Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fast-Food Food Stamps.

I was harmlessly cruising my Facebook feed this morning when I saw this from a friend of mine.

Fast Food Chains Getting Into the Food Stamp Act

This has me fucking outraged. 

Some of you may know my story already. Shortly after I went back to work from maternity leave, I lost my job. Normally, this wouldn't have been much of an issue, but my husband had just left his job to stay home with the baby. We were suddenly jobless with a 3 month old baby to feed. 

Family and friends helped where they could, but it wasn't enough. I sucked up my pride and I got myself to the DHS office and applied for WIC and food stamps. I ground my teeth, I hated myself but I got what I needed to feed my family. I cried for days afterwards. I never wanted to be one of "those" people, but I had to do what I needed to do to keep us fed.

Even though I was chagrined at having to take "government" money for food, I decided that I was going to buy what was best for my family. I'd seen what others on the program bought at my local grocery store. I saw the baskets FULL of top ramen, fritos, soda and junk food snacks. This money wasn't mine to begin with, I saw no reason to abuse it. I decided I would learn how to cook. 

I was already an avid watcher of Food Network, but I started looking up the recipes, started writing them down and trying to make the things that previously we'd bought already made/cooked. It was a slow process and there were more than a few missteps, but I learned how to cook a full meal for my husband and myself. As my son learned to eat solid food, he ate less of the pre-made variety and more mashed up food that we were having for dinner. He learned to choose vegetables and fruit as snacks, and not crackers, cookies and chips. 

That was one of the beginnings of my healthier lifestyle. As I educated myself about food, ingredients and cooking, I learned about nutrition and healthy food vs pre-packaged food. I learned the fewer ingredients on a label meant it was better. My taste buds changed. My husband's predilection for sugary breakfasts went away. He'd declare desserts too sweet. (This from a chocoholic, no less!) I saw a difference in my energy level, in my husband's demeanor, and even in my child. I literally had my eyes opened to what food is supposed to be while I was on food stamps. Luckily, I found another job and proudly turned down the food stamps when it was time for renewal, but I didn't throw away all that knowledge. 

I've long been a supporter of food education. Far too many people don't understand how food, calories or even the basics of the food pyramid work. That was proved with NY's calorie labeling on menus. People don't know that 2,000 calories is plenty for people, or even how to add them up for the day. They see it as a cost benefit ratio. If I'm paying $7 for a meal, I want the most calories possible so I won't be hungry. This isn't education. It's information with no basis to the user. This article just proves there's not even an interest in food education. This is not how we should teach people to eat. This is NOT an alternative to preparing a meal. And frankly, this is not how the food assistance program should be used. 

Fast food is not real food. Fast food is mass produced and built to be cost efficient for the suppliers, not the customers. It's random fillers, chemicals, sodium and saturated fat. Most of you know that fast food isn't real nutrition. We buy it sparingly because of that. But what if you're not buying it? Now that's it's essentially become free, who's to say that it's not going to be the go-to for those on food stamps? How are we supposed to educate ourselves, and our children to a healthy lifestyle by telling them it's okay to use food stamps on Taco Bell or KFC? For a family of 3, you'd get about $400 a month to spend on food. How far do you think $400 of groceries would last against $400 of fast food? 

Sadly, the fast food option would win in a budget conscious household. Of course, it's cheaper to eat fast food than it is to eat healthy food. But it doesn't have to be done. Food education would last much longer than the wrappers of that fast food junk. Teaching people how to cook, how to feed themselves, how to have leftovers and how to stretch their dollar at the grocery store would serve the recipients of food stamps much more than a drive-thru. I had to teach myself these lessons, but I should not have had to. The government wants us to learn the food pyramid, wants us to buy certain foods (albeit mostly pushed by agriculture lobbyists) and wants us to keep farmer's costs down by buying their foods, but you're giving us a MUCH cheaper alternative by allowing fast food on food stamps. You can tell us it's for the ones not able to cook for themselves due to disability or age, but it's not. It's a way to cash in without having to do the leg work. It's a way to spend taxpayer dollars without having to put in the effort of education. 

Think about this, most people receiving food assistance are also receiving medical assistance through the government. What would something like fast-food food stamps cost us in the obesity epidemic? What would that do to our already struggling health care coffers?

What do you think, readers. Should people on food assistance be allowed to buy fast food with their benefits?


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