Why do you judge how I use my food stamps? An open letter to “news” writers

Dear Judgmental “News Writer,”

Since I’m too sick to work, my financial situation isn’t so great. So I applied for SNAP, formerly called food stamps. A couple weeks ago I got the letter stating I’d received the benefit. I went to the grocery store and, lo and behold, food stamps covered everything I bought, just like they’re supposed to!

But apparently, this is evil and will destroy our society. Or at least, that’s what you seem to think.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what I could buy with food stamps. Toilet paper? Toothpaste? Vitamins? No, no, and no, as it turns out. The SNAP web site answered some of my questions, but not all of them. So I turned to Google and typed in a few search terms. What I found was horrifying.

10-29-2014 10-58-16 AM

This screenshot is from the first page of search results. The first few items were all government web sites. The last one here is a very useful post by a blogger. And the three in between from “news” sources? Oy! I clicked on “11 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Buy With Food Stamps” thinking, oh-so-foolishly, that I’d find some helpful tips. Instead, what I found was an insulting, arrogant, judgmental article about the horrible things people like me buy with food stamps. “5 Surprising Things You Can Buy With Food Stamps” was more of the same. So were several other articles I clicked on. Apparently, it’s everyone else’s business what I buy and what I eat.

I want to pause for a moment to note that “10 Things You Can’t Buy With Food Stamps” is wonderful. It points out that, yes, SNAP benefits are meant for food, but things like toilet paper and toothpaste are necessities that aren’t covered. Take a look when you’re done reading this.

Now, I know that people feel they have a right to say what “their” tax dollars are used for. But that’s not how society works. I don’t get to choose whether “my” tax dollars are used to pay for a war, local schools that I don’t use, or road maintenance that I don’t particularly care about (actually, I do care, but that’s another story.) The idea is that society supports society, and then everyone benefits. So yes, my tax dollars support local schools even though I don’t have children, and that’s ok because one day the children who are educated in those schools will be our police, scientists, doctors, and teachers. You see how that works? Again, we all support each other, and then everyone benefits.

Unless someone is on food stamps or getting social security or receiving some other “benefit,” at which point they’re demonized by society. By you.

Apparently writers like you feel justified in calling out someone who buys a bag of chips or a pastry with their food stamps. Oh the horror! They aren’t being healthy enough! And the “N” in SNAP stands for “Nutrition” so this can’t be allowed! You get that this is sarcasm, right?

So who defines what’s nutritious? Is that sugary cereal you feed your child nutritious? Do you know how much sugar is in a glass of milk? Is there too much salt in a frozen dinner? What about a freshly cooked rotisserie chicken? Oh wait, that chicken isn’t covered by food stamps. Ok, well what about that carton of ice cream you like to dig into after dinner on a hot summer night? Oh, it’s ok when you eat junk food because you pay for it with your hard-earned money, but I can’t eat it because I’m on food stamps? Really? What if you’re a government employee and my taxes pay your salary? Then do I get a say?

And again, who decides which foods are nutritious? Maybe you have hypertension and need to stay off salt, so a mildly salted food is bad for you. But I have hypotension and multiple doctors have told me to increase my salt intake, so for me those foods are better. Then again, sugar is a problem for me, so I need to avoid that, while a small amount of sugar might be ok for you. They say red wine has health benefits, but it’s not covered by food stamps. Maybe that should change. And dark chocolate is good for you so does that mean food stamps should cover chocolate bars? What about chocolate cake? Who draws that line? Should it be you, cocky “news writer”? A doctor? A medical board?

Or, I don’t know, maybe me, the person who is eating this food?

And by the way, what happens when, after years of gorging on unhealthy foods with your hard-earned money and righteous attitude, you get sick? Who will pay for your medical care? Who will support you if you can’t work? And how will you buy food if you can’t work? You better come up with a plan that doesn’t involve any government support or “benefits” because you’ve made it quite clear how you feel about those!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to have some homemade chicken with apricots, rice, and steamed green beans. Followed by a bag of Cheetos. Because I want them and it’s my choice, not yours.

10 Responses to Why do you judge how I use my food stamps? An open letter to “news” writers

  1. Kyra says:

    I agree with this so much!

    I get SNAP benefits too. Luckily I live in a very progressive area and haven’t gotten a lot of judgment, but there’s still some. My illness requires a very restrictive diet, and among those restricted foods are whole grain and fresh fruits and veggies–basically, anything high in fiber. I’m also usually too weak and fatigued to cook (I have literally collapsed in my kitchen on several occasions), so I basically live on food I can heat in the microwave. Most people would look at my shopping cart and judge it as unhealthy, but for me, the stereotypical healthy diet is unhealthy, potentially even life-threatening.

    There’s also the added complication of my diet being much more expensive than the average American diet. That means I run out of food stamp money every month. There’s no allowance made in dollars allocated for people who have to follow a special diet, even if it’s medically mandated.

    • chronicrants says:

      You make some good points, Kyra. I’m so tired of having to explain to people that even though broccoli might be healthy for *them* it will make me very sick. Why is this so hard to understand? Not all bodies process foods the same way! I’m glad to hear you have a diet that works for you. It sucks, though, that food stamps don’t cover the full costs.

  2. Great post, and I read the article (the good one) too.
    The demonization of the chronically ill must stop. Anyone can get sick. Most people will eventually. In the case of something like Lyme disease, anyone can be bitten by a tick, simply by walking across the lawn, gardening, etc. Ticks don’t discriminate. And Lyme changes you forever. Anyone can get an autoimmune disease too. Still, we are judged.
    People demonize me the minute I say I’m on disability. I’m beyond tired of it. Your point about people with no children having to pay for schools was excellent.

    • chronicrants says:

      Thanks Miss D! It’s true that anyone can get sick, but not everyone who is sick becomes disabled. That leads to people thinking that if 1 sick person isn’t disabled, then the same should be true for others. I’m trying to educate my small corner of the world about the reality, but it can be frustrating.

  3. Agreed! If I hear one more person say “the only disability is a bad attitude,” I will scream.

  4. It is VERY frustrating … some people are ill but can work, so people think eveyone should be abke to do that. Ugh.

  5. Julie Ryan says:

    I agree. I found it horrid that it seems like people on food stamps are expected to eat nothing but junk. Healthy foods? You can’t eat that! It’s too expensive. You should be living on nothing but rice & beans, or PB&J.

  6. Betty Brown says:

    I’ve actually learned to love the side glares I get when I’m buying “unapproved by Right Wingers” products. I’ve had jobs & put money into the system – but I often lose my jobs due to severe depression, adult adhd & anxiety disorder. This last job I lost, while waiting for unemployment payments to start, I received almost $200/month from SNAP. When my unemployment began I knew they’d lower my SNAP, but didn’t think it would be too much because unemployment is just a fraction of your salary. It was lowered to $16/month originally but went up to $29 last month. I was so offended by this piddly amount, I relish the 16th of the month. I walk down to the hoity-toity Whole Foods wannabee store near me & spend it all in 1 go – sometimes a pound of really good coffee, veggies for my guinea pigs, pound of jelly bellies; sometimes I buy high quality, pricey cheese & crackers; sometimes I buy a super expensive, good quality steak for my dog, John (I don’t eat meat) The sort of shoppers at that store – I’m guaranteed side-glares & I’ve started looking directly at those people. I’d love to let them know that instead of judging me or hating poor people, etc., they should feel god that their life has been entitled to the point where they’ve never needed financial help for basic necessities. And not being able to buy toilet paper, garbage bags, cleaning supplies, etc…3 yrs ago I lost a job & stupidly had stopped seeing my psychiatrist so I didn’t have proof it was medical condition & I didn’t get unemployment. I had zero income for 6 months. It was so awful & stressful & when I spent my last $1 on bus fare to the Welfare office, the thing that broke me & made me start sobbing was when I realized as single woman, no kids, I would get 0 cash assistance, even though I had 0 income. I couldn’t believe it. My sisters helped when they could, but they don’t live close to me. So, I did what I had to do & felt like a loser doing so, but I’d fill a back pack with tons of toilet paper at the library, filled a bag with paper towels at Krogers restroom, & from restaurant/coffee shop jobs knew most places keep extra garbage bags under current bag. I exhausted my unemployment benefits 3 weeks ago & hadn’t realized that the Republicans refused to vote for another extension of Federal benefits & now find myself back to square zero. People who’ve never had hard times don’t understand or empathize with how incredibly stressful it is to be close to losing all that’s left: my apartment, all while dealing with multiple health problems that make job searching almost impossible (then cell gets turned off & there’s really no way to find a job) And even though I called Welfare the day after I realized I couldn’t file for Federal extension benefits, the soonest my benefits will go back up is December, but it could be January. $29/month, no income, medical problems….if I didn’t have my dog, John, my guinea pigs & my freshwater shrimp to take care of, I’d lose it. Sorry, I didn’t mean for this to be this long & rambling – when I saw the title of your post, it brought out a rant in me (plus, I’m sooo liberal, I’m pretty much a socialist & can’t understand how this country lost it’s soul & thinks “handouts” of necessities: health care, food, shelter will “encourage the poor to be lazy” What happened to understanding we’re a society & need to help each other. To many Americans are ignorant of how horrible people’s lives were prior to “the New Deal” Is that what we want: homeless children (lone children, I know there are homeless kids w/families), child labor, poor houses, debtor’s prisons?) One last fun fact & I’ll end my rant: while politicians fought tooth & nail against The New Deal & the unemployment rate was about 60% (in Toledo it was 80%), people starved, people died of hypothermia, etc. And the only citizen to step up and open soup kitchens all over Chicago was Al Capone. And apparently he did it because he empathized with the poor & hungry & not for publicity. I fear that our country is heading backwards to those days.

    • chronicrants says:

      Betty, I’m sorry to hear that you’re having so many problems dealing with our lousy systems, not to mention, of course, your health. I’m glad you have such a great pet support network who can prop you up 🙂 I share your frustration with the attitudes we’re facing in this country.

      You said, “entitled to the point where they’ve never needed financial help for basic necessities” and then “What happened to understanding we’re a society & need to help each other.”

      I think what happened is that when someone has never needed this kind of help, and they’ve never seen anyone close to them need it, they assume that if they and their loved ones can survive without it, then everyone should be able to. And it’s that entitled attitude that we need to fight to correct, even though we should really be focusing our efforts on fighting to survive.

      My grandparents once told me about the New Deal and how people reacted to it. I wonder if I’ll see something like that in my lifetime. I sure hope so! And I hope it’s soon enough to help you, me, and everyone else reading this (and those who aren’t reading it, too.)

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