It occurs to me that if these people were capable of handling their lives wisely, they would not be getting food stamps.
One thing to consider is that many people on public assistance may never have been taught the basics of good nutrition. Maybe they have no idea how to cook anything that doesn’t have instructions printed on the box. And as tdn says, ‘junk food’ fills you up better than some healthy food.
You mention macaroni and cheese. This has got to be one of the most unhealthy things you can eat. (Just my opinion, though.) Too many carbs, too much fat. But it’s cheap, and it’s filling. Ramen is also loaded with fat, but it is also cheap.
There are a lot of factors that go into what one chooses to buy at the store, and I don’t know if I can address them in a coherent manner; but I’ll take a stab at it.
Imagine a Welfare Mother. She’s getting public assistance, but it’s just enough to get by. Imagine that she’s not well educated. She probably has low self-esteem issues. She has to feed her kids on a very limited budget. Who knows how long she’s been in the ‘welfare cycle’? Was she raised in a welfare home? Or did she get married just out of high school to some Loser (with a capital L), have kids, and then get left on her own? It’s quite possible that she just fucking lazy. Maybe not. You don’t know anything about the person in line in front of you. Maybe she’s given up. She’s been beaten so low that she doesn’t know any other way of life and has accepted her lot.
She goes to the market. She can buy a bit of meat, some fresh vegetables, eggs, rice… whatever. She can use her limited funds to cook a healthy meal for herself and her kids. But she’s beaten. It’s so much easier to grab a box of Insta-Meal-Inna-Box. And what about the snacks? I think it’s been shown, although I have no cites, that sweets make people feel better. Are Twinkies and Ding Dong’s healthy? No, of course not. But they taste good (to some people) and they’re more satisfying than an apple. Doritos are more satisfying than a carrot.
What I’m saying is that these people are probably not laughing up their sleeves and saying, ‘Hahaha! I’m buying junk food on the Public’s dime!’ They probably just don’t know any better.
If our education system were better, then many of these people might have the tools they need to get jobs. If our health care system were better, then maybe they could go to a nutritionist for help with planning their meals. If we made a real effort to curb substance abuse instead of locking people up, then maybe some of the people who have addiction problems would get off drugs. If jobs weren’t outsourced (or if the government offered tax incentives to companies that kept jobs within the country, instead of offering tax incentives that encourage outsourcing), then maybe it would be easier for people to find employment. If we took better care of people with mental issues, then maybe they could get the medication and counselling they need and become productive.
Or not. There are people – and I’ve met some – who are perfectly happy to take public assistance and do whatever it is they do (look after their kids, sit around and watch TV, party with friends, etc.). There are people who abuse the system. There are people, for example, who have learnt how to buy ‘acceptable’ items with food stamps, return them to stores for cash, and then buy cigarettes and alcohol with the money. It’s never going to be perfect.
On the other hand, I personally know a woman who was on welfare who turned her life around. This happened when I was a kid, and I don’t know all of the specifics; but here’s the gist of it: She was the divorced mother of four. She had no choice but to accept public assistance. She used the money to pay her rent and to buy food for herself and her kids. (This may have been before food stamps existed – I don’t know.) In the meantime she enrolled in a community college and learned about computers. She got a job with a defense contractor, and eventually worked her way up into a management position. Not bad for a welfare mom. Though probably an exception, or at least an example of a small percentage of welfare recipients, this is the way the system is supposed to work.
Now about the steak and lobster. I rarely bought lobster when I was employed. I’m not on welfare or receiving food stamps, but if I were I would not be buying lobster. I think I might be a little miffed if I saw someone buying lobster with food stamps. But the stamps are to buy food. Maybe this person had some stamps left over from the previous month and decided to splurge. Should they splurge in their situations? No. But when you have no hope, it’s good to ‘do something special’ once in a while. Steak is cheaper than lobster. How often does this person buy steak? Every day? Once a week? Once a month? You don’t know. I doubt that food stamps woould be enough for a steady diet of steak and lobster. Sometimes you just need meat. (Unless you’re a vegetarian, of course.)
I attended a seminar last week for prospective care salesmen. (There’s a thread about it in MPSIMS.) One of the things that we were told is that we should treat everyone we meet in life as if they would be dead by midnight. The lecturer told a story about when he was in Pennsylvania. He was sick, and had to give a presentation the next day. He was very, very sick. The nearest clinic was about five miles away in another state. (Atlantic City? I don’t remember, and my geographic knowledge of the East Coast is poor.) Since he’d had this infection many times before, he knew that all he needed was some antibiotics. That’s it. Just have a doctor look at him, get some pills, and he’d be okay for his big presentation. There was a guy in the ER who had cut himself cooking. He was yelling, ‘OMYGOD! OMYGOD! OMYGOD!’ over and over. When the man had been taken care of, he kept calling the nurse back to chat. The lecturer was going nuts. He wanted to yell ‘SHUT THE FUCK UP! I WANT MY PILLS!’ Then he remembered the advice that he’d recently been given to treat everyone as if they’d be dead by midnight. He calmed down. Here’s a guy who’s in pain, and he felt he was being selfish because he knew nothing about him and was only concerned with getting his own problem taken care of.
He went over to the old Black man to ask him how he was doing. He chatted a bit and then went back to his bed to be treated. As the man left, he went to the lecturer to tell him thanks for being so kind. He’d never had a White stranger treat him so well.
That same night, after getting his meds and returning to his hotel room, the lecturer got a call from a friend. She was having trouble with her mentally-abusive husband and needed someone to talk to. Mr. L. was groggy and sick, and he asked her to call him later. Then he realised that here was a friend who was asking for help at three in the morning, and he was brushing her off. He imagined she’d be dead by midnight and talked to her. (The woman and her husband got counselling, and apparently fixed their problem.)
Being kind to a total stranger who had been annoying him, and helping a friend in need even though he was very sick made the lecturer feel good. He’d done a couple of good deeds. All because he dropped his stereotypical preconceptions and imagined these people would be dead by midnight.
Is it likely that the person in the market who is buying steak and lobster with food stamps will die in a few hours? Of course not. But it could happen. They might be run over by a speeding ice cream truck. A meteorite may land on their head. Anything could happen. So consider: That steak and lobster dinner that you’re begrudging someone may be their last meal.
Some people really don’t deserve respect; but if we treat people – even the undeserving ones – with respect and consideration, we just might make the world a better place.