Poverty Pushing Commerce

These days, restaurants and retail outlets vie for food stamp business. Remember No Shoes, No Shirt – No Service? Just pack that silly ‘ol sentiment away with the antique Coca Cola and WHITES ONLY signs!

Source: USA Today

So it’s like that, huh? There are enough poor and low-income people to serve the economy, but not enough economy to serve poor and low-income people. It’s nothing new, really, but even ideas you thought you were used to can stop you in your tracks sometimes. Case in point: fast food corporations are taking advantage of a U.S. Department of Agriculture/FDA loophole that allows disabled, elderly, and homeless people (who lack ability or resources to prepare food) to use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at their restaurants. With more than 45 million Americans walking around with SNAP electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards, it’s all the excuse the corporate owners of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Subway, and Taco Bell need to turn SNAP into an almost direct federal subsidy

of their businesses. In Michigan, Arizona, and California (soon Kentucky as well), food stamps can already be exchanged for junk food, and poverty pushing commerce in this way is exactly what’s happening.

Battles over the sale of junk food in public schools and arguments over food packaging and strategies routinely make headlines, and the fast food industry spends lavishly each year on lobbying to expand public policy loopholes and further the reach of their merchandising. Specifically, there are fewer and fewer regulations regarding how and to whom the industry can most heavily advertise, and its no secret that they typically favor less educated and lower income demographics even without carte blanche on the food stamp issue.

For example, as reported by fastfoodmarketing.org:

  • Taco Bell aims its TV and radio advertising at teens. Dairy Queen, Sonic, and Dominos also reached disproportionately more teens with ads for their desserts and snacks, and Burger King advertised teen-targeted promotions.
  • Hispanic preschoolers saw 290 Spanish-language fast food TV ads in 2009, and McDonald’s was responsible for one-quarter of young people’s exposure to Spanish-language fast food advertising.
  • African American children and teens saw at least 50% more fast food ads on TV in 2009 than their white peers. That translated into twice the number of fast food calories viewed daily compared to white children.
  • McDonald’s and KFC specifically targeted African American youth with TV advertising, websites, and banner ads.

No, the fast food lobby doesn’t force teens and poor people to chow down on their junk, but they are well aware of the fact that in low-income communities folks eat as cheaply as they can, so the extra push of targeted advertising is that much more effective. Consider those lobbying and advertising tactics and toss in roughly 45 million SNAP card carriers, the progressively terrible economy, and the nutrition-oblivious (young, old, low-income, or otherwise), and you’ve got a Category Five forest fire where we Americans are the trees. Maybe it’s not such a good plan to always “have it your way.”