Food is now the ultimate class signifier


Poor people are being fobbed off with food stamps while the rest of us watch cookery shows and eat fancy ready-meals

“When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” I hate to argue with Bob Dylan, but I am afraid there are many ways to chip away at human dignity. Even that of those who have nothing.

At the end of last year, many celebrated a fantastic 12 months for Britain, with the Olympics showcasing the best of what we could be, but I called 2012 the year of the food bank. We are the seventh richest nation in the world, but there were increasing reports of teachers forking out to feed hungry pupils. This was also the year when people went baking-crazy. In grand marquees, people made gingerbread houses, madeleines and sugar swans, which were oohed and aahed over. Indeed, I see dough-boy from that show has now got a whole series on bread. Wow, how much can you say about bread when you have the charisma of a Kingsmill loaf – but carbs ahoy!

Food is now the ultimate class signifier

Elsewhere, in real life, food stamps are to be introduced. That’s right: food stamps. You can’t give poor people actual money to buy food because they might spend it on the wrong things. This is fine if you accept that poor people are a sub-species. Yet however much support there is for welfare reform, most people see the need for redistribution from the poorest of parents to the poorest of children.

Do food stamps achieve this? Well, austerity brings American-style solutions when the emergency social fund collapses. Forget the Big Society, the safety net has been put in the shredder. The responsibility for feeding needy people has been passed over to “the voluntary sector”.

We re-enter an age of Victorian platitudes, incessant moral lectures and sheer bloody cruelty. Councils used to be able to offer cash loans for the very worst emergencies; come April they will now give out vouchers for nappies and food. Many local authorities are keen to ensure that no money can be spent on alcohol, cigarettes or gambling. A laudable aim, possibly, but what they are doing really is passing on any cash grants to food banks, who are taking on more volunteers as we speak. This is one area of growth, after all.

Conservative-led councils insist that shifting from welfare to charity is all part of “reducing the entitlement culture”. Excuse me? Is entitlement to food now a ridiculously immoral demand of the underclass?

In the US, one sees exactly the kind of culture food stamps produce. Some states ban them from being used to buy fizzy drinks because of the obesity crisis, but protein and decent vegetables are beyond a food stamp budget. You cannot lecture people about healthy diets when fresh produce is so expensive.

Indeed our relationship to food is ever more compulsive and barmy. The dishes prepared on programmes such as MasterChef bear little relation to what people actually eat. Food has become the ultimate signifier of class.

Somewhere between a gastric band and Nigella dribbling cream over goosefat cheesecake – did I make that up? Possibly. Her presentation is ever more hallucinatory – there are those who go to bed early with a bag of chips to keep warm.

In this world of endless gastronomy, the superstar chefs say eat seasonally and simply. Again, this requires dosh. Choice costs. So what so we do for genuinely poor people? We take away even the most basic of choices. We infantilise them. They are not our problem any longer, but charity cases.

In order to treat people like this one must first vilify them. This has been the coalition project from day one: the immorality of those on welfare is the basic recipe. Repeat after me: austerity removes autonomy. We turn the vulnerable into villains, but even the most rabid rightwinger must pretend that little children should be fed. Do food stamps achieve this? This may indeed be the most ineffective way of administering aid. Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor thinks so. In the past 40 years the use of vouchers and stamps has grown hugely in the US, but dependency has not stopped. Putting money into people’s hands may actually stimulate the economy, but that remains abhorrent to this government, except in its bizarre sub-prime house buying fantasy.

The further stigmatising of poor people via food stamps, authorised by a cabinet of millionaires, is deeply disturbing If we think this is acceptable, what next? Food-drops out of helicopters over areas of high unemployment?

If you accept poverty is the fault of poor people themselves, then you can refuse them choice or money, because you believe they cannot be trusted to spend it properly. Let them eat crappy cake while the rest of us carry on stuffing our faces with ever more exotic ready-meals. Or just say no to this sickness. Fasting is in after all.

How do you take even more away from people with nothing? You strip them of even the most basic of choices, that’s how. The notion of food stamps in a still wealthy country makes me gag. Swallow this and you will swallow anything. But that taste at the back of your throat is pure bile.

2 Responses

  1. There was a book entitled Animal Farm several years ago. After the farmer put these hogs in a pig pen and then fattened them up. After they were fattened them up the corral gates were opened up and they were led to the slaughter house.

    There was once a nanny goat who said, “someone sang to me in my craddle a strong man is comming, he will set you free.” The ox turning to the ass said, ‘that will be the butcher.

    The sheep are already being sheared. The spoon fed circus news media that is controlled by the elite is supressing the real state of the economy because it’s bad for business and will cause a panick and the consummer will tighten up on their pocket books and stop spending at the coporate retail box stores including Wall Mart.

    They are going run the masses through the washing machine wringer, and than they are going to pull the plug on the sink drain.

  2. Do not forget energy as part of the equation!

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