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13 October 2010 @ 10:04 am
Ami’s Guide to Food Privilege: How classism, fatphobia, and various other “-isms” control what we eat.

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.
Lav: Alter Egolavenderfrost on October 13th, 2010 02:28 pm (UTC)

Ride the piggy!dr4win9f00l on October 13th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU. As someone who grew up on food stamps, this is pretty much the gist of what I've wanted to scream at people for years.
pastelzombie: doctor who; rose smilepastelzombie on October 13th, 2010 04:48 pm (UTC)
Excellent post!
rumblecakerumblecake on October 13th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
This post is really great and you should feel great. :)

I have been seriously considering food stamps as a way to save a little money and escape my (unsafe) living situation. My partner, who grew up poor, is dead set against it...he seems to think that unless we're on the brink of starvation we'd be doing the entire world a disservice by taking advantage of the program, even temporarily. My guess is that the kind of classism you're writing about has turned him off the idea, like it's a matter of PRIDE rather than economics.

I don't get the conservative hate for this system. The food stamp program is arguably the MOST justifiable social program, by any standard; if your work force is starving your country's going to run horribly, period.
aghhhhhhhhh on October 13th, 2010 10:48 pm (UTC)
My husband and I put it off for sooo long. Once we had them, we were like WTF WHY DIDN'T WE APPLY SOONER?

While I do mock the fact that the maximum you can receive is around $2/per person per meal, it's still a huge help when in a bad monetary situation.

One thing I will say, though, if your local offices are anything like the ones I'm used to, double-check your appointment times, and pay attention to when reviews are supposed to come up, even if you don't get something in the mail. The automated scheduling/appointment mailer system the offices have here are well-known for being hopelessly inaccurate.

Oh, and apply online if you can! It speeds things up a lot.
Satyahsatyah on October 14th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)
Awesome post!
Space cadet glow.hellooo on October 14th, 2010 01:44 pm (UTC)
I'm a bit late, but I wanted to say that I really like this post, and I'm really looking forward to the rest.

Edited at 2010-10-14 05:44 pm (UTC)
Wacky Lisawonky_diva on October 14th, 2010 08:32 pm (UTC)
I honestly can't find how I was linked to this post but it's wonderful. Thank you. I use food stamps to help make ends meet and have been remarkably lucky with the rude comments but I'm always afraid of them.
Wacky Lisa: pic#49497603wonky_diva on October 14th, 2010 08:35 pm (UTC)
Ah, found it. @stitchtowhere on Twitter.
axenonaine_xenon on October 16th, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC)
Yes. Just yes. I could never figure out in a neat way how to tell the self-appointed "food stamp police" why they are broadcasting their self-righteous ignorance. But thank you. I now have a script to do it with.
Kristingirlndocs on April 3rd, 2011 01:14 am (UTC)
Excellent post (@fatnutritionist linked me to it). A++, would nod head in agreement again.
mr profit's girl friday (and all week long)tiferet on April 3rd, 2011 03:39 am (UTC)
Also linked by the Fat Nutritionist. This is an awesome post. Did you ever write the rest of the series? Because I bet they would be awesome too.
Elizabethzenkitty_714 on April 3rd, 2011 10:41 am (UTC)
I also found this through Fat Nutritionist. Bless you both. This needed to be said, and you said it very very well. I'm linking everyone I know.

I'm not on food stamps anymore, hallelujia, but when I was, I almost couldn't bear to use them, the shame I felt was so great. Bad enough to be fat in public, but fat in public buying FOOD? The only thing I could buy without shame was canned vegetables. I hate canned vegetables.
Aralarallara on April 3rd, 2011 10:14 am (UTC)
Linked to this piece off Twitter, and I just wanted to say YES YES YES YES YES! Thank you for this. I you do find yourself able to write up some more posts because these things need to be said.
stephstrph on April 3rd, 2011 12:22 pm (UTC)
Such a great post. Also here thanks to the Fat Nutritionist.

Re: buying local/organic -- I worked as a supplement and nutrition specialist at a health food store for 4 years (not a Whole Foods but an indie chain) and I couldn't stand the way some of my coworkers over in the grocery and cashier departments endlessly bashed (and stink-eyed) the customers who purchased organic/healthy/gluten-free (or whatever) groceries with their EBT card. I cringed at their hateful comments after those customers left the store.

Of course these were the same coworkers who would go out and spend $10 a day on cigarettes and McDonald's so I wasn't expecting much understanding from them, but I did my best to educate them on why our customers might spend their precious food stamp dollars on what SOME may see as luxury items. Sigh.
Mariepandaemonaeum on February 13th, 2013 09:59 am (UTC)
Well said. Very well said indeed :)
Duty of Candor, Esq.: coolenderfem on June 7th, 2013 04:07 pm (UTC)
Got here via FatNutritionist. This is brilliant. Not only was I poor and on food stamps growing up, but I am a lawyer for the poor now, and nothing makes me angrier than seeing crap about what the poor "should" be eating. (Or wearing or owning or how they should behave toward others.) Thank you.
kestrelsparhawk: Seattlekestrelsparhawk on July 26th, 2013 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thank you
Thank you for this. Just wandered here from the Fat Nutritionist, and it improved my day even more than she already did. Beautiful summary. I have been horrified by the comments people give on political discussions, exactly like the steak example. I'd add (just to make it clear to the dummies) that the consequences of buying a steak, even a t-bone, is built into a foodstamp budget just as it is into any -- I eat steak today, and either I've been saving up, or it's polenta for the rest of the week. As you said, we don't escape economics.

One small quibble -- the social security funding I get (which makes me too rich for food stamps in my state!) is an "entitlement," paid for just from money I put into the system. But your masterful summary of the other taxes is much appreciated. --K

PS I grew up in Seattle, and miss it horribly. If anyone's been making comments to you about inappropriate buys, odds are they aren't from Seattle!
Barry DutyBarry Duty on January 30th, 2015 12:22 pm (UTC)
Though your expertise may be nutrition you need to include all information in reguards to you tax evaluation of the family in your discussion. When this family files their taxes they are eligible to receive 13,000 in taxes and earned income back. They didn't pay in that much but get back that much. Here is my example, my daughter and her husband made 22,000 with 3 kids. They receive $740 a month in food stamps plus WIC for a total of about $9,000.so we are at $31,000 total for the year. Now they receive every dime paid in Fed and State taxes totalling $2,168 bringing us to $33,168. Now with $9,431 in earned income credit bringing our total to $42,599. I am retired and receive $22, 416 a year my wife works at Wal-Mart and receives $12,119 a year and we got $143 back from both Fed and State total. This net of $34,092. Now which would you chose. Should my wife quit work and adopt three kids so we can have our rent vendored by the State $750 in stamps $9,000 earned income and all the social security for the adoped kids at $500 each in this state per month and then we can drive cars as nice as their's go on vacation, which we have not had in 8 years and put a new pool out back as they did. No we volunteer at michigan food bank and see both those in need and those in greed. Who are you trying to kid. Leave economics out of your discussion unless you are willing to be honest. Hope you read my rant like I did yours.