We stood behind her in line. I clutched twenty-two dollars in cash in my hand to pay for the rice, pasta, veggies, milk, and cheese in the cart. Realizing I had forgotten to pick up chicken, I sent my husband to the back of the store advising him, "Find a package that's less than three dollars. That's all we have." So he did.
The woman before me shoved her three boxes of Eggos and 2-liter bottle of Pepsi further up the belt with long, acrylic-nailed hands. She put down a plastic order divider and tossed a pack of skinny little cigars behind it. I waited.
The clerk rang up the first portion of her order- the frozen waffles and soda- and she paid with food stamps. She paid for the cigars from a wad of cash.
Fast-forward five years.
I lived in a new state. I stood, very pregnant, in an express line with my 3- and 4-year olds early one morning. I'd needed whole wheat flour and kosher salt. I had a five dollar bill and a whole mess of change. I remember it so clearly.
The man in front of me was buying two king-size Butterfinger bars and a 20 oz Mountain Dew. "Breakfast," he mumbled to the cashier. He, too, paid with food stamps.
* * * * * * * * * *
I want to be very clear when I say that I'm not writing this to say I think that food stamps are wrong. I am also not insinuating that all people receiving assistance in the way of food stamps are making such poor decisions.
I feel like if the government is going to give out money to ensure that people are getting properly nourished then, well, there should be a way of making sure that money is going toward good, nourishing food. I also think that, while I don't think less of someone for needing some help, I also do not think it is too much to ask someone receiving assistance to do a little work and forego a bit of convenience.
I believe food stamps (which I know have been transformed into some kind of card, the initials for which elude me at the moment) need to be more like WIC. The WIC office issues checks for specific items. Yes, the bearer has some choices but, for the most part, there is no getting around getting wholesome food-- milk, cheese, dried beans, peanut butter, fresh fruits and vegetables, etc. Is it a perfect system? No. (In case you were unaware... there is no perfect system.) But I think it goes a long way in eliminating some truly poor decisions.
It is my duty to be a good steward of the blessings I've been given... to make good and healthy choices with the money I am allotted each month. Is it too much to expect others to do the same? Is it petty of me to find it a trifle unfair that I need to make sure I am oh-so-careful about the choices I make while others (who are relying on someone else to supplement their diets) lean heavily on processed convenience?
It's just something I've been thinking about. And something I've wondered if any of you thought about...