Food Police

I work in hunger relief. Part of my job is stay up-to-date on hunger related issues, food news and public policy. I read this article last week and this one and this one too. Basically, I have a lot of feelings about recent food policy news. And after a 20 minute rant at Chef Boyfriend, who calmly reminded me that he’s not a politician and doesn’t care what people buy with SNAP benefits, I thought I’d work on processing my feelings by writing about them.

So let’s start with this Washington Post article. Basically, politicians in Missouri think all people on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) are eating like kings and should be eating more like the poor, third-class citizens they are (please tell me you understand the sarcasm here). Representative Rick Brattin, who seems like a real winner, has apparently seen poor people buying filet mignon and crabs legs with their SNAP benefits. He claims that by further restricting what people can buy with SNAP, Missouri will be returning the program to its roots – nutrition assistance. There’s some more baloney in this article, but that’s exactly what it is. Baloney. Gross, disappointing, and not good for you.

But if you want to buy actual baloney in the grocery store, I won’t stop you. Because it’s none of my business what you buy at the grocery store. And it’s none of Rick Brattin’s business what you buy at the grocery store. I don’t care if you’re as rich as Oprah or are on SNAP. It’s not my business. I don’t know you. I don’t know how hard you work. I don’t know your dietary needs. Maybe I do see you buying filet mignon with SNAP, but what I don’t see is how you ate ramen for 3 weeks so you could save to buy that filet mignon for your husband’s birthday. Maybe you’re buying crab legs or ice cream or Diet Coke.

But it’s more likely you’re buying oatmeal, peanut butter, bread, and bananas. In fact, at the 2014 Anti-Hunger Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., I heard a keynote speaker report the number one food item people buy with SNAP is bananas (I don’t have a citation for this, but if anyone is interested, I can look back through my conference materials and find out who exactly said this and what data they were using).

There have been other initiatives proposed to block people from buying pop or candy. And a part of me wants to understand the argument for these initiatives. People claim they care about the health of the poor. They look at the correlation between poverty and obesity and say, “Pepsi is to blame” and then they want to ban people from buying Pepsi with their SNAP. But it’s not about health. It’s not about concern. It’s about control. It’s about telling people how to live their lives. It’s about telling people how to be poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying obesity isn’t a problem in America. And I’m not saying sugary beverages aren’t a problem. They are. But just as I want to be allowed to buy whatever I feel like at the grocery story, so should that working mom of two who happens to be buying her groceries with SNAP benefits. If she wants to indulge in a Diet Coke after working all week, who am I to judge her?

So the next time you’re in the grocery store, keep your head down when you’re in the check out lane. It’s none of your business what the man in front of you is buying or the method of payment he is using.

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