The United States was founded on the principle that every citizen had certain “unalienable” rights. Over the course of history, the list of rights written into law has grown longer. Until now, the right to have free food has not been added, but the current pitched, partisan, political battle over cuts in the SNAP program has raised the issue: do people have the right to free food?
The concept that, if you don’t work, you don’t eat is as old as the Bible (2 Thessalonians 3:10). John Smith saved the Jamestown colony in 1607 with the order, “If you don’t work you don’t eat.” American today, however, is a far more compassionate place: if you find yourself out of work, you get unemployment compensation; and, if you are on hard times long enough, you qualify for free housing and free food from the government. If you are a child and your parents can not or will not provide food for you, the government will provide you with a free breakfast before school and a free lunch during school. In addition, there are food banks and many faith-based programs that provide food to people who are hungry.
But, as the House passed a nutrition bill which made minor reforms in the SNAP program, there was wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who said no cuts should be made because hungry people have the right to free food. The House bill required adults who were able to work to look for a job or get training or education to qualify for a job in order to continue to receive food stamps. In other words, if you don’t at least try to work, you don’t eat for free. As a working taxpayer who is paying for those adults’ food bill, this does not sound all that unreasonable or uncompassionate.
In the midst of this debate came the results of a consumer survey conducted by the Center for Food Integrity. It revealed that 87% of American consumers do not feel it is the important for US agriculture to provide food for the rest of the world. CFI reported that “In focus groups, many people said that if feeding the world means more industrial-scale farming, they’re not comfortable with it.”
So what does this say about America today, that we feel free food from the government is a right for everyone here, but the rest of the world is on their own? This is a far cry from the principles of work, charity, and world leadership that have defined our nation in the past. It is also a warning flag for agriculture which depends on a free market global economy in order to thrive and survive.
By Gary Truitt