Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Living on Food Stamps

Andante over at Collective Sigh pointed out something that really struck home for me. The "Food Stamp Challenge" and I agree with her that it should be a required part of every elected official or political appointee's indoctrination as to the impact of their policies and votes in Washington.

It takes something visceral like this kind of experience to fully impress ones' psyche with the pain that hunger and helplessness can inflict. I know I am shocked when I see what $100 gets me for food at the grocery today and I can only imagine what it would be like to only have $21 for a whole week. There were some times growing up when it was a little close and corn bread and beans were the norm. I can still remember meals that were completely sourced from the family garden and while I was not a big fan of veggies as a kid I still remember being told that that was all there was and if I didn't want to go to bed hungry I'd better eat. It didn't happen often but I do remember it.
For lunch on Tuesday, Janice Schakowsky spread flakes of tuna on two slices of white bread. Jim McGovern ate a bowl of home-cooked lentils and Jo Ann Emerson's salad was mostly shredded iceberg lettuce. "I couldn't afford the mayo," said Schakowsky, so she did not make tuna salad. Schakowsky, McGovern and Emerson -- all members of the U.S. House of Representatives -- are on what could be called the Food Stamp diet, spending $1 on food per meal, for a week. Their spell on "the Food Stamp Challenge" will end on Monday, just before the House Agriculture Committee is expected to begin overhauling U.S. farm law. Food stamps and other public nutrition programs account for two-thirds of the spending governed by the "farm bills" written every few years.
They're blogging the experience here.

It might be an interesting experience to see how well you could do on a buck a meal. I know it probably wouldn't last long around here. The following is from the NYDaily News last Thursday.

Despite bargain hunting, St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan dietitian Tina Fuchs fell short on every vital food group when asked to buy a week's worth of food with only $28.

The nutritionist was challenged to see whether she could do better than Queens Councilman Eric Gioia, who has been living on the average food-stamp allotment for a single recipient for the past week.

And, though more nutritious than the Democrat's diet of Ramen noodles, cheese slices and white bread, she said her shopping cart would still lead to major long-term health problems.

"I made the most of our $28, but we haven't got what we need," she said outside Associated Supermarket on W. 14th St.

"I have the bare minimum of protein, but I fell short on grains and dairy, and really short on fresh produce."

Fuchs' produce quota was lacking despite buying lettuce, grapefruit, broccoli, apples, tangerines, carrots and collard greens - many of which were on sale.

"We should be having five cups of fruit and vegetables a day," she said. "We have maybe two. I'm losing protection against chronic diseases."

For protein, she bought fish, bargain steak and chicken - complete with bones and skin that knocked down the price.

She also had 32 ounces of milk - a quarter of her weekly needs - brown rice, whole-wheat bread, beans, oatmeal and peanut butter.

"Eating this diet long-term, I'd be concerned about heart disease, diabetes, cancer and osteoporosis," she said.

The cart full of food actually sent her $2 above budget - and was still almost 1,000 calories a day under what an average person should eat.

"Because we shopped by what was on special offer, we actually did better than I expected," she said.

"But this is nowhere near enough food. I think this proves it can't be done."

"By giving such a small food stamp allowance, we are effectively poisoning people by cutting them off from proper nourishment," said Gioia, whose diet ends today.

For a country that spends more than the rest of the world combined on guns and bullets you would think that we would first feed ourselves.

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