Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

The “Hipsters on Food Stamps” Phenomenon

with 8 comments

The way the reporter (Jennifer Bleyer) wrote this article itself was like she was just begging people to mock her subjects:

Savory aromas wafted through the kitchen as a table was set with a heaping plate of Thai yellow curry with coconut milk and lemongrass, Chinese gourd sautéed in hot chile sauce and sweet clementine juice, all of it courtesy of government assistance.

Every descriptive word Bleyer uses is designed to imply maximum offensiveness, or to make very normal things—like vegetables, for goddsakes— seem exotic and luxurious.

So what if some people on food stamps buy more healthy/weird/international cuisine than do others? It’s not like they’re getting extra money to buy this food; they’re getting the same amount as the guy who’s buying fucking Wonderbread and store-brand Kraft singles. And yet …

Magida, a 30-year-old art school graduate, had been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession caused arts funding — and her usual gigs — to dry up. She applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.

People are always railing, of course, about how people on food stamps don’t buy enough healthy food. But heaven forbid the food they buy is too healthy, or healthy and also outside the mainstream. It’s absurd. Fresh produce is a luxury? Soy protein (which costs about the same as meat) the height of libertine-ism? Not to mention that things such as Chinese gourd and coconut milk are the very kind of corner-store staples in ethnic neighborhoods that often sell these sorts of foods cheaper than mainstream varieties (at the Asian-run market in my neighborhood, I can get three large hunks of fresh, homemade tofu for $1, compared to $2.50 or $3 for the packaged stuff; the Polish corner store sells an abundance of large, quite good Polish beers for cheaper than domestic varieties).

Now you can argue with whether food stamps should exist in the first place, or at what level, or in what way, and that’s something different entirely. But the folks in this article had to have been at some certain pre-determined level we’d set as the threshold for food stamp eligibility, you know? And as long as we’ve already set that threshold, whatever sustenance one buys with those stamps (and in spite of whatever hobbies/passions/desired-careers they may have) is really nobody’s business.

Says Jessica Grose on XX factor:

I’m not sure that “hipster” food stamp recipients are anything but a fake trend, but it does appear that no article about food purchasing or ingesting can be written without irate and judgemental comments. The twenty- and thirtysomethings in the article are predictably called lazy and overly indulged, for example: “Of course people are going to be pissed that they’re busting their asses every day in real jobs so that some douchebag can satisfy his ‘flexitarian’ gourmet diet.” But even if these hipsters were using their own money to buy their organic food they’d be slammed. Or if they were buying the stereotypical foods purchased with food stamps—which is to say, heavily processed—they’d be criticized for contributing to the so-called “obesity crisis.” Eating is now a major moral issue in America, and whatever choice you make is wrong.

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Written by Elizabeth

March 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm

8 Responses

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  1. Thank you. When I took in my nieces as foster children while in graduate school, my family qualified for food stamps. This was some time ago, and was no “Whole Foods” store near by, but I was very aware that when I paid for about 1 week of groceries with the food stamp card, I knew that my cart was subject to scrutiny from anyone who noticed my mode of payment. I wanted my children to have healthy food, so you’re right: I often bought “expensive” organic vegetables, cheeses, and meats on my food stamps. And it was the right thing to do.

    LA

    March 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm

  2. Sorry but when you use food stamps you ARE a burden on those who work and PAY for you, so they have ALL THE RIGHT to judge your choices. They expect you to get STAPLES, the food that LASTS not some fancy food. It’s an insult when a working person is thinking how to stretch their ERNED WELL DESERVED dollar and someone on welfare is buying expensive cheeses. It indicates that they are not planning to get off the system anytime soon, why if someone else is paying for it..? No one is saying for people on welfare to buy junk food but ice-cream from Whole foods, $6 a carton! Yes, I’ll be giving them dirty despising looks!

    Tina

    March 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

  3. Years ago, Dear Abby ran a letter from a woman who was OUTRAGED! to see a woman buying fresh strawberries with food stamps. The woman said she herself could not afford such a luxury, so what was this other woman doing?

    Dear Abby let her have it. It was nice.

    rebecca

    March 28, 2010 at 4:54 pm

  4. I wish people would get it through their heads that Food Stamps or SNAP are not charity for the poor, but agricultural subsidies that just happen to benefit poor people.

    SNAP is under the Department of Agriculture, not HHS. The old paper food stamps even had “U.S. Department of Agriculture” printed on them.

    Jelperman

    March 29, 2010 at 6:02 am

  5. If you are using tax payer dollars to buy your food, then yes we the taxpayers do have a right to know if you are spending it wisely or not. If on foodstamps you can buy more exensive food products than I can afford to buy on a two income household budget then you are obviously getting more foodstamps than you should be getting. Welfare should not be a confortable way of life, it should provide just enough assistance for the recipients to get by until they can get on their feet and be productive members of society.

    Joe

    March 29, 2010 at 2:04 pm

  6. Just stumbled upon this blog and wanted to clear some things up:

    @LA–
    “Sorry but when you use food stamps you ARE a burden on those who work and PAY for you, so they have ALL THE RIGHT to judge your choices.”

    The money used for food stamps is set aside whether people use is or not. So it’s going to be a “burden” whether 1,000 people use or it or 2,000 people use it.

    “They expect you to get STAPLES, the food that LASTS not some fancy food”

    If you read this entry, you’ll see that the blogger was writing about the ability to buy fresh food and organic food. If someone is a vegetarian, why should they be punished for selecting tempeh and tofu over ham and chicken?

    ” It’s an insult when a working person is thinking how to stretch their ERNED WELL DESERVED dollar and someone on welfare is buying expensive cheeses.”

    This money isn’t yours, sweetheart. It’s provided by the government. You sound like an angry tea partier. Hope you never use medicare or social security because, I pay for that, too.

    “. It indicates that they are not planning to get off the system anytime soon, why if someone else is paying for it..? ”

    If you ever met someone on foodstamps you would discover you are making huge assumptions. People on food stamps have to reapply every 6 months and provide documentation so even if someone wanted to “stay on the system” they would have to prove that they have NO MONEY FOR FOOD AND ARE LIVING IN *POVERTY*. Do you make under $1000/mo? maybe you should go on SNAP, too.

    ” Yes, I’ll be giving them dirty despising looks!”

    And yes, that makes you a horrible human being.

    Courtney

    May 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  7. Read the blog wrong–all that was to Tina.

    Courtney

    May 31, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  8. You are so funny. Love your articles.

    meow

    January 18, 2012 at 5:37 pm


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