People are at it again. But this time, it’s not your typical right-wing troll yelling about lazy poor people people. Instead, it’s — as his bio brags — six-time Grammy nominee, “musician, DJ, and author,” Richard Melville Hall, known to you all as Moby because he’s the whateverthehell great grandson of the author of Moby Dick.
If you know nothing about him, you know Eminem made fun of him in “Without Me.” He’s a militant vegan. And according to his Wall Street Journal op-ed, SNAP recipients, he’s coming for your unhealthy food: your “candy, soda, cheese products, energy drinks, processed meats and lots of other items.”
Back it on up, techno boy. Cheese? I know you love all the wittle-bitty creatures, but cheese is actually pretty healthy, and last I checked, the French were not dying in droves. Moreover, cheese is one of the few joys we have in this dark world, from a perfectly melted Camembert to a cheap cheddar melted on top of ground beef. Without cheese, we are plunged into darkness.
This is one more case of some rich-ass white person trying to dictate to poor SNAP recipients — most of whom are children, elderly or have a disability — what they should and shouldn’t put in their mouths, all in the name of public health.
Guess what, rich ass Grammy nominees? You don’t get to tell poor people what treats their kids deserve. Sure, you can put candy on SNAP. Because my kids deserve a candy bar in the checkout line once in a while, and they deserve a cake on their birthday, and they deserve peanut butter cups in their Easter baskets, and they deserve eggs stuffed with sour patch kids. We are not on SNAP. My kids are not special angels more deserving than my best friend’s kid, whose mom uses SNAP to supplement her full-time income.
And soda. Oh, the soda. Someone’s going to decry the woman they see at the checkout line with a cartful of Coke paying with a SNAP card. First of all, this isn’t really happening. It’s just that if it ever does, someone will take a picture and blast it all of the internet to paint a false narrative about poor people in America. Second of all, that Coke might be the only thing keeping her awake through night shifts. You don’t know someone’s life, so you can’t dictate their food choices.
And Moby never explains what he means by “processed meats,” though he says that SNAP should pay for proteins like beans — no mention of organic, farm-raised, twice-daily-massaged llama steak. So I’m assuming “processed meats” means “all the meats.” And you know what we need to survive? Protein. You know what’s easy and cheap protein to cook? Things like hamburger. Hotdogs. Frozen stuff you heat up in the oven. Because, unless Moby’s mom was one of those magical poor people who came home from work refreshed and relaxed, he knows that the working poor work mostly shitty jobs that leave them wrung out and tired — and most SNAP do recipients work. They’re also going for the option that can feed their family within their strict budget.
We go for the easy option in this house too, because my husband teaches public high school and comes home ready to keel face-first onto the couch. Mac and cheese, hot dogs, chicken nuggets: same thing my teacher mom fed us, each meal with side of veggies. Because she was too tired to soak beans every night and cook us a full vegan dinner, with kale. We can’t expect people working harder than us to do more than we’re willing to.
Oh, and those “beans, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains” that Moby is pushing for SNAP to whittle down to? Anyone who does the grocery shopping knows what those cost. It’s much more expensive to buy fresh fruit and veggies than it is to buy frozen; white bread is cheaper than whole grain; and beans — you want the cheap beans, you have to put in the time to prepare them, and time is something that many SNAP recipients simply don’t fucking have, because they’d like to see the faces of their children and interact with them at some point during the day. This isn’t a lack of pride, as he insinuates (“My mother [took] pride in doing the best she could’). This is a sense of priority.
I’m not even getting into food deserts, where fresh fruits and veggies are mostly or wholly unavailable, and if you want protein, you’re buying Beanie Weenies again at a jacked-up price from the only convenience store around. This is another factor for poor folks living in urban areas.
According to SNAP to Health, “In 2015, the average SNAP client received a monthly benefit of $126.39, and the average household received $256.11 monthly.” That’s peanuts compared to an average grocery bill for a family of four. And contrary to popular belief, fraud within the SNAP system is extremely low. According to The Des Moines Register, in 2012, SNAP cost a taxpayer making $50,000 a whopping 36 bucks. That’s right. Thirty-six dollars to feed hungry kids. Thirty-six dollars to make sure grandma doesn’t have to nosh on cat food. I’m sure you really begrudge that one dollar you fork over for so-called “unhealthy” food like candy, especially when you know it might be a kid’s birthday treat.
But in the end, Moby, for all your talk about health care costs and managing the poor like children in need of a good talking to and some cod liver oil, you don’t get to tell people what to eat. You don’t get to tell people what to drink. That can of soda may be someone’s only pleasure of the day — would you take it away from her? That candy bar may be a kid’s reward for straight A’s — would you snatch it from her hands? That meal you sneer at may be the desperate attempt of a time-strapped mom to feed her kids in between her day job and her night shift. And if that means grilled cheese and canned tomato soup, well, it’s warm, it’s got some vitamins and protein, and damn if it isn’t good going down. Damn if it doesn’t taste like a mother’s love.
You don’t need to eat a hot dog, but you do need to aim for some empathy. It’s not our place to tell poor people what to eat. Period.