Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Please, sir, may I have some more?: or As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!

Could you live on $28 a week for food? Well, you would have to if you were on food stamps. Now, some people on food stamps actually have jobs (they just don't pay enough to lift them above the poverty level) so they presumably have a little money to supplement the amount they spend on groceries. But apparently a person is theoretically supposed to be able to buy a week's worth of groceries for $28. I couldn't do it.

I remember when I first moved to Los Angeles for college around 1988. For some reason I remember my grocery bills; I went to the store every week and I always spent about $40. I think that included cold cereal, milk, bread, peanut butter, jelly, cheese, pasta, pasta sauce, orange juice, soda, and potato chips. I didn't eat any fruit or vegetables. I had cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and pasta for dinner. Every day for two years. Oh, yeah, and a multi-vitamin. I don't know how I survived.

The point is, even with that horrible diet, I still would have gone way over my budget if I were on food stamps. And that was almost 20 years ago; those same groceries would cost a lot more today!

You may have read recently about Eric Gioia, a councilman from Queens, NY, who took the food stamp challenge and tried living on $28 worth of food. He made it through the week but he felt like shit, he was always hungry, and he actually gained 2 pounds because he was mainly eating bread and pasta.

Anyway, this post isn't really about the worthiness of the food stamp program because I don't actually know that much about it. I just found the idea of trying to live on $28 a week for food to be frightening. Do you think you could do it? Do you have experience living on this kind of budget?


BigAssBelle said...

of course not. absolutely not. the food stamp rate hasn't been raised in years and years and years, and i've read in the last several years that the rethugs think it's a waste of $$, along with WIC, which is one remarkably successful nutritional program for Women, Infants & Children. if it works, if it helps, if it's compassionate ~ get rid of it.

but again, could we live on it? not even close. i went to the store last night to pick up milk, lettuce and fruit and spent over $20 and one cannot live on lettuce, plums, cantaloupe, strawberries, peaches and milk.

just after the first of the month, the shelves in our grocery stores thin out and the folks receiving assistance can be seen moving through the store with carts stacked high with those $1 frozen dinners, white bread, canned vegetables.

it's not a diet conducive to good health, mental acuity, weight control. i don't know how the numbers would break out, and it would be a difficult study to set up, but how many folks eating poorly on food stamps now will be requiring more public health care later? in most areas of life, from car maintenance to roofs to our physical selves, prevention seems to be far better than treatment of problems once they arise.

most people love sweet stuff, and kids are no exception. my stepdaughter, who is receiving food stamps, cannot afford to buy for her boys the fruit they love. my trip to the store last night was because the two little ones had literally eaten everything we had. but it was amazing to me, because they'll pass up cookies for fresh fruit if it's available. hannah can't buy fruit, though, when a small bag of plums runs $2 and she can get a huge bag of cookies for $1.

delphine said...

Interesting article...

but not at all feasible for the majority of food stamp recipients.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

Long story short . 1986 my husband left. I had no child support and no money. We were about a week away from a shelter. I got food stamps and luckily got into public housing. I do not remember how much I received from the government. But I can remember not affording fruit or tomatoes. My cart was full of food that would last a month and it didn't. (think survival, living in a cabin for a month) Cheap fillers.
Food stamps do not cover toilet paper.
Thanks to the gracious folks who donated to the food bank , bless all of their hearts, we would got enough to scrap by. My brief stint , a few years, showed me a lot about welfare. I am thankful it was there for me but I know it needs some work.

It is an almost impossible system to actually get out of. When the kids graduated high school, we got financial aid to get them to college. I called welfare and said take me off the welfare rolls. They actually called me for 2 to 3 months trying to get me back on it. I asked someone I knew who was a social worker why they would do that. He said each state gets money and welfare worker jobs according to it case load. So basically their idea was to keep me on welfare so they could have their job. Lovely.

When money is allocated to welfare it doesn't get to the recipients it goes to services and committees to oversee the services. In a bit of cosmic humor I had to study the welfare system in a sociology class. If the money actually got to the people who needed it the welfare department would be cut to a small size. The system as it is set up wants dependents.

I talk to a lot of older people, guess what, they don't buy vegetables and fruit because they cannot afford it. Milk is going up 50 to 75 cents Thank agribusinesses and Nafta for that.

Wow that is the longest post I ever made. Sorry Eric.

P.S. Both girls graduated college, top honors have great jobs they love and are very independent As am I.

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

That wasn't a long story short and I am embarrassed

eric3000 said...


It's just like the health-care industry: the system actually encourages people NOT to get preventive health-care so that it ends up costing much more for treatment. Even the insurance companies should realize it's in their financial interest to keep people healthy in the first place. Our society is definitely penny wise and pound foolish.


Thanks for the link. Very interesting article. First, it points out that the national average for food stamps is even lower than the amount I was quoting for New York! You're right: it's fascinating to see that you can buy enough food in theory but that doesn't always translate to reality. I think that woman just went shopping; I would be interested to see if she could actually live like that long term.

In "Nickel and Dimed" Barbara Ehrenreich talks about her experience of living at minimum wage jobs. She says that going in she had all these plans for low-cost healthy recipes she was going to make but in reality she just wasn't able to do it.


It wasn't short but it was interesting! LOL! Thanks for sharing your story!

While it sounds like public assistance programs could certainly use some help, I hope that isn't used as an excuse to eliminate them or change them over to "faith-based" assistance.

Sewing Siren said...

I have a suggestion for your stepdaughter. I *think* you live in the south east and there is a chain of food stores here that orignated in Germany called Aldi.
They carry very cheap produce like banannas @.29 lb, apples , oranges and grapes for 1.29 a bag, and they also (sometimes)have whole pinnapples, cannalopes, and watermelons for very low prices.They almost always have pears and strawberries and sometimes they have blueberries!You do have to pack you own groceries and bring your own bags. I don't work for them, I just hate to think of kids not having fruit because they can't afford it. The stores are usually located in the low income part of town too.
best regards, Sewing Siren

Ms. Place said...

Another thing that people forget is that people who receive food stamps tend to live in parts of the city where there are no large grocery stores; just the small mini-marts, where food is expensive and few fresh vegetables are sold. Often these folks have no transportation that will take them to stores where they can purchase cheaper, healthier foods. So they are stuck purchasing products that are high in carbohydrates. This compounds the problem.