I was standing in line at the grocery store yesterday and there was a man in front of me paying for his items with food stamps – actually, they use these special debit cards now, but you know what I mean. Anyway, the cashier told him his total after the government’s subsidy was six bucks and some odd cents. The man thought for a moment and then questioned having to pay anything at all.
“Didn’t I have enough on my card?” he asked.
“You have plenty left on your card,” the cashier replied, “but this chicken is from the deli and you can’t buy food from the deli with food stamps.”
“Oh.” The man looked like he’d been kicked in the stomach. “I thought I could get that. I am sorry. I have no other money.”
The checker removed the price of the chicken from the total and then something happened that caused my internal hard drive to skip: as the man stood there gathering up the bags of items that had been allowed him, he watched the cashier throw the chicken into the garbage. I don’t care who you are, irony making you its bitch to that degree is going to hurt a lot and for a good long time.
When it was my turn to checkout, I asked the cashier if she had in fact thrown the chicken away. She told me that it was required, since anything that comes out of the deli cannot go back to be resold. Health concerns. At that moment, I wanted so badly to go back three minutes in time and pay for the guy’s stupid fried chicken – not because I’m some kind of heroic comforter of the poor, but because of the frustrating absurdity of allowing to rot in a landfill perfectly good meat that a hungry person specifically tried to buy.
Now, I’m not stupid. I understand capitalism and the unavoidable dichotomies inherent in it. I get that the man should have known that the terms of the food stamp program do not allow for prepared foods. Nevertheless, there is something drastically wrong with a system that so badly wants to keep poor people from anything remotely constituting a luxury, that it is willing to unabashedly waste perfectly good food rather than allow those using food stamps to purchase it.
We humans must be capable of better than this.