Let me be honest. I have no idea what it's like to go hungry. I can never pretend I know what it's like to truly not be able to afford food. I'm not rich by any means, but if I want something like a nice loaf of bread and gourmet cheese, I can buy it.
So when a new version of the farm bill passed in the House this week, without the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), my radar wasn't immediately shaken. Both aspects of the historically bipartisan bill have little to no affect on me— I'm not a farmer nor am I from anywhere remotely rural, and I'm not, nor ever have been, on food stamps. But after some research and speaking with those personally affected by it, I've realized there's so much I, and everyone, needs to know about this scarcely-talked about $760 billion issue.
Food stamps represent what America truly is — the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whatever side you take on the controversial topic, food stamps are a constant reminder of our country's values, economy and politics.
On a positive note, the program is the epitome of American altruism. Food stamps are deemed by many as the most successful of the federal "entitlement" programs, as they fuel both the economy and valuable citizens. They save poverty-stricken children from a slew of problems such as psychological disorders and anemia, and give a helping hand to many who are down on their luck. The themes food stamps represent — a sense of pride and dignity for the common man — are woven throughout our country's history, from the revolutionary war to the foundation of unions. In this way, food stamps are what America is all about.
But while helping so many needy people, food stamps also represent the dregs of American politics. They're a constant reminder that we have one of the highest poverty rates in the western world, and it's not getting any better, as food stamp usage has nearly doubled in just six years.
Additionally, they point out our country's acceptance and economic encouragement to make unhealthy choices. Since food stamps only average out to be about $1.35 per day and our country offers no incentives for healthy eating, food stamp users often purchase high calorie, long-lasting items, i.e. junk food. While Americans are happy to help the needy it seems, they're equally happy to set them on a path towards obesity and all of its maladies. And, as this week's bitter fighting showed, food stamps help remind us that politicians care more about party pride than their constituents' well-being.
Due to last week's events, the exact future of food stamps is undoubtedly going to change, but their symbolism — both good and bad — will not. Because of the firestorm they create, and their role as ever-present reminders, food stamps can serve as an agent for necessary political change, if we the people choose to make it so. And that's simply American, any way you slice it.