Junk Food Lawmakers
We all should be proud of some magnificent efforts today to provide healthy, nutritious, locally grown food to even the poorest families in our communities.
The movement is led from the top by the healthy foods initiative of First Lady Michelle Obama and from Milwaukee by Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world for his organization’s training of activists transforming communities as part of the locally grown, good food revolution.
That positive change was twisted into something ugly and unrecognizable by the Republican-led Wisconsin Legislature, which instead chose to attack poor people themselves as ignorant gluttons gorging themselves on cream-filled snack cakes and Pepsi.
You can always tell those who consider themselves far above other human beings. They talk about people in less fortunate circumstances as some lower species requiring the paternalistic guidance of superiors such as themselves.
That insufferable arrogance permeated the junk legislation by Republican state Rep. Dean Kaufert of Neenah to limit the purchase of so-called junk food by anyone in Wisconsin using what are still popularly called food stamps.
To remove some of the stigma of being poor, those who find themselves relying on government assistance to feed their families—which can be almost anyone in times of economic disaster and widespread layoffs—now use plastic cards that look like the credit cards everyone else uses.
But that hasn’t stopped Kaufert and others from spreading made-up misinformation about how food assistance is spent even though they literally don’t know what they’re talking about.
Grocery stores don’t separate out at the register the nutritional value or sugar content of the food they sell. So, even though more than 60% of those needing food assistance in Wisconsin are white, most right-wing politicians simply insert their own racial prejudices and stereotypes about the poor.
Totally unencumbered by facts, those who oppose any government help for the poor make wild claims about food assistance either allowing the poor to feast on steak and lobster or, just the opposite, buying only the most worthless kind of garbage imaginable.
Few Food Choices in the Central City
Perhaps no other issue better illustrates the vicious, hateful turn the Republican Party has taken nationally and in Wisconsin.
When the modern food assistance program was created in 1964, it was a bipartisan program supported by both Democrats and Republicans for one simple reason.
Most of the leaders in both parties were decent enough people to sincerely believe that in the richest nation on earth poor children should never have to go to bed hungry.
Eliminating hunger in America wasn’t a liberal or conservative idea.
In fact, two of the driving forces behind food stamps were liberal Democratic Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota and conservative Republican Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Both would later become their parties’ nominees for president.
For those who believe everything including morality is rooted in economics, it’s no accident both senators represented farm states that benefited directly from the government getting food to people in the country who needed it.
Dole, of course, would be run out of today’s radical right-wing Republican Party as a socialist for daring to believe feeding hungry Americans—two-thirds of them children—was more important than cutting the taxes of well-fed billionaires.
In Wisconsin, Kaufert actually is on to something about the prevalence of bad food in poor communities, but he’s demonizing all the wrong people. Poor people aren’t the ones responsible for putting the worst food in their neighborhoods.
What happened was every major grocery store chain abandoned inner cities, shutting down all their stores in poor communities. Most poor people would have to travel miles on public transportation, if it even existed, to shop at a full-service supermarket.
Instead, poor neighborhoods are left with gas station fast food marts and corner stores with some aging bags of candy and chips on the wall along with drugs and crack pipes under the counter.
That is the cruel vacuum being filled by Growing Power distributing low-cost market baskets filled with fresh produce. Reborn neighborhoods such as Walnut Way are creating urban gardens and orchards to build community pride and residential income.
The state is perfectly free to put money into such worthwhile, self-help efforts to provide better nutrition for the poor instead of denigrating folks who struggle to make do with far less than others.
If Kaufert and other state Republicans are seriously concerned about Wisconsinites eating sugary junk instead of fresh, healthy food, they really should treat everyone equally and outlaw those empty calories disguised as food for everybody.
But somehow they don’t feel it’s right to pass laws telling free Americans what they’re allowed to eat. Republican legislators only pass laws telling poor people what they can eat.