Fertile Ground: Food Banks, Nutrition, and the Romney Delusion
Walk into a food bank and you're likely to see a lot of junk food mixed in with—well, usually less junky food. In many ordinary food banks, where boxes of Kraft mac and cheese may be the most gourmet thing you'll find, there are loads of canned and processed goods ladened with trans-fats and unpronounceable ingredients. And as most of us feminists know, the highest percentage of welfare recipients and food bank-goers are single women. WIC—the government assistance program designed for pregnant women and women with young children—though well-intentioned, also remains problematic in the nutrition department. Its coupons, except for the few that you are able to spend at some farmer's markets, are intended for the "least expensive" products on the grocery store shelves. Unlike food stamps (now called SNAP), WIC is strict in its selection. Nothing organic, or in most cases, even remotely natural is allowed. Only the cheapest—a.k.a., most processed—items can be purchased.
Though it may seem like old news now, Ann Romney's positioning by the GOP as the epitome of womanly motherhood is important here. It is no secret that the Romney family is out-of-this-world wealthy. Ann Romney's stayed-at-home child-rearing therefore brings up many issues, including nutrition access for the less-than-wealthy and what it is to be a mother raising children in poverty today. If "all mothers are working mothers," as Mitt Romney would have us believe, does that include ones who are much poorer, and ones who are of in need of government assistance and better nutrition?
The Republican record—including that of Mitt Romeny—of cutting social services left and right says no. The pejorative term "welfare queen" is still one of the right wing's go-to phrases to drive their ideology of social Darwinism home. Before the "saintly mother" idea took hold, Mitt was all about telling "lazy" poor women to put down that teacup they've been leisurely sipping on the couch and get to work, even when their children are very young. "Moms need the dignity of work," he said of mothers who receive welfare assistance.
This contradiction and complete disregard for lower-income families has prompted some Democrats to take action. Led by Pete Stark of California, the act, called WORK (Women's Option to Raise Kids), would allow women supported by welfare to have the same ability as Ann Romney to stay at home to raise their child(ren), by counting child-raising among their required work duties. (Well, not exactly like Ann Romney—the act allows it only until the child turns four. And without an extremely rich husband and lots of hired help. Okay, so it's really nothing like Ann Romney.) Stark told the Huffington Post:
Mitt Romney was for forcing mothers into the workforce before he decided that "all moms are working moms." I think we should take Mr. Romney at his most recent word and change our federal laws to recognize the importance and legitimacy of raising young children. That's why I'm introducing the WORK Act to provide low-income parents the option of staying home to raise young children without fear of being pushed into poverty.
The Republicans would love nothing more than for this to become a "liberals hate moms, but we love them! VOTE ROMNEY!" conversation, but it's much more complicated than that. For one thing, the lack of healthy food available to many families is left out of much of the discussion. Romney and his team would of course like to keep it that way—and even many Democrats seem reluctant to bring it up. Nutrition should be a right, not a luxury. It would be nice if mainstream news outlets could discuss lack of healthy food for mothers and young children as one of the issues—among a multitude of others—that many low- or no-income women face.
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