Was Keke Palmer's take on EBT cards and 'healthy foods' misinterpreted?

Laura Zornosa
·4 min read
Keke Palmer at the 2019 VMAs
Keke Palmer arrives at the 2019 MTV Video Music Awards. (Evan Agostini / Invision/Associated Press)

Keke Palmer performed her single "Snack" at MTV's 2020 Video Music Awards, which she also hosted, over the summer.

We didn't know then that she was talking only about healthful snacks.

On Monday morning, the singer and actress came under fire on Twitter for a comment about Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants use to buy food with SNAP benefits.

"Imagine if your EBT card could only work on healthy items," Palmer wrote with a handful of side-eye emojis.

The backlash came fast and furious, prompted by the assumption that Palmer was privileged and out of touch.

"Keke Palmer when she sees you buying Doritos instead of kale," one user tweeted with a viral reaction of L.A. Clippers player Kawhi Leonard warning "Hey, hey, hey!"

"Keke Palmer when she spots someone buying honey buns and Takis," another person tweeted with a clip of one man beating up another in a grocery store.

"Keke Palmer making sure y’all grabbing the frozen vegetables and not the Ben & Jerry's," someone else tweeted with a video of a suspicious Walmart worker.

Journalist Ernest Owens synthesized the outcry, tweeting: ".@KekePalmer, you can still address food deserts in America without policing the very vulnerable people impacted by it. Let's start with why so many have to be on EBT in such areas to begin with, or why you felt the need to assume they weren't getting 'healthy items' already."

Palmer, however, clarified her statement on multiple platforms.

On Twitter, she wrote that "my tweet was pertaining to issues w/ healthy foods being [too] expensive & thinking it should be free for those w/ EBT cards. This was not a suggestion for solving all low income issues. Solely a hopeful solution [for] those with EBT that want to run it up w/ meat & produce."

In an Instagram caption, the former “Strahan, Sara and Keke” TV host explained that she has been eating "extremely healthy" recently. (In a string of tweets, she wrote that that meant "carbs like whole grains," whole wheat foods, lentils, chickpeas, yogurt, eggs and veggies.)

The actress recognized that "healthy food is more expensive for a reason" and distinguished that it's "fresh, good for you and gives you energy." She contrasted that with unhealthful foods that might contain more sodium, taste better and be less expensive.

"Imagine if you could get whatever healthy foods you wanted on your EBT card," Palmer wrote. "Like all the healthy foods could swipe for free. Pretty much a reward for being healthy but even more so giving homes a break that want to eat healthy but can’t afford it!"

The activist had, in fact, been discussing healthful eating on her Twitter account with friends and fans all morning. Her previous tweets offer a slice of context: Palmer was trying to say she thinks that healthful foods (like produce and fresh meat) should be free with an EBT card.

In fact, she went so far as to bring it up to the vice president-elect, Kamala Harris.

"Hey @KamalaHarris I know you just started but me and my friends were talking about it and we think EBT cards should swipe free on all items considered HEALTHY," Palmer tweeted. "Xoxo."

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.