SNAP Judgment: Life After Limes

“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by [ignorance].”

Really, Hanlon’s Razor uses the word ‘stupidity,’ but I reserve that word for a certain kind of ignorance. The willful kind. The kind that, when challenged with alternative facts, feelings, or perspectives, elects to ignore rather than engage them.

Did Gwyneth’s idea of a SNAP shopping list simultaneously make me want to laugh and cry and punch a wall? Yes. Do I think the diatribes that have been leveraged against her are fair? Yes. And no.

"This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week."
“This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week.”

Yes, because limes. Seven limes. And scallions and cilantro and a jalapeño. These are wonderful, cheap ingredients that add a whole lot of flavor to any bland food. But including all of these seems to brush over the fact that small luxuries like these are often just that–luxuries–to consumers depending on SNAP benefits.

If you’ve ever had to choose between buying shampoo or toilet paper (opt for toilet paper–you can wash your hair with soap), then you know that even the tiniest luxuries sometimes don’t make the cut. Even worse, they are likely to bring you a whole lot of judgment from those who want to regulate what poor people are allowed to eat.

No, because throwing a celebrity under the bus easily becomes just another story, just more buzz. And, let’s admit it, it’s another chance for those of us in the know to attack those whom we deem out-of-touch. But to what end?

There is potential for a real story here. Gwyneth Paltrow is in the spotlight (or the hotseat) now. While there are tons of folks who are just as out-of-touch with the struggles of the barely-getting-by, not many of them have the platform she has. So how will she handle it?

My hope is that Paltrow will not be—for lack of a better word—stupid. My hope is that she will be humble. That she will unflinchingly ask herself the question so many of us are asking ourselves: How in the world could a world-famous celebrity, one who obviously is trying to engage this urgent issue, possibly hit so far from the mark?

What we need from Gwyneth is not a public apology (and to my knowledge that’s not in the works). What we need is a public rectification.

So your understanding is stunted by your privileged day-to-day reality? As a white, middle-class American, I can say, “I’ve been there.” I am there. Often.

But I can also say, “Go out and learn the facts. Learn the realities that cry out for a better safety net for America’s most vulnerable citizens. Educate yourself and do it loudly. Do it publicly. Fail at it, and do that loudly, too. Then keep it up.” The person who constantly seeks to educate him- or herself can never be stupid.

Too often, the end result of political battles is that the general public learns the right thing to say. We don’t want to seem racist so we change what we say. We don’t want to seem privileged, so we change what we say. I’m glad (if still shocked) that Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t know the right thing to say (or photograph, in this case). Her snapshot of a few green veggies captured the disconnect between the haves and the have-nots in high resolution. And now many more people know that SNAP only offers $29 per week. Isn’t that what we should be talking about?

So if you’re Gwyneth Paltrow, and you’re reading this, please read this. And this. Watch this. Listen to this. Find more. There is so much more at your fingertips for understanding the relationship between food and poverty in America.

(Also, thanks for reading this.)

Then, let’s talk some more. Food insecurity is a real threat to real people with real choices to make about how they feed themselves. Until we understand what that really means, what that really looks like, we will continue to find ourselves stuck between a bad photo and a hard truth.