by Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia
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, it’s 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, systemic 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 & Easy Markets opening in Bayview Hunters Point, the Mission and Portola – a supermarket chain from England which by policy doesn’t accept WIC (Women Infants and Children program). WIC is not welfare but rather a supplemental program so low-income parents can get milk, grains, cereal and other basic foodstuffs. 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 & Easy sells, but are these stores really being built for us?
As well, 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 every day in the City to make way for the corporate veneer of Lennar and John Stewart properties, condominiums, lofts and the rich young people they are built for.
So who is Fresh & Easy for? They don’t take VIP Power Club coupons, personal checks or WIC and like their “Whole Paycheck” counterparts, they don’t hire union employees – or many employees at all, as they have the new self-pay check-out stands.
Fresh & Easy claims it doesn’t accept manufacturers’ coupons for the same reason it doesn’t accept paper personal checks or WIC vouchers or cash payroll checks: Eliminating manual paper processing saves money.
Pressured by community members who protested outside the Bayview store on its opening day, Fresh & Easy CEO Tim Mason claims that Fresh & 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 Amerikkkan 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, we fight the efforts to exclude and remove us by the smooth talking corporations who don’t see us as part of their grand profit-making plans.
All power to the people.
Tiny aka Lisa Gray-Garcia, daughter of Dee and mama of Tiburcio, is the co-founder of POOR Magazine and Poor News Network and author of “Criminal of Poverty: Growing up Homeless in America.” She can be reached at email@example.com. Visit www.tinygraygarcia.com and www.racepovertymediajustice.org.