Feeding the Poor, Starving the Beasts: American Nutritinal Policy and the Morality of Knowing What’s Best

Forgive me if this seem disjointed. Some of this piece comes from a conversation I had on a message board. But I think there is more than enough here to stimulate thought and discussion.

Let’s talk about poor people, poor diet, and a poor decision-making.

What do you guys know about food desserts?

It is not just that healthier food is more expensive at the point of purchase, but it is more expensive to get to. Poorer neighborhoods don’t have grocery stores or at least not nearly enough considering the size of surrounding populations. Poor neighborhoods have liquor stores, convenience stores, and/or package stores. None of these places are going to have asparagus on sale this week, buy one bundle, get one free.

Gallon of milk — $4
2 liter cola — 99 cents

For what is spent on a bag of oranges, you can get corn chips, cookies, and Vienna sausage for three kids (and you don’t have fight the kids to eat it thus winding up late for your second or is it third part-time workfare job.)

And we haven’t even begun talking about urban design, public safety, and cuts to public health and education programs targeting families and children.

So point one: We have limited the choice of poor people AND the availability of healthy food through the physical placement of that food. But that is only part of the story. Let’s take a look at SNAP (aka the Food Stamp Program) and how we have tried to make a situation better by making a situation worse.

Food stamps are set up to buy legal food. Junk food is legal food. And as food stamps actually can’t be used to theater tickets, we have already limited the use of funds. The problem with the junk food is that we have left provision of funds for food to micro managing what type of food based not on the law, or the poor quality of the food (otherwise the logic would be to ban the bad food), but to limit freedom of choice of purchase among legal items simply because a citizen is making use of public money, money which I may add, they themselves have also probably paid into.

Junk food is legal food. Make junk food illegal and you have no problem. Or you could make it its own designation of controlled or harmful substance, like alcohol or tobacco, and ban it from government programs. That should make everyone from farmers to Frito Lay to the plastics industry to your local convenience store quite pleased.

You are asking poor people to limit purchases of a legal food stuff because they are not financially able to feed themselves and their families without public assistance. Doritos become a food of privilege. You are in effect saying to poor folk “Either go out and find special money with which to buy junk food or do without it because on MY dime (which really isn’t mine but the public’s which means the poor have as much say in how it is spent as the rest of us and have contributed to the pool as well) I get to decide what YOU can and cannot have.”

So we take the program that is designed to help the poor and make it inot a bludgeon with which to beat the poor, infantilize the poor and make the rest of us into precious moral overlords of the poor.

And on a personal note

I want everyone to eat healthy. So I want to outlaw or restrict access to bad food.

But the food stamp debate is more about just restricting or banning bad food for poor folk. Somehow poor folk aren’t allow the luxury of poor decision making. That’s a right they shouldn’t have but others should. Because we who buy food with money are more enlightened and our bad decisions are better than their bad decisions.

And Finally

The problem isn’t food stamps or checks or subsidized housing or Medicaid.  The problem is poverty and the beasts it makes of the poor and the brutes it makes of the rest of us.

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2 responses to “Feeding the Poor, Starving the Beasts: American Nutritinal Policy and the Morality of Knowing What’s Best

  1. Through all of you blather, I am not sure you made it clear to me if you wish to support junk food on tax payers dollars or if you are against it. I take great offense to know that someone can pay for a four hundred dollar wedding cake with a food stamp card.

    • You can’t buy a wedding cake with a food stamp card, at least not in my state. Cooked foods are, for the most part, not included on the list of “legal” foods for purchase with an EBT card.

      My blather as you put it, is quite simple. If the food is legal, who are you or I to tell someone they can or can’t have it. If junk food bothers you, as it does me, then either ban it or classify it as a controlled substance then regulate and tax the hell out of it.

      Is that clear enough for you?

      BTW why would the purchase of wedding cake bother you?

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