I Totally Could Use Some Food Stamps Right Now.

Over at TAP today, I talk about the fine line we want food stamp recipients to walk: We don’t like the idea that they may be “mis-spending” public money on nutrient-poor foods like soda, and we also, according to The Daily Caller, anyway, don’t think they should be spending money on expensive fish.

Also, poor people can’t be too young: Part of that DC “investigation” focused on college students getting food stamps, and in March, Salon detailed how disturbed some people were over the fact that young, artsy, hipster types, who’d taken an economic hint in the downturn, were using government assistance to buy locally-grown fruits and veggies and artisanal bread.

The problem, of course, which few people ever point out, is how it’s in our broader economic interest for lower-income people to spend money on food, whatever the food is; how it’s in our broader public health interest for that food to be nutritious; how it’s in our broader interest to promote locally-produced food systems by creating new markets, which is what allowing food stamps to be used at farmers’ markets does; and how it’s in our broader cultural interest to have a group of individuals willing to produce and distribute art for very little, or at least unsteady, pay.

The idea that the government promotes behavior whether it does or doesn’t fund something is beyond the pale for a journalist working at DC, but it’s true. The concept that there’s some neutral ideal that would emerge if we let government get out of the way is ridiculous.

  • tedra

    It’s also in our interest that people be free to choose what they want to eat for themselves–which might mean that even poor people can occasionally buy soda. God forbid they might have a vomiting kid at home or something.

  • isista

    I find this argument fascinating about what people “should” and “should not” purchase with food stamps. A bit personal for me, since, as a poor grad student, I started accepting food stamps recently and they’re a godsend. And I had “heightened” food tastes and awareness before I applied for them. I always bought my meat from Whole Foods and my snacks from Trader Joe’s and my produce from wholesalers or farmer’s markets that accept stamps and my small canned goods from a regular grocery store. I didn’t change this when I started using stamps. I still buy meat from Whole Foods. I look at it this way: The food I buy, which is generally healthy and mostly sustainable, helps me perform and function at my best. I can study better with organic baby spinach on my stomach than chips and pop. Focused Study=good grades=graduation=hopefully, better opportunity for myself.

    It can be a bit of a stretch, I know. But I think this argument needs to move away from labeling “good vs. bad” and focus on what helps people be more productive. It helps avoid the judgment and simply looks at the facts of which foods help the body and mind work effectively. For some people, that might include a pop or a cookie every now and again. For some people it will mean tofu or Greek yogurt. And people should be allowed to make that choice with adequate information and education (what we lack) on food.

  • haiba

    So poor people get the side-eye if they use their food stamps to buy soda, and hipsters (who also happen to be poor) get the side eye if they use their food stamps at the farmers market? This doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

    • R.A.B.

      Is it really some sort of internal contradiction if the two conflicting positions are generally coming from different camps? I’m not sure I can think of anyone who is singularly advocating that folks should be able to buy neither soda nor sushi with food stamps.

      Anyway, if people who really are just trying to raise kids and thrive on education levels that society doesn’t highly value have been turned into America’s most vilified for the past half a century, is it really hard to figure out why people — on the right, offensively, and on the left, defensively — resent this conjured idea of hipster white kids with masters degrees and receiving food stamp benefits so they can play Top Chef?

      • haiba

        The issue for me isn’t who it’s coming from; it’s the idea that someone who’s qualified for the program somehow requires our approval for the food decisions they make (‘it’s my money, let me tell you how to spend it!’).

  • R.A.B.

    I think conservative eye-rolling re: food stamp purchases generally misses the point that food stamps are food stamps are food stamps, and money is money is money, and it’s always possible to make “sub-optimal” purchasing decisions. You could make the case that anyone who’s on food stamps and not living on instant oatmeal, white rice, and celery is living luxuriously.

    I think the problem, though, is that there are young, white liberals who are now inadvertently-yet-consciously helping fuel opposition to already vulnerable programs that help already stigmatized populations all so they can prop up their local farmers’ market or eat organic or whatever — not just so they aren’t forced to live off of McDonalds and hot dogs, but so they can live off of Whole Foods. It’s a politically selfish and/or dense thing to do is all.

    • quadmoniker

      But this was all part of a conscious push to make SNAP benefits seem more mainstream and remove the stigma. Also, I’d argue, that if we expanded snap benefits to include more people with slightly higher incomes they would be less vulnerable. There would be a larger base of automatic support, support from more politically active groups because it would include the non-extremely-low-income people, and because more people would know families that depend on food stamps.

    • quadmoniker

      Also, I wouldn’t assume these people are wealthy, or from wealthy families, or that they have master’s degrees, or that they have other employment options. Someone with a bachelor’s in fine arts might not have the option of a job that pays well because his or her experience is limited. Also, kids who went to college poor can’t fall back on their families, and we know things have been rough for 20-something’s entering the job market for some time.

    • “It’s a politically selfish and/or dense thing to do is all.”

      Pshaw. I’m not a huge fan of WF, but there’s a perfect sound political argument to be made that “propping up” farmer’s markets and spending a premium on organic/fair-trade/humanely-farmed food is an important political act.

      Anyway, there’s quite a stereotype lurking in the presumption that it’s educated white “hipsters” (loaded word much?) that shop at WF or FM. There are plenty of farmer’s markets that are almost exclusively patronized by poor people of color. They often go by the name of “flea markets” or “swap meets”.

      • R.A.B.

        I won’t deny that “there’s a perfect [sic] sound political argument to be made that ‘propping up’ farmer’s markets and spending a premium on organic/fair-trade/humanely-farmed food is an important political act;” I’m simply denying that that important political act has anything to do with SNAP benefits.

  • R.A.B.

    But we’re talking about decades of race- and class-based welfare angst in America, where the relevant preconceptions are so hard-boiled. And I’m not sure how hipsters, of all cultural blocs, are the key to destigmatizing, well, anything. Not that hipsters are the only young, white, college-educated contingent that might be willing to enroll in SNAP, but that’s how this conscious push has played out in perception so far — and I’m not quite sure how that’s helped anyone.