Food (Stamps) For Thought
It probably comes as no surprise to many, but living the #writerslife of a #travelingpoet isn't always easy. Sometimes, it involves living in confined spaces, getting a job for little money or doing a work exchange type deal. In the midst of all that, it also means coming up with creative ways to acquire and make food. With the exception of a few monks who claim to eat sunlight, I’m pretty sure just about everyone else can agree that food is an essential part of being alive. Like music or art, food is a universal language.
Recently I’ve noticed how I’ve actually started appreciating food more. Believe it or not, I used to just eat because I felt it was something I had to do. I didn’t think about it. Maybe some of that appreciation has stemmed from the fact that I’ve been fortunate to work on some farms and gardens, getting to see the whole process of food from seed to table. Maybe some of it is because in my experimentation with different meditations, I took a week to try mindful eating. Now I’m much more mindful of how I eat and also with whom I share my meals. I think about that a lot now.
So, with food on the brain, I wanted to share what I think is perhaps the major reason for my newfound appreciation for eating food and sharing meals with others. It can be traced back to a specific period in my life where I wasn’t sure when my next meal was going to come about.
It was actually not too long ago, when I was traveling with the goddess and we ended up landing in New Mexico for a spell, specifically working at a work exchange hostel that turned out to be a bit more intense than anticipated, yet also filled with many lessons.
This time was no exception.
The goddess and I aren’t exactly what you’d consider the planning type. Despite, or perhaps even in spite of our sometimes flighty artistic tendencies, until this point in our lives we somehow seemed to manage on the road, especially in the food department. You see, if there’s one thing the goddess and I enjoy more than creating and sharing our art with others; it is our fondness for a good f’n meal. Cooking meals for each other is incredibly intimate. I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say making meals for each other is a major part of how we share our love.
Yet, during this period in time, we were living in a hostel with many other traveling gypsy bohemian types. Like any good travelers, we knew we needed to adapt, understanding that at this place we couldn’t just make food for each other. But, on top of that, we were running out of flow, so we also needed to find creative ways to even enjoy food in the first place. After a few dumpster dives with one of our friends from the hostel (and the subsequent locks that began appearing on dumpsters around town), it felt like we needed to find a slightly more practical way to snag some food. Fortunately, a few of our fellow travelers had a suggestion; food stamps.
In case anyone is unaware, food stamps is mostly just colloquial nomenclature for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP (EBT purchases). But for the purposes of this story, it will simply be referred to as food stamps.
Now, despite the friendly suggestions by our newfound gypsy friends to get on food stamps, the two of us were hesitant and rebuffed said suggestions. I can’t speak for the goddess, but I can shine a light on my uncertainty around the issue. It had nothing to do with being perceived as poor, but it did have something to do with the fact that my parents had a tendency to fall in line with certain conservative talking points about people on food stamps being lazy and looking for handouts. They watch a lot of Fox News. Granted, my father also watches CNN in attempts to be “balanced,” but I’ve spent enough trips in his truck going from one landscaping job to another as Rush Limbaugh played on the radio to understand he leans conservative / libertarian.
Even though I don’t adhere to those principles, I couldn’t help but notice that part of me felt ashamed. That same part of me felt like I would be judged for even considering food stamps as an option. This is also one of the main reasons why, after I was let go from my advertising job back in 2013, I didn’t even attempt to get on unemployment. Instead I hopped a ticket to Egypt, but that’s another story of learning. Granted, I found it funny when, after I left for Egypt, my parents lamented the fact that no effort was made on my part trying to get unemployment, but I digress.
I didn’t get unemployment then and was hesitant applying for Food Stamps because it felt like there was a lot of stigma surrounding government programs due to the political beliefs of my parents. I didn’t want them to see me as “just another millennial looking for a handout” or whatever bullshit they would listen to on Fox News or wherever. I know I’m not alone in this. The other day I overheard someone on their phone talking about how they too felt ashamed to be on food stamps, so much so that apparently they don’t even shop in their town/neighborhood to buy stuff at food banks or with their food stamps! This person I overheard was so mortified that, as someone who supports Trump, they would be seen by people they know using food stamps. How messed up is that!?
But again, I digress.
At some point, we eventually relented and did in fact get on food stamps, which, combined with the others already on food stamps, allowed everyone staying and/or living at the hostel to enjoy and make some awesome home cooked meals.
Not only were we able to cook meals for each other and occasionally a few hungry guests, impromptu cooking and recipe classes seemed to pop up for many of us staying there. It was pretty amazing to see people from a variety of backgrounds come together to share meals, recipes, and to a certain extent; community.
Unfortunately, as I’ve mentioned before, the goddess and I realized we had to leave this hostel for a variety of reasons, some of which we don’t feel comfortable sharing for the time being. We knew that we wouldn’t be able to rely on the community kitchen forever. The goddess and I were lucky enough to get a job in a ski valley, and with that money, we were able to find temporary, alternative lodging at a motel, paying for a room on a monthly basis. However, there was still a situation with the food. That’s when we realized we pretty much had to get food stamps or potentially starve. Fun times.
If it weren’t for food stamps, I don’t really know what the goddess and I would have done for food. Because of that, we are and will forever be grateful that the EBT / SNAP Food stamps program exists. We have seen first hand how it can literally be the difference between some barely making it by and how it helps users lift themselves up. Sure, the food we could afford wasn’t always of the highest quality that we often try to enjoy nowadays, but at least it was something! It was food to help us move through those trying times so we could continue with our seasonal job. At least we had a choice as to what we could buy. Hell, the food stamps even allowed us to save enough money so that we could move out of The Land of Enchantment and into a Lone Star.
So after hearing stories and reading articles about the Trump Administration seeking to make drastic cuts to food stamps, I wanted to share our story. But the challenge, as is often the case with the Trump Administration, is that it’s not just about cutting food stamps. At one point the Trump Administration considered an idea where some food stamp recipients receive boxes of low quality food instead of allowing them to go out and buy their own food.
Thankfully that hasn’t happened, for now. Unfortunately, the food stamp changes are still happening, supposedly in April 2020. And while I understand the premise of The Trump Administration’s idea that these cuts to food stamps are supposed to “help/encourage” people on food stamps to get working, as mentioned before, it’s not so simple. According to an article on Fox Business about the Trump Administration’s Food Stamp changes,
“Experts say work opportunities are limited. More than half of SNAP recipients have a high school diploma, but about one-quarter have less, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Available jobs are more likely to have low pay, shifting schedules that might not offer enough qualifying hours and few benefits like paid sick leave.
“Work requirements really don’t really do much to affect the rate at which people are working," said Elaine Waxman at the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization. "If people can work and consistently, they pretty much are."”
Essentially, the new changes to the food stamp program are actually going to hurt working families the most.
While these modifications to the food stamps program and who can obtain them are part of an effort to allegedly “wean” people off government handouts, in reality, there’s a good chance these changes will hurt those on food stamps more than help. According to the president and founder of The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Robert Greenstein, as quoted in a Mother Jones article by Nathalie Baptiste, these rule changes will “… cut off basic food assistance for nearly 700,000 of the nation’s poorest and most destitute people.”
But it’s not even just about “weaning people off” food stamps. The Trump Administration, thanks to the Supreme Court, has also been able to successfully create some ridiculous requirements for immigrants seeking to enter this country. According to a CNBC article by Tucker Higgans, the Trump Administration’s "Public Charge" rule, which took effect on February 24, 2020 "[...makes] it more difficult for immigrants to obtain permanent residency, or green cards, if they have used or are likely to use public benefits like food stamps and Medicaid."
Here’s the sad truth to all this. Many people could potentially find themselves on food stamps at any moment, thanks in part to our supposedly robust economy. You see, despite certain politicians and those who support them talking up the economy as “robust,” look a little below the surface of the numbers reveals something of a glass house of cards. Diving deeper into the numbers, it’s easy to discover how one study concluded that millions of Americans are only $400 away from financial hardship, or one might discover how a single medical bill can wipe out savings (even for people with insurance). Even though some claim the economy is doing well, I feel like the 32% of workers run out of money before payday would disagree. My point being that there are people who are barely making it by, and all it would take for them is one major unexpected expense like vehicle repair, a medical procedure or even let’s say a death in the family to set them back and potentially put them on a path of temporary assistance in the form of food stamps.
Hell, as the Coronavirus pandemic continues moving acorss the US, these scenario’s are no longer just passing thoughts or optimistic ignorance, but are becoming a reality for many.
Coronavirus could leave 30% of US workers jobless, Fed official says
James Bullard, president of the St. Louis branch of the US Federal Reserve Bank, has a bleak assessment of how…
As the Trump Administration seeks to drastically change to the food stamps program, people that are barely making it by (and even those who need(ed) a little help) may find themselves living an even more anxious life. These people could potentially be in an unenviable position in having to choose between making payments on medicine, vehicles, other expenses or food, which is pretty fucked up.
To be clear, I’m not typing these words to sound alarmist about the future of folks in these potential situations. I’m also not writing these words as a means to have a pity party for myself and those who currently have or had food stamps. I’m writing these words because I was one of the people using food stamps. I’m sharing these words because those who (often but not always) lean conservative have, in some cases, created a stigma surrounding those who use food stamps, even though some people who use them also lean toward conservative political philosophies. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind, but rather, at the very least, remind people to have empathy and remind people that shit can change at a moment’s notice. Again, that’s not meant to sound ominous, just realistic. And it sucks when we have leaders who don’t understand how important programs like food stamps are for some people, as it can in some cases be the difference between food and no food.
I’m also in no way advocating that everyone should be on food stamps / SNAP benefits, but again when these benefits are someone’s lifeline to a better life, as they were for the goddess and I, why should they be punished with unkind words by talking heads or kicked off the Food Stamps program? Why does it matter where the person is from or how many hours they’re working? They’re trying to fucking live their life as best they can under the glut of chaos that is our world. They’re fucking trying. I was fucking trying.
And the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter how long I was using the food stamps or even if I used them in an appropriate fashion or not. At one point, I had no other choice but to use food stamps, and they allowed me to pull myself up by my bootstraps or whatever many conservative leaning people say. They are some people’s lifeline to living a life of modest normalcy. I empathize with the people using food stamps and recognize that, had my life been slightly different, I could have been one of the people affected by this rule change.
But what infuriates me the most about all this, why I’d even write a story on Medium about food stamps in the first place is due to the extreme lack of empathy that some (mostly conservative leaning politicians) display when talking or thinking about those on food stamps. This disheartening lack of empathy was on full display in the last few days even amidst the continued evolution of news and information about the now declared coronavirus pandemic. In case you hadn’t heard, the Trump Administration was STILL planning to move forward with their cut to food stamps despite the coronavirus pandemic reaching the United States. Let me repeat that in case it wasn’t clear, the Trump Administration was still planning on cutting food stamps even though the United States is now in the midst of a global pandemic. Like, how fucking heartless does one have to be? Luckily, on the night of Friday 13 2020, a federal judge blocked the new food stamp rule, at least for now, specifically citing the coronavirus outbreak. This doesn’t give me hope that it won’t be reinstated in the future, but at least those on food stamps don’t have to worry about not being able to get food during a pandemic.
My point is that it’s easy (apparently second nature to some in conservative circles) to look at certain people as merely numbers in attempts to justify budgets or even their own lack of empathy. But for a time, I was one of those numbers. I still know people who are part of those numbers. I, nor they are lazy freeloaders just looking for a handout, or whatever certain people in mostly conservative circles say. We breathe the same air, feel the same joys and frustrations as everyone else on this planet. Sometimes, we just need(ed) a little help to get by.
Brycical is by no means a journalist or an economist. But like many people, Brycical isn’t immune to noticing certain patterns about how the world apparently “works” for some. So Brycical writes about it, hoping more will notice these patterns, get inspired and perhaps be inclined to speak up as well. Feel free to read more of the patterns Brycical notices on here or check out his website to learn more about him.