Updated: Nov 13, 2020
In which I use Keke Palmer's classist tweet to educate folks about food autonomy.
Yesterday, actress Keke Palmer caused a shitstorm on social media over her tweet where she posed a hypothetical question about SNAP benefits:
Palmer later added context to her tweet on Instagram, saying that "healthy food is expensive for a reason" and asked folks to imagine if folks could get so-called healthy foods on their EBT cards if those types of food would swipe "for free", as a "reward for being healthy" and lessening food costs for families.
Let's use Ms. Palmer's ignorance regarding not just "healthy foods vs bad foods", but also about the SNAP program so we can lay bare the root of her ignorance and hopefully undo the intellectual damage Palmer and many others, regardless of class, wreak with perpetuating these repugnant talking points.
First off, I wholly reject the notion that it's impossible to express context within a tweet. When Twitter was just 120-140 characters, that could've worked as an excuse. But with its expanded character limit and thread function, it has become much easier to express one's self more concisely on the platform. So Keke cannot use the setup of Twitter as a platform as an excuse.
Second, from the construction of the tweet and emojis used, it's clear Keke intended to throw shade on how poor and working-class people and families on public assistance use it to access food. It's the go-to tactic used to shame and police poor and working-class people because the status-quo assumption is that they're inherently ignorant and financially illiterate.
So, we have Keke being classist and using capitalist rhetoric to throw shade at poor people on Twitter. She then shares that tweet on Instagram to give "context", aka double down on her ignorance in a "concern-trolling" way to escape accountability.
Funny thing: Keke hits on a point that illustrates a component of the dilemma poor people face with food access: PRICE! Yet she brushes over that fact and doubles down on her talking points.
Keke asserts "healthy foods" are more expensive because...of their alleged health benefits.
Not because of our imperialist hoarding of resources from other countries, not because of climate change making these foods less accessible and drives up pricing, and not because of the real reason: capitalism.
According to Palmer, "healthy foods" are expensive because they're "good for us"; "bad foods" are bad because of the way they're made. The last part is half-true and requires much more knowledge and nuance, two things Keke obviously doesn't have.
It's true that a majority of the food we consume is processed with loads of additives, sugar, preservatives and sodium. Sodium makes food taste good and initiates thirst, while preservatives ensure longer shelf lives for these foods. And sugar is used in everything: from cereals and bread goods, to even ketchup and salad dressings. These are all choices made for consumers by mega corporations that own many of the food brands we consume. Some companies own both a brand food and its competition!
So the idea of competition between food brands within a free market these days is just an illusion. And, as Keke stated, "healthy food" is more expensive. Again, another half-truth that requires knowledge and nuance, because what is "healthy food", according to Keke? If she means fruits and vegetables, then yes, those items tend to cost a bit more than "processed foods", aka food that is canned or packaged because of:
climate change affecting planting seasons for farmers, resulting in reduced quantities of products
product scarcity driving the supply/demand mechanism of capitalism, which results in price increases
Hell, even if one shops at a Whole Foods instead of a typical supermarket, the same reasons apply; thanks to capitalism, climate change and classism, the prices at Whole Foods are even higher. All these mechanisms prevent poor and working-class people from accessing so-called "healthy foods", regardless of where they go. And since most poor and working-class people live in "food deserts", access to healthier food options are severely limited to non-existent.
So yes, poor and working-class people will go for processed foods because they are most easily accessible, are less expensive, can feed multiple people(families), and have longer shelf lives than produce and fresher foods. To make it so that EBT cards would only accept Palmer's definition of "healthy food" would be nonsensical and aggrevate the economic and food insecurities poor and working-class people are already dealing with.
Would it be good if produce and fresher goods be freebies under SNAP? Kinda like WIC, but for produce? Certainly. I'd go much further and say that profit motives should be removed from the food industry entirely to eradicate food insecurity. But that's a socialist pet dream of mine. For now, I'll settle for eradicating classist shaming and policing of the poor and working-class for the choices they make trying to survive in this world.