Poor People Deserve To Eat Whatever The Hell They Want

Thanks but no thanks for your insight, Moby.

Moby, a musician and vegan who wants to make damn sure you know he’s a vegan, jumped into the on-going debate over SNAP this week with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. His lukewarm take: Food stamps shouldn’t be used to purchase junk food.

Poor people, according to the rich man who swears he knows the struggle, need to eat “cheap, healthy foods like beans, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.”

Nope. Just … nope.

Let’s start with the fact that Moby chose to weigh in on poverty from a publication that hides its content behind a paywall. I’m pretty sure poor people aren’t reading this ridiculous article to begin with, although that can only be described as a blessing.

But moving on to the substance of his argument, it’s the same classist bullshit we’ve long heard from Republicans. Poor people, according to them, need to live off a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, and bulk beans and rice. Why? For their health, of course.

And yet, you’ll notice none of them care about the rest of our health. The same party that advocates for healthy eating (for poor people only) continuously slashes the budget for actual health care.

Moby is no exception. He never suggests that all of us should stick with cheap, healthy foods — and he certainly doesn’t advocate regulating what foods Americans can buy themselves. The only people whose food keeps Moby up at night is poor people.

Moby’s basis for targeting SNAP recipients, other than being an asshole, is that he has been there. You see, Moby himself grew up raised by a single mother, relying on SNAP to eat.

“Right now, a congressional arm-wrestling match is pitting those who want to preserve funding for SNAP against those who want to gut it,” Moby writes. “As I can attest from my childhood experience, SNAP really does help feed poor people, and no one wants to return to the days when America turned a blind eye to hunger. But it also puts a lot of unhealthful food on America’s plate. Its costs are huge, as are the added costs of treating diabetes, hypertension and other illnesses that poor eating habits cause.”

Cool story, bro.

Rather than opining about his experience as a child, who didn’t have to balance the desire to eat healthy foods against the difficulty of obtaining and preparing such foods, maybe Moby should’ve asked his mother what it was like. Or read articles from other people who are actually experiencing poverty. Or done basically anything other than weighing in on the eating habits of poor people from his mansion.

At no point in his op-ed does Moby discuss any of the real challenges poor people face: food deserts, poor quality produce, lack of transportation to grocery stores, lack of food storage and preparation facilities, long hours at work, and complete and utter mental and physical exhaustion.

I’d like to see Moby work a couple of shifts back-to-back at a minimum wage job, bus between jobs and home, return to a crappy apartment where the landlord still hasn’t fixed the stove, and spend a few hours soaking bulk beans before whipping up a vegan masterpiece. And then I’d like to see him do it again and again, month after month, with utility shut-off notices, a lengthy bus ride to a grocery store (able to buy only what he can carry home on the bus), in spite of crushing pain from spending hours on his feet.

I’ve been poor. I’ve been so poor that I’ve searched the couch cushions for change to buy groceries. I’ve been so poor that my kids’ daycare fed them dinner before I picked them up after work because I couldn’t afford to buy any food. I’ve had my utilities shut off and I’ve weighed the relative merits of electricity over gas.

And I’m still lucky. I’ve never been homeless or lived in a food desert. I’ve always had access to transportation. And I happened to have skills I could parlay into a lucrative field and live in an area where these kinds of jobs exist. I got out of poverty. But I know damn well how much of that was luck.

Despite my improved circumstances, it’s still a challenge to make dinner at the end of a long work day. It’s hard enough to spend 30 minutes in front of a working stove with grocery delivery every Saturday and a budget that can provide wholesome foods.

Moby would tell me I just need to work harder, I suppose. That it’s cheaper in the long-run to eat clean than it is to develop health problems. But the joke’s on him because I was born with a genetic disease and that ship has sailed. And here’s the ironic part: I gave his way a try. I spent a few years focusing on clean eating, trying to heal my body naturally. And do you know what happened?

I wasted my limited energy spending two to three hours a day shopping, cooking and cleaning up healthy food. Two to three hours a day. And despite what people tell you, all of that healthy food wasn’t even slightly cheaper than my family’s current diet of mostly whole foods with a hearty dose of convenience foods like protein bars and jarred sauces thrown in.

When I stopped trying to live a completely clean lifestyle, I cut my family’s food budget in half. There’s no amount of buying in bulk that will ever make high-quality foods less expensive than shopping at discount grocery stores.

So thanks but no thanks for your insight, Moby. Poor people deserve to eat whatever the hell they want. And if a bowl of ice cream is the bright spot in a rough day in a rough month in a rough year — I’m more than happy to contribute.

Jody Allard is a former techie-turned-freelance-writer living in Seattle. She can be reached through her website, on Twitter or via her Facebook page.

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