1) *puts on amateur food historian hat*
Listen up kids. So when #Trump wants to replace #SNAP benefits with a box of prepackaged dry goods, it’s not just about #fruits and #veggies. It’s about power, race, ethnicity, labor, energy, disability, and language as well.
2) What people eat and what people are supposed to eat and what people had access to eat has always been informed by power. In ancient times, it may have been the nobility eating meat and wheat bread while peasants ate potages. Nowadays, it’s what people should not eat.
3) Just because people are poor does not mean that they do not have their own food preferences, ideas about food, or habits around food. Folks who use SNAP/#foodstamps will use their benefits, as they are able, to buy the food they can afford within these frameworks.
4) For example, I live in a neighborhood with a large Dominican population, many of whom are on food stamps. People who cook use their benefits to buy plantains, beans, and dried cod – all cheap and nutritious. Others buy microwave dinners and prepackaged foods.
5) There’s not a huge amount of freedom of choice on SNAP, or for food if you’re poor in the US, but people do what they can. When you do not have control of much in your life, having some – even if limited – choice in what you eat is deeply powerful and important.
6) So by proposing to send SNAP recipients boxes filled with select prepackaged food, Trump asks to reprogram the diets of millions of people, often against their will. And what is selected will be telling, particularly given that we have a long historical precedent for this.
7) In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, social reformers tried to reprogram the diets of poor immigrants and black workers alike. The foods of tradition or more often of convenience were seen as “unhealthy,” and all were pushed to adopt a white American Christian diet.
8) It was out with garlic and pickles, things too spicy or flavored, collard greens or beans, or even rice, and in with white breads and plain flavorings and a meat-heavy diet. If you went to settlement houses or charities for help,
9) You were pushed to take “cooking classes” in which everything you thought you knew about food was called “wrong.” As we know, this diet that was promoted isn’t great. But it was as much about molding a white Anglo-Saxon cultural norm - and normalizing white power – as food.
10) The food you got, the help you got, the ingredients you could access with certain benefits, were all carefully calibrated by “charities” and “reformers” to be those that aligned with this agenda. With generous corporate encouragement, of course.
11) The boxes that Trump proposes now are a modernization of this. You can expect that corn tortillas, rice, black beans, black-eyed peas, and grits probably won’t be in this. Cereals, box pasta, other things that aren’t associated with people who aren’t white will be.
12) (Not to say that only white people enjoy corn flakes, macaroni, flour, oatmeal, or canned tuna. Some of those things are more popular in developing countries than here. But it’s telling what would probably not be included.)
13) It’s one thing to tell people what they ought to eat, quite another to actually control it. The power to control what another eats is not only particularly degrading, but particularly demoralizing. It’s partly why food has been at the center of so many revolts.
13a) It’s also why many of the poorest of the poor still aim to have at least some control over what they eat. Many homeless folks accept all free food. Others ask for money precisely so that they can eat something that works for them. Same for folks with shelter.
13b) And same in developing countries. The choice to choose what you eat – and to also have any choice at all – is a huge part of politics in many places in the world. It’s also why many come to the First World.
14) Food also played a huge role in the way the Civil Rights Movement fought. It was incredibly powerful to argue that black folks and white folks should be able to eat the same thing at the same table. White people were not interested in black people having choice IRT food.
15) Dictating what goes in the box is dictating what millions of marginalized Americans have the “right” to eat. Not just people of color of course (poor whites as well), but food stamps are racialized in this way too. And also class –
16) – because it is essentially limiting food choice to those who can “afford” it. Even if that choice is already limited by a too-low budget, rising food costs, constraints already put in place by the USDA, food deserts, and other structural limits.
17) Here’s another thing: what gets put in the boxes will also hit on labor. People buy frozen foods and microwave dinners with SNAP for many reasons. Laziness is not among them.
18) Sometimes they stretches the budget farther, sometimes folks like them, sometimes one does not have the time or energy to make a meal from scratch – especially if one is working more than one job.
19) Many of the dried goods that have been bandied about to go into the box are things that require cooking or preparation, which requires time, energy, or abilities that some SNAP recipients don’t have.
20) If you’re working two jobs with small children, you don’t necessarily have half an hour to cook. If you’re working manual labor or are looking for work, you might not have the energy to prepare food at the end of the day.
21) If you’re working and a caregiver, you might not be able to give undivided attention to food preparation for 30 minutes. And food prep can take longer still.
22) There are also situational abilities. Your water might not be safe to cook with (cf Flint). Your gas or electricity might not be reliable. You might not have the ability to refrigerate leftovers. You might not have kitchen equipment. You might not be able to afford it.
23) There’s also ability. People with cognitive disabilities often don’t learn how to cook ever. Kitchens are often inaccessible. If you have chronic pain or chronic illness, cooking might make you feel sick, or take up too much energy.
24) The instructions on frozen food labels are one of the few things on food in this country that is broadly accessible for people with cognitive disabilities or low intelligence. One of the few things that work with a wide variety of disability.
25) Many people on SNAP don’t have the ability to stand or stand for long periods of time, lift a pot, stir, etc. If you reduce benefits by providing a box of things people can’t prepare, people cannot eat. Many SNAP recipients have disabilities.
26) (I have not even touched on food allergies, digestive conditions, food aversions, regional differences, religious dietary restrictions, etc. That’s a whole other Twitter rant.)
27) Cooking is often damn hard, even for the simple things, and we forget that at our peril. We forget, when romanticizing the kitchen (and I am guilty too), that some folks don’t have the time to cook, the energy, or ability. Especially something they had no choice in.
28) And then there’s the mundane issue of language. If you don’t read English very well, and you suddenly get items with English instructions, you might not know how to cook it. Even if you do read English: what if, say, you have never cooked pasta? (Yes, some people haven’t.)
29) If it gets messed up, you can’t afford to go get something else. You skip a meal, or you face indigestion, etc.
30) #SNAP already has extremely limited freedom of choice. People generally can’t buy prepared hot food, even if they are in a situation where that is best. They can’t buy luxury items – even though folks who are poor might want nice things sometimes too.
31) Even now, people who do not have the time, energy, or ability to cook struggle immensely under SNAP. Soup kitchens here in NYC are often filled with folks who are on SNAP but still can’t get enough to eat. Same for food pantries.
32) But these boxes would not only be incredibly demoralizing, and a very racially-coded statement of what food is and nutrition is, essentially saying that charity is "white," but would also negatively impact the lives of those who would be forced to depend on it.
33) The Republicans claim that slashing benefits is part of encouraging freedom. Forgive me for being blunt, but this doesn’t sound like freedom to me.
34) *hat off*. Time to cite some sources: @sarahkliff @rachellaudan @SarahTaber_bww @nahime @KosherSoul @connieprater91 @queer_spice @hunter_owens have all written or tweeted about this at points.

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