It seems there’s been a lot of noise lately about a new trend in the demographics of those who use food stamps, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). A couple of weeks ago Salon reported about “Hipsters on Food Stamps”, and then put out this follow-up from a food stamp recipient. It’s clear from the feedback to these articles that there is still a stigma attached to using food stamps, and resentment towards those who do.
I spoke with Joel Berg of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger at a volunteer event recently and mentioned I was considering applying for benefits. He encouraged me to do so, almost especially because I don’t fit the typical food stamp recipient stereotype. I’m an educated professional who’s currently struggling to make ends meet and I don’t qualify for any other government help. I know there are lots more like me out there. It’s not exactly a good thing if more people are qualifying for assistance, but the changing face of food stamp recipients may help change attitudes towards it.
One reason why I will likely follow through on Berg’s advice is because I can use the benefits to pay for organic produce from small producers. Right now in the US, tax payer money is being used to support huge agribusinesses which flood the market with mono-crops and cheap corn–used to make processed foods and sodas. So by using food stamps, I could make a small correction in the process, directing funds to smaller, more sustainable farms who are protecting our food diversity, and helping the earth with organic methods.
NYC Green Markets and coops like the 4th Street Food Coop accept EBT (electronic benefits transfer) which works like an ATM card to utilize benefits. The electronic system was designed to prevent abuse and fraud. But it’s certainly not a fraud to use these benefits to buy healthy, organic, sustainable food–even if it can be more expensive than shopping at the supermarket. But the real accounting for cheap junk food comes later, with increased medical costs due to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Did I mention that 4th Street Food Co-op accepts EBT?