Everyday Insults

I am working on a major post at the moment, one that looks at income and household expenses in my zip code and puts food costs into context. That will take another day or two to get finished. In the meantime, here is a bit of paternalistic fuckwittery that the SU reported to me yesterday.

Evidently, if you are using a WIC voucher/check, you are unable to purchase white potatoes. You can purchase any other kind of fresh vegetable, but not white potatoes. Sweet potatoes (puke, oh, lord I loathe sweet potatoes…) are fine, but it you wanted to buy a russet potato to bake or a few new potatoes to steam, you are not allowed to do this.

The SU heard this on an NPR radio program in the car on the drive home yesterday. I checked online and, sure enough, you can’t buy a fresh white potato with WIC. The reason given on the program and in the online FAQ is that low income people eat too many potatoes, so there’s no reason to help them buy more.

What. The. FUCK?

The radio program presented only two views – that of the government bureaucrat stating that poor people eat too many potatoes in the form of french fries and potato chips, so they don’t need any more potatoes, and that of potato farmers who would like WIC mothers to be able to buy their potatoes. The debate was framed as the government trying to instill healthy eating habits vs. the farmers trying to make a buck. The bureaucrat was even laughing at how she enjoys a good baked potato, but they just couldn’t allow the same food to be purchased by WIC mothers.

Does anyone besides me see the problem here?  The presumption of the bureaucrat is that the WIC parent cannot be trusted to make a food decision for herself.

Where in all of this is the voice of the person making the purchase, and why she would like to be able to buy a plain potato? Why is this person being infantilized and prevent from exercising her right to select the foods that she considers best for her family? But, c’mon Ang, it’s just a potato, you might say, does anyone really need to eat a potato? Can’t she pick something else?

Yes, this mother really does need to eat that potato because it is her right and responsibility as an adult to make choices for herself. This is paternalism in a very raw and direct form. What if the mother in question would like to feed her toddler some plain potato – high in potassium, very easy to mash up and mix in with other foods, as nutritious and reasonable as any other starchy vegetable – and get the kid used to eating potatoes in this form? How is she supposed to teach her kid to recognize and like potatoes cooked as something besides fries if she can’t buy it?

If you compare 100g of white potato to 100g of sweet potato:

  • The white potato is lower in calories
  • Has more protein, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin C, folate
  • Has fractionally higher fat (0.09 vs. 0.05)
  • Has more carbohydrates
  • Has slightly less fiber
  • Has significantly less sugars (0.78 vs. 4.18)
  • Has less calcium, magnesium, zinc, copper, vitamin B6, vitamin A

Note that this is comparing a true sweet potato to the regular potato. If you are actually dealing with a yam, which is often mistakenly called a “sweet potato,” the nutritional comparison is very different. The point I am making is that if a mother purchased and prepared a white potato the way she is expected to do with a sweet potato – namely, to make baked, low-fat oven fries – there is no significant nutritional advantage of the one tuber over the other.

There is no attempt to address the fact that sweet potatoes at home are usually prepared with butter, brown sugar and marshmallows, or else pureed and put into a pie. People treat sweet potatoes (and yams) like winter squash, loading them up with sugar and butter to make them sweet and candy-like.

This is an insult to the intelligence and care-giving abilities of a poor mother, nothing more, nothing less. It is nothing less than telling her she’s an idiot who can’t be trusted to choose for herself and has to be coerced into behaving correctly. It is rank interference in her private life that no one who could afford the food directly would ever put with. It is also bad science since it takes a moralistic value judgment (poor people eat too many potatoes prepared in ways we don’t like) and refuses to recognize the actual nutritional value of the food in question.

How many of these bureaucratic fuckwits eat their bananas in the form of high-sugar, high-calorie smoothies, I wonder? How many of them eat french fries on a regular basis, or buy them for their kids?

The eating disorder on display is the one that arrogates to itself the right to make decisions for adults, disempowering that adult and reducing her to a childlike state. It is simply one more everyday insult that poor Americans, particularly poor women with dependent children, have to endure on a daily basis from the sanctimonious food puritans.


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Posted in Culture, Politics

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