Friday, September 9, 2011

Food Stamps At Fast Food Restaurants

'Jacques-Imo's: Food Stamps' photo (c) 2009, Mills Baker - license:
 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I know that in Canada there are people struggling to live on welfare and they are often forced into the position of paying their rent or buying food for the month.  In many cases these families will make one trip to the food bank per month because that is all that allowed and the rest of their meals will come from a soup kitchen.

There is a soup kitchen around the corner from where I live and the lines are always longer at the end of the month.  Many of these people I know on sight because they are my neighbours.  If this is happening in Canada, I know that it is happening in the U.S.  I also believe that our social safety net is far more generous than what the U.S. and therefore it is a very logical leap to believe that though the roads are supposedly paved with gold, that is far harder to be poor in the U.S. than it is Canada.

In Canada welfare recipients receive a check at the beginning of the month and it is up to each individual to choose how they are going to spend their paltry funds.  In the U.S., individuals and families that are suffering receive food stamps.  Over the years there has been much debate about what should be allowed to be purchased with food stamps.  Everything from pop to fruits and vegetables at farmers market has been up for debate.

In the latest round of policing, the ability to purchase fast food at restaurants like Subway, KFC, McDonalds etc., with food stamps is causing quite the stir.

I already object to the many things that can be purchased with SNAP benefits. Junk food, soft drinks, pre-packaged frozen foods and candy are all permitted under current law. This is really a no-brainer. The law should restrict use of those taxpayer-provided funds to the basic staples: meat, starches, bread, milk, vegetables and cheese. Maybe there should be even an allowance for toiletries. But, it's a moral crime to have public aid recipients eating better then the very taxpayers who pay for their benefit and a sad reflection of just how far this sense of entitlement has penetrated into our society. 

There have been too many times that I watch someone in front of me at the checkout lane pile steaks, roasts and even lamb chops into their cart and then pay for it with a food stamp card. They're eating better than me, and I work two jobs just to keep my head above water. And, the last time I went grocery shopping, the person even had a birthday cake from the bakery in the cart as well. All paid for with food stamps.(source)
This response is typical of someone who had been indoctrinated into the war on the poor on the side of the rich bourgeois.  The people that actively impoverishing are the top 1% and they cumulatively use more than their share of the earth's resources.
The census finds that the top-earning 20% of Americans (those making $100,000 each year) received 49.4% of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4% earned by those below the poverty line.

That ratio of 14.5-to-1 was an increase from 13.6 in 2008 and nearly double a low of 7.69 in 1968, the Associated Press reports.

At the top, the wealthiest 5% of Americans, who earn more than $180,000, added slightly to their annual incomes last year, the data show. Families at the $50,000 median level slipped lower. (source)
So this means that is someone is living high on the public purse it's the rich and not the poor.  It's simply math and yet the pervasiveness of poor being a drain continues to be heard from all levels of society.  Just because someone is on food stamps does not mean that they are not gainfully employed, which is something many Walmart employees can testify to first hand. Real wages have not kept up with inflation and corporations don't even come close to paying anyone the true value of their labour unless they are on the board. Limiting what the poor can and cannot purchase is about policing and shaming  for circumstances that are beyond their control regardless of the myth of meritocracy.

Cooking takes time and facilities which may not be readily available.  Someone who is homeless does not have a place to store food to keep fresh never mind a kitchen to cook said food in.  Even if one has access to electricity, you can only cook so much on a hot plate.  A McDonald's hamburger may not be healthy but it is warm and everyone regardless of their circumstances deserves a hot meal.

Even middle class working people will occasionally eat take out food.  They are well aware that KFC and McDonald's is not healthy, but when exhaustion takes over sometimes just doing the easy thing just makes life easier.  No one works harder than the poor and yet the same convenience is something that many would deny them.  If you are poor chances are that you are either driving a hooptie or are taking public transportation. Many actually live far from their homes to reduce the commute time and so it is quite often to have a long commute after an already long day.  The sheer exhaustion of manual labour and then the commute followed by wrangling however many children that you may have is exhausting.  Denying fast food is not about caring about health because of health were such a concern reducing the cost of organic food or allowing food stamps to be used at farmers markets would be a commonplace practice.  This is about eliminating any kind of time saving option. 

People who are disabled are not always able to cook nor do the foods allowed with food stamps necessarily represent items they are capable of eating.  No allowances are made for those who require a special diet, yet supposedly health is the top concern.  I try to cook for my family everyday but there are times when my fibro is flaring so badly that takeout fills them without causing me anymore pain.  Should people who are unable to cook on a regular basis be forced to subsist on sandwiches?

There are no easy answers but one thing for sure, denying people options out of a paternalistic desire to force healthy eating is wrong.  Shaming the poor for being poor while the system is specifically designed to impoverish large swathes of people is wrong.  What is needed is a real change in the current system and barring that at least allow people the agency to choose what works best for their lifestyle.  It is infantalizing to believe that we have the right to tell someone what they have to eat.  I don't even do that with my children let alone a grown adult.