The “New Poor,” Food Stamps and How We Think

March 19th, 2010 § 3 comments § permalink

Hey Amber,

I stumbled across a few articles (thanks to friends) on the current use of “food stamps” (now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program debit cards). First, we have the article on hipsters using food stamps – 20- to 30- something college graduates using their cards at local farmers markets and organic stores. Next, we have a hipster defending his use of food stamps and arguing that those reacting negatively assume that all hipsters are white and wealthy (which of course is so layered). Finally, the NY Times reports on the increase of use and the decrease of stigma. This decrease in stigma seems to be by those who never dreamed that they’d use food stamps and find themselves needing to do so, despite “working hard.”

And girl, it is so deep.

I don’t even know where to begin. My mind exploded as I read. What did I think about all this? What did I think about the comments written, many of them angry accusations of wasting tax payers’ money (in the case of the hipsters)? And then there’s the stigma (is it really decreasing?)…deep…..

So I’m going to try to make my thoughts as coherent as possible.  Each of these points could be entire essays on their own, but I’ll try to be brief. I’ll try.

1. “And in cities that are magnets for 20- and 30-something creatives and young professionals, the kinds of food markets that specialize in delectables like artisanal bread, heirloom tomatoes and grass-fed beef have seen significant upticks in food stamp payments among their typical shoppers.” (

A question: does the use of food stamps for organic and local foods indicate that these “hipsters” are using government assistance in order to maintain a lifestyle? Many commenters seem to think so, and others argue that they can use the cards however they want to.  We’re actually given little information about them, in particular what kind of family support they have, but it does make me think about people’s expectations. We expect certain things from those who use government assistance.  Buy the cheapest rather than the best food.  If you’re poor, live like it. Please fit into our framework.

One commenter wrote, “Having just finished teaching underprivileged elementary kids the difference between “wants” and “needs”, I am now wondering if my lesson was administered to the wrong demographic.”  I wonder about this lesson – what are the implications of emphasizing the difference between wants and needs, and that some people can freely satisfy their wants while others would be ridiculed to do so?

Now, I understand that some of the reaction is towards hipster culture.  As once a camp counselor for many well-off kids, I always found it amusing when they pulled out their lunchboxes filled with organic foods. Or when asked what their favorite fruit was, they answered “kumquat” (to which I thought, what the hell is a kumquat?).  For many people, these foods are symbols of privilege. This takes me to my next thought….

2. What about access? I belong to an organization on the South Side of Chicago, SOUL, and we have recently been pushing the city to have city-run farmers markets accept LINK cards (food stamps). Why? Because it increases access to fresh fruits and vegetables and supports local farmers. The accessibility these hipsters have to farmers markets and stores like Whole Foods demonstrates the HUGE issue of food deserts. I think it’s telling (and good) that they are able to buy healthy foods, but equally important is the ease in going to places where healthy foods are offered. Where are these markets located? I have no idea where the closest Whole Foods is to me…somewhere far far away.

3. “Like many new beneficiaries here, Mr. Dawson argues that people often abuse the program and is quick to say he is different. (NY Times)

And the welfare image persists….”I’m not like those other people!” Well, neither are they. They aren’t like those images imprinted on your brain that tell you that you’re different. You work hard, but other people don’t, right? Wrong. And how do perceptions such as these demonstrate that the stigma is decreasing? Continue reading…

4. Having assumed that poor people clamored for aid, she was surprised to find that some needed convincing to apply.“I come here and I see people who are knowledgeable, normal, well-spoken, well-dressed,” she said. “These are people I could be having lunch with.”

That could describe Franny and Shawn Wardlow, whose house in nearby Oregonia conjures middle-American stability rather than the struggle to meet basic needs. Their three daughters have heads of neat blond hair, pink bedroom curtains and a turtle bought in better times on vacation in Daytona Beach, Fla. One wrote a fourth-grade story about her parents that concluded “They lived happily ever after.” (NY Times)

And here come the adorable blond children. Aren’t they cute? Look how the stigma is decreasing – white people use food stamps too (even though they always have). It seems that the stigma is still there for all the same people it was before – maybe just not for those who conjure up “middle-American stability.”  Problematic, anyone? 

Instead of decreasing the stigma – perpetuated by stereotypes of poor people of color in inner-cities and “white trash” – it’s suggesting that middle class families who find themselves in need of assistance are examples of the “deserving” poor.  In my opinion, this is the same stigma in new clothes.

Whew. Let me stop there and catch my breath. Like I said, it’s deep. And so much is going on in these articles. My thoughts are fallin all over themselves. What do you think?

To be Determined aka Gettin’ Grown

March 16th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


Do you remember being in elementary school? When whoever ran the fastest owned the playground at recess and if you had some Nesquik cocoa powder for your milk or a fruit roll-up in your lunch box, it was like gold when it came time to trade? Do you remember middle school? Science fairs, newly raging hormones, mean girls, and first crushes? I know you remember high school. Feeling too fly when you walked through the doors as a freshman wearing the outfit you had picked out two weeks prior to the first day of school; stressing out over college applications; feeling oh so accomplished when strutting across that stage, head held high and all smiles, ready to receive your diploma.

COLLEGE. “Race is a social construction (Wait…what?), ”; late nights that turned into early mornings that turned into late afternoons (and I still didn’t finish this paper? smdh); conversing, politicking, and cultivating an opinion on global issues and the state of our world; tasting real independence; building lasting friendships; and finally earning your first piece of property (to be paid off for the rest of your life).

Do you remember life after college…oh wait…TBD.

Yes. It is here that we reside, in the TBD – To be determined.

For so long I’ve been walking down a path, a road that was neatly paved by my parents’ expectations and eventually by what became my own ambitions. There were a few bumps…and hills…and sharp turns…maybe even a few potholes, but I was always able to find my way back and though I stumbled, I never stopped walking. In no way have I reached the end of this road, but it is no longer accompanied by the security of having a plan. Elementary School, Middle School, High School, College…and that was as far as I had gotten. Now what? I graduated college and was thrown into adulthood. I thought it was what I wanted (adulthood, that is) but now I’m not so sure. As I am faced with making decisions that will influence my ever-looming FUTURE, my once trusted and steady course had suddenly become overtaken by tall grass, weeds, and thorns, with a high chance of torrential rain and the occasional windstorm (dramatic much?). So, yes, I know what you mean. The future is certainly on my mind, especially as I stand at this crossroads in my life.

How do we seize the day, when our tomorrows are so uncertain and our futures are staring us in the face? How do we seize the day when we are not quite where we want to be financially, spiritually, or emotionally today?

In short, I just really don’t know. I am still trying to figure out this tricky situation called life. We are slowly, but steadily leaving the days of youth behind and in all twenty-two of my years on this earth, I feel like no one prepared me for growing up (or told me that it kind of sucks). But I am beginning to realize that maybe it isn’t something that someone can prepare you for because no one can predict the curve balls that life throws at you or the places that you’ll end up. Thinking about the future is not so bad. After all, it is just a reflection of the society that we live in—determination, motivation, drive, vision—all highly respected qualities that imply that you have the goods to make it in tomorrow’s world.

I do think, however, that when our paths that were at one point so secure become murky, it becomes extremely challenging to remember where we’ve come from, our wealth of experience, and the unpredictable places that life has, can, and will take us.

Perhaps seizing the day can mean making the most of our right now while steadily moving forward. Maybe we can live in the “here and now” while also keeping sight of the fact that life is not static—it is always moving, always changing, and really we are just attempting to keep up.

Oh life. It is all to be determined. We just have roll with the punches. In the meantime, maybe we can try to enjoy growing up and gettin’ grown.

Private Party (Part 2)

March 3rd, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink


You know what one of my biggest peeves is? Someone asks, “do you have a boyfriend?” and when I answer “no,” they ask, “why not?”

Why not? How am I supposed to answer that? It’s a dumb question, because either it’s asking, “what’s wrong with you?” or “why haven’t you just picked a man, any man?”  (It could be asking instead, “do you have a girlfriend,” but I’m of the opinion that no one asking me why I don’t have a boyfriend has that in mind.) To the first, it’s telling me that it must be my “fault” that I’m single. And to the second, it’s telling me that being single should never be an option. Being single isn’t a choice, it’s a dire situation.

(The last time someone asked me this, I answered “I don’t need a man,” which never sounds very good. Sigh.)

I stand firm that sometimes being single is the best choice, and certainly is when faced with “settling.”  Because you’re absolutely right; we too often try to find our value in someone else, and so never actually know our worth.

Which got me thinking in all kinds of directions. I feel like I’m constantly talking to people about relationships – who’s in one, who’s not, why, who might be soon?  The future is on everybody’s mind. And it’s not just the future of relationships, it’s the future of so many things. If we don’t have a job (ahem), we wonder when we will. If we do, we wonder when we’ll be able to find a better job. If we’re in grad school, we wonder what will happen next. Where will we live? What will we do? Who will we do it with?

It’s all just one big blob. Which makes me ask the question: Is it possible to only live in the here and now? Carpe diem, and all that crap. People are always saying, live in the moment! But I’m wondering is that really possible? Or is it merely wisdom that no one can use until they’re 40?

I don’t think I can go through the day without wondering what may happen next week or next month. How do I “celebrate the woman I’ve become” when I feel that there’s so much more to come? And just as “looking for love” is code for someone to fill the void, we can fill our void with the search for success, status or that future in the clouds. If just that one thing would change – that job, or that person, or that big break – life (and me) would be perfect.

I feel you on the need to learn who we are and how to love ourselves, but sometimes all those other things just crowd in and I want it all fixed. The relationship, the job, the life.

How do I seize the damn day?

(I feel like I just turned this into a therapy session and I’m on the couch. My bad.)

Where am I?

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