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Food Stamps Are Not "Fun": Is the "Food Stamp Challenge" Just Live Action Role-playing for the Privileged Classes?


Poverty is not fun. Living in a food desert and not being being able to find health eating options is not fun. Being dependent on public transit, when in places like Chicago for example, such services are being cut while simultaneously going up on fees, is not fun.

I have been so blessed. I grew up working class and never knew hunger (we were close once when my father was very ill, but my godparents showed up with an envelope). If anything, my parents tried to hide our precarious class position where we, like many are today, were/are one or two checks away from the street (filling out my FAFSA for college was quite say the least), by over-indulging on restaurants, and eating expensive cuts of meat during the holidays. Lest we forget, in America everyone is middle class, with a penny in the bank, or millions in the checking account.

Material poverty, real or imagined, can mess you up by altering your hopes and dreams, creating anxiety, and quite literally marking your psyche with fears that you did not have before said experience.

I have never been poor; but, I have been unemployed for an extended period of time.

During that year of going to the movies everyday to feel like I had a routine, working in the library, going into debt with the local blood merchants on a substantial personal loan to stay afloat, and begging employers to expedite (as politely as possible) their travel reimbursement checks for jobs I did not get (and which would have changed my life overnight), I was a few moments away from applying for food stamps.

I should have. It would have saved me money. But my own working class pride and the thought of my father's shame, looking down on me from beyond, as when he was alive we never went on the dole or "down the street" to "that place" as my mom called it, stopped me. I was privileged enough to not have to go on food stamps because I had friends that I could hit up if needed, skills I could find a way to market, and family I could impose on if I had to. Those are real privileges.

Ultimately, I worry if those who can "slum" for a week on food stamps as an exercise in empathy understand how privileged they really are.

As I have seen with white students who become transformed after learning about "white privilege" from reading Brother Tim Wise or doing an in-class exercise (and can now "understand" black and brown folks...and in some cases "speak" for us), I hope that Mary Williams, and others like her, do not dare to consider themselves authorities on what it means to be poor in America. If so, the food stamp challenge and other such exercises, while well-intended, are actually reinforcing the systems of inequality and privilege they are ostensibly intending to overthrow and challenge.

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