Stewardship of Life

SNAP to it Foodstamp Challenge–Day Three

Food Justice: Who Should Judge?

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.

Matthew 7:1-2 (NRSV)

Wouldn’t you know it? Three days in and already this “SNAP to it Challenge” is raising some controversial questions. A Compact compatriot posted a link, which led me to another link, which in turn led me to another link that raised the question of who should receive SNAP funds and what should they be able to buy with the simple swipe of an EBT card. The article in question and a follow-up piece dealt with “hipsters” on food stamps, or 20- and 30-something educated, artistic, hip folk who use their EBT card to purchase organic, fresh food from local markets and farmers’ co-ops, artisan bread bakers, and organic grocery stores.

The original article by Jennifer Bleyer (part of her ongoing series “Pinched” about life in the current recession) drew 473 comments, many of which were angry and disgusted responses that someone like the two subjects of the article would be allowed to dine on such regal fare at Uncle Sam’s expense. Shouldn’t they be eating 2/$1 boxes of mac and cheese and hotdogs? How about powdered milk and outlet store white bread? How dare they dine on fresh rabbit and buy the ingredients for a Thai curry with government aid?

Now, before anyone reading this feels the hair on the back of his or her neck stand up, blood pressure rising, and the strange urge to call your local Tea Party leadership, read the verses posted above. In fact, read Matthew 7:1-5 and then flip a few more pages to Matthew 26:6-13. Remember the woman with the costly ointment and how the disciples got their dander up over that one? Yes, I know, she was doing it for Jesus, but aren’t we supposed to see Jesus in the face of our neighbors—be they urban hipsters with master’s degrees or poster children from developing nations in the fund appeals that arrive at our door?

The point is this: we humans like to decide who gets what and what is appropriate for others to eat, spend, enjoy, and do. If you’re poor, you’re supposed to look poor, act poor, and be humble; at least somewhere in the back of most people’s brains is some sort of version on that theme. (If you are one of the rare exceptions to the rule, then God bless you; keep on thinking the way you do and making a difference in the world!) Here are a few questions for you to ponder:

  • Have you ever “cleaned out your larder” and given stuff to your local food pantry that you wouldn’t eat or that is past the expiration date?
  • Have you ever bought food to donate to a local hunger program and chosen generic or very cheap foods while selecting name brands for yourself?
  • Have you ever stood behind people in the grocery check line and judged them for what is being purchased with their EBT card?
  • Have you ever looked at someone on public assistance as being either lazy or “less than” or mumbled “get a job” under your breath?
  • Have you ever been down and out yourself and in need of a helping hand?

I can’t answer for you, but I can tell you that I could answer yes to more than one of these questions, and I’m not proud of that fact. For example, I once worked with a program that provided supplemental foods for people who for whatever reason couldn’t make their SNAP funds stretch through the entire month or who couldn’t/wouldn’t apply for assistance. One family routinely requested junk food like pizza rolls, pop, and cookies—things I rarely if ever bought for my own family because of health concerns. Was I wrong not to purchase what the family desired? Did I have a responsibility to help educate them about healthy choices and healthful eating? It’s a tough question. We all value freedom for ourselves and our own purchasing power, but when and how are we to extend those same privileges to other people? This family was dealing with a lot of issues ranging from mental health to racism to systemic poverty and then some. For me relationships are the key to understanding. It is very easy to judge someone you do not know; it is far more difficult to walk in someone else’s shoes with understanding and compassion.

All I want to leave you with today are a few things to think about. I hope that you’ll join the conversation and that we all will recognize the reality that hunger is a complex issue, one that we need to think about, talk about, and do something about.

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was wonderful! The girls enjoyed the bacon, eggs, and grits. I was right to buy the ketchup because my daughter’s friend did want some. She also requested cinnamon for her grits, which I did not have on hand. I have leftover bacon for sandwiches and grits for tomorrow’s breakfast. Since we basically had brunch, I had two heaping bowls of watermelon for a light lunch and will enjoy a big salad and my petite sirloins (great sale!) that have been marinating overnight in soy sauce, mustard, chili sauce, and other seasonings. No purchases made today.

Website of the Day

Today’s website recommendation is actually two companion articles posted on The first one is written by Jennifer Bleyer as part of her “Pinched” series. The second one is a response written by Gerry Mak, one of the two “hipsters” profiled in Bleyer’s article, after receiving many angry comments. I invite you to read both articles and submit your own thoughts.

Click here for “Hipsters on Food Stamps” by Jennifer Bleyer.

Click here for “A Hipster on Food Stamps Responds” by Gerry Mak.

2 Responses to 'SNAP to it Foodstamp Challenge–Day Three'

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  1. Linda P said,

    Excellent post! As a minister’s wife with an interest in the food baskets at Christmas, I was sorting things on a table in the church fellowship hall. I came across a can that was swollen, then another, then a rusty can. I was livid and hurled the cans about ten feet to the waste basket, exclaiming how disappointed I was that someone would think a poor person did not need safe food, that someone just cleaned the cupboard and only gave away food they would not consume.

    Church members became concerned because they had not seen me this “passionate” about anything else. Someone did drag the waste can closer, probably fearing I would hurt someone. Others came and helped sort food, looking for leaks and signs of old food.

    After the service that evening, the wealthiest, most sophisticated man in the church, a product of society people in that town came to me and apologized for the food, saying that his mother had sent that. He did not examine the food, just brought the bag. He did bring a really large bag of freshly purchased food.

    We never spoke of it again. No one in the church ever knew. But, subsequent food was always in tip top shape.

    When I took my children to the grocery store, I would tell them we needed food for food baskets. One had the bright idea to just buy cheap brands even though we never bought that brand. Or, to buy pork and beans instead of pineapple since the former was much cheaper.

    They learned not to discount the feelings and experiences of the poor. Their remarks reflected the fact that they absorbed my mini-lessons.

    I get food stamps now as a single, older woman. I must admit I do judge the carts of other food stamp users. But, buying popped popcorn instead of a bag of popcorn bothers me. Buying $6 worth of brownies bothers me when a $1 brownie mix would work. I am not even asking them to make brownies from scratch.

    Those were very good questions!

    • Thank you, Linda, for sharing your story and good thoughts. I think a lot of the problem boils down to education. A lot of folks don’t know how to cook from scratch and shop frugally any more. We are used to “convenience” foods and are paying the price with poor health.

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