I went to ALDI yesterday. I really appreciate ALDI's sensibility and pragmatism in a world of advertised lies and innuendo. They're just plain cheaper than everyone else, yet the quality of their grocery items is very high. I've been a proponent for years now. And I'm not alone. Often, the store is packed. Especially prior to an impending winter storm (ANOTHER one). This last visit to ALDI was no exception: there we all were, buying bread and milk and toilet paper per the usual Pittsburgh-area snowpocalyse-driven purchase requirements.
I got in line with my cart and my bags, along with several other people. I was behind a couple that I'd seen in the store as I shopped: two dark-haired young people who were well-groomed and appropriately dressed in attractive, modern styles. They weren't glamorous or out of the ordinary, but they also appeared to be far from destitute. Their cart was piled high, and they were swiftly transferring the items to the belt for processing.
I became aware that neither of them was speaking English. I couldn't identify for certain what language they were using; I have some guesses, but since I'm not positive, I'll keep those guesses to myself. What I couldn't help noticing was that the order came to over $100 (not hard to do when food shopping, I know)—and that all but $7 of the order was paid with an ACCESS card.
I covertly studied the two of them. Fashionable. Young. As far as I could see, perfectly able-bodied. Speaking a foreign language. And paying for the bulk of their order with someone else's money. And I bristled at the situation. I'm sorry if you think that makes me unfair, or that I am unsympathetic, or that I don't want to help people who are trying to help themselves. No, wait—I'm not sorry. I do feel that way. I'm allowed.
Granted, this twosome had filled their shopping cart with mostly genuine, simple, un-fancy food, like potatoes and milk and items that could actually be turned into meals with some homemade efforts. (Sadly, their cart looked unlike the typical ACCESS users I end up following, who buy expensive meat and name-brand junk food. But I digress.) And to be honest, I do not know the couple, nor their situation. Perhaps they had good jobs and one or both was recently laid off. Perhaps they are students somewhere, studying for advanced training that is best found in America... in which case, why would they have that card? I studied here, and I didn't have that card—I had, instead, an overabundance of ramen noodles. That is all.
It was the middle of the day, on a weekday. If they needed jobs, why wasn't at least one of them seeking work? If they shared a vehicle, why not use the extensive public transportation system? They knew how the free food card worked, and how to pay the difference in cost with a debit. They knew to bring their own bags to ALDI. These were not confused, fumbling foreigners.
I thought to myself that I would like to follow them out to the parking lot. Perhaps with more time, I could identify their language. And mostly? I wanted to see the car they were driving. If I had to guess, based on their outfits, I'd probably assume that the vehicle was a fairly recent model. Maybe I'd be dead wrong. I'll never know, because my turn in line came, and the intriguing shoppers bagged their items lightning-quick and got out of there. But I kept thinking about them.
I don't really mind buying second-hand; I find satisfaction in a good bargain. And truly, I don't mind driving old cars; we own them, and they'll never be re-possessed in hard times. I like to cook, and we have some dietary concerns to factor in, so making our meals at home is fine with me.
What I do mind? A lot? Knowing that healthy young people who don't speak our native language are shopping for food here for free. I object. Strenuously. If I went to a foreign country, would I ever have that option? No. If I venture out of this overly generous country, I must be prepared to pay my own way. In every way. That's the deal. There's a good chance, I suppose, that the couple I observed were U.S. citizens, and had every right to be here, and have just experienced recent hard times like so many others. I truly hope so. I pray that there weren't 3 or 4 free cell phones in her capacious handbag.
I know there is fraud. I know there is abuse of a well-intentioned, sick system that is meant to help Americans in need. I don't know if those two were guilty of any wrongdoing. But even if they weren't, the whole scene felt wrong to me. Very wrong. Are Americans paying attention? Do they realize where tax money is going? There's no way we plebeians can track it all, and no way we can be certain that the people who are accepting assistance truly need it. That concerns me greatly. If you've ever worked and paid taxes in the U.S., you should be concerned, too. Even if I misinterpreted what I saw at ALDI, I know that the system is broken and getting more decrepit every day. All over the country, a similar scene is repeating itself. Sometimes, the able-bodied offenders are Americans who may (or may not) need a healthy dose of pride and a revised list of wants vs. needs.
In short? That whole incident at ALDI reminded me that I'm weary of the whining and scrabbling of entitled receivers. If you cannot afford your lifestyle, then change your lifestyle. It is not up to the government to help you maintain the old standard. And if you come here from a faraway place? I sincerely hope you've come with an expectation to contribute—not to further bleed the working class.
“Let us never forget this fundamental truth: The State has no source of money other than the money people themselves earn.” ~ Margaret Thatcher