So many Americans are disdainful of and resentful towards the “undeserving poor.” Now, Cadet Bone Spurs (h/t Senator Duckworth) has a new plan to give people on food stamps at least half of their monthly benefits in the form of a box of government-chosen staples.
In the proposed new budget, the food boxes are described as consisting of “shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables.” The boxes would not include fresh fruits or vegetables.
We don’t yet know how much of these foods would be sent, how they would reach migrant workers or homeless people, how much shipping these boxes would cost, how various dietary considerations of the recipients would be taken into account, or if the foods sent will perhaps have cooking instructions since people from various ethnic or regional backgrounds may not have the included foods in their regular cooking repertoire. We do know that standard cans of vegetables are loaded with salt and that cans of fruit are usually loaded with sugar.
I grew up in a poor household. We were exactly like the statistically average SNAP household – a white family with 2-3 children (3 in ours), headed by a hard-working single mother whose former husband refused to pay child support. We were only on what were then called food stamps one time, for about two months. Other than that, my mother always made do on her salary. I consider myself lucky that I never went hungry, unlike some people I’ve known. Those free-to-us school lunches were important to my survival and the rest of my diet was definitely poor people specialties like, oh, fried Spam with cheap, lifeless canned vegetables.
When I ate at my grandmother’s from time to time, the food was always better than it was at home. Well until I was in my mid-forties, I believed food at Grandma’s had been so much better solely because she was such a fabulous, traditional Creole cook – and she was. It’s only in the past two or three years however, with age fifty knocking firmly on my door in 2018, that I’ve come to realize that part of the reason everything was better at Grandma’s table was that she served fresh vegetables, vegetables we didn’t have at home. There was fresh broccoli in butter, corn on the cob with even more butter, loaded baked potatoes with you don’t wanna know how much butter, creamed cauliflower, and always, always meals started off with a lovely, uniquely sweet Creole tomato and greens salad, salad being something I never got anywhere else. In the mornings, she always had cantaloupe for me; for snacks, there were crisp apples and cold grapes and sometimes, bon Dieu, watermelon. Oh, and, in season, she had south Louisiana grown fresh peaches so juicy that the nectar raced to your elbow. When there were fresh peaches in the house, my grandmother was known to arise in the middle of the night to go taste the peaches that were calling to her even in her dreams. She passed in 2016 and even as I type this, I picture her personal heaven having lots of peach trees heavy with fat fruit.
So it was only through my grandparents that I ever had fresh fruits and vegetables; my mother couldn’t afford them. Mostly people on SNAP can’t afford them either, with benefits providing a mere $4.20 per day. Treats are rare, as this writer of a wonderful article called “Poor People Deserve to Taste Something Other Than Shame” illustrates as she recalls the unforgettable day her mother came home with a splurge called a Boston cream pie and the writer remembers no sweetness, only choking down anger and bitterness:
I didn’t understand that my mom already was ashamed and sorry. I didn’t know that she walked around ashamed and sorry every day. I didn’t see that she stood in food bank and church lines ashamed and sorry. I didn’t see that she went to holiday collection services ashamed and sorry. I didn’t see that she took us to our free dental appointments ashamed and sorry. I didn’t see that every time she passed over those food stamps to try to feed us she was ashamed and sorry. I didn’t realize that every message that had surrounded me and told me that we were poor because my mom was a bad mom who couldn’t take care of us had not only surrounded my mom, but had filled her lungs and rested in her heart. I understood only what the pundits had wanted me to see — that she was a poor woman who was squandering what she already didn’t deserve.
So we know poor people don’t often get treats and if they get fresh fruits or vegetables at all, that requires some financial juggling. I got to wondering what foods would be unavailable to the folks who might end up getting SNAP boxes if the budget proposed by Cadet Bone Spurs passes, things that just aren’t available in a can. Here’s a list I came up with:
- lettuce / greens / salads of any kind
- potatoes, baked
- fresh spinach, which is so much more appealing than canned
I’m picturing children, million and millions of precious children in the richest nation history has yet known, growing up never knowing the flavor explosion of a warm summer strawberry, the crispness of an apple, the soft sweetness of a ripe banana, the shy-of-broccoli yet slight nuttiness of cauliflower, the flavor rainbow of a salad. I know poor people, whether on or off SNAP, don’t get these foods often, but, as I said, right now they have the choice of doing some financial juggling to get them once in a blue moon. The SNAP boxes will take away choice. And when I think of these kids reaching their majority without having tasted strawberries or bananas, in a country so rich in foods domestic and imported from all the world, available without regard for the seasons, I want to cry.
If so, please contact your congresscritter.