Hey all. Mind if I take you for a walk in my shoes for a few minutes?
I'm now a statistic, like millions of others. And I live in the poorest, unhealthiest, and most obese state all at once. I have one more month in my apartment before I move into an extra room in my rhythm guitarists' trailer home. That beats my original plan of randomly hopping aboard Westbound freight trains and living as a hobo. I have a few job opportunities that may or may not pan out, but right now, I'm a 23 year-old bluesman with no job, money or woman.
But my life wasn't always like this.
Applying For Food Stamps
I used to have a pretty high-profile, high-responsibility public radio/TV job. I had unprecedented access to all the top newsmakers in my state. I covered the 2010 legislative session. I got to piss off Haley Barbour with pointed questions on a regular basis. I covered the BP oil spill as it developed.
On Wednesday, July 14th, I was flying over the site of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, on a National Guard C-130 with a group of state legislators and a former governor.
On Thursday, July 15th, I followed those lawmakers into the BP/Coast Guard unified command center in Mobile, Ala.
On Friday, July 16th, I became a statistic. The story is long and tedious, but you can google my name and read all the dirty details. I basically got fired for standing up against media censorship by leaking an internal agency email to the capital city's local alt paper. I was called back a week early from a two-week assignment covering the spill to be fired. When I got back to my office, my stuff from my desk was already packed up in a box. They were ready for me to go. Friday, the woman who fired me and called me a "turncoat" and a "rising star in journalism" resigned amidst months of bad press with her name attached. She made six figures, so she'll probably be alright for awhile, even if she can't immediately find work.
But just recently, if you went by local grocery stores and restaurants where I lived, you might see the car with a boatload of bumper stickers lingering by a dumpster, waiting for something hot and fresh to be thrown away, where I would then jump out of my car, snatch it up, stow it in my front seat and drive off before anyone saw. I'm far from ashamed. I need to eat, and I'll be damned if I go hungry while dozens of establishments throw out perfectly good food.
I waited a month before filing for unemployment. I've got way too much pride for my own good, and I figured with the education and skills I already have at my young age, and the powerful friends I've made in the past year, I'd find work, no problem.
A month came and went. No job. So I broke down and did my paperwork. And I went to the county DHS (Dept. of Human Services) office and filled out an application for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits.
SNAP and EBT are of course, nice euphemisms for "food stamps." Nobody likes to use the words "food stamps." Just saying those two words together conjures up right-wing frame after right-wing frame of the welfare mom at the checkout counter, angry that her food stamps don't apply to the bag of fried chicken she just picked up by the deli.
They gave me an appointment to come back the next week and interview with a SNAP coordinator. She was very sweet, very quiet. She asked for a copy of my lease agreement and my most recently paid power/water bills. When she asked for my termination letter from my old employer, and I told her I threw it away, I then invited her to google me and read any of the several articles written about my firing. She told me that would suffice, and that I'd hear in the mail whether or not I'd been approved within a few days.
A week goes by, and I check my mailbox to see an envelope from DHS. I open it and see a fresh, gold EBT card attached to a paper saying my SNAP application had bee approved. Hooray! I remember jumping up with fists of victory right when some older man wearing a grimace looked me over.
"I got food stamps! Woo woo!" I said to him. He seemed not to share my enthusiasm.
I immediately dialed the number on the paper given to me in the mail, set up my pin number, and they told me I had a monthly balance of $100. I've just been through four years of college; I can make $100 worth of food last a month, easy.
My fridge in my apartment was completely empty with the exception of some floppy celery sticks, a half-full jug of orange juice and four brown eggs.
Shopping With a Cart Again
I remember how glorious it felt to walk into the store and grab a cart instead of a basket for the first time in months. To pick out food from the shelves and not have to do math in my head to make sure whatever I got to eat didn't exceed the $32.00 I had in my checking account. I didn't buy pop, or chips, or beer, or fried chicken. Know what I bought with my EBT card?
Whole wheat pasta.
Organic, fresh, local produce (I made stir fry that night- mushrooms, baby carrots, bell pepper, bean sprouts, water chestnuts, soy sauce, lime juice, and hot chili sauce. It was delicious.)
A jug of pomegranate juice.
A box of Kashi.
A half-gallon of organic milk.
Grapeseed oil (for the stir fry)
Pesto (for the pasta)
Free range eggs.
Biscuits. (I made bacon, eggs, biscuits and coffee the next morning for me and an Aussie couchsurfer I was hosting)
Organic peanut butter. (The kind where the oil separates and you have to stir it with a spoon)
Strawberries and blackberries (Driscolls! To go with the yogurt)
A box of oatmeal.
Instead of eating cold, soggy, untouched pizzas from garbage bins, I'm eating healthy, fresh, local and organic. And I get $100 a month so I can continue to do so. Of course, I'll hopefully get a job soon and not have to worry about needing food stamps to fill my fridge. But in the meantime, it's pretty awesome.
Ironic thing? I went to the Downtown Farmer's Market in Jackson and bought some fresh local produce there with my EBT card. Why is that ironic? Two months earlier, that was a story assignment I had at my old job. I remember talking to a SNAP coordinator, a vendor, and someone on SNAP benefits about how they can finally afford to eat healthy.
Now I can, too.
Food Stamps vs. the Rich, Elite Right's Class War
But you see, we have politicians, who poor folks in my state elect time and again to represent us, who talk in derogatory terms about this wonderful thing that not only helps me eat, but helps me eat healthy and shop sustainably.
These politicians would love nothing more than to take my food stamp card away. Sure, it might relegate me to lingering by dumpsters again and resigning myself to eat what other human beings would classify as garbage, but at least they could say their vote was so people like me can pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, right? Because clearly, truly reliant Americans embody the American spirit the best through eating food that's been rained on, that reeks of rot, that I have to share with stray cats and dogs and bugs.
We always seem to elect leaders who decry entitlements. At least here in the South. We're a proud people. We don't let the fact that 50% of American children don't get three meals a day without the help of food stamps deter us from our anti-entitlement ways (90% of Black children need food stamps to survive). Nor do we think about the fact that the federal government gives back $1.20 to our state for every $1 we send to Washington, or how red states like us are far more dependent on the government to take care of us than our liberal comrades in the left-wing enclaves of places like California and the Northeast Coast.
Food stamps saved my life. And I'm not ashamed to use them. And if someone has the audacity to judge me while I'm in the checkout line with my EBT card, I'll kindly tell them to vote for Democrats in November, so maybe more jobs can come our way and I can stop depending on food stamps!
Peace and blessings. The floor is yours.
Thanks for putting this on the rec list, everyone. Make sure you also read the other recommended diary about food stamps, that's what got me to share my story here. And since you're reading this, kindly take a minute and support Jack Conway, the attorney general from the state where I grew up. Hopefully, if we keep guys like Rand Paul from getting elected, this economy might just turn around sooner than we thought and stories like mine will be harder to find.