OPINION You could cut the hate with a knife. All eyes were on my fumbling fingers, unable to sign my WIC coupons fast enough with one hand while holding my 13-month-old son with the other. “Somebody’s using welfare checks to pay for their food,” A 20 something man in a polo shirt shouted into his phone next to me.
I spend so many days like this while trying to shop as a poor mama, its hard to even think about them. The life of a poor parent in the U.S. is always a scarcity model rollercoaster ride of hate, system abuse, subsistence crumbs and criminalization, best exemplified in the supermarket experience where the so-called paying customers suffer through the bother of waiting for poor parents to pay with our WIC coupons, working poor mamas to pay with payroll checks or indigenous elders to count out their multiple coupons.
I began to reflect on this when I heard about the new fresh and Easy Markets opening in the Bayview-Hunters Point, the Mission and the Portola district. It’s a new supermarket chain from England that by policy doesn’t accept WIC coupons.
WIC — the federal Women, Infants and Children’s program, is not welfare, but rather a supplemental program that allows low-income parents to get milk, grains, cereal and other basic foodstuffs. It’s a program used by many working poor as well as mamas on government crumbs so we can feed our children a balanced diet.
The Bayview, Mission, and Portola neighborhoods are peopled with a lot of multi-generational, multi-lingual mamas, and families in poverty like mine, who need access to affordable fruits and vegetables and non-hormone-filled meat like Fresh and Easy has, but are these stores really being built for us?
Like so much of San Francisco and the whole Bay Area, these communities are under attack from redevelopment and gentrification efforts. Removal and evictions of poor families and elders happen everyday in the city to make way for the corporate veneer of Lennar and John Stewart properties, condominiums, lofts and the rich young people who they are built for.
So who is Fresh and Easy for? They don’t take coupons, personal checks or WIC — and like their Whole Paycheck counterparts, they don’t hire union employees, or ultimately many employees at all, as they have the new self-pay check-out stands.
Fresh and Easy claims it doesn’t except the manufacturers’ coupons for the same reasons it doesn’t accept paper personal checks, W.I.C. vouchers, or cash payroll checks: That elimination of manual paper processing, combined with its self-service checkout system, saves money.
Pressured by community members who protested outside the Bayview store on its opening day, Fresh and Easy CEO Tim Mason now claims that Fresh and Easy in the Bayview will eventually begin taking WIC.
As this poor mama tries to move out from under the lie of criminalized government crumbs and the non-existent, bootstraps centered, corporate underwritten American dream, I have come to realize our collective, self-determined liberation begins with growing our own food in our poor neighborhoods with people-led community gardens, taking back stolen indigenous land and resources with organized poor people led/indigenous people-led efforts and whenever we have the energy, after all the other things we have to do to survive in this capitalist society fighting the exclusion and removal efforts of us by the smooth talking corporations who don’t see us as part of their grand profit-making plans.
Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio is the co-founder of POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork and author of Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America