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.

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