Dining together beats dining alone. / William Murphy
Amber A’Lee Frost,  August 24, 2016

Friends on the Dole

Hoarding your food stamps is the surest way to turn your roommates freegan

Dining together beats dining alone. / William Murphy
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Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: yoursorryass@thebaffler.com.

Dear Your Sorry Ass,

I recently moved to the city after college and am in between not having a job and not having a job. While I remain impecunious, I live a life of abnegation: I never eat out, keeping a monkish diet with the barest possible grocery bills. My roommate, on the other hand, is gainfully employed and receives food stamps. (I’m ineligible for complicated reasons.) Our good government gives him more each month than he uses, and he has accumulated, in his own words, “hundreds of dollars more than he could ever spend.” And yet he won’t share—because Uncle Sam says he’s not supposed to.

I’ve tried to convince him otherwise, but having myself taken manifold ludicrous moral stands in the vain attempt to live an ethical life, I don’t know if I have ground to stand on. Is he right, that his agreement with the government constitutes a moral obligation? Or am I right, that he should buy me free food?

Yours baffled,
Unrepentant Mooch

 

Dear Mooch,

Oftentimes when we are faced with a moral conundrum, it is best to refer to the words of the wisest among us. Here I find it helpful to consult the King of Bad Taste himself, John Waters, whose position on government assistance is informed by good humor and voluptuary joie de vivre:

We gotta teach kids it’s cool to be poor. When I was young I wanted to kill the rich, not be rich. I try to explain to them about welfare fraud. It’s easy: You just go in and say, “We don’t have any money, and we have diseases, and we want to eat.” And they will give you emergency food vouchers, and then you have dinner parties. You can buy $200 worth of crab meat with emergency food vouchers, and you see the woman behind you in line going, “Oh my God!” freaking out. It’s really fun!

Look Mooch, you’re clearly not going to get a sermon from me here, and not only because I’m a former serial shoplifter and SNAP abuser myself. (I used to go to a small market and use the card to buy hot food and toilet paper, both of which are verboten by law.) Not only are you in need of assistance, I also find “need” to be an overly high bar for the justification of obtaining food. You shouldn’t have to be absolutely destitute to be eligible for a goddamn delicious and nutritious meal.

If I had my way, we’d all be supplied with a bountiful food fund, which would be accepted at grocery stores, farmer’s markets, restaurants, butchers, boulangeries, gourmet Soviet-style cafeterias, liquor stores, movie theaters, the champagne you drink during intermission at the opera, and every other producer or seller of foodstuffs. The only fare that wouldn’t qualify would be anything “paleo” or those boutique cupcake shacks that hawk dry and disgusting affronts to dessert. All bullshit yuppie feedbags of this sort will be outlawed for degeneracy, and their proprietors sentenced to reeducation camps. Everything else, whether gourmet or gourmand, will be fair game.

But my own utopian reveries aside, your roommate is a fucking sanctimonious tool, and the worst sort of moralist—one who does not distinguish between what is righteous and what is lawful. This is the mark of a goody-goody, a person who over-identifies with authority and usually acts in its service. He should share. There is no reason—ethical, moral, or practical—for him not too. He’s just a square, and you are right to be annoyed.

Sadly though, squareness—while not an incurable condition—is rarely shaken by either reasonable argument or appeals to sympathy. By all means, feel free to show your roommate this column, but it is highly unlikely that he will be moved to charity or egalitarian responsibility. I advise you to acknowledge his shitty goody-two-shoes hypocrisy, allow yourself to feel some anger (and perhaps hurt) over it, and then move on. One mustn’t become bitter—it’s bad for the skin.

The good news is that this does not mean you are doomed to a Spartan diet. Since you are unemployed, you have some time to check out the local food banks, Food Not Bombs, and other non-governmental services. There is also the dreaded potluck, but frankly I’m not a fan of obligatory community, and you’re far more likely to run into some rather crunchy dietary restrictions—”vegan” is the most common word associated with potlucks.

Obviously, shoplifting is dangerous, and food stamp fraud has its risks. I would never advise you to do anything illegal (at least not in print), but if you’re not averse, “dumpster-diving” is far less illegal, and often involves little to no actual “diving” into dumpsters. “Freegan” (ugh, I know) meet-ups and online groups can usually give you some great tips on how to get uncontaminated, quality food in sanitary and dignified ways.

I would also advise you to be charming to people who like to cook. Generous and delightful hosts have always found a seat for me at their tables, and their kindness has greatly mitigated my grocery bill and hunger.

I’m sorry you’re rooming with such a priggish sucker, but you may find some comfort in the temporary nature of your monkish lifestyle. Don’t ask me how I know, but I foresee crabmeat dinner parties (or whatever your preferred equivalent may be) in your near future; you seem like a clever person, and that usually makes the passage into a general lifestyle and culinary upgrade a little easier. My thoughts are with you, Moocher. You and everyone in the world deserve not only good food, but also luxury, leisure, and laughs.

Amber A'Lee Frost is a writer and musician in Brooklyn. She is a contributor to Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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