Who’s Buying Starbucks With Food Stamps?

Who’s Buying Starbucks With Food Stamps?

So, this was posted, and then my head exploded:

flickr: marcopako

With the help of Jackie Fowler, who has a “supplemental nutrition card” or Oregon Trail Card, Fox 12 visited an in-store Starbucks within a Safeway in the town of Salem. Fowler purchased a tall Frappuccino and a slice of pumpkin bread — and paid for both using her Oregon Trail card.”It’s crazy,” Fowler told Fox 12, showing off the receipt for $5.25.

“They’re overpriced as it is,” said Fowler of the specialty drink. “That’s money that somebody could be eating with — a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk.” Fowler, who made the purchase only for the purpose of Fox 12’s story, says she thinks it’s a huge misuse of the food assistance program.

A spokesman for Safeway told Fox 12 the store recently made the change as an added convenience to customers.

“We think that compliance with state laws is something we can easily do,” Dan Floyd told Fox 12.

According to federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, people cannot buy foods that will be eaten in the store or hot foods. However, luxury items that are allowed include soft drinks, candy, cookies, ice cream, even bakery cakes and energy drinks that have a nutrition facts label.

First, let’s be clear, here, on a few things. There are currently around 46 million people on food stamps, at the last numbers I saw from this summer. There are somewhere around 39 million Black people in this country. Even if every single Black person in America – yes, even those lovely 1%ers – were on food stamps, there’d still be 6 million more people for which we’d need to account. I say this for a very specific reason.

With unemployment at 8.6 percent, that means that approximately 13.3 million people who are eligible for employment are, in fact, unemployed. If only 13 million people in this country are unemployed, yet 46 million people are on food stamps, I think it’s safe to say there may be a few income-generating, tax-paying employees of somebody’s company in that 46 mill. The recipients of SNAP benefits are not, in fact, all some form of unemployed leech. There’s a reason why I start off with this, as well.

Let’s talk logistics, briefly. When I lived in Miami Beach, I didn’t see Starbucks in the area where I lived. There was one single Starbucks north of Lincoln Mall (16th; numbers go up the further north you go), and that was on 45th. Beyond that? Nada. (I even checked Google Maps because I genuinely can’t remember any. If you care, you can see for yourself.)  Hell, you look at any area in central Miami-proper – Little Havana, Little Haiti, take your pick – know what you see? You certainly don’t see Starbucks. That’s not coincidence. That’s strategy.

Starbucks, much like Whole Foods, is strategic with where they’re putting their establishments. They’re not going to put a Starbucks in, say, inner inner city Brooklyn, where people can get coffee for $0.75 a pop and couldn’t care less whether or not you get whipped cream or a caramel frappiato (I wouldn’t know what it’s called; I’ve never ordered from one.) Even I could see how that’d be a bad business move. You don’t put businesses who charge luxury prices for every day items in places where people have a difficult time affording the necessities of life. Not because it’s “wrong” morally to charge what you want, but simply because when forced to choose, it’s highly likely that your business is the one that’d lose.

But wait… there’s more.

The people who want to conflate this kind of spending with “buying luxury items like properly raised meats and cheeses,” can stop. Any moment now. I defend the “food stamps at whole foods” crowd because properly raised foods should never be considered a “luxury” in a country proudly billing itself as the richest in the world. Any person who looks at their budget and genuinely finds that they, after having already seen that they qualify for assistance, have a difficult time affording food, should consider applying… and I’m serious. The fact that our fruits and vegetables are grown the way they are – farm labor resembling indentured servitude; meat having to be cleaned with ammonia just to make sure you don’t get too much e.coli in your purchase; pesticides; chemicals, fake flavorings and fillers – is what results in our adulterated food supply. It is not food. It is “food facsimiles” or even “edible foodlike substances,” and a person who wants to eat the way they are supposed to shouldn’t be chastised for such simply because you struggle with justifying spending the money on you and yours. We are in a bad way, as a country, if we can look people in the eye and tell them actual food is a “luxury” and if they don’t like it, they should “have a coke and a smile.” Ridiculous.

Here… is my point, in all its glory. Even though I defend, adamantly, the “food stamps at whole foods” users, this annoys the hell out of me. Not because a mocha choca latta yaya is as “non-essential” or “non-vital” as it gets, but because of the negativity it casts on both food stamp users and Black women. You know what I mean. Because of Reagan, we constantly see food stamp recipients as poor, black, female, unmarried, single parent, whatever. Maybe it’s because I’ve never ordered from a Starbucks, but… this isn’t an inner-inner-city phenom, if you ask me. I’m pretty grossed out by this altogether. However, I feel like this affects college students or “starving artist” types, both of which by and large do not fit the stereotype that President Reagan left us with when he referred to the “welfare queen.” When we think of “food stamps,” we think of “poor people.” When we think of poor people, we think of Black people. And, even though this country (and its wealth) was built on our backs, we’re considered lazy freeloaders by way of our gene pool. Journalistic efforts like this are merely used to further the stereotype. “‘Mack-eye-ah-toes‘ on the taxpayer dime?” Why, how dare you?

I also can’t say that a single person who has read this story, pictured a “starving artist” or a “college student” in line at Starbucks – the ones I suspect would most benefit from this knowledge – holding out their EBT card and asking for pumpkin bread. Instead, they probably saw some Black chick with fresh finger waves and a baby on her hip, holding a EBT card in the hand holding her baby and a brand new iPhone 4s in the other, yelling out “Can I get one of those frah-pah-key-know things?” and telling’ her child, “Shut up, Lil LaNayNay, I’m tryna get my drink on!”

And that, right there, is what annoys me about this the most of all.

Every time I see an “investigative” report about SNAP/food stamps, it’s painted as “look at what these [assumedly Black, always Black] freeloaders [because freeloaders have to be Black, amirite?] are doing? See why we need to change this?” All due respect to those of you who give enough of a damn to do this kind of reporting, but are you bothering to ask why a person can get a coffee for $3, and it’s still cheaper than a full head of fresh broccoli? Are you bothering to ask why our government can subsidize the creation of most of the garbage in this country that’s making us sick, but not subsidize the grocery stores to allow them to sell produce to SNAP recipients at discounted rates? Is that worthy of coverage, or would you rather exploit the weaknesses of the [working] poor, because no one is going to defend them? Would you simply rather highlight “omg, it’s possible to shop at Starbucks with taxpayer money” because it’s not interesting enough to prove that the more egregious fiscal faux-pas are happening far higher up the pay scale? Or maybe because you don’t want to remind the “middle class” just how “lower” they truly are?

Listen. I’m all up for some journalistic muckraking. I’m even up for “picking on” the government. I’m not, however, down with beating up on poor people because there’s a loophole that most of them don’t even have access to in order to take advantage of it. It reeks of “slow news day.” Do your job and cover something more interesting. Start with this. Go.

By | 2017-06-10T11:24:24+00:00 May 3rd, 2014|The Op-Eds|36 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Tachae December 5, 2011 at 11:02 AM - Reply

    I’m sharing this without a doubt on my Facebook, because sadly the people I know who believe more in the “welfare queen” are black men. :/

  2. Jennifer December 5, 2011 at 11:16 AM - Reply

    I don’t know where to start with this. I work for WIC, the “other supplemental food and nutrition program”. As part of the working poor (with 1.5 jobs a child and being a student), I think the SNAP and WIC programs need to be revamped. WIC isn’t a strict as SNAP and I see many families on the program. That isn’t my problem, we know that people sell their checks, buy Capn Crunch instead of Cheerios and a lot of people don’t use the fruit and veggie checks or the farmer’s mkt vouchers. I despise how we push milk and cheese as nutrition and only give $10 for women and $6 for children to purchase produce. The program has improved some since the produce and whole grain checks were introduced in 2009 but we have a long way to go.

    Erika, I believe you’re right, SNAP and WIC definitely aren’t a “black thing” but people associate it with black folk. I guess I needed to vent… I apologize, lol:)

  3. Lara December 5, 2011 at 11:53 AM - Reply

    I love this piece. It is sad but true, the image we get when we hear of EBT recipients. But when I’m in line at the grocery store, I see more people (that are not black) loaded up with all the sodas and chips the store has to offer and one or two overweight little kids using their cards. smh

    • Susan Jorden June 19, 2012 at 8:45 PM - Reply

      IM not black but I love the articles here …. but on the food stamp thing .I do believe that even the poorest are entitle to have a few extra treats .I mean starbucks and such is a little over board but honestly when a person has to live with out allot of things due to poverty ..using food stamps for soda and such is not a bad thing ..as long as they not going over board and not getting good food .. even the poorest deserve a little Debbies cake ..really !!

  4. Kait December 5, 2011 at 3:18 PM - Reply


    • CAROL December 5, 2011 at 6:45 PM - Reply

      The only thing that the government programs are concerned about and the bottom line of most things is money. The more junk people eat the more likely they will have bad health which means that there will be money to gain for the doctors and so called health providers. Then the insurance companies will make the decision from their offices as to how much treatment the person should have. Its all a money game.

  5. Ethel December 5, 2011 at 4:19 PM - Reply

    I used to work at a grocery store and most of the people who came there with food stamps (back then it was still the books) were NOT black(or naturalized citizens)! And did I mention this store was smack dab in the middle of the hood? Me comming from a household that was not on welfare (and it was the same for my mother) I was still shocked by this.

    But I have another gripe. A woman came through my line with about $100 worth of candy. I (at the time I was a teenager) was furious! Is that what it’s used for? REALLY? SMH

  6. Tammy December 5, 2011 at 10:01 PM - Reply

    Ok, maybe it’s because I was a case manager for the snap program, but i most certainly did NOT picture a black woman purchasing starbucks….I know for a fact that food stamp recipients are across the spectrum….black, white, Asian, old, young, single and married. What people forget is that many people had a job, a life, and material goods BEFORE they qualified for food stamps. The amount a family of four get per month is less than 600.00 and that’s IF they qualify for the whole grant, which a lot of people don’t. Hardly a champagne and caviar budget. A lot of recipients ARE single moms….single moms working two jobs and paying huge daycare bills for the privilege. And let’s not forget having to lose time from those two jobs for the application process. They work two jobs because child support is either not enforced, not received, or not enough. While I don’t think Starbucks is the right way to use food stamps, if the person in question qualifies, and the purchase they made is legal, who the hell’s business is it what a person buys! And I agree with the bigger picture…food stamps encourages food-like purchases….food like substances ARE cheaper. And that is more wrong than buying a piece of pumpkin bread and a fancy coffee. Stories like that and people who jump on the “my tax dollar” bandwagon don’t realize that with this economy we are all just one, two, or a few paychecks away from the same damned thing!!!! The iortant thing is we all have to give up preconceived notion of who deserves what. No one in this country deserves to have to make the choice between paying the light bill versus feeding their kids. (sorry, this is a sore topic for me! LOL!)

    • Jennifer December 6, 2011 at 11:38 AM - Reply

      I totally agree! People come into WIC with $25 a month in SNAP. Who on earth can eat right AND stretch $25 a month for a family? I apparantly work just enough that I don’t. Qualify for SNAP. However if I did I would use it and dare someone to talk about “taxpayer” dollars to me!

    • Eva December 6, 2011 at 1:16 PM - Reply

      Tammy, you made the perfect point: Some people just don’t think that others deserve nice things.

  7. Tyler Tinsley December 6, 2011 at 10:32 AM - Reply

    Damn the frappiatos full speed ahead!


  8. Jondrea Smith December 6, 2011 at 12:05 PM - Reply

    Thank you for this, especially in this climate of accusations of Hawaii trips paid for by the food-stamp program. It’s refreshing to see people not internalizing the vile stereotypes put forth by a ‘certain end’ of the political spectrum.

  9. Kelekona December 7, 2011 at 7:44 AM - Reply

    I imagine that anyone who would get a Starbuck’s on foodstamps is someone who recently got on food stamps and was used to getting Starbuck’s before. Having familiar treats can help combat the depression of having your status quo shifted. And I doubt that they have the budget to get something like that more than once or twice a month.

    Perhaps instead of letting these people make decisions about what they want to buy, we should just be delivering boxes of food selected by a committee. Nevermind that some households want to focus on pasta because they can’t cook rice without burning it, or if they find pre-breaded chicken patties to be gross.

  10. KalleyC December 11, 2011 at 11:10 PM - Reply

    Amen! It seems like we will never get past the created image of the “welfare queen” thanks to Reagan. I am sure that there are tons of people abusing the system, but I feel like if people want to being up ill uses with these things, they do need to find out why Broccoli is more expensive.

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