, it’s really just a veiled way to say “eew, fat people.”  Measuring national health is a set of shifting goal posts, and the solutions to a lot of these problems is ending subsidies on certain products.  But its easier to pretend that a growing nation is the result of three hundred million individual failures.)

The SNAP program is also considered one of the most successful government programs there is.  Families are hungry – people get food. It’s rather simple.  The problem comes in when people try to nickel and dime the SNAP program, like the writer above, in service of…well whatever.  Small government, personal responsibility, straight up bigotry, political expediency – the SNAP program takes the hit.  It’s a popular program, but thanks to the way we demonize people on any sort of government assistance, it seen as something that we need to regulate, lest the undeserving poor get to live the high life on taxpayer dollars.

And what a high life it is. Let’s look at the numbers.

From the government’s SNAP FAQs:

In 2008, SNAP served 28.4 million people a month at an annual cost of $34.6 billion. In February 2009, SNAP served 32.6 million people, an all-time record.  SNAP participation fluctuates with the economy and with the pattern of poverty in America. As the number of persons in poverty rose, SNAP participation grows. When poverty falls, so does reliance on SNAP. Participation for the latest available month can be found on Program Data.

Here’s how broke you have to be to qualify for SNAP:

And here’s what the MAXIMUM allotment is:

 

(Please note, they may give you less than the maximum.)

For comparison’s sake, here’s one of my favorite financial shows, ‘Til Debt Do Us Part.

When Gail Vaz-Oxlade slashes people’s budgets, she rarely allots less than $100 a week for food – even for a two person household. The government allows for even less than that.

The SNAP program normally works in tandem with programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to serve low income women who are at nutritional risk.  WIC is tightly regulated, and one can use this program to see what life would be like if we started putting similar restrictions on food stamps.

Interestingly, one of the best explorations of reversal in fortune and life on public benefits has come from MTV. I love, love, love this episode of True Life, called “I Can No Longer Afford My Lifestyle,” for a host of reasons – it really illuminates a lot of the issues with how quickly a person can go from being financially stable to financially destitute. Three people – Adam, Caitlin, and Aja -were living large right when the bubble burst, and all three start the episode in the same state: broke, jobless, and with grim employment prospects for the future.  Aja, a single mother of three, takes a trip to the grocery store to pick up supplies on WIC, starting at 10:35:

For those of you who can’t see the video, Aja hits the grocery store.  She has a lot of problems with the WIC restrictions and it takes her a long time to actually make her selections.  WIC allows Cheerios but does not allow Honey Nut Cheerios because of the added sugar content.  Aja spurns the unflavored Cheerios (and opts for the WIC-approved Frosted Mini Wheats), but still hits a problem at the register, because she selected sharp cheddar cheese and WIC only allows regular cheddar cheese. “I just got cheese checked at Von’s,” she says in disbelief. “What kind of day is this?”

I have a memory, from long ago, where I am sitting in the parking lot of a McDonalds, with my mom, trying to count out 63 pennies from the floor around the car, the change jar, and the pavement around the car in order to purchase two hamburgers from McDonalds for our evening meal. Cheap food exists for a reason. 63 cents doesn’t go far in the grocery store if you want a hot meal, and have no where for food prep. (Something that people also conveniently forget about – a lot of eating well on a budget requires prep with at least a hot plate, running water, and basic utensils. If you don’t have these things, you have to eat ready made food. Needless to say, living out of a car doesn’t provide you with consistent access to these things.) But a whole hamburger meant a lot to a seven-year-old stomach that was going to go hungry. What kind of day is that? These are broke people choices.

I’m sure that if I shared this story on the NYT Health blog, there would be people berating my mother for buying me a hamburger and not, say, an apple or something. Or maybe some dried lentils we could have soaked overnight on the carburetor using a car fluid funnel and woken up to a wonderfully healthy and cheap pinch of beans.

What many folks, in this land of endless theory, tend to forget is that just like there’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, there is also Satter’s Hierarchy of Food Needs.

There at the bottom is a concept: enough food.

You want to know what getting to enough food looks like? There’s an area, on the DC/Maryland border, that is the home to a lot of immigrant communities. This means a lot targeted grocery stores. I went into one, in search of jicama, and marveled at the retailer who was selling dollar bags of produce. The produce in the bags was actively rotting. I’m not talking about bruising or discoloration, which gets things bounced off grocery store shelves. I’m talking about mold. Rot. Things that most people wouldn’t want to touch, but there is enough demand in that area for affordable produce that it’s bagged up and sold along with the other wares. That’s enough food. Buying the dollar bags of rotting food that you will go home, cut around the gross parts, and put the rest in a pot since your family has to eat.

Or as Erika wrote in the “Unbearable Whiteness of Eating“:

When we make food an issue of choice, there is an underlying understanding that everyone, in fact, has that choice to make. There is an accepted belief, in conversations about choosing to eat healthily, that everyone stands between a produce section and a frozen TV dinner section and, invariably, chooses at their discretion. There’s an underlying acceptance in these conversations that food deserts do not exist. That food deserts don’t exist in inner cities… mostly populated by Black Americans. There is an acceptance that food availability doesn’t need to be discussed, because all the people involved in the conversation have access.

Is that a happenstance? A mere coincidence? I might’ve thought so before, but now? I’m not so sure.

Choice is a strange thing.  Americans demand choices, stocking our grocery stores with dozens of options for everything from orange juice to plastic bags.  And yet, people seem to have no issue stripping the right of choice from others.  Clearly, if you start talking in specifics, these “woulda, shoulda, coulda” arguments start falling to the wayside.  Would you personally deny a person a lobster, if they chose to budget for it, on their birthday? Even if the month before they bought canned goods to make sure they could afford that once a year splurge? And where does the policing stop? Soda is bad for you – but many health advocates warn against drinking fruit juice as well, noting that people should eat, rather than drink their calories.  Does that mean we ban juice too? What about Sunny D, a favorite of kids which is described as “an orange flavored drink.” Drink. I, and a lot of people I know, grew up on drink, which generally isn’t mentioned by health advocates, since it seems like they cannot conceive of adults and children drinking fruit flavored sugar water. And yet…

Considering the fact that so many kids could realistically answer “what the fuck is juice,” why don’t we just start banning all drinks that aren’t coffee, tea, and water? Oh wait, we banned bottled water (because you know, poor people can’t like sparkling). Because poor people have always been poor, and have never known otherwise, and they’ve never had nice things, like water that bubbles. And poor people don’t need to exercise choices over what food they eat and what food they prefer because poor people aren’t allowed to have preferences. We aren’t allowed to access nice things.

And access is what brings us to what’s wrong with the one “allowance” the author grants.

Instead, Use Stamps At The Farmer’s Market

The generic complaint against farmers’ markets is that the food is too expensive to serve everyone who needs food. But, lo and behold, SNAP recipients are legally allowed use their food stamps to purchase food at farmer’s markets. The practice is only now gaining popularity because paper food-stamp coupons have been replaced by special debit cards, and many farmer’s markets only accept cash. This is the kind of thing we would like to see more of: widespread access to healthy, fresh foods that are reasonably priced (on a good day). It certainly beats bottled water.

Well, gee gosh golly, why haven’t people just thought of strolling on down to the farmer’s market and buying the yummy fresh food there?

Here’s a reason – the quality of your farmer’s market varies by region, location – and what the seller’s think the market can afford. Last summer, I did an investigative piece for the American Prospect into farmer’s markets in the DC area. As a patron of the markets, and someone not currently on food stamps, I wondered exactly how far those double dollars went. I discovered:

One of the major influences on how farmers markets function is a 1999 report called “Hot Peppers and Parking Lot Peaches: Evaluating Farmer’s Markets in Low Income Communities.” In it, Andy Fisher, on behalf of the Community Food Security Coalition, provides concrete steps for both market organizers and policy-makers to consider when trying to serve low-income populations. Some of his suggestions were heeded — the United States Department of Agriculture standardization and WIC cooperation were instituted in 1992 and greatly expanded in 2009. However, some basic steps are still in need of a champion. Fisher made three very important points yet to be addressed: Markets must tailor their offerings to “focus on basic food at affordable prices”; should pay attention to the availability of transportation and the market’s location; and must involve the community to provide a sense of ownership with the market.

Recent visits to markets near the White House and Silver Spring reveal a serious problem: It would be very difficult to put together a full meal for a family of four based on the selections available. Many items were exotic, not staples. Ground bison was running at $6.25 per pound, and ham retailed at $7.95 per pound. Hunting for side dishes was also a problem. Since prices varied by vendor, it took a keen eye and comparison shopping to find the best deals. One vendor charged $4.50 for approximately four asparagus spears, while another stall sold two hefty bundles for $7. A meal for four people consisting of 2 pounds of ham, two containers of baby potatoes, and two baskets of spinach retailed close to $34. Even with double dollars, at $15 it still may prove to be a stretch.

Now, this doesn’t mean all farmer’s markets are terrible or overrpriced.  Eastern Market, one of the longest running markets in the area (which is also one of the few places in DC where you can still see butchers and fishmongers) has an amazing selection of tasty, inexpensive fruits and veggies.  There is an older woman who comes every summer, selling big bags of produce for $4 (it used to be $3 – the recession continues to harm us all).  Last week, I bought vegetables for an entire week, along with a few treats (coconut dates, some fennel, golden beets) – it still only set me back $40. Farmer’s markets, in many cases, can be cheaper than supermarkets – but it really depends on a lot of factors.

However, those type of markets don’t exist everywhere.  Markets are scarce in low income areas, and higher priced areas tend to traffic in jams and artisan bread as opposed to basic foodstuffs.  Furthermore, your region determines what type of food is at the farmer’s market, and what price that food will be.  When I went to California, I was astounded at how cheap vegetables where.  At what my friend called a “so-so” market, there were bunches of kale and swiss chard for $2, along with some of the best looking tomatoes and oranges I’ve ever seen in my life.  That kind of produce just doesn’t make it all the way to the East Coast in the same shape (and definably not for the same prices.)  So access here is vital. This is something easy to overlook if you generally have enough money to buy the food you want to eat most months.  But for people on limited budgets, or in areas with limited to no access, expecting farmer’s markets to magically replace a missing food infrastructure is an pipe dream.

Luckily, some bloggers and writers truly get some of the issues with eating well on a restricted budget, in areas of limited access.  Erika of A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss has a whole series about eating well on a budget and clean eating on food stamps. Stephanie Quilao of Noshtopia/One Mile, One Meal/Back in Skinny Jeans, started by doing food comparisons to show why Whole Foods wasn’t necessarily more expensive than a trip to the regular grocery store.  More recently, she’s started a campaign to eat well at WalMart, to showcase healthy eating options for all budgets and access levels.

Instead of trying to regulate government policy (particularly programs that have never been used by the authors of these pieces, particularly not in situations that were longer than a month long “experiment”), how about we all try to meet people where they are to create a healthier nation?

  • Creepy Singing Rabbit

    I. Love. You.

  • Anonymous

    No prob. It took me years to understand this was an allergy and that everyone’s mouth didn’t itch after they ate apples.

  • Anonymous

    Creating new markets is tough, but possible. In the American Prospect article I linked, one of the people I talked to, Jody Tick, helped to pioneer a food program where farmer’s markets would provide produce items directly to corner stores at a discounted price, keeping costs for individual items lower and solving the access problem. That program is still in place. Each of these programs will look different from region to region – it just requires people paying attention to the problem.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=583462823 Serpentina Squizzle-Ulfr

    Do you realize that  junior enlisted military families qualify for food stamps?  That Union apprentices, who will someday make a very nice living, qualify for food stamps? That people with long-term medical disabilities like cancer (who may someday get better and go back to work) qualify for food stamps?  That anyone making minimum wage at the McJobs that get pushed so hard in the current economy qualify for food stamps?

    Fighting the system just to get it to work properly is not what someone wants to tackle after a 10-hour shift on their feet.  It’s not what a military spouse caring for the family during a deployment wants to tackle.  It’s definitely not what a cancer patient wants to face while trying to get better.

    I don’t think that Latoya is saying no one else should have an opinion, so much as that uneducated opinions are damaging.  People who do not truly understand what it means to live on these programs either through experience or open-minded research should not be allowed to come up with boneheaded “solutions” that only make things worse.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000645420282 Cristy Schiavone

    I love you for this post. Nothing gets my hide chapped more than people who complain loudly about other people’s shopping carts at the grocery store, if that person happens to be paying with an EBT card.  I probably have this argument on a daily basis between the internet and real life and it drives me about as nuts as “My cousin’s boyfriend’s sister’s ex-sister in law’s friend knew this girl who drives 3 Hummers and has an EBT card” arguments.

     

  • http://twitter.com/THE_DMJ_22 #TeamPantyDroppa

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    This was a great article; I can
    tell that it opened the eyes of many; especially those who have little
    knowledge about the poor or have not experienced it for themselves. My favorite
    part of the article is when you destroyed your counter argument! It’s true, if
    a person budgets threw out the month to have one special meal, who are we to
    say no you cannot, or judge them by saying they are using their money irresponsibly.  I feel that it was complete wrong for
    someone to say that, people on food stamps should only take advantage of their
    clean tap water. The poor have not been poor their entire life, they deserve
    the same respect as anyone else. People on food stamps are no less human than
    anyone else; they just need more aid to sustain a suitable way of living. After
    reading your article it left the question in my mind, why is the ratio of prices
    of healthy to unhealthy food so off balanced? What is actually the cause of
    this, is it the government, society or the simple concept of supply and demand?
    Also the story about you scrapping up change for a simple meal at Mc Donald’s;
    I’ve been there, but thank God there is food out there that is cheap enough to
    provide when we are lower than low.

     

  • Van

    When I was 19, I was homeless and had no job – through no fault of my own. I was in a completely unfamiliar environment and had no idea where to even begin to look for help. For a long while, I had nothing to eat and nowhere to shower. I was dirty and ashamed of my situation. I was afraid to walk around during the day, so I walked miles and miles around the town at night. I’m ashamed of it, but one night I found a junkyard and I broke into a few totaled cars to find spare change and other stuff that helped me survive – some clean blankets, a sort of broken space heater, crates. I felt awful. One of the cars… I couldn’t bring myself to take anything from. There was blood everywhere. I actually threw up.

    I revisited the junkyard every three days. I found a discarded mini-fridge in the rubble one day and brought it back to an empty warehouse that had working electricity. I can’t even begin to tell you how creative I got after that.
    Someone had even left a promotion for a free two month membership to a gym that was actually close by, and opened at 5am. I had no clock though. There was a gym bag in there too. So I stayed awake until it looked like the sun was nearly up, went to the gym and waited for it to open. As I was sitting there, I wondered how weird it would look if I opened a membership, showered, and left. After I opened the membership, I actually hopped on a treadmill for an hour. I must have smelled awful, but no one else was there. The guy at the counter looked at me funny a few times. But then I went to the locker room. And I showered for the first time in a month. It felt amazing. I returned every day at 5am, worked out for an hour, and showered.Anyway, there was a Price Rite near where I was squatting. Really, really cheap foods. Using some of the spare change I’d been collecting at the junkyard, I figured out that I could eat enough to keep from feeling pain for about $0.70 a day eating bologna sandwiches, chips, apples, and drinking generic soda. A loaf of bread (22 slices including heels) was $0.33, a package of 8 slices of bologna was $0.99, a package of 8 “cheese flavored slices” was $0.79, apples were about $0.15 each, and a 12 pack of soda was $1.50. I ate one sandwich, one apple, one slice of plain bread, and drank two sodas a day. I only bought two bottles of water – refilling them with tap water at the gym I was using to shower at.

    Now that I was able to shower and eat enough to get through the day, I was actually able to find work. Ironically, my new job was at the junkyard I kept breaking into. Turns out they had cameras and the owner felt bad for me when he saw the tape of me puking after seeing the car full of blood, and carting away blankets – not stereo systems and other valuable parts. With work, I found a roommate and a place to live.

    I may not have been on SNAP benefits at that time. But I have been in the past. You can’t regulate what food people should be allowed to buy just because you think HFCS are making poor people fat or think that people are gaming the system to buy lobster.

    I was eating horrible processed food and HFCS. But it was keeping me from starving. When you’re going hungry – it’s not a matter of this elitist white health crap that hipsters and privileged housewives keep ramming down our throats. It becomes cost per calorie. What was I going to do? I totally could have eaten heads of lettuce, celery, and carrots – but it would have cost 10x more to get the same number of calories that kept my body from eating its own muscle tissue.

    And also – I can’t even begin to tell you… when you have so little to eat… how effing precious a zebra cake can become. I’m happy that my tax dollars that I’m paying now are helping to keep other people from going through the pain I went through. Anyone who would rather see another human being living in pain, despair, and humiliation just so they can enjoy even more luxuries is probably a psychopath. I can’t even imagine not being able to see someone in pain and not feeling a compulsion to help them in some small way. Ugh.

  • Anonymous

     I also think that some people who use food stamps would be ashamed to go into some fancy farmer’s market or trendy grocery store because of how they would be perceived. Poor people who “look like they don’t belong” will be judged the minute they walk in the door!

    • Katie

      Also I have heard cashiers make nasty comments about a well-dressed mother buying organic food for her kids. 

      Judged for buying soda. Judged for buying organic juice. Maybe they need to start making those checkout aisle tabloids more interesting, because really, you’re at the store to buy your own food, not judge everyone else and the contents of their carts.

  • Zmallory

     I
    think this article hits the nail on the head. Peterson does a great job of
    telling the world of what is actually going on with food stamps and how hard it
    is to live in poverty. The video Till
    Debt Do Us Part shows how hard it would be to live off of that little of
    money and how people have to give up all the unneeded materials in order to be
    able to stay afloat. That couple got $150 a week for food, and that is tough,
    but when it was pointed out that the SNAP program gives less than that. It
    really opens your eyes and makes you realize that it is incredibly challenging
    to feed a family in a poverty state. Peterson’s personal experience, the
    mcdonald’s parking lot story, made this article even more powerful. 

  • Hoss

    This article was eye-opening. I am
    fortunate enough that I have never used this program.  I will even admit that I have never put
    much thought into this program. Call me naïve or selfish, but that doesn’t mean
    I do not feel compassion and empathy for the people who do need government assistance
    and who rely on this program. I was appalled to see that the government has made
    awful assumptions about the people who use the SNAP program.

    From your article the two most
    prominent assumptions the government infers are that poor people aren’t
    intelligent enough to maximize their monthly allotment and that everyone has a
    choice to make regarding what food they eat. The government has no right making
    these assumptions. They do not have the right to criticize the users of the
    program for not buying healthier options. I have never been responsible for
    buying groceries, BUT I still understand the basic concept that the healthier
    the food the more expensive it tends to be. Why can’t governments focus on
    fixing that problem instead of focusing on telling the people relying on SNAP
    what they’re doing wrong? The government needs to locate the REAL problem
    instead of blaming it on the “lack of competence” they assume the users of SNAP
    have.

    Now that you’ve pointed out all the
    flaws that the government has by showing their lack of understanding of what
    really is going on with the SNAP program; my question is how do we change the
    SNAP program for the better? What can the government do? What can the users of
    SNAP do?

     

  • cg122

    Great article Latoya. I can’t
    agree enough with your argument against needless over-restriction. Sharp cheddar
    an unhealthy luxury, while regular cheese is the perfect choice? Come on. This
    is one of the most vivid examples misguided regulation I have ever seen, and I
    love the way you were able to portray its absurdity in such a way as to
    hopefully elicit some change. However, I also understand Anne’s argument, that
    although the system is tough and challenging, this is needed in order to
    provoke those who are on it to better themselves in such a way that they no
    longer need WIC. While I said I understand this argument, I strongly disagree with
    it.. we should never keep a system flawed that we have to power to improve in
    some way in the hopes of bumping people off of it. What of those people who
    need the WIC, even if it’s for just a few years? Should we make those years
    worse intentionally? While I think Anne means well, (she is, I think, concerned
    with the meager resources available to WIC and how it can support as many women
    as possible on it) this comes off as unnecessarily cruel. It’s human nature to
    want to better conditions for yourself and your family, you don’t need to be
    starved or deprived in order to instigate that.
     

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  • Skaggle

    Food shopping is the hardest thing I do, along with going to the gas station. Both places I fear not having enough money to cover the fee, though I know I do! I still don’t shop until people say “you need new shoes” or something. This fear, and all of the ways it affects my goals and life, are endless. Shaming people who are poor and in need only serves to pile on to what already exists in their souls. In terms of people living up to their own potential, this shame costs all of society deeply for generations.

  • http://twitter.com/NotasMias TLG

    Another reason not to ban soda: It’s a cheap way of making kids feel better when they have a stomach flu and have been vomiting.  A little 7Up works to temporarily replace sugars when kids can’t hold down food.

    • Anonymous

       Totally. That’s what I got as a kid. Either that or some ginger ale. Good memories. :)

  • Anonymous

     Food stamp critics seem to overlook the economic sense of such programs.   Food stamps have a high multiplier effect and provide a good short-term jolt to the economy.  

    But even more fundamentally, allowing recipients to choose what they want to consume is good free market policy.  When people choose to buy particular products, it sends a message to the producer that they’re offering an attractive product, which encourages them to stay in the market.  If you restrict the types of goods aid recipients can buy, you create artificial demand in the “approved” goods, and you can be sure that the producers and retailers of such goods will notice and raise their prices accordingly.

    The most puzzling aspect of all this is that many of the loudest critics of food stamp programs also believe the government should butt-out of their lives, which makes their desire for the government to meddle in the operation of the free market seem rather inconsistent. 

    • Katie

      EXACTLY. The food stamp program used to have (and maybe still does have) wide bipartisan support. It helps farmers in the midwest by creating demand for their products, and it helps low-income people across the country eat.

      It is one of those free market based assistance programs that I would imagine would have more political support. Like section 8, why do so many places have such long waiting lists?

      I think the economic implications of food stamps are especially important since the US is in a recession. Food is one of the things most likely to be produced domestically, and since food stamps can only be spent on food, that money goes back into the local economy (grocery stores, their employees, etc) and back into the national economy, since it is mostly spent on domestically-produced goods.

      This semi-logical thought was made possible by:
      Food in my stomach

  • Eivind Kjorstad

    I agree 150%. That is, I agree more than fully. You see, not only is it nuts to try to control in detail what kinda food a person buys for his food-stamps, but it shows a deep distrust of everyone who is poor to have food-stamps at all.

    Instead of $200 in food-stamps, simply give people $200 more cash – for them to buy whatever they, in their own opinion, need most.

    Yes, some will make choices we don’t agree with, so what ? Why should people lose the right to choose just because they are poor ?

  • http://twitter.com/GREGORYABUTLER Gregory A. Butler

    Nobody dictates to you how you spend your money. So, why do you think that you have the right to tell a poor person how to spend theirs? And yes, it is their money – it’s an entitlement, and if they are eligible for the assistance it is their money, not yours.

  • http://twitter.com/GREGORYABUTLER Gregory A. Butler

    It’s funny how there’s always enough money to bomb some country somewhere, but some folks want to begrudge poor people a 99 cent bottle of Coca Cola! The logic behind that kind of thinking escapes me.

  • Jenny Islander

    Looks like the comments are hitting all of the usual underlying assumptions today.

    * Poor people don’t pay income tax.  I invite anybody who thinks this to look at the tax brackets in their next IRS booklet.
    * Poor people have never paid income tax.  Nobody who is poor this year had a decent job with good raises last year.  Nope.
    * If poor people had made better choices, they wouldn’t be poor.  The translation for this is usually, “They must have done something wrong that I would never do, so their situation will never become my situation.”  Magical thinking is false comfort.  Shit happens regardless of how carefully people plan. 
    * Poor people have an unhealthy diet because they’re ignorant, lazy, or stupid. Read this thread again and then Google “food desert.”
    * Poor people should not eat or drink anything just because it tastes good.  I have this fantasy of some bloviating jerk saying this at a checkout stand and suddenly being surrounded by a flash mob singing “Food, Glorious Food.”
    * Poor people should eat what I consider to be good food, or else they are eating bad food.  Bloviating.  Jerk.
    * Everybody can shop like me if they just try a little harder.  Unexamined privilege ahoy!
    * Everybody can cook like me if they just try a little harder.  Aaaand again.
    * Bonus: Fat is bad and thin is good; avoiding certain foods will make you not-fat; fat people are only fat because they’re lazy, stupid, or ignorant; and so on and so on and scoobie doobie doobie.  Bee eff dee blog dot com.  Fat Heffalump.  Educate.  Yourself.

    Did I miss anything?

  • Anonymous

    Let’s get this straight-a (possibly) wealthy white man is telling ME -a poor person (I’m a Afro-Canadian male of 43, living in Toronto who’s on ODSP due to various life problems, BTW) how I should eat and what I should spend my money on? When assholes like him blow money on shit they don’t need, and vote in right-wing neocon politicians who spend their tax money on military items that America doesn’t need in order to be safe? He’s telling me this? He can go and frack himself,and I will do what I want with my money.

    When he and everybody like him can stop the madness and stop voting blindly for leaders who waste his money on military crap and needless wars, and can also demand that the rich pay their fair share and not waste it on extravagant items, then I will do as he says. But untill then, he can kiss my ass and then some.

    Here’s something that I proposed in response to a book review of Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks’s book The Trouble With Billionaires that would solve not only Canada’s problems, but America’s as well:

    Great idea proposed in this excerpt. I would also propose another one; a use of this tax to fund Canada’s military.About $100.00 dollars out of each inheritance would go into a fund to pay for any military items like fighter jets, ships, nuclear submarines (what Harper intends to get next), helicopters, tanks, munitions, etc. If most of these funds were taxed this way, the Defense Department would be able to get what they want without having to ask the average Canadian taxpayer to shell out a lot of money for expensive fighter jets like the F-35 that are not really needed by Canada. It would also have an unintended side effect in that once Canada’s privileged realize how much money it costs to keep the military running, they wouldn’t be voting for neocon warmongering swine like Harper & Co. to be in Parliament. Furthermore, it would also show them what it means to be paying for all of this stuff, and make them appreciate the average non-wealthy Canadian youth who do fight in conflicts like Afghanistan and don’t have their advantages-a kind of ‘wealthy people’s draft’, in other words.

    http://rabble.ca/books/reviews/2010/09/trouble-billionaires

  • http://twitter.com/CritDisp K. S.

    What an interesting definition of charity you have.  By your definition, then, wouldn’t anything the government subsidizes or “gives” us qualify as charity–i.e. roads, sidewalks, public parks, cheap oil?  Don’t you think that addressing hunger is much more important than most of the things towards which our tax dollars go?

    • Katie

      Thats what I was thinking. “Charity?” More like an attempt to ensure that poor people in the richest country in the world dont starve to death 

  • http://conuly.dreamwidth.org/ Uly

     What’s really funny is that lobsters are basically the cockroach of the sea. Not that long ago, there were laws limiting how often you could serve lobster and crab to your servants because it was considered really cheap food that even beggars didn’t want!

    But even if you want to blow your entire food budget on lobster, whatever. Who really cares so long as you don’t get more than you’re allotted?

  • http://twitter.com/6other jana brubaker

    Laugh out loud and cry out loud response to your post. Watching GOP struggle with poverty and legislation issues is a bit like watching Utah GOP write legislation governing alcohol consumption, all the while forgetting that Brother Brigham brewed his own.

    As the end user, I’ve got lots of ideas about how to improve the food stamps program, but is JP Morgan, the bank rolling in the EBT program, asking? For starters, $200 a month is way more than what I, as a single person, spend on food, by the time you subtract out beer, wine, and luxuries like tampons and toilet paper, yet that money keeps racking up, month after month, as more months go by and the great, white lie of higher education continues. Probably there are Wall Street financial mismanagers, Pentagon officials, and politicians suffering short-term memory loss who think I should suffer through their Great Recession without such luxuries. Were I to abuse the federal trough as much as all the rest of the hypocrites with their snouts deep in it, I would serve filet mignon (sorry, prefer the beef to the giant, sea-going bugs) not just to myself but to a large circle of nonexistent friends. Hmm, maybe I should advertise on Craig’s List for that?

    Fast Company weighing in on the issue reminds me a bit of a business professor in grad school asking which of us drinks Pepsi and which of us drinks Coke; never does it occur to the “innovative” business “thinker” that there might be a third option. Such as, I do not drink your branded, carbonated sugar water at all, not before, not during, not after food stamps. Wonder how much the business world’s contributions have added to our obesity epidemic, dental ill health, and other public health crises?

    Anne, I’d love to pay income tax. Titles are supposed to be eye-catching to persuade you to read and, hopefully, think about the issue under discussion. Ahha, made ya look! Wanna pay me an income so I can finish polishing your toilet with my tongue?

  • Anonymous

    I still think the taxes and bans on soda are so utterly ridiculous!  Like people are overweight ONLY because they drink too much soda. People who have emotional issues to the point that they eat too much will OD on any type of food, chicken, macaroni, or whatever was cooked for dinner. I think most people (me included) eat healthier with food stamps. I was eating cheap, processed “junk” food when all I had was $20 to eat for the next week and a half!

    I have a job, yet I am still poor enough to get food stamps. I have worked since I was fourteen years old and I am not a person who has sat around being lazy. I have paid my taxes just like everyone else, so I am not getting charity, as one poster here stated. I have paid into the system, so in essence I am using MY money to buy food.

    It’s not a crime to be poor. Many people act like poor people are just living it up on food stamps, buying lobster and everything! I don’t want this shit, but I need EBT in order to eat. If my rent and transportation wasn’t more than half my monthly salary then I could buy my own food!

    • Anonymous

      I agree that emotional issues and stress can cause you to eat poorly. It happens to me all the time even though I somewhat know how to eat beter and prepare my own food. But if I am depressed, lonely, have had a hell of a day I might take a trip to McDonald’s or something.  Actually, only recently have I started eating regularly at McDonald’s. During high school I stopped b/c of access issues.

      I know a lot of people who eat sweets and other “unhealthy” foods when they are stressed out or feeling bad. It’s a coping mechanism. It has nothing to do with being poor. Though perhaps conditions can be exacerbated by the way people treat you because you’re poor or otherwise different and seen as unworthy of respect.

      But I totally agree that banning soda will not make someone skinny. I haven’t had a soda in nearly eight to nine years and I still find weight loss and health improvement a challenge. I mean, one item is supposed to cure obesity in the US? Bullshit! Sometimes people are just built heavy and sometimes it can be other issues like problems with your thyroid. That can’t be cured with diet or exercise. And with all this trendy shit out there they try to make you buy so you can “be healthy” and be thin, I’m convinced most people are just fat phobic. For them it’s not really about being healthy, based on what the individual decides is best for him/her, it’s about looking thin.

      I was so pissed when they banned muffins at my school. I used to buy poppy muffins all the time but then they wanted to get rid of junk food and vending machines in this effort to “make us healthy.” Whatever. If they really wanted to help they could have used some of that vending machine money and built us a pool or added some other activities to the physical education regimen. I would have totally taken kick boxing if it had been offered!

  • Anonymous

    I think you make some very good points – particularly about food deserts and maybe even more particularly about the lack of the equipment to cook food being a problem. That said, I honestly don’t see what the uproar is about limiting what people can buy with food stamps. It’s already limited – recipients can’t buy non-food items with food stamps, even if those things are absolute necessities like basic toiletries. I don’t know of anyone who finds that to be condescending, because it’s a program designed to fill a very specific need in peoples’ lives. So what, exactly, is the issue with limiting food stamps to, say, only food rather than food and beverages (juice shouldn’t be categorized differently from soda, as fas as I’m concerned)? Or making some restrictions on what we define as “food” based on nutritional value? It seems to me that only makes it more efficient at filling the particular need it’s designed to fill.

    I did notice one commenter mentioned the need in some communities for bottled water due to lack of truly clean drinking water, and I think that’s a good point and something that gives me pause about water specifically, but as I said previously, the program simply isn’t designed to purchase every necessity. I also understand that sometimes people who receive food stamps will want treats, and I have no problem with them getting treats in the form of soda, juice, candy, sparkling water, or whatever – I just don’t understand why it’s demeaning to suggest that a program designed to cover a single type of basic necessity ought to cover the costs of it.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you!!! I appreciate your thoughtful disagreement and demonstration that you have thought about this issue! (Which I am so not getting backstage folks…ugh.)

      To your concerns –

      1. You pointed out what people buy with food stamps is limited. That’s my point exactly. People act like they’re giving out American express gift cards. Two, you can *only* buy food. As you point out, you can’t buy basic toiletries. You also can’t buy prepared food – so rotisserie chicken is off limits which I don’t agree with either. So you are correct in saying its meant to fill a gap.

      The problem though is that it becomes in efficient when you start looking at how people live their lives. That’s why I used the WIC example above. The intention there was good – WIC wanted to make sure infants and children and pregnant people received nutritious food, hence all the restrictions on what is allowed and not allowed. But in real life, it manifests as kind of a clusterfuck – is there really a substantial nutritional difference between cheddar cheese and sharp cheddar? Or Honey Nut Cheerios and Frosted Mini Wheats? Things are vague. And our shifting climate of nutrition does make things muddled. I wouldn’t want to ban all drinks (school lunches, for one thing) but a lot of what is considered healthy is subjective. Do we enforce an added sugar ban? A grams of sugar ban? What? Do we ban all frozen foods or line item it? What happens when new products come on the market? It becomes unwieldy and adds stress to an already stressful situation. It’s hard enough to continually calculate food needs on a stretched budget. It’s more stressful to have to allot more dollars you don’t have to items that used to be covered over bureaucratic wrangling.

      Indeed, we can agree that the program wasn’t designed to cover all necessities – but I do believe folks have the right to choose what they want to eat. Take me for example – I’ve never been on food stamps as an adult, but if I had to go on to them tomorrow, I’d be really worried. A lot of things people think others should be eating, I’m allergic to – celery, apples, plums, baby carrots, nectarines, peaches, cherries. (I have what’s called an oral allergy, so the way the food is structured mimics how pollen is structured which causes a reaction.)

      This means I eat a lot of things that have been processed – jams, applesauce, smoothies – in order to keep myself more or less healthy. So if your rule went into effect and people limited things to just straight up food, I’d have my diet slashed. And that’s before we get into personal preferences (like the fact that I don’t eat eggs.) Vegetarians may be banned from veggie burgers and such like. It goes on because it just really depends on who is writing the policy.

      The demeaning part is the policing of what people should or should not do. The poor are often expected to be super human – flawless in eating habits, cooking skills, and the like. But I mean, can’t people behave normally? If I eat like a rockstar and decide one day, I want to take a night off from cooking and have a frozen pizza and some frozen chicken wings and a coke, does that make me a terrible person? No. But let that person be paying with food stamps and the claws come out. In America, in general, there is a lot of tut-tutting at the poor (and this in a nation that spends $1.01 for every $1 we make, where most of the population is about two paychecks away from disaster). So the food stamps debate is a thinly veiled version of it.

      I’m lucky. I have a good life. People pay to read what I write or to have me come talk about race and gender and tech things with them. I make a decent living, though I am far from where I want to be. But I don’t have a degree, and most of my friends I grew up with are still working for less than $15/hr and many of them are on some form of government assistance. If my life had shaken out differently, that would be me. Instead of that I’m here. But fortunes change on a dime sometimes. And I just really want people to exercise compassion. If it were you, would you want someone to question your food choices? Add further insult to the daily injury of poverty by depriving you of simple pleasures?

      I can see an argument for expediency and efficiency. I would love to see more arguments for humanity.

      Hope that helped clarify some things.

      • Anonymous

        Thank you for your response! I do understand why you disagree with me, and to be honest that my position here puts me on the same side as many people who talk about the issue in a really demeaning way (many of whom have demeaning reasons for espousing their positions). I also want to clarify that I do NOT want food stamps to be like WIC – in fact, I think many of the choices WIC drives people into are unhealthy themselves, and the level of specificity is, as you say, absurd. You also make a great point about food allergies and sensitivities. That’s part of why I only support only pretty limited and general restrictions – I don’t think any restriction will make the program perfect or somehow force everyone to eat only healthy food. That said, I do think it’s a sensible policy to limit the purchase of most beverages (the one exception being milk). Like I said, I think people DO have a right to some luxuries, even if they’re living on a tiny budget. But the vast majority of people have the ability to buy the occasional coke without food stamps (the vast majority of people won’t be buying lobster with or without food stamps!).

        Anyway, I really shouldn’t have said I don’t understand the uproar – I do, because people are assholes about this, and the idea of people living the high life on food stamps is absurd. But I do think the program would be better if it were just slightly more limited. If my suggestions did go into effect and did save money, my advice would actually be to make it available to more people or to otherwise put the money towards helping people, not to ‘save the taxpayer money’ as some say. As far as I’m concerned, making programs more efficient means there’s more we can do for more people with the same amount of money.

        • Anonymous

          Side note – the are advertising 16 oz cokes for a dollar where I live. You can’t even get the dollar menu at McDonalds anymore for a dollar. (It’s all 1.29 – think one or two things are still 99 cents.)

          I just think it’s a matter of framing. For me, looking at our whole budget (and, let me not lie, having worked in federal procurement), I don’t think food stamps needs to be streamlined further – I think we need to look at where we could redistribute some funds.

          I identify as a fiscal conservative – I just don’t believe in taking food out of people’s mouths. I think as a society, we should invest in our citizens. (And there’s a really fascinating article in Inc. Magazine about entrepreneurship in Norway that backs me up.)

          So my solution is pull some cash out of overfunded areas and drive it here. It’s tough because there is so much noise about “welfare” spending. If you look at this 2004 report, a LOT of services fall under the idea of welfare:

          http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/social-welfare-spending04/summary.htm

          Roads, social security, hospitals…it’s all under there along with TANF. There are breakouts, but now I kind of just want to make a chart so people can follow along.

          But anyway, say we decide to cut military spending. Let’s say we round it down to the nearest whole number. From 533.8B to 533B. And let’s say we combine that with rigorous prosecution of corporate cheats, and we’ve made up the .8 billion without having to make a cut anywhere. (I foamed at the mouth a bit about this in 2008: http://www.racialicious.com/2008/06/18/a-quick-guide-to-government-graft/)

          I love the idea of efficiency – most of the disagreement is in how to apply it.

          I think there are literally thousands of solutions to fixing our distribution problems around food/shelter/medicine, particularly in America. Your solution could work and mine could too – I just want policy to think more about people and their lives.

          (And, you know, be fair. Everyone likes to scream about welfare cheats, I start pulling out procurement policy or new capitalist theory and everyone runs away. Not accusing you of this personally, but I have stacks and stacks of books I just love pulling out to talk about societal issues and financial policy and trade policy and such – but no pick up. )

      • Anonymous

        By the way – I would most definitely ‘trade’ (so to speak) allowing a grocery store’s prepared foods for disallowing beverages – I think you make a great argument for why that person living out of a vehicle without a hot plate should be able to buy a rotisserie chicken or similar.

  • Lindsay

    Thank you for writing this.  It was so well written, insightful and even made me laugh a few times.

  • Anonymous

    That’s what I keep wondering. There are some reactionary responses about using tax money and I’m thinking “well damn, we all pay taxes, even if we’re poor.” Nothing but death and taxes is guranteed in life.

    And we have to remember that some people experience poverty more than once in life and some who were doing okay are now in need of food stamps. So we’re just supposed to believe it was solely their fault they got screwed during the recession? No no, don’t look at the banks who are receiving billions of dollars in WELFARE money, and don’t look at the trillions of dollars we spend on three god damn wars. No, people are supposed to lose jobs during the recession, especially immigrant workers. There’s no way around it.

    My mom is in fear of being placed on the chopping block. She’s doing the work of like three to four people because some have already been laid-off. She has to take sleeping pills just to cope through the week and she has panic attacks now and then and is continually discriminated against. Were we to need SNAP or some other form of assistance I hope I’m not on the wrong side of peope who hate those who are needy and black.

    Personally, I couldn’t stand to be here anymore if my mom goes.

  • Anonymous

     @5e73f4ec93f517100fd288ef57cb9c7d:disqus

    Another person with money talking about what those with little money should do. I’m sick of people whining about their tax dollars. We never have and never will have a say in where our tax dollars go! Our tax dollars could be buying a congressman a new yacht for all we know.

    Food Stamps and WIC aren’t just for people on welfare who don’t work and never have worked. Many people on food stamps have jobs that just don’t pay enough for them to eat properly.

    The way you say “people who accept charity” sounds like you think these people are beneath you. If you used food stamps before then you should understand and not be so judgmental. I’m sure you wouldn’t have wanted someone treating you like some ignorant, low-life who is too dumb to choose her own food just because you were poor.

  • http://www.jimrehs.net Jim Schmidt

     Well said.

  • Guest

    That highway was built with tax dollars, and everyone who’s paid the taxes to build they highway should be allowed to use it. People on food stamps haven’t paid said taxes and therefore should have no say over how it’s spent. You don’t contribute, you don’t get a voice.

    Food stamps should be as restrictive as WIC. As a cashier, I’ve seen more than my share of people on EBT buying plenty of luxury food items. I’d say MOST of the people on EBT are not maximizing those dollars with staple foods.

    • Anonymous

      People on food stamps don’t pay taxes? Where the hell did you get that from?

      I don’t understand why I link to information sources in the post, because ignorant people don’t bother to fucking read.

      From the SNAP website:

      23. What are some characteristics of SNAP households?

      Based on a study of data gathered in Fiscal Year 2006:

      *

      49 percent of all participants are children (18 or younger), and 61 percent of them live in single-parent households.
      *

      52 percent of SNAP households include children.
      *

      9 percent of all participants are elderly (age 60 or over).
      *

      76 percent of all benefits go to households with children, 16 percent go to households with disabled persons, and 9 percent go to households with elderly persons.
      *

      33 percent of households with children were headed by a single parent, the overwhelming majority of which were headed by women.
      *

      The average household size is 2.3 persons.
      *

      The average gross monthly income per SNAP household is $673.
      *

      43 percent of participants are white; 33 percent are African-American, non-Hispanic; 19 percent are Hispanic; 2 percent are Asian, 2 percent are Native American, and less than 1 percent are of unknown race or ethnicity.

      PEOPLE IN SNAP HOUSEHOLDS DO WORK AND PAY TAXES. MOST PEOPLE ARE TAKING CARE OF PEOPLE THAT CANNOT WORK FOR LEGAL OR MEDICAL REASONS.

      AGAIN – MOST PEOPLE ON SNAP ARE WORKING, THEREFORE PAYING TAXES.

      There’s a concept, it’s called the working poor. Look that up before you bother commenting here again.

    • Anonymous

       What “luxury” food items are you talking about? I seriously doubt that poor people are at the register using their EBT cards to buy caviar! And are you saying that poor people should only have to eat X, Y, and Z because they are poor?  If you found yourself in a position where you needed assistance, I’m sure you wouldn’t want people telling you what to eat!

  • Eva

    lynn:  The government subsidizes a lot of things it shouldn’t.

    Sometimes I can be very judgmental.  I haven’t drank soda in over 20 years.  I’ll see people in the supermarket, paying with EBT cards and thinking, “they’re buying that stuff with them?”   But you know what?  The truth is, most people are doing the best they can.  I see people buy sodas instead of water too; a lot of kids drink soda all day long.   But I don’t think it’s right to demonize people for doing it.  A lot of people don’t know that too much soda is bad for you.  A lot of parents are stressed and the children cry for soda and they give it to them to keep them quiet. 

    My point is that we don’t know anybody else’s situation.  We don’t know what people are dealing with, and when I remember that, I’m less judgemental. 

  • Anonymous

    I did not intend for Alaska to be viewed as representative of all rural poverty as it IS an extreme example.
    However it makes me sad that you dismiss it as having any importance at all.
    Anchorage would not exist as it does now without the wealth that flows out of rural Alaska in fish, oil, mineral extraction, and straight up dollars for supplies to small communities. The same can be said for many, many urban areas across America- especially in the west where extraction of natural resources fuel much of the economy.
    Racial politics play a huge part in any discussion of poverty here. Fifteen percent of the state’s population are Alaska Native and five percent are mixed Native and “ Other”  (like me. )
    Most Native peoples live in the bush .
    And most days we cannot get past epithets about drunken Natives and bootstraps and suchlike to even talking about rural Alaska’s future- be it food security or energy independence – which is the Alaskan version of what you point to with ” The urban/suburban poor may be stereotyped heavily but the rural poor are dismissed and lampooned by those urban bloggers who think the only appropriate news items with which to discuss the rural poor involve bestiality, drugs or domestic violence. The reality is that transportation was a huge portion …”
    When we strip away the regional specifics, the problems of the rural poor are very similar all across the country, from our extreme here to the hills of Kentucky where my father’s people live.
    Adding further insult to the general problems faced by the rural poor in the form of comfortable folks presuming to police what the poor buy with their food stamps is unacceptable .
     

  • http://www.facebook.com/catlohmeier Catherine Lohmeier

    Fabulous.

  • Anonymous

    Latoya!!! This post is amazing. And I get the feeling that a lot of the food bloggers who propose ignorant solutions don’t even remember having to eat ramen at the end of the month as college students. It drives me crazy to read that stuff, it seems like they would like more than anything to peer into everyone else’s shopping carts and ask, “Why are you buying that? Why don’t you have more of this? Don’t you know you could hop in your car and go shopping at Trader Joe’s just half an hour away?

    It’s time for people to sit back and admit that when it comes to life in poverty, a lot of us do not know what the hell we’re talking about nor do we have the right to judge others who DO know.

  • Anonymous

    I have an entire blog with five years of archives on what people should do, policy wise, to benefit folks, including a really large series on women of color and wealth where we direct folks to the policy initiatives that help keep people in poverty:

    http://www.racialicious.com/2010/03/11/women-of-color-and-wealth-the-scope-of-the-problem-part-1/

    And we regularly ask folks to step to their congressional reps to advocate for a host of problems – if this is your first time landing in this space because of the rant being passed around take a moment to figure out who is actually here.

    Also, SNAP is in a weird position. We can advocate for it, but a lot of people are poisoned by the falsehoods the folks who write these articles and write some of the policy truly believe. Late last year, and early this year, the Obama administration decided to raid SNAP to fund another program to provide more money to children who receive subsidized school lunch – that wasn’t put to a vote. That was a line item budget call – “we will fund this, by not funding this.” That wasn’t something that people could move against – it was done and then community advocates protested against it. The money may be returned to SNAP (maybe) but again, most people are more interested in telling poor people what to do with the money than looking at what SNAP represents to our total budget. That’s why I included the statement that when poverty rises, SNAP use rises – people have gotten the impression, from media and policy makers, that people on SNAP are just irresponsible welfare queens taking “charity.” Who paints that perception? But I’m not backing off from the title – often, particularly in our government, when more than half of Congress are millionaires and many were born to wealth and they rely on advice from other privileged members of society, they are making these decisions in abstract. We need people making decisions based in reality. In general, advocates who actually care about people getting enough food weren’t tripping at this title. They are doing the work.

    So, when I am doing advocacy, I’m doing things like writing pieces for the American Prospect, and going on the Dyson Show to discuss what changing words (like “hunger” to “food insecurity” does to an issue:

    http://dysonshow.org/?p=3768

    That’s all a part of the big web of activism we do here. So before you start trying to take me to task, do me a favor and click *all* the links I referenced, and search a bit more about the ways in which we talk about food justice on the site. And when you’re doing that, ask yourself how all our discussions on politics and policy stayed quietly here, and it’s only rants like this that make people sit up and pay attention.

  • http://www.voraciouseats.com Tasha

    This is absolutely brilliant. THANK YOU for this post. 

  • Ladyguerita

    A wonderful article, I grew up in the west coast and I took for granted all the fresh produce I would see in my local immigrant markets. This article reminded me of
    Senator Bruce
    Caswell suggesting that

    foster children in Michigan should buy used clothing.
    Hey, let cut money from colleges and shame single mothers and foster children spend money but lets totally bail out the banks and fund two wars! /sarcasm

  • kim

    This is a great article and thank you for the part about ”
    Something that people also conveniently forget about – a lot of eating well on a budget requires prep with at least a hot plate, running water, and basic utensils. If you don’t have these things, you have to eat ready made food”

    None of these bloggers/news writers/food journalists EVER seem to bring this up. My husband grew up on public assistance for a long time. Apart from the lack of time to trek across town on the bus to a farmers market, his mom worked a cashier job all day and night and could barely keep the power on. Now whose supposed to cook when no ones home or they turned the gas or hot water off? It meant alot of 39¢ hamburger stand nights or an occasional $2.99 popeyes 2-piece.

  • Fttlast

    You kicked it out of the park with this one, Latoya! Great, great article.

    As someone who has spent time living in very low income black and hispanic neighborhoods (in between living abroad in a third world country and going to a prestigious university on scholarship), I can definitely relate to the outrage you feel when reading articles about “the plight of the poor” written by people who have never been poor themselves or who have little to no actual experience with the subject they are writing about. I remember so many student groups in college which were all about “helping the poor”, often led by do-gooder kids from relatively well-off backgrounds whose initiatives were basically made up of one insane faux-pas after another. The one that sticks out the most in my mind involved a drive to inform the residents of a very poor Black neighborhood near campus not to use a local bank whose employees had apparently been accused of making a racist remark to a bank patron–while completely being blind to the fact that most people who are as poor as the residents of that neighborhood tend to not have bank accounts at all. The idea that people used those check-cashing places was completely alien to them.

    I love the common advice to shop at farmer’s markets, it seems so tone deaf–many poor neighborhoods, specially poor neighborhoods populated by people of color, tend not to have farmer’s markets at all. And many farmer’s markets tend to be in more well-off, whiter areas which can be quite hostile to poor POC. Why would someone get out of the way to go to another neighborhood where they feel they are not wanted, to purchase goods with which they may not be very familiar, from someone who’d rather not have to sell to them, at the risk of getting hassled, accused of doing things like stealing, possibly berated for using food stamps, and god knows what else? This are real concerns, real issues that affect people’s decision making.

  • Anonymous

    Like everyone else, I just think this is a great article! You’ve said so much here, I just want to let out a big ole YES! to it all.

    I’ve been going to a local farmer’s market and I’ve noticed what you’re saying here — the small one they have in a place easily accessible by public transportation doesn’t have enough to really feed a family very well. Maybe the deals are better at the larger one in my area but it would 1+ hour bus ride just to get there from where I live.

    And, oh man, the days of the WIC vouchers. People have no idea the kind of hoops it takes to meet those vouchers sometimes. And then the side eyes from everyone behind you as you’re running back to get the right item so you can get your milk, cheese, cereal and juice and get out of the store.

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  • http://twitter.com/elizabethmarley elizabeth marley e.

    This is a great piece. There are so many things I want to comment on, but one thing I want to bring up is the food bloggers who do “challenges” to live on the maximum (the maximum!) amount allotted to families for a week. They usually make it within the budget, but the “wrap up” post is almost always about how they are privileged enough to have a lot of food knowledge and a lot of time to plan out shopping lists and research recipes, not to mention all of the tools they need to cook the food. It basically amounts to “Hey, this really isn’t so hard if you have hours and hours a day to devote to food and access to the best food possible.”

    I’ll admit that until a few years ago, I thought people on food assistance just didn’t know how to budget. For two years I lived in a neighborhood in Philadelphia that is just a few blocks from one of the trendiest neighborhoods in the city. While, just blocks away there was a great farmer’s market and relatively easy access to upscale grocery stores, where I lived was a complex in between two projects and those few blocks made a big difference. Many of my neighbors felt they didn’t belong at the farmer’s market a few blocks away–and many said they couldn’t afford it regardless–and most of them didn’t have access to transportation to get them to the grocery store. It showed me that access isn’t just about geography, but it’s about perception and acceptance as well. I had never considered my own food privilege before that and I was astonished at how wrong I really was.

    Thanks for taking the time to break down a really complicated issue, and for always putting out quality, eye opening writing.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent article!
    Most of your response deals with the reality of urban food deserts which confront the poor.
    Living in the huge food desert which is Alaska, I’d like to add mention that foolish folks who take it upon themselves to police dietary choices of the poor here mostly live in our only urban center- Anchorage and the valley.
    Many villages across the state have no stores and all purchased food is shipped in at great cost. Far too many do not have tap water- many have community tanks from which folks take jugs back to their homes for drinking, food prep, and bathing.
    Fuel for cooking, heating, and electrical generation generally arrives but twice a year unless one pays for air freight on small amounts.
    The let-them-eat-rice-and-beans crowd is clueless that these long cooking cheap foods are very pricey when fuel to cook them is factored in.
    A set of projects to retain the knowledge of traditional foods, their preparation, and value is underway in Native communities but is derided as useless wallowing in the past by too many urban folks. The same folks who want to tell their poor neighbors what they can buy with food stamps…

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the added perspective! All my personal experience is with sub/urban issues of poverty and access, but rural issues are super major and don’t get nearly as much attention. (Which means it gets a smidgen of a smidgen of all media coverage.)

      • http://avirilenagalingam.blogspot.com/ nandalal rasiah

        alaska is not representative of all rural poverty–it’s sitting right under the arctic circle with a climate that literally no other state shares and so few people that it’s really no wonder that people (even in Anchorage) don’t care. In the continental climate of the middle-atlantic states, where I grew up in a lovely single-wide, all rural folks have to have access to a car and must make long trips (I remember 45m–60m) to get ALL of the basic supplies. This is never mentioned in the food desert debates–and how does one even compare the two? The urban/suburban poor may be stereotyped heavily but the rural poor are dismissed and lampooned by those urban bloggers who think the only appropriate news items with which to discuss the rural poor involve bestiality, drugs or domestic violence. The reality is that transportation was a huge portion of my childhood household budget and there really wasn’t ‘time’ to do it–it simply had to be done. Is that a desert?

        • Anonymous

           It’s even worse for those who don’t have car access, of course–last summer I was reading about a town in West Virginia which, after its population greatly diminished following a bust in traditional mining jobs and a rise in MTR (out-of-staters, mostly non-union),  had no grocery store.  No place to buy food.  The closest store (if I remember correctly) was something like an hour away.  For people who didn’t have cars (and much of the town’s population was elderly), there was a bus which came something like once per week to take them to the next town that had a store.  So that’s the grocery access for the rural very-poor.

      • Terrie

        Rural issues can be surprising. My dad’s family had a dairy farm back the 50′s. My uncle developed rickets, because they drank milk straight from the cows, which meant it wasn’t fortified.

  • Coco

    2nd’s thundering applause

  • Anonymous

    This piece is a brilliant antidote to the “let them eat cake”….er, “make them eat at farmer’s markets” attitude from the rarified world of Fast Company, the New York Times, etc. Thanks.

  • Eva

    Oh, one more thing, about that “True Life.” I felt so sorry for Aja, I mean where was her husband? Why didn’t he help her out?

    • Anonymous

      It’s a really painful episode to watch.

      I have no idea where Aja’s husband went – we don’t know what goes on between two people, but I can’t imagine someone leaving their kids so completely. (Then again, maybe they weren’t his children?)

      But that whole story, to me, is illustrative of the meritocracy myth. All three people were in the same situation at the beginning and all worked hard to try to make things work out. But each of their stories ended differently. Adam got a lucky break, a job he wasn’t qualified for but made it work, and someone offering him a place to stay to get back on his feet. He was doing fine (and hopefully, a bit wiser). Caitlin moved to Hawaii and went back to school (though, in an update, we found out that her boyfriend actually decided to move off the grid after the episode wrapped, and she’s now living in a hut with no running water. She kept saying positive things, but had on screwface the whole video). And Aja, the oldest at 28, the one with three kids, couldn’t find a way to recover. There were just too many factors working against her.

      MTV has another great one like this, called “I have broke parents:”

      http://www.mtv.com/videos/true-life-i-have-broke-parents/1631544/playlist.jhtml

      Also amazing and real. The poverty trap is illustrated in a way that teens can grasp and relate to. I’m really grateful to MTV for airing these – unfortunately, they don’t get as much exposure as Jersey Shore.

    • Ladyguerita

      I saw the episode and from I got the impression that husband ditched the family. I heard this story too many times, hard times happens and the dad( or mom) walks away.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Susan-Maricle/1367804076 Susan Maricle

    An OUTSTANDING post.

    Thank you also for the blog recommendations on eating well. I’d like to add “The Fairy Chef” by Brandon Lacy Campos, “A grassroots culinary experience for broke folks that like to eat well.” http://fairychef.blogspot.com/

  • Eva

    Great article!

  • http://twitter.com/suitablegirl Anna John

    *Applauds*