Last I checked, Steak IS food

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I was on facebook the other day, and I saw something that really bothered me. A friend of mine posted a photo of a grocery receipt, along with a disapproving comment. The receipt included a list of “luxury foods,” such as lobster and steak. And it was paid for by food stamps.

Go ahead – get it out of your system. I understand. I mean, I am guilty. I am guilty of – many years ago – thinking not-so-nice thoughts about the two women in front of me with at the checkout line, wearing nice clothes and buying high-end groceries with food stamps.

It’s easy to immediately think, “Why do they get to eat that stuff and I don’t? I work for my money!” And that’s pretty much what I did. I judged their jewelry, their manicures, and the contents of their grocery cart. And I’m ashamed to admit that it took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.

The sad thing about this attitude it that it’s just so easy to have it. We’re all struggling. We all have problems. And when we have problems, sometimes it just feels good to have someone to blame – to take our frustrations out on. And often times, it’s easier to blame people who seemingly have what we do not than to blame the true cause. Because the true cause is often the hand that feeds us – the people who make our laws, the people who hold our money, the people who sign our paycheck, the people who make the products we need (or think we need) to survive. We’re a country of the rich and powerful holding the poor and meek hostage. And we hostages are all in the throes of Stockholm Syndrome.

But once I opened my eyes, I realized how wrong I was to judge those women, just as my friend was wrong to judge. The feelings that drove me to feel the way I did were based on envy, on frustration, on misinformation.  The people truly responsible count on these feelings to keep us believing in the myth of the “Welfare Queen.”

But you know what? Regardless of whether they are paying with a credit card, or their paycheck from Kmart, or their trust fund, it simply is no one else’s business what they spend it on. Is it a wise decision to spend a good portion of their assistance on a small number of luxury items? Perhaps not. But I am pretty sure that every single one of us has splurged on something when we couldn‘t really afford to: A dinner out when we have just had an exhausting day and can’t muster the energy to cook dinner for our family. A book or movie when we just needed to escape from our hectic lives for a little while. A new purse or shoes when we just needed a pick-me-up. A little surprise for the kids, when we’re feeling guilty about how our busy lives keep us from doing everything we want with them. We have all done it. If you truly haven’t – good for you. You should teach a class or something. but the rest of us aren’t immune. Who knows why the person that receipt belonged to was buying fancy food. Maybe someone in the family just got a clean bill or health from their oncologist. Maybe a son or daughter is coming home on leave from the military. Maybe they just want to – for one damned night – to feel like they aren’t living in a bottomless pit of debt and despair.

Maybe it’s not a wise decision. Maybe they’ll find themselves struggling at the end of the month to make ends meet. That’s a problem, but it’s their problem – their choice to make. They will suffered the consequences with our without our disapproving looks.

Why do we – as a society – feel that we should be able to tell them what they can buy?  Oh, you’re poor, so you’re only allowed to eat pork & beans or ramen noodles. And these people can’t win. If they eat crap, we bitch that they aren’t healthy. If they eat well, we bitch that they aren’t responsible with their money.

So before we jump all over them for being “welfare queens,” for eating better food, wearing better clothes, having a better phones, let’s remember that each of their spending decisions have consequences. Consequences that they have to live with – not us.

We can’t claim that they choose that life, when often, the other “choices” are not choices at all. “Get a job” is a favorite war cry of the political right-leaning. But if the only option of a job is one that can’t possibly provide for a family, then it’s not a viable – or even reasonable – choice.

I know people who will criticize me for being a working mom & spending so much time away from my children. But if I were to quit my job, giving up my salary and benefits, my other choice might have to be public assistance. And then I’d be criticized for mooching off the government, even thought I was home “raising” my kids. We/They just can’t win.

How about instead of attacking the people in the system, we start looking with a critical eye at the system itself. Give people a better than choice than rock vs. hard place. Give people a chance to earn enough that they don’t need the system anymore, by raising minimum wage to something that isn’t shockingly below the poverty line.

And in the meantime, while we’re waiting for the changes to happen, let’s give people the benefit of the doubt, rather than the harsh judgment. Let’s embrace kindness rather than judgment, acceptance rather than divisiveness. Nothing will change until we do. Poverty spreads like a wildfire – quickly and without warning. Few of us in the middle and lower class are safe. Many of us are only a paycheck or two away from public assistance or even homelessness. None of us would enjoy being judged the way we are judging others.

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About sugarmag

Forty-sdjhfkjsdhfkjsdh year old mom of 2 - a 18 year old boy and a 11 year old girl. I love them very much, but they drive me crazy. I'm married and work full-time. I'm not sure which of these is the most exhausting, but probably the husband. I'm opinionated. I'm outspoken. I'm loud. I'm an over-sharer. I think Tom Cruise is a jackass. I like to say jackass. I like to swear, period. Fuckers. I love to read. I struggle with my weight. I love my job. I dress my pets up and ridicule them regularly. I am not afraid to cut my hair and I don't understand people who are. I hate getting old. I love to laugh. Make me laugh, OK?

4 responses »

  1. An acquaintance is on food stamps, and at least in our state they’re rigorously defined using slips of paper (like coupons) that can be exchanged for very specific items: like, “One (1) pound cheese, least expensive brand, cheddar or American” or “Two (2) gallons milk, least expensive brand,” etc. So at least in our state, it wouldn’t be possible to buy lobster or steak or anything luxurious. But I suppose such policies/systems vary hugely from state to state.

    A former co-worker was also on food stamps, and said she used to feel weird about buying, say, ice cream, if she was paying for most of her grocery pile with food stamps. She felt like everyone would think she was buying the ice cream with food stamps (she couldn’t; it was with her own money), or would think that if she needed food stamps, she shouldn’t be using her own money for ice cream. But…she had a 4-year-old boy, and she wanted him to sometimes have ice cream. So she’d go through the line separately with the ice cream, to avoid people thinking that children on food stamps shouldn’t have ice cream.

    • We have a program like that too, but it’s separate from food stamps. I have had friends who have needed both and I always thought it was a shame that they were made to feel like they were lesser beings, simply for the crime of accepting a helping hand. When I see a person using food stamps, I think how glad I am that we have such programs. I don’t understand anyone who can look at poverty of any form, brought on by anything, happening to anyone and see it as anything other than a heartbreaking tragedy that MUST be helped.

  2. One thing to note: That facebook photo has been floating around via email for ages. I saw it many years ago. But that’s the idea… send the same shot around enough times and everyone thinks the problem is rampant.

    Nothing makes Americans madder than seeing someone else receive something that they didn’t get, themselves.

  3. Pingback: Who is REALLY getting a free ride? Hint: It’s not who they’re telling you it is. | My Very Last Nerve

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