My lunchtime routine is sitting in the break room at work and reading the local paper while I slowly eat my packed lunch. Let’s face it, I’m not in a hurry to get back to my desk and stare at a computer screen for another four hours. Yesterday, as I turned to the local section of the Wisconsin State Journal, I noticed an article stating that a Wisconsin State Representative wanted to ban the use of Food Stamps for foods that lack nutritional value. I am against this proposal for many reasons, some of which I have listed here:
1) I live in wonderful Madison, Wisconsin. My fine city continuously makes lists by various publications ranking it the most educated city in the nation, it is in the top ten for health care in the US, and is ranked as one of the best places to raise a family. Madison is a beautiful and progressive city (with the best farmers market in America, I might add) with a strong local food movement. I love living here and am very happy to call Madison home. Despite all these accolades (and more!), I drive through a huge food desert on my way home from work. Food deserts are defined as areas with little to no access to fresh and affordable foods necessary to maintain a healthy diet. Instead of access to fresh foods, the people who live in this area only have fast food and convenience stores from which to buy their groceries. Low income people who live in the Madison food desert need to ride busses for over an hour just to get to a market that sells fresh food. A bill like this would cause much harm to families (specifically children) who simply do not have access to the nutrition they need. If given choices, they would buy healthier options but instead of being able to choose between junk food and fresh food they can only choose between junk food and starving.
2) My small Wisconsin home town does not have a grocery store or any form of public transportation. The gas stations there take food stamps because low-income people in rural areas with no cars and no access to public transportation need to eat, too. Once again, the choice for the significant population of my home town that lives below the poverty line is either junk food or starving.
3) In the article linked above, State Representative Kaufert states that “It is taxpayer dollars and maybe we should have a say on how it is spent.” If politicians really cared about “tax payer dollars,” they would not support government corn and milk subsidies that lead to a food surplus and result in factories needing to make food-like products out of the junk (such as high fructose corn syrup and whey powder) that remains.
4) Food policing. Quit it. If poor people want to eat junk, let them. After all, rich people pay top dollar for junk food labelled as “low fat”. Do you know what is in all that “low fat” garbage and diet foods you pay more money for than their “full-fat” counterparts? High fructose corn syrup. The same stuff you don’t want poor people eating. These “diet” food items are just marketed differently.
5) Once upon a time, those who lived in poverty did not have access to any food. They became emaciated as a result. Now, inexpensive highly processed foods with no nutritional value are easily accessible and the only food option for many low-income people. The result? Those with no access to nutritious foods eat junk food and get fat. Being thin was once the (presumed) social indicator of poverty. In today’s society, being fat is greatly linked to poverty. In fact, BMI is consistently the highest among those in the lowest income groups and wages are inversely related to BMI. In other words, those with a low income are more likely to be obese and those who are obese are more likely to have a low income. Today’s low-income people not only have the social difficulties caused by poverty and race preventing them from overcoming their difficulties, they are now more than likely to face size discrimination as yet another barrier keeping them from gaining quality employment. Common themes in studies (such as this one from Yale) indicate:
- the probability of being called back for an interview decreases if the applicant is obese.
- hiring managers prefer thin candidates over their obese counterparts, even if they have equal qualifications
So, finding a job is harder if you’re fat and you’re obese because you’re poor and you’re poor because you’re obese. What’s a person to do?
I propose that instead of food-policing and dictating what people can eat, we should make affordable healthy foods available in communities that do not have easy access to such items. We should offer classes on the subject of proper nutrition to low-income individuals while simultaneously making it easier for them to access nutritious foods. Support grocery stores on wheels known as “food mobiles” that can travel to low-income neighborhoods. Support community gardening plots and offer people education about how to grow their own food. There is so much personal satisfaction to be gained from growing your own food. If you grow it, you’ll eat it!
More people in your life than you even realize (including myself) have used food assistance programs. Instead of judging, help your neighbors get rides to grocery stores with healthy foods. Help enact positive change instead of negative rhetoric, please. Help make my state a better place to live.