As our economic future becomes increasingly bleak, the threat of widespread food riots becomes increasingly real. This essay describes failures of SNAP and the EBT cards as a likely catalyst for such riots.
In my scenario, the initial riots begin spontaneously across affected urban areas, as SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program) and other government welfare recipients learn that their EBT cards no longer function. This sudden revelation will cause widespread anger, which will quickly lead to the flash-mob looting of local supermarkets and other businesses. The media will initially portray these “food riots” as at least partly justifiable. Sadly, millions of Americans have been made largely, or even entirely, dependent on government wealth transfer payments to put food on their tables.
A new social contract has been created, where bread and circuses buy a measure of peace in our minority-populated urban zones. In the era of ubiquitous big-screen cable television, the internet and smart phones, the circus part of the equation is never in doubt as long as the electricity flows. But the bread is highly problematic. Food must be delivered the old-fashioned way: physically. Any disruption in the normal functioning of the EBT system will lead to food riots with a speed that is astonishing. This will inevitably happen when our unsustainable, debt-fueled binge party finally stops, and the music is over. Now that the delivery of free or heavily subsidized food is perceived by tens of millions of Americans to be a basic human right, the cutoff of “their” food money will cause an immediate explosion of rage. When the hunger begins to bite, supermarkets, shops and restaurants will be looted, and initially the media will not condemn the looting. Unfortunately, this initial violence will only be the start of a dangerous escalation.