Category Archives: Poverty

Food Stamps and Ableism

I live in Maine.

Recently, our state has gotten more nationwide attention because our Governor has made statements and policy changes about the use of Food Stamps. In the past year, our state has required photo identifications on EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards to reduce fraud. Maine has also implemented a policy requiring “able-bodied adults without dependents” to work, volunteer, or be part of a vocational training program for at least 20 hours per week in order to continue receiving food stamps. In a state with marijuana legalized for medicinal purposes, he also is trying to push for universal drug testing.  Even Fox News has described our Governor’s plan as one of the “boldest welfare reforms”. Governor Paul LePage has also recently issued statements about wanting to prevent EBT users from purchasing items like soda or chips.

If you have never gone through the process of applying for food stamps, I’m not sure you understand what it is like. It’s not as if you walk into a building and they hand you a preloaded card with thousands of dollars and tell you to run wild. It’s a process taking a minimum of months if all the bureaucratic wheels are running smoothly. You need to demonstrate your continued need for assistance by paystubs, bills, leases, ect. Even then, you may be lucky to get 17 dollars a month for a  household.

Recently, there has been a surge of “outrage” by fellow nosy shoppers who are judging what EBT users are purchasing. I have a few HUGE issues with this.

1. Why do you care what other people purchase?! (I literally NEVER notice what other people are buying in line because I always have a momentary panic thinking I forgot my wallet once I’ve arrived at the register.)

2. How does what anyone else chooses to put into their body affect you or your life?

3. What makes you think you know what someone’s life is like based on the few moments of their life you observe reflected in the items on a conveyer belt?

Invisible disabilities exist all around us including those affecting us mentally and/or physically. I’ve been told I don’t “look” disabled, however those wonderful employees who work at the grocery store near me may have a different opinion. Sometimes there is not the energy to cook a meal from scratch. Other times we need to get nutrients ASAP or else something not good may happen to us. Other times my sensory system will prevent me from eating anything other than a restricted number of foods.

Don’t judge what people buy.
Earlier this year I was very sick. I lost 9 pounds in just 5 days because I could not eat anything and my survival was solely based on 100% fruit juice popsicles. When I could finally stomach food, my body was craving red meat. This is a family trait and one we identify as “turning the corner” to recovery. I used my debit card for my purchase and I’m not sure if anyone noticed my payment method.

Did they see the graduate student who presents internationally on Autism and part of an award winning performance troupe?
Did they only saw the girl with the messy hair in sweatpants buying a steak and make the assumption she was a “welfare queen”?

I know they didn’t see the face I made while eating my first meal in almost a week or my face as I fell asleep with a nutritious meal in my stomach, instead of with the hunger pains I know all too well.

Why I don’t want to see your lunch.

There is something I’ve noticed on the internet and based on comics like The Oatmeal, this is not only on my facebook page. It would be hysterical to imagine history teachers in the future making their students research the origins of this sensation the same way we currently ask students to research what events led up to the Civil War in the United States. “Please write a 2-4 page paper on the origins of people taking pictures of their daily meals and posting these pictures to social media websites. Please note: pictures of food for religious or celebratory purposes are not to be included. “

I have two very big issues with this whole posting food pictures trend. The first issue has to deal with the eating and diet culture we have. The outdated and unhealthy model of “Skinny is Beautiful” oversimplifies health and nutrition. We have a problem in our country with eating disorders and disorder eating. In fact, if you look at your friends on Facebook you make know some of these people. However, odds are you don’t know everyone who struggles with an eating disorder or who is working to be healthier and recover from their eating disorder.

“Up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder (anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder) in the U.S.”- The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, “Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources,” 2003

As someone who tries to be an advocate for many people and a supportive person, the last thing I want to do is post something out there which could cause someone a problem. There are pictures of food I’ve posted, but those come from travel adventures and most are not terribly appetizing to look at. I sometimes chronical exotic foods not for the sake of others, but for my own memories. My long term memories sometimes get jumbled and there are some fun things I wish to remember in years to come.

The second reason I have issues with posting food has to do with a basic life function: hunger. Just like you may not know how many people on your social media page have eating disorders, you may not know how many people on your page go hungry. Although it should not be, food is not always plentiful for everyone. Let’s not even get into the conversation about healthy food being affordable in places referred to as “food deserts”.

“In 2012, 49.0 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33.1 million adults and 15.9 million children. ”-

I was one of those people who lived in a house where there truly was nothing to eat some days. This was also while I worked 40+ hour weeks, lest some of you think I was a slacker. (If you have ever thought I was a slacker, you are obviously not paying attention.) Having money to provide nutritious meals sometimes does not happen. I know I’ve had to make the choice to either pay for medication or food. I choose to get the medication I needed in order to keep my quality of life up enough to go to work so maybe next week there would be money for food.

Hunger is a real issue for many in our community. The point I’m trying to make is to encourage people to be more mindful of what they put out in cyberspace. Posting about your decadent lunch won’t cause the world to end, but donating some canned goods to a local food pantry if you can afford it may help change the world a little. It’s not just Thanksgiving or other major celebrations we should be thankful for what we have. If you can go to bed with a full stomach, or at least don’t have hunger pains keeping you up at night, consider yourself blessed.