Small hunter-gatherer groups tend to be relatively egalitarian in their distribution of foods. True, there were favorites, foods that were met with more enthusiasm than others. Honey is one such food source that traditionally had a joyous reception, since in the wild it tends to be both difficult to gather and is a nutritious, sweet treat. But as social stratification and hierarchies became more complex, prestige foods became more of a thing–certain foods were only allocated to specific social groups.
We can see this restriction throughout time and across many different cultures–from the Maya and their cacao to the English with their Forest Laws and strict punishments for poaching “The King’s Deer.” It’s quite present in our own culture, and those who buy into the prestige food models have ranged themselves against supplemental nutritional assistance programs (SNAPs).
The Odious Hearsay
When an elected representative–I won’t name any names–rails against the laziness and gluttony of the impoverished who use these programs, quaintly termed as Foodstamps, they often spout ridiculous hearsay. They base their desire to eviscerate public assistance programs on the statement that they “have seen” people buying crab legs and filet mignon with their food stamps.
First of all, anyone who lives in reality and knows how these programs work knows that that’s bullshit. Those items are quite expensive, and while not yet specifically prohibited for purchase, their very expense often rules them out of the available food choices. Second, I really doubt that these congresspeople have set foot inside a grocery store themselves in years. Either their wives do the shopping or they have assistants who complete the task for them.
None of the opponents of assistance who use these tall tales ever strike me as the sort to do their own provisioning. More likely they’d expect you to be able to buy milk, bread, eggs, and meat with five dollars–and have change to return at the end of it all. They are running on an outdated form of social software, with notions that are more suited to the closeted and relatively inexpensive era of America in the mid-20th century.
Incidentally, last week a bill* was passed in Kansas’ state senate that prohibited people from using more than 25 dollars of TANF money per day, less transaction fees and a one dollar fee from the state themselves. It also stated that the poor folk of Kansas who actually managed to complete the application process and be accepted for distribution of this magnanimity, this bounteous largesse of 20 dollars a day, could not spend it on cruise ships, at race tracks, or for the services of fortune tellers.
So, really, besides deciding that poor people should never have any joy, such as seeing a movie once in a while, they also don’t want the landlocked people of their state receiving state assistance to go splurge those dollars on a cruise ship any time soon…because that’s going to happen ever? What drugs are these legislators on and why in the fuck aren’t they sharing?
I want to live in a magical reality where poor people who live a thousand miles from the nearest ocean actually think they can go on cruises with their assistance funds. Really, I just want to go on a cruise, period, but as is the case with other poor people, I have different priorities–like food, and shelter, and having gainful employment so I can pay my bills. The saddest part is that Kansas isn’t a standalone case. Plenty of other states and representatives in the federal arena think this way*.
If there’s a shred of truth to the central idea of this social myth that the poor purchase “luxury” foods and goods with their social assistance dollars–in many cases, the items cited are actually impossible to purchase directly with SNAP funds–one has to wonder how a casual observer managed to glean these insights. What does a poor person look like? How do you know it when you encounter one? What sorts of foods do you assume are “appropriate” for these people to purchase, and why? How do you know the person in front of you at the checkout is a) on social assistance or b) particularly utilizing SNAP funds? Why are you looking that closely at another person’s transaction? Why is it your business? What if someone did that to you?
Once you’ve answered all these questions, if you still think that it’s fine to judge other people based on shallow criteria like what clothes they’re wearing or whether you personally think they should be allowed to have certain foods, please go back to the fucking first grade and try again. Many of the issues with the current assistance programs stem from legislators who think this way and shouldn’t be allowed to decide what they’re having for lunch let alone vote on important and sweeping legislation that impacts everyone who lives in their district/constituency. They’re toddlers. In fact, I think toddlers would do a better job than many of these bigoted jokers.
The Nutritional Entitlement Syndrome
That’s right. I just totally made that up. There’s actually no such codified name for the behavior, although there should be. I’ve touched on the topic before in other rants, the fact that many foods that are affordable for people of lower income brackets are total crap with little redeeming nutritive value. Many of these foods are known as “convenience” foods, and poor people buy them because a) they’re often inexpensive after a fashion, or they seem to be less expensive up front and b) because when you spend 12 hours of your conscious day traveling to and from work and working a full shift–what are you going to have the energy to prepare when you finally make it back to the place you supposedly live (or where your stuff lives while you’re at work?)
Where food is concerned, energy and time must also be calculated when we talk about expense, not just how much it costs in dollars or cents. Sure, it can be done–eating whole foods that may cost more, require appropriate storage for their limited shelf-lives, and earn you dirty looks from people who make more in a week than you do all year. The real question is–when everything is toted up, is it worth it to you? Or are you just too fucking tired and overworked to care anymore?
Do you find yourself saying things like, “Buy the twinkies and the soda–they don’t go bad and don’t need to be refrigerated, so when I’m living in my car next week, at least I’ll have something to eat.” No? Then don’t fucking judge people who do. It’s not your place to decide what people should or shouldn’t eat and if you’re so concerned, maybe you should do something to help them afford better foods rather than restricting what they can buy as if they were seven-year old children*.
Many of the individuals expressing outrage at the fact that people are purchasing whole foods, such as meat, produce, and dairy with their assistance funds also rail against the junk food “problem.” They do this without realizing that the two complaints feed each other and also cancel one another out. Fish, red meat, fresh fruits and vegetables, and actual dairy foods, as well as a number of foods required by dietary allergies and sensitivities are NOT off limits to people who are struggling financially. Stop pretending as if the fact that someone purchases real food is tantamount to them stealing from you.
When You Good Ole Boys Are Finished Gutting the Poor…
There are at present a number of prospective bills and those that are currently progressing towards a vote that propose to gut billions of dollars from the SNAP program over the next ten years. Take that in tandem with the fact that the program has already been sliced to the bone with a vituperative legislative flensing knife* and what you have is essentially a war on the impoverished. Is that an extreme statement? Yes, it is. It’s also sadly true, especially when taken along with other developments that penalize or downright criminalize the act of being poor.
The Farm Bill, which is one of the big providers of government funds for SNAPs has seen some drastic cutbacks in the past few years. We aren’t talking about skimming off the top or even just making it a bit tougher for individuals to access the funds, but outright defunding actions on the parts of certain government representatives–again, I won’t name names. You already know who they are. The biggest problem with these defunding plans?
Those dollars are not then put into programs to improve infrastructure, lower taxes, or otherwise enrich the overall prosperity of the American people, as if helping people who’ve fallen on hard times were a bad idea to begin with. Nope. They often are directly funneled into programs that serve to directly or indirectly enrich the private fortunes of public servants and people in a position to owe government representatives for favors*. I have a huge issue with that alone.
Incentive to Buy Better Food
Rather than dictating what people who are driven to seek assistance with finding enough to eat are allowed to purchase, several states are looking into programs that encourage them to buy fresh foods. These programs offer incentives to render the foods more affordable and to benefit those places that sell them to individuals using SNAP funds*. While this incentive program is not the ultimate answer, it’s a step in the right direction. Purchasing whole foods or better quality foods generally means a rise in overall nutrition. This enables people to be more productive, and maybe even get back on their feet in a way that harassment, demonizing and penalizing poverty, and curtailing their purchase power in a parental way never will.
Have Some Grue with Your Entitlement
I don’t suggest that there are not improvements to be made to the currently enacted SNAPs in the United States. What I am saying is that prestige conceptualizations should not be applied to foods in such a way that it prevents access to basic nutrition and the level of health required to be a productive member of society. Also, I’ll offer you this to chew on: affluence of the home country or culture is often cited as a way to make poverty seem less gruesome, or to belittle the struggles of those at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
The same people who demonize poverty and poor people also say that having a refrigerator is a luxury, because poor people in…some other country…don’t have that or other amenities, like running water and electricity. This isn’t some other country, and in many areas, if you live in a building, you’re required to have certain things, like electricity and running water. If you don’t live in a building, these people have rigged the system so that you can go to jail for vagrancy. They’ve done their utmost to make it impossible for you to exist. Food is a big part of this equation, whether anyone has bothered to think about that or not. And starving to death feels pretty much the same no matter where you live in the world, by the way.