Food Stamp Weekly Marathons and Poverty Tourism (I Don’t Get It)
November 21, 2012
So, I like Newark’s mayor Cory Booker. He does genuinely good things. Bringing pizzas to folks, linking his citizens to resources, rushing into burning buildings like he’s made of asbestos… That’s pretty decent, you know?
(Some people may disagree, for reasons.)
He announced that he is going on food stamps for a week to raise awareness of supporting a family’s food needs on a limited budget. He’ll be documenting his experiences on various social media outlets.
I’ve seen the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge pop up in various forms, and I question its purpose. Granted, I know the prevailing assumption is that poor people cannot have nice things, and if they do have nice things, they are not really poor.
Very often, this food stamp budget challenge is a dumb show of austerity. Don’t look at the Starbucks. Avoid the organic shelf. Healthy convenience is beyond your reach. But… is that really what you’re calling attention to? Being poor is hard? Is that the reason why during the political season, the word “poverty” is avoided thoroughly to concentrate on the discontent, benefit-ineligible middle class? Because if you talked to the middle class about the inadequacy of current benefit programs for the poor, they’d be even more turned off that current government policies favoring corporations are driving them below the poverty line?
It’s easier to cut down your consumption and say that being poor is hard, right?
Being poor isn’t easy. But it’s not for the reasons these challenge participants think.
Our culture has a problem with poor people. Socially, it takes every undesirable characteristic of living — violence, crime, racism, and general rudeness — and isolates it to the population with the least amount of means to defend itself. Instead of expanding social programs to feed and take care of its own people, America prefers to kill people on the other side of the world and accept no questions about its right to do so. Social programs, somehow, have become the demons of enlightened living.
So public officials deigning to expose themselves to the realities of public programs for a week? It strikes me as a token tossed to the poor.
I’d love to see public officials travel incognito to a department of social services office to apply for social benefits. I bet it takes them longer than a week to sign up.
Or maybe they should dress in their normal business suits, buy some Cheetos, and watch the reactions of more affluent folks as they pay with a food stamps card.
Or maybe they should learn how to buy a nutritious and delicious meal on a budget, so that they realize that the means are just that — the means — and can have a healthy end with some planning and knowing what you have.
Or relax the regulations to give food stamp recipients more freedom to choose what they eat.
Or increase food education for citizens generally.
I just… mayors and more affluent people doing these types of challenges strike me as empty, like putting on those rubber wristbands or wearing those ribbons.
If you’re going to do anything with that budget, why not use the money to buy goods for a food bank?
I… am potentially being a hater. But there are better ways to show you’re paying attention than a dip in the pool of poverty, isn’t there?
The Woman Who Gave Away an Extensive 50 Cent Piece Collection
As a Preteen
to Buy a Pizza
When Her Family Was Out of Food and Food Stamps