This week has been flooded with other work, so I haven’t had a chance to post in any significant fashion. The important thing is that I’m here now, with some new thoughts, different aspects of the overall issue, and a couple of problems, which I hope you’ll join me in pondering. I’ll also be discussing the ticklish subject of social protest of inequality and the sometimes-distressing actions of a small portion of any community that chooses violent means of expression. There will be those of you who disagree with my assessment; while I welcome your opinions, I will ask that if you choose to share, you remain courteous.
Animosity Towards the Poor.
I’ve spoken about the hostile attitude many seem to hold towards those who are impoverished, especially if they are receiving assistance in the form of SNAP or TANF. This caused me to ask questions about why animosity towards those with less seems to ebb and flow. To what other social phenomena is it connected, because it certainly seems to be bound to other social attitudes. After some rather serious discussion with a friend yesterday, the answer is both simple and complex–the attitude is tied to how vast the gap of inequality is at the time. When more people tend to have an even social situation–jobs are good, the economy is not a limping and wounded animal, food is abundant–there tends to be less vituperative rhetoric aimed at the poor.
Those in poverty are almost always demonized, no matter how fat and happy most of a culture tends to be, but when times are good, it’s a lot less. America seems to have had it out for the impoverished since its inception, and this has a lot to do with our Parent cultures’ attitudes towards that segment of society. Work houses, exploitation of the powerless, and the foundations of Dickensian melodrama are all part of that. For those of you not familiar with American Colonial History, I’ll be happy to recommend several texts that include historical plans of what to do about The Poor.
There is, to a certain extent, some necessity for social inequality within any stratified society. Someone must be at the bottom, doing the jobs no one else wants to do. But that we vilify these individuals is unnecessary. Who picks up your garbage? Who flips your burgers or waits upon you when you dine out? Who performs all the essential functions of a developed society that often go unnoticed? These jobs are not especially high-paying, and are often done by those you look down upon. But, what if these people suddenly disappeared? can you see your cities with trash flowing into the streets, restaurants and gas stations closed for business because there was no one there to serve patrons, and any other number of small breakdowns that become incrementally larger with time?
What Is Food Sovereignty and How Is It Political?
The acquisition of food is a well-known part of the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but how does it play into sovereignty? This is a term borrowed from agricultural movements and was coined in 1996. Strictly defined,
Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. (Emphasis original)
The biggest problem with programs like SNAP is that they provide limited assistance and allow only partial access to a restricted array of foods. I know, I can hear the voices of some of you now. “But we give them money to buy food! They’re ungrateful!” I answer these not imagined protests with this:
We all pay into social programs through our taxes, including these people who are presently drawing assistance. What is this conception that they’ve been living high on the hog on your dime for their entire lives? Oh, right. You drew that from a politician’s speech. Probably the same one that said he’d seen a poor person buying steak with “Food Stamps,” but who hasn’t set foot inside a grocery store in a decade.
The characterization of the poor as lazy, ungrateful, decadent animals is popular, and by no means a new thing. The elite classes of many cultures have leaned on this caricature in many time periods–including the French Aristocracy prior to the Revolution, politicians vilifying immigrant populations in many countries at many times in the past and present, power-hungry despots. Now you too can join that club, except you don’t make nearly enough money, and really what you’re doing is contributing to the power base of people who do and simply want to use your fear of losing what little you have to control you.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, let’s move on to explore how food sovereignty can be applied to our current culture. Choosing what you eat could be considered an aspect of this larger idea. Having the right to purchase some foods that are less healthy along with some that are more nutritious is a major benchmark of autonomy in our society. You get to decide how to eat in your own home.
Now, given what we know about the limited ways in which SNAP funds can be spent in order to maximize their effectiveness on the family budget, how is food sovereignty directly impacted by these programs? When the primary provisioner of a household must decide between fresh foods or higher quality products in order to ensure that the members of the family eat for the entire month, the grocery isle calculus can become pretty complex.
To a certain extent, everyone does this, no matter how much money they make. The difference between those not receiving assistance and those who are is that often, the latter devote a significantly larger portion of their earnings to the realms of food and housing–and they can rarely escape the cycle, even if they are part of a dynamic where all adults work. While I’ll be the first to admit that this is only a symptom of a larger problem, the symptom is troubling in and of itself. But let’s leave this for a moment and move on to a different aspect.
To Whom is Food Sovereignty Denied?
I’ve already discovered that I’m going to have to cut this segment into several pieces, so I will be revisiting the topic in greater detail. However, before I sign off, I’d like to put the question above out there for consideration. In American culture overall, food autonomy has typically been denied to children, prisoners, and slaves. These are three groups that vary drastically in their makeup, and the reasons for curtailing that nutritional agency varies accordingly. For children and slaves–yes, we are going there–the idea that they are unable to choose wisely for themselves or adequately care for themselves has been the root of denial.
In both cases, food is also used as a method of control, and whether or not we really want to consider it, when we entertain ideas like revoking the SNAP assistance of those who protest inequality in a way we dislike, we are pulling these concepts firmly back into play.
“I’m going to take away your food until you behave as I think you should.” We are proposing using food as a weapon to ensure compliance and docility in a population we fear. In particular cases today, I don’t think it’s a strictly ethnic issue, but rather one of social class. The Haves are terrified of the Have Nots, and want to keep them in line. This is made abundantly clear when certain people start getting bent out of shape over the destruction of property, rather than the human rights violations and depressed social equality that led to the destruction in the first place.
They begin using words like “my community” and “allow.” First, this didn’t happen in your community, because if it did, you might have a single clue about what actually occurred. Second, you really don’t have any say in the situation, so stop pretending like these hungry, oppressed people have done you some personal harm–or that you actually think starving hungry, angry people further is a good idea.
Food choice and control over when and where that food is consumed is also denied to prisoners. As a country with a horrifyingly large prison population, this really can’t be ignored. And while we do imprison many physical persons for crimes (just or unjust), the philosophy behind imprisonment has a great deal more to do with psychology than it does physicality. We punish people, not bodies. Capital punishment is quite rare and much debated, but that’s a subject for another day.
Here’s a link with some interesting statistics you might like to visit. I’m neither advocating nor disparaging their approach.:
What I’d like to leave you with are these points. We deny prisoners autonomy over their food. We have and do deny slaves and children autonomy over their food. So when we apply that attitude to those in need of assistance, what does it say? How does it impact the way we see those who are impoverished? My thoughts–it creates or reinforces a social divide, and sends a message that the poor are incapable of caring for themselves. They are either subhuman or dysfunctional children. They are broken and unmendable. They are criminals in their very nature, whether they’ve committed a crime or not. They need to be controlled. Do those sound like thoughts that should be happening in the 21st century? And yet, it’s what I see online. It’s what I hear people I used to respect saying. And it makes me sad.
Next time of Stirring the Pot and Hemorrhaging Friends: Inadequate Nutrition and Why Hungry People Can’t Work Well, Think Well, Stay Well.