By now, you've heard the story of Paul Ryan getting a fifteenth hand plausible sounding story that confirmed his wretched bias.
The story is not completely without merit. The description of the child's reaction is simply tailored to suit the Ryan's ideology.
I have seen similar situations in schools. I have seen the kids who are self conscious of the fact that they get a certain color card to get their lunch. These sorts of things do take place. These sorts of thoughts do go on in the minds of children. One of the common ways that these kids get their lunch status exposed is on field trip days. The question, "Do you need a sack lunch" doesn't mean you'll get a lovingly made sack lunch. It means you don't have anything to bring from home. That's not always the case. Sometimes, the poorest kids are the ones who just don't have anything to put their lunches in. They come in on field trip day with nothing, or with a lunchables clutched to their chest. If a family has the money, a kid probably has a reusable lunch bag these days.
The answer, however, is certainly not to cut this thing that provides them with basic nutrition. There is no resolution to this problem that involves punishing the children who receive the free lunch or breakfast. Honestly, I don't care if it is macaroni and cheese and corn dogs. That shit was fucking luxury food to me when I was a kid.
This discussion really strikes home for me. I like to joke with people that I was raised feral.
I recall a time in San Diego when I was roughly four years old. My brother and I were living with our Mother, and we were outdoors playing in the sun. A man drove up in a white car. It was a white sedan with a dark haired man at the wheel. He had a mustache.
"Otto, Otto!" He was calling to me. I remember the image very well, and I recall how I felt. I was looking at this man, trying to come up with some explanation for why he was calling me, when my brother (not his son, but adopted by a young man who was an idealist at the time) ran past me shouting, "Dad! Dad!"
When I was six, my mother died, and I and my brother would be accepted (along with our SS death benefit checks) as roomers in a jointly rented home in Eastern Washington. My Dad shared this home with a fluctuating number of current and former girlfriends, and their current or former boyfriends, and their current or former children. Kids with names like Fletcher, Dolphin, and yes, at one point I knew a Woodstock.
I was destined to be raised poor during an era in which it was politically successful to blame the poor for our problems.
Eventually, I would be transported to suburban Seattle. We would settle into the cheapest house in a really great location.
There I am. I am the child of a caring, but extremely adolescent adult man who would have a series of waitress girlfriends, and shady boarders who would at some point, probably high on cocaine, threaten to shoot any number of the other adults who sifted through our home.
Our furniture was from Goodwill. Not the store, mind you. The furniture inevitably came from the drop off stations. It was all very convenient. We must have been doing the truck drivers a favor. They don't have to ship the couch, table, chairs, stereo tuner, and spice rack, and we get them for free.
There was no such thing as a dental appointment.
I don't want you to think this part is a joke.
As a child, I was incredibly aware of the fact that our silverware did not match, and that we had never had a matching set. Our bowls were pulled from a drawer containing old margarine containers. I tortured myself over my lack of proper clothing all the time.
It was really more about the disparity.
As I began to write this, I was just generally angry about the cretinous and transparent attempt to use the suffering of a child to achieve political goals. Goals which, if achieved, would in no way relieve that child of any suffering.
When I began reflecting back on those material insecurities, I became keenly aware of just how badly the insecurity about food had hurt me as a kid.
As a child in a suburban area, nearly every one of my friends lived in a stable, two parent home. My friends' mothers were always eager to help me. I'm fairly certain that they always made sure that I had some kind of food. I was envious of their well stocked pantries. Actually, I was just envious of their pantry. If they had a pantry, it really meant that there was extra food in the house. That sort of thing was such a dream to me. A place where I could look in the house, and I could find something other than noodles, bread, mayonnaise, top ramen, manager's special pimento loaf, and saltines. Koolaid, probably. Just not any sugar at home. If you fry the bologna, it curls up and tastes more like food. I sure would like to have had the ingredients to make the Wagon Wheels, but alas.
Nothing ever spoiled in our kitchen.
This is how food made me feel when I was a kid without quality food at home. Food was something that caused me pain.
As I started to think about this a little more, I got really pissed, because, to be completely honest, ALL I WANTED WAS A FUCKING SCHOOL LUNCH!
I dreamed of eating that rectangle pizza. Pizza was food you paid for from a restaurant. Even though I was actually quite aware of the difference in quality, it didn't matter. That was gold to me. I really wanted that "cheese" sandwich. The only times I would ever get school lunch were if I forgot the wrinkled brown bag that I'd packed that morning.
The reason I wanted school lunch is because it meant that it wasn't obvious that I had a crappy lunch in a brown bag. Often, there were no brown bags in the cupboard, and it made me feel more obvious to be carrying a smashed sandwich in the only empty bread bag I could find. The baggies were all gone, too.
Having a brown paper bag lunch only meant that I was able to find two pieces of store brand bread, and some reduced priced lunch meat. Grocery shopping is much easier when the only color your eyes register is neon orange. In the event there was no reduced price lunch meat, I would have a slice of cheese. Most likely, the only remaining condiment was the neon yellow mustard. Mustard is the mint candy of condiments. To top it all off, there might have been a mealy red delicious apple. This would serve the dual purpose of giving me something to throw away, and also something to smash my sandwich into some sort of bowl shape.
We would eventually begin attempting to make money by knocking on the doors around us. Say we were given flyers by a small florist to put on cars, and after we got done throwing them away, the guy paid us, we would probably spend that ill gotten booty on a hoagie. I dreamed of buying hoagies. Hoagies were restaurant food that could stoop to my level, someday.
In high school, I was able to get a job at a very small four star restaurant. I would work until late at night on school nights and weekends. The absolute best part about that job was that we would prepare a meal for the staff every night before we opened. I can't imagine how much money both my brother and I saved our Dad by working at that restaurant.
If Ryan wants to help kids like the one in his stolen story, he should make it so that the family can earn enough to live with some dignity. He should consider things like the "kindergeld" in Germany. I don't know the whole story, but most people, even expatriates, are eligible for payments to the family to defray the cost of raising children. This is useful. It offers the parents the luxury of spending time with their children, as opposed to working every minute in a low wage job, just so that you can continue the cycle of low skill, low wage jobs in your family. He should be supportive of having an actual parental leave law. Nothing big, just something like the rest of the developed world has.
If cutting programs that served needy kids was a successful strategy, we'd already have achieved zero percent poverty by now.
If a child has a parent with him or her, it doesn't matter how they get their lunch served. Instead of whining about proper nutritional information, support nutritional education for the parents who need it. Instead of attempting to increase the cost of education, support access to higher education for every single child who can succeed there.
Now, I am going to publish this. After I publish this, I am going to make my daughter a store bought frozen pizza.
Do you think she'll ever recover from the indignity of being served a frozen pizza?
Sat Mar 08, 2014 at 6:20 AM PT: Thanks for rescuing this! I really appreciate it when someone rescues a diary of mine. It means I have written something that is meaningful, and of a high enough quality that someone saw fit to go that extra mile.