I posted the information regarding New York’s request to ban food stamps from being able to purchase soft drinks (like soda pop… and I don’t wanna hear anyone complaining about me calling it pop, either) before I made up my mind in where I fell with it… because I don’t like to be reactionary. I’d rather think my decisions through before I go off ranting somewhere.

When my girl first showed me the link, I shrugged it off. “I mean, they already ban other things that they’ve deemed harmful… if you want more choice, get off government assistance.” I believe that most people who are for this kind of legislation all echo that same sentiment.

Then again, I’ll be honest. That felt like lazy thinking to me.

Let’s do a little quick math:

14% of the population is enrolled in the SNAP program (formerly known as food stamps). Roughly, that’s something like 41.8 million.

12.5% of the population is African-American. Even if the entire whole of the Black population in America was on food stamps… it would still not be only Blacks on food stamps.

Almost 10% of the population is unemployed. Even if the entire unemployed population was on food stamps, it would not only be unemployed Americans on food stamps.

Do you know how many Americans are considered at least overweight? At least 60%. So, subtract out the [maybe] 15% of people who are merely victims of being far too muscular and weigh more than the BMI thinks they should… and you’ve still got 45% of Americans who are overweight. So basically, there’s four times as many people in America who are overweight as there are on food stamps.

But wait… one final point.

Do you know how many Americans live beneath the poverty line? I can assure you… it’s way more than 41 million… and, even still, Blacks do not make up the majority of the impoverished population. Look at those numbers – clearly, everyone who is eligible for assistance… does not receive it.

It took me – maybe – 10 minutes to compute all those numbers. (Told y’all 10 minutes is valuable.)

What does that mean? That those on government assistance are not all Black, not all unemployed (and therefore, assumedly, lazy welfare queens), and even if they were all overweight… guess what? There’s still another almost half of America that is just as overweight. So… let’s get over any assumptions of who and what food stamp recipients really are.

I’ve already written about the government making the decision to tax soda as a means of paying for health care. If the issue is money, I’m almost certain that if the government stopped overpaying for corn (or paying for it period?) they could find the money for health care. If the issue is the actual product, then saddle up, ride out… and ban it. No guts, no glory.

My question, really, is… what makes the food stamp recipients so worthy of this special attention that THEY would be prohibited from using their benefits to buy that which has already been deemed harmful by a government entity? Why do they get the honor of the government telling them what to do, and not the rest of us? Why do they get that “protection” and not all of us? Because the government should be allowed to control what they purchase? At least 60% of Americans are, by standard, overweight… and 14% of Americans are on food stamps. They’re obviously not the only ones who “are in need of the additional guidance.”

Or is it that we think that, because they are soooo poor that they need government assistance, that they obviously need us to tell them how to eat? Let’s face facts: The only difference between food stamp recipients and at least a third of America? It isn’t money. It’s the fact that they’re on government assistance. Period. The recession should’ve taught us that.

Let’s assume that they’re really thinking, “We need to save them. We need to help them. We need to curb obesity, and since they rely on us for X, surely they also need our help to accomplish Y, as well.”

There are four thoughts that immediately come to mind:

For one, if this is about people who need outside help in addressing their weight (not their health, their weight), then – again – there’s at least another 45.9% of Americans outside of food stamp recipients that need to be addressed. Is pop a great place to start to rid ourselves of added sugar? Yes. Is the entire 14% of food stamp recipients guzzling down soft drinks? No. So why are we starting with the poor instead of the “middle class” who, by obvious definition, is also fat? Because the poor have the fewest lobbyists and are the easiest to target? Oh.

Secondly, this isn’t about prevention of purchases. This is about “You can’t buy it with the money we give you.” I’m sorry, but I immediately cringe at the thought of trying to force someone to change their choices instead of educating them on why another option is better. And before you question what “telling people how bad soda is for them” can do… remember what site you’re reading right now.

The fact that the Mayor of NYC would make a statement like “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.” about an “initiative” that prevents access instead of using education to allow the individual to make the appropriate decision… further lets me know how toothless this is. If you’re assuming they don’t know anything about food and drinks that provide real nourishment… it makes sense to, instead, make the decision for them? No. It would make sense to provide them education on proper nutrition. It may be soda today, but it’ll be some other new-fangled product tomorrow and they’ll need you to swoop in and save them then, too… because instead of helping them learn how to make their own decisions, you merely made the decision for them. No one learns from that.

Thirdly, if we’re going to allow the government to dictate which items are good and bad… can you imagine how much money would come pouring in to “re-election campaigns” to prevent certain foods from being classified negatively? (Keep in mind, the current policy states that in order for a food to be considered ineligible for purchase with food stamps, it needs to be voted on by Congress.) The amount and opportunity for corruption at the expense of the public’s health… I can’t even imagine just how ridiculous and unfruitful it would be.

Lastly, if the Mayor of freaking New York City gave even a remote damn about the health, wellness and well being of those who rely on government assistance… perhaps he should spend a little time conversing with his constituents. Especially since one said the following right here on my own blog:

Also, if were going to make the argument that food stamp users should be spending on healthier choices, how bout we put some of those stores where [food stamp] users are?

If he believes food stamp recipients are so in need of assistance in regard to how to eat, why not actually talk to the individuals to find out what problems they face so that you’re not disillusioned about what problems they really face? Or is that too much conversation to be had with people who won’t be donating to a campaign any time soon? They have answers that are worth listening to… being on government assistance doesn’t equate to “being stupid.”

I don’t believe this is about truly addressing obesity in impoverished communities. I wholeheartedly believe this is about people wanting to feel like they can lord over “people who need it.” And lets face it – when you think of “overweight and poor” or “overweight and on government assistance,” you think Black (thanks to the “welfare queen” analogy) … and America is a country that is notorious for trying to rescue some needy Black [or Black-looking] people. Even in its philanthropic nature, it is ridiculously misanthropic. Deny that if you want… I’m okay with that.

So… if the question is “how do we address obesity among Americans” and I’m shooting down the “prevent the poor from buying soft drinks” answer… do I have an answer of my own?

Absolutely.

How about, for starters, paying some respect to the hierarchy of food needs and helping these people address these concerns first? Then, how about a little education? Teach people how the choices they make in food are in direct correlation to their ability to life healthily. Show people how poor food choices have contributed to poor health in America (or is that too much blame for “Big Food?”) and teach them how to avoid having to make those kinds of decisions. Educate them on how to use their food stamps to the best of their abilities. Be less elitist, insulting and classist – don’t assume that all food stamp users are some poor, lazy, clueless and shiftless individuals who clearly need your almighty interference. If the issue was truly obesity and if every single food stamp user was overweight, that still leaves almost half of the rest of the US population in need of the same kind of government involvement… and singling out the poor simply because they’re at the mercy of the government is little more than a politician’s toothless growl. Lots of bark… very little bite.

Update: And if you’re not completely talked out about this issue, Civil Eats is hosting a relatively interesting conversation about what questions this situation brings up. I don’t agree with it all, but both sides deserve representation on this issue.