PART I: Food Stamps
Note: All references to programs will be to that of Washington State’s programs, as those are the ones I am familiar with. Washington being a more progressive state than most, it can be expected that this is far from the worst-case scenario as far as state assistance goes (nor likely best). Furthermore, while yes, some of the public assistance is federally-funded, it is managed by the state, and therefore still varies state-to-state in actual implementation.
1. They’re Not Your Tax Dollars
There are just so, so many more terrible things that Your Tax Dollars go to (like prisons--but that’s another post entirely) and you choose to complain about poor people’s food? Really?
They're not even your tax dollars.
That is to say, the poor are not directly reaching into your pocket and pulling out wads of cash to go buy such luxuries as food. You are, as are many, many of the working and non-working poor, paying taxes which then go to fund things such as food stamps, WIC, and/or other food programs. But the argument that the poor are “spending YOUR money” is so ludicrous it barely warrants an argument. Everyone pays into taxes somehow. Income tax, property tax, sales tax, taxes on phone service, gas tax, etc. etc. etc. and ideally, those all go to the related services and charges. Right. Just like the lottery pays for schools.
In Washington, one of our important state-money-making taxes is the almighty sales tax. Including both local and state taxes, it reaches nearly 9% on everything but food, which is not taxed outside of wheat-free candy and canned meats*. Now, who is more affected by this tax? A family of three with an income of $54,000, or a family of three with an income of just under $7,000 (because if you’re on TANF, that’s your pre-food stamp income for the year, IF you’re getting the maximum amount, with the maximum amount of foodstamps included in your income, it’s about $13,000.)?
Obviously, this question is rhetorical. The sales tax puts a huge burden on poor families, and as reported in the Inlander this year (tried to find the link to the article, but I couldn’t, I just have the paper article), the average low-income family pays 17% of their income just to taxes. So if a family makes $17,000 a year, the approximate amount of a full-time minimum wage worker in one year (or two-part time workers), $2,890 of that is going to go to taxes.
LET ME REITERATE THIS: Someone making only $17,000 a year is having their income reduced to just over $14,000 by taxes, and you are complaining that some minute fraction of your tax dollars are paying for their FOOD.
Your tax dollars also fund social security. When someone of social security age buys food in a grocery store, do you inspect their purchases and glare at them for spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS (tm) on their food? Politicians are paid with your tax dollars. Do you side-eye them for spending YOUR TAX DOLLARS on their food?
It's not about taxes. It's about classism.
2. What I Buy Is None of Your Business
As explained above, they’re barely “your” tax dollars to begin with. They’re everyone’s tax dollars. And in this moment, they are now my--the proverbial poor person--’s food stamps. They have now transformed from our tax dollars into my food stamps. They are not a loan, or a gift, they just are.
They are mine.
And so, when I am at the grocery check-out line, you do not get to decide my worth as a person, or right to my food stamps, based on what is in that cart.
You do not know the motives behind what I am buying, the reasons, or what I already have at home. You do not know how often I am able to go to the grocery store, what foods I am able to eat, what foods I cannot, or anything about me or my food habits.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter what my reasons are for buying something. I am buying it with my food stamps, not yours.
I do not magically spawn more if I spend them foolishly, and I reap the consequences of my actions. I run out. As a matter of fact, even if I spend them “perfectly” (whatever that means?) I will probably still run out. Why? Because the maximum averages around $2 per person, per meal, at three meals per day. Yes, the absolute MAXIMUM for a family of three is, on average, EIGHTEEN DOLLARS A DAY. And don’t forget, there are federal cuts just around the corner.
It is none. Of. Your. Business.
My food stamps are not your property, and my actions are not public property open for discussion.
3. Stop Classing Food
Why do people care what a poor person buys, anyway? It comes down to the “class”ing of food. As everyone knows, either consciously or subconsciously, there are some foods that are only for rich people. The most commonly mentioned of these would be either steak or lobster. But also falling into “rich people foods” are any foods that are considered luxuries.
Sodas and coffees, junk foods, etc., all are not considered appropriate purchases for poor people to buy. Only rich people, (who work hard for their monies, obviously) are allowed to then purchase luxurious food items, while the lowly poor only have enough room in their budget for the bare necessities.
But where do you get off saying that the poor should not have treats anyway? Even if there is no way to rationalize a purchase other than “I want it”, that’s good enough. Why? Because, to reiterate, I make the choices with my money. I reap the consequences of choices I make. You do not enter the equation. EVER.
But what adds even more ridiculousness to this argument, besides the disgusting levels of classism, is that the “luxury” food is often the cheapest, most satisfying, easiest to make, most filling, and has the longest shelf life. In order to eat “appropriate” food, I would run out of food stamps more quickly. The foods I buy would not last as long, which would mean I’d have to go to the store more often, (because we all know gas money and buses are super cheap, right?) and in the end, I would be worse off.
4. No Really, Stop Classing Food.
One of the most commonly cited “rich person foods” is steak. The fact that people complain (LOUDLY) about poor people buying steak with food stamps is one of the silliest things I’ve ever heard. I see this everywhere, and it always blows my mind.
People are completely out of touch with how much food costs! (Not including externalized costs*) Steak is made of meat. That meat is usually beef. The beef can come from various places, escalating its price depending on the tenderness and quality of that particular cut. Without getting into a whole Good Eats episode on you here, there is a HUGE variety in what can constitute a steak.
So when I go through the line with a couple of $2.99 chuck steaks, and you react like I just spent $200 at some pretentious steak house on the finest beef this side of the Lone Star State, you should probably reexamine your life, and why it’s so damn important to you to make sure some stranger at the grocery store knows you disapprove of their wacky impoverished lifestyle.
4. Your Thinly Veiled Concern-Trolling Is Not Fooling Anyone
There’s another side to the Rich vs. Poor food problem. Often, it’s flat out said that poor people need to be policed into eating healthy. And by healthy, you mean whatever the various corporate food lobbies have forced congress to accept as science*.
This then goes into huge fatphobia issues, the idea that fat will magically go away if people just eat the right things, and that it is somehow morally abhorrent to dare to be fat in public, all of which require their own discussions.
But basically, the idea is that rich people have the right to “choose to be fat”, but poor people do not. Remember: If you’re not dieting, you’re milking the system, poor people!
NOTE: On the flip side, some people ALSO get upset when they see poor people buying local or organic. Because obviously, if a poor person can squeeze some food that hasn’t been medicated or poisoned into their budget, they’re receiving too much government money, amirite.
Conclusion of Part I:
When all of the complaints are put together, they look like this:
If you are poor and on foodstamps, you should not buy food.
To Be Continued in...
PART II: WIC and Food Banks
PART III: “Beggars Can’t Be Choosers”
PART IV: “Green” Foods vs Corporate Foods
PART V (Conclusion): The Infantilization of the Disadvantaged
*Covered in Later Section
Most data is not sourced, as it is “original research” based on my experience with the Department of Social and Health Services of Washington State, the food stamp program, WIC, TANF, and being a fat, poor, physically and mentally disabled woman.