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  1. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin August 31, 2011 at 10:42 am |

    The most any one single person can be allotted food stamps here in the District of Columbia is $200 per month. It is a supplement to one’s food budget, no less. Even eating cheaply, the most one can make it stretch is maybe for half of a month.

    I now receive $137 a month, which lasts at most, ten days. And should I feel a compulsion to purchase something more high quality, ten days quickly becomes seven. Hunger advocates have long pushed for more and nutrition classes for those unaware of how to structure meals to best suit their health.

    This is what is really needed most.

  2. Nia
    Nia August 31, 2011 at 10:59 am |

    Every…. single… time… I bring an issue like this up, on bookface or twatter, and point out that billionaires are sucking this country dry, and that it’s not freakin people on welfare who are bleeding out the nation’s weath, not one single commentator can manage to talk about how to hold 1%ers accountable. It’s always “yeah but I know this person who’s scamming food stamps” etc, etc, etc.

    And most of them are in my income bracket. Which, let me tell you, is not high. What the hell is wrong with us.

  3. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 31, 2011 at 11:12 am |

    My family was on assistance for a number of years when I was very young. I will say, I went hungry most nights. There were school lunches which meant I never starved, but we lived in a food desert where everything was hideously expensive. My mom would buy bags of dried beans and ham and we would eat that for as long as it lasted in addition to the free cheese and dried milk that was given away. We usually fasted every other day. Weekends were a nightmare. I’m not often moved to violence but when people talk about reducing food assistance or school lunches, I have to fight the urge to hit them very, very hard…with a chair.

  4. BHuesca
    BHuesca August 31, 2011 at 11:32 am |

    Just wanted to add that for people in rural America, there isn’t public transport. So if one cannot drive for any reason, or doesn’t own a car, or can’t afford a car, or can’t afford the gas to make the car run, then one can’t get to the closest grocery store (that’s 45 miles away) – not to mention that when people call for higher gas taxes, this takes money directly out of rural people’s food budgets. The Grocery Gap lists 23.5 million Americans don’t live within a mile of a supermarket, and I have to think that that number must be referring to urban America (unless those are supermarkets instead of Burma Shave signs every mile along the highway in South Dakota.) So – that many food stamp recipients also must pay the cost of a vehicle (and rising gas costs to “fill ‘er up”) also contribute to the fact that the food stamp allotments are RIDICULOUSLY low.

    On the plus side, though, rural Americans may have *some* soil which is uncontaminated, and maybe, just maybe, if they have the inclination/ability/luck to plant a garden which produces food, this could be an advantage over those living in a windowless skyscraper.

  5. Azalea
    Azalea August 31, 2011 at 11:44 am |

    One day, ONE day congress will see the light corporations multi-millionaires and billionaires will be properly taxed and we will have the money we need to take better care of our citizens.

    Comrade Kevin, I didnt know you were in DC too. Last year with that snowstorm I was PISSED, HEATED enough to keep the whole house toasty when I read about how children were freezing to death because Fenty allowed the closure of several homeless shelters that used to house these familiies.

    There ARE people who scam the system. LOTS of them. But punishing people who genuinely need the help to live isn’t going to do squat to address the problem of assholes who scam the system.

  6. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles August 31, 2011 at 12:05 pm |

    I’m on food stamps and I always go over my budget. I am fortunate enough to make enough money to where I can go over budget and still eat but it’s tough. The reason I go over budget is because the food you can actually afford with that amount of money is crap. I have really truly tried the big pot of rice and froze veggies that I could live off for a week but guess what? It was disgusting. When I try to do brown rice (in an effort to be healthier) the entire pot of food is one mushy, bland mass. I have to force myself to eat it. I also have a hard time figuring out how to work in enough fruit and veg everyday, so I try to keep V8 in the fridge (in an effort to be healthier). V8 is expensive, y’all. But without it I hardly get any produce in my body at all.

    What I’m saying is it’s not easy, and it’s not black and white like some people try to make it out to be. Some of us have depression (me) or chronic fatigue (my roommate) which makes it difficult to grocery shop or cook. On a bad day I get angry and anxious at the store as I try to plan meals and figure out how to make healthy food but keep it affordable. One time I freaked out because I couldn’t decide what bread to get. Mental and physical health problems make an already-complicated issue even tougher. So thank you Sheelzebub, I am always happy to see people talking about this.

  7. iiii
    iiii August 31, 2011 at 12:22 pm |

    Someone says, “You could just…” or “Why don’t you just…” and in my head it translates to, “I have no information, imagination, or compassion about the topic at hand, so here’s a useless suggestion for which I expect gratitude…”

    It’s the “just” that’s the tip-off.

  8. Wendy
    Wendy August 31, 2011 at 1:06 pm |

    Azalea: One day, ONE day congress will see the light corporations multi-millionaires and billionaires will be properly taxed and we will have the money we need to take better care of our citizens.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHHAHHAAAAAAA.

    Oh! You were being serious? Please excuse me if I don’t hold my breath waiting on that one.

  9. Sonoran Supposition
    Sonoran Supposition August 31, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    This is, by far, the best article I have read about this. Anyone who reads this and still attacks food stamps has no heart and/or brain. Where has the idea of human dignity and compassion gone? How can so many attack the needs of those who need it most? It’s freaking food, for Christ’s sake! Without it, these people will die.

  10. Lyndsay
    Lyndsay August 31, 2011 at 1:25 pm |

    I’d love to see minimum incomes go up enough that food stamps and food banks aren’t even necessary for people working. Seems like the government could save a bunch of money if they forced businesses to pay higher wages.

    Some “scamming” or dishonesty isn’t making people rich but just helping them get by a little better. The rules of society and welfare are such that I don’t think it’s immoral to not be completely honest. People who have gained a lot of money certainly aren’t doing it in the most ethical way possible.

  11. K
    K August 31, 2011 at 3:18 pm |

    BHuesca:

    On the plus side, though, rural Americans may have *some* soil which is uncontaminated

    THIS. I live in a very low-income urban area near a commercial port and a naval base. There are scrap yards and metal smelting plants within 6 blocks. Any food you could grow in our soil would be 40% heavy metals. And yes, we built raised beds and purchased many pounds of soil from the local garden store, which we supplement with compost from our compost-barrel. The setup cost hundreds of dollars, which we can afford because we are lucky. No one living on food stamps could afford that investment, and it would take years to pay back in saved food costs.

  12. karak
    karak August 31, 2011 at 3:57 pm |

    I used to live deep in the country, and we were able to put together a GIANT garden to subsidize our food costs, in addition to my dad hunting. My grandparents found us a deep freeze and the whole thing worked… more or less. Rural poverty does allow for that kind of space and to skimp on purchasing some materials.

    On the other hand, we were not simply a mile away from a grocery store (I’m sorry, I chuckle at the idea of a MILE being a lot) but over 45 minutes from gas or groceries, in a town that rarely got snowplows and in a house where the heat often died in deep winter. And my chores as a child were HOURS spent in the garden, weeding, watering, planting, harvesting…

    Urban and rural poverty are two different beasts, and what’s good for the goose is NOT good for the gander.

  13. Tei Tetua
    Tei Tetua August 31, 2011 at 4:03 pm |

    Every time this topic comes up I think of The Road to Wigan Pier, by George Orwell. He lived among the miners (often unemployed) of northern England for a while in the 1930s, and his chapter on their budget and diet is fascinating. He has an odd mixture of affection and frustration when he talks about how they spend the little money they have on expensive food that’s guaranteed to keep them in poor health–but then he says “And the peculiar evil is this, that the less money you have, the less inclined you feel to spend it on wholesome food. A millionaire may enjoy breakfasting off orange juice and Ryvita biscuits; an unemployed man doesn’t… When you are unemployed, which is to say when you are underfed, harassed, bored, and miserable, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food. You want something a little bit ‘tasty’. There is always some cheaply pleasant thing to tempt you. Let’s have three pennorth of chips! Run out and buy us a twopenny ice-cream! Put the kettle on and we’ll all have a nice cup of tea!”

    But in honest truth–anyone who can’t cook brown rice so it’s better than “one mushy, bland mass” just isn’t trying. You’ll hate me for saying this, but that really is what this whole topic is about.

    Read it here:
    http://www.george-orwell.org/The_Road_to_Wigan_Pier/5.html

  14. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles August 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm |

    Tei Tetua:

    But in honest truth–anyone who can’t cook brown rice so it’s better than “one mushy, bland mass” just isn’t trying. You’ll hate me for saying this, but that really is what this whole topic is about.

    Hm… could you be talking about someone specific? I mean, you make a vague reference to “anyone”, but you seem to be using a direct quote. How odd!

    Silly people who try to cook cheap, healthy food. Doing it wrong I guess!

  15. Bunny
    Bunny August 31, 2011 at 5:09 pm |

    Gah, the “you can just”.

    I already do it all. I buy cheap raw ingredients – own brand flour, dried beans and lentils, broken rice and cheap pasta. I buy the raw ingredients for meals, buy as little meat as I can and cook everything from scratch because it is cheaper. I don’t have access to a freezer, but I’ve learned how to cram as many bags of frozen veg as possible into the icebox on top of the fridge, and I do in fact make my own chutneys and sauces to store. I know how to forage for edible fruit and plants in semi-urban environments and supplement my diet that way.

    I have 5 square feet of concrete outdoor space, but I do manage to grow at least a few tomatoes and courgettes in it. For nutrition I store tins of spinach and add some to every single meal.

    I go to the shops at 9pm, timed for when they tend to reduce the fresh produce that is on the way out, and buy whatever is going cheap. I buy half-rotten vegetables and fruit and cut of the bad bits, and I use meat after it has started to smell a bit by just roasting the hell out of it and smothering it in spices. I have a cast iron stomach and gut flora that could probably digest granite by now.

    And in spite all of this, by the time benefits pay day comes around, I’ve generally run out of meat, peppers, tomatoes and spices and have been living off of rice-with-onions or the marvellous patties of oats-and-beans made into pretend meat, and I’m so jonesing for something with taste that you bleeding well bet I’ll treat myself to a pack of cookies or a bar of cheap chocolate. Even when I have enough spices to make my food taste of something, the emotional weight of going without makes that one bag of chips or cup of fancy coffee a GODSEND.

    If I struggle to do it – currently able-bodied, only mildly mentally ill, knowledgeable in the make-do-and-mend cooking crafts, living close to food and with some space, no kids to worry about – how the HELL do people expect those with fewer advantages to manage?

  16. blogromp
    blogromp August 31, 2011 at 5:11 pm |

    Thank you for this post! I’d also like to chime in on behalf of people who don’t have a kitchen. In urban areas like mine, many people aren’t able to rent an apartment (which requires a large chunk of money up front, and background/financial checks). Many people are homeless, living on the streets or in their cars.

    Some are a bit more fortunate: they’re stuck living in tiny, dirty, dark motels. A family sharing one small room with a microscopic bathroom and nowhere to cook. A microwave or mini fridge often aren’t options, because even if they were given one as a gift, if they aren’t able to get enough cash together in any given day to pay their motel bill, they risk being thrown out on the street, and carting around a small appliance isn’t a good option in that situation. Peanut butter sandwiches get old pretty fast, and fast food dollar menus start looking pretty attractive. (Also, there are usually more fast food restaurants than grocers in the area.)

    The “why don’t you just…” people infuriate me. (The word “just” is a huge red flag for a cruel lack of empathy.) They have no idea what poverty is actually like in this country. They don’t realize how exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing it is. They come up with their ideas from a position of privilege, comfort, and safety, and have no idea what the physical, mental, and emotional costs of not having those things is, or what the high cognitive load of dealing with a thousand indignities each day is like.

    I’d like to write more (like about the incessant drain of time, energy, and money you have to deal with due to: having no transportation, having no financial buffer, having no bank account or credit card, having no health or dental care, the red tape of getting social services, etc.), but I’m out of resources at the moment.

  17. konkonsn
    konkonsn August 31, 2011 at 5:23 pm |

    Tei Tetua: But in honest truth–anyone who can’t cook brown rice so it’s better than “one mushy, bland mass” just isn’t trying. You’ll hate me for saying this, but that really is what this whole topic is about.

    Read it here:
    http://www.george-orwell.org/The_Road_to_Wigan_Pier/5.html

    Wait, what? Have you never, ever made a mistake while cooking? Or just not known how to cook. I’ve screwed up making white rice in a rice cooker for fuck’s sake.

  18. Jenna
    Jenna August 31, 2011 at 5:57 pm |

    I like brown rice, but, if I had to eat it all week with just frozen veggies with it, I’d start hating it pretty fast.

    Gardens are work! They require funds to set up, especially if you need pots or raised beds, or are growing things that require support like a trellis. Many plants require either more space than you think, or more sun. You cannot forget to water them or they die. The critters in your neighborhood are hungry too, and keeping them out of your garden becomes a trial. I have gophers and squirrels, in addition to hungry birds and insects. They all want a piece of my garden, and keeping them out is not easy to do.

    Trying to get groceries home with you when you ride the bus is a pain. After working 8 or more hours a day, who wants to make an extra trip in very likely the opposite direction to haul stuff home? If you are tired and dealing with low blood sugar you need something now. In most places that ends up being fast food. I keep small packets of nuts and dried fruit in my purse, but, guess what? That stuff is more expensive than you think sometimes, too.

    I would take the restrictions on what you can buy with food stamps and rip them all up. I’m not willing to tell someone that one kind of cheese is fine, but, another is too “fancy” and they don’t deserve it. If your kid is having a birthday, then I think a birthday cake or cake mix should be ok as well. Why the F should some parent have to justify a birthday cake?

    I know that there are crooks out there, but, to me, not feeding people who need food because some of them might not be up to your standards is evil.

    Evil. Yes. I went there.

  19. Anonoregonian
    Anonoregonian August 31, 2011 at 6:03 pm |

    On a similar note, it really bothers me when people say that poor folks just need cooking classes. Well ok, maybe some people could benefit from that (and not just poor people). But the idea that just learning how to frugally re-use leftovers and cook with dried beans and a crockpot (ALWAYS with the crockpot!) is a solution to food insecurity? Ridiculous. Besides most poor folks I know already use these kind of hacks and more to get by with what they have. It’s just, if you try to live on beans and rice for months on end, you are tired, your skin and hair are dull, you feel depressed, you start to have problems with your blood sugar…fast forward a few years and it’s a recipe for diabetes, heart disease, and mood disorders. It’s ok to have some “clean the cupboards” meals a couple times a month and otherwise eat well. But to eat “clean the cupboards” every day for weeks on end? Terrible for you.

  20. xenu01
    xenu01 August 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm |

    <3 for this post.

    When I post this on bookface (thank you, Nia!) or talk about issues of poverty with my (middle-class, for the most part) acquaintances, there is a lot of "they should just" that goes on.

    They should just? My spouse and I are trying to garden on our windowsill because that is all we have. We have produced one or two tiny tomatoes and a few peppers and carrots but nothing even beginning to be CLOSE to the amount of vegetables we could eat in one day, let alone all the time! It's more like, "Oh look, we can put this pepper in the salad, isn't that nice."

    The "deserving poor" thing is old, old old. Old and tired. Let's retire it, already!

  21. maru
    maru August 31, 2011 at 7:56 pm |

    Look, I get it. But I’m also a manager at a grocery store in Michigan, where we have EBT/Bridge cards. Most people have anywhere between $200 and $800 a month in benefits and they eat better than I ever have–I know, because I spent three years ringing up their groceries before I was promoted. Steak, soda, bags and bags of frozen shrimp, pizzas, anything that isn’t hot from the deli can be purchased. I spend between $60 and $80 a week on groceries for my husband and I, I cook our meals, and we BOTH work full time.

    I think this might be a state-by-state issue, because the recipients get a ton of money and can buy whatever they want. I don’t know their family size. You may be thinking of WIC, a different program that only offers certain items.

  22. Captain Awkward
    Captain Awkward August 31, 2011 at 8:26 pm |

    Thanks for this post, Sheelzebub. So much advice can be abusive and come from a place of “I know better than you what will work for you” and not “You are a person who is separate from me, so why don’t I ask you questions instead of telling you how things are.”

    A person who watches someone else’s grocery cart and judges what they put in there and rants about it if they are on public assistance and fail to reflect perfectly the fantasy of what the watcher would do in the same circumstances needs an empathy transplant.

  23. Katniss
    Katniss August 31, 2011 at 8:44 pm |

    maru:
    Look, I get it.But I’m also a manager at a grocery store in Michigan, where we have EBT/Bridge cards.Most people have anywhere between $200 and $800 a month in benefits and they eat better than I ever have–I know, because I spent three years ringing up their groceries before I was promoted.Steak, soda, bags and bags of frozen shrimp, pizzas, anything that isn’t hot from the deli can be purchased.I spend between $60 and $80 a week on groceries for my husband and I, I cook our meals, and we BOTH work full time.

    I think this might be a state-by-state issue, because the recipients get a ton of money and can buy whatever they want.I don’t know their family size.You may be thinking of WIC, a different program that only offers certain items

    I’m not sure why it matters to you what they buy with food stamp money. People who are struggling financially are allowed treats and “junk food” too. Frozen food like shrimp and pizzas are quicker and easier to make for a busy family. You also say right in your post that you don’t know their family size so you have no way of knowing if they’re buying an “appropriate” amount of food or not. Not that it’s your right to define what is and isn’t an “appropriate” food purchase just because someone is using public assistance.

    It’s very rare that food stamp recipients get a “ton” of money relative to their family size. As an individual I get a certain amount each month and still often struggle because it’s almost impossible not to go over that amount, even if I lived on nothing but rice and beans. We also can’t buy “anything” we want. I can’t count the number of times I wish I had also gotten cash benefits because while it’s great to have some of my monthly food spending covered that doesn’t help when I’m short for needed, non-food household items. Not to mention that it’s ridiculous to me that I cannot buy a warm meal at a grocery store even with my food stamps.

  24. maru
    maru August 31, 2011 at 8:46 pm |

    Captain, though I don’t know if you were replying to me due to the time lapse:

    I already said I worked in retail, so if you have a spare empathy transplant lying around I could certainly use it ;) However, I do know many, many, many (legions of) regular customers in all kinds of situations with different kinds of assistance and lack of assistance. My post was kneejerk, and I admit I do have empathetic feelings for many people. The system is flawed.

    I am only providing the data I have accrued in my place and time. I should have gone on to say that I do not begrudge food to fellow humans, but education in making better food choices would ultimately be less costly for everyone, both financially and nutritionally. I imagine this void has something to do with the state of education in the US at this time.

    Obviously, we get into food politics and no apparent way to agree on how nutrition really works at this point. Complicated. There must be something we can do. Soda, for one. We all eat way too much meat and that’s another can of worms. I don’t know what we should do.

    Luckily, I work at the grocery store and no one is asking me :)

  25. Katniss
    Katniss August 31, 2011 at 8:50 pm |

    Also maru it is my understanding that EBT/SNAP benefit amounts are federally mandated with set maximums depending on family size. And if $200 a month can be a struggle for myself and my partner I would hope you’d understand that for a larger household not even $800 a month would count as a “ton” of money for food.

  26. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 31, 2011 at 9:06 pm |

    maru: Look, I get it. But I’m also a manager at a grocery store in Michigan, where we have EBT/Bridge cards. Most people have anywhere between $200 and $800 a month in benefits and they eat better than I ever have–I know, because I spent three years ringing up their groceries before I was promoted. Steak, soda, bags and bags of frozen shrimp, pizzas, anything that isn’t hot from the deli can be purchased. I spend between $60 and $80 a week on groceries for my husband and I, I cook our meals, and we BOTH work full time. I think this might be a state-by-state issue, because the recipients get a ton of money and can buy whatever they want. I don’t know their family size. You may be thinking of WIC, a different program that only offers certain items.

    Wow…way to illustrate the assholery people face. If you check this out, you might learn that if someone is receiving $800 in assistance they are trying to feed 5 people. Five. You spend $80/wk on 2 which means you would spend $900/mo on food for FIVE people. Plus you know…the extra work of feeding and raising 3 to 4 children. But fuck you *work* so feel free to be a jack ass.

    1. Jill
      Jill August 31, 2011 at 9:17 pm | *

      Also, maybe I’m confused, but what’s so horrible about eating steak, frozen shrimp and pizza? That stuff can be cheap and it feeds a lot of people. What’s the problem, other than it doesn’t sound all that healthy, because cheap food in the US rarely is? (And that’s not the fault of the person on food stamps who can’t afford fresh fruits, veggies and fish).

  27. La Lubu
    La Lubu August 31, 2011 at 9:19 pm |

    We all eat way too much meat

    You got a mouse in your pocket? Who is this “we” you speak of?

  28. piny
    piny August 31, 2011 at 9:33 pm |

    Two hundred dollars a month works out to less than seven dollars a day, less than fifty dollars’ worth of groceries a week. It’s possible to live on that, and maybe eat decently with luck and careful planning, but that’s just not very much money. I accept for the sake of argument that you saw people mismanaging it, and that you manage to live on less, but that’s not a generous benefit. Seven dollars a day.

    But why is that our baseline? Why is our program designed to force all people receiving benefits to scrimp and save and cheat themselves in order to get enough food? Why not just give them a few extra dollars per week and let them relax? Is the relatively small amount of savings worth the human cost?

  29. maru
    maru August 31, 2011 at 9:39 pm |

    I already admitted the beginning of my comment was kneejerk. My $80 includes all household and toiletry products, which are generally not covered with food benefits.

    Processed prepared foods are not particularly cost-effective–I see this argument a lot. Why would you spend $10 on frozen garbage pizza made of nitrates and salt and not whole foods? I simply don’t know because my experience is limited.

    I am judging meat consumption by the massive amount that we sell.

    Unsurprised no one had any comments on the education issue. Do you think it would be better if there were more information out there about being less dependent on processed foods, for people of all economic statuses?

  30. piny
    piny August 31, 2011 at 9:39 pm |

    Frozen food is cheap food. I worked with a guy who ate nothing but TV dinners because he could get five frozen meals for ten dollars at the supermarket. They were disgusting, but five meat and veg dinners for ten dollars was a good deal. Big bag o’ frozen meat is not really profligacy.

    And as Orwell pointed out, it’s always possible to point to a cheaper option. But why? Why is it a public policy failure when a poor family buys a frozen pizza? We also know that there are poor people who are malnourished–and that the evidence is a lot stronger than anecdote. Why isn’t that by far the biggest problem?

  31. bfp
    bfp August 31, 2011 at 9:53 pm |

    Kristen J.: I’m also a manager at a grocery store in Michigan, where we have EBT/Bridge cards. Most people have anywhere between $200 and $800 a month in benefits and they eat better than I ever have–I know, because I spent three years ringing up their groceries before I was promoted. Steak, soda, bags and bags of frozen shrimp, pizzas, anything that isn’t hot from the deli can be purchased. I spend between $60 and $80 a week on groceries for my husband and I, I cook our meals, and we BOTH work full time. I think this might be a state-by-state issue, because the recipients get a ton of money and can buy whatever they want. I don’t know their family size. You may be thinking of WIC, a different program that only offers certain items.

    ANd I’m from michigan and was on welfare–and I got about 300$ a month for a family of four. the reason we were able to buy healthier food was because my partner and I were both students and had the luxury of *time* so we could research and organize menus, grocery lists, etc. We were both also getting financial aid, so we had a way to supplement our food benefits. THAT is how michigan benefits work. You only get them if you’re in school or working–and so most people have to use their school money/pay check to supplement the meager benefits. Next to nobody that I know of, not even seniors or people on disability are able to survive solely on the money given to welfare recipients.

    This idea that there are a bunch of non-working lay abouts who get 800$ a week to buy steak and bon bons is not even *close* to what the reality of living on welfare really is. A permanent class of working poor–people who don’t make enough money to live off of IS the reality. Welfare, at least in michigan, is more of a corporate tax break than anything else. It allows corporations to get away with paying $7 an hour (like: walmart, target, etc) to full time workers.

  32. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 31, 2011 at 10:15 pm |

    Because frozen food is easy to prepare and doesn’t spoil? Because when your kids are tired and hungry a frozen pizza will make them *happy*. I know…its a novel idea, but some people do get *pleasure* from food. And when your life is full of shit, when you don’t get to go to the movie, when its so damn cold or so damn hot that its nearly unbearable, when you don’t even have electricity because you can’t afford the damn utilities, then maybe a freaking frozen pizza might be the thing that keeps your spirits up and your kids spirits up.

    I know you think you’re opinions and judgments are not that *bad* you’re just reciting the *facts*, but people who make those statements and recited those facts made my life even more hellish when there was not much further down to go.

    So maybe you should consider that the vast majority of people *do the best they can with what they have* and stop being an asshat.

  33. Kristen J.
    Kristen J. August 31, 2011 at 10:17 pm |

    To be clear…that quote mentioned in BFPs comment is NOT me.

  34. Suzy
    Suzy August 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm |

    Thanks, Sheelzebub. Great post.

    I was laid off from my job a month and a half ago, and I’ve become quite reliant on coupons. I’m starting to get used to the stink-eye from other folks in line when I use coupons on pre-packaged foods. If I can buy pre-packaged foods on sale with a coupon on double coupon day, it works out to be pennies per serving. So, THAT’S why I’m not buying fresh produce that might spoil, jackass (no one in particular).

    /defensive

  35. Marksman2010
    Marksman2010 August 31, 2011 at 10:36 pm |

    To compound the problem, food prices are sky-rocketing in the U.S. I mean, it’s impossible NOT to notice these increases. And there’s no way around it. If a tax on food goes up, then it may not affect those with SNAP benefits because taxes are already excluded. But if the actual price of food goes up, what can we do?

    Have you taken a look at Uncle Sam’s latest budget cuts? Lawmakers cut $50 million from a program that provides Native Americans with housing benefits. And wasn’t the SNAP program hit with cuts as well? I mean, you just can’t make this shit up. “Oh, we need to save money. It’s pricey blowing up all those weddings and funerals in Afghanistan. Let’s see: let’s fuck poor people some more. After all, they can’t even afford to eat, much less take time off work to vote. And, uh, let’s fuck the Indians some more. That’s always worked out. What do they need housing assistance for anyway? They fuckin’ live in tee-pees.”

    If you don’t think people say these kinds of things, you’re very wrong. I, unfortunately, live in red state, and I hear this shit all day long. I’ve heard people say anyone on food stamps should only receive bags of beans and rice. They believe anyone receiving food stamps should be drug-tested, and should be forced to do hard labor (like the kind prisoners are forced to do). And if you have any sort of criminal record? No food stamps for you. Already, in my state, you can’t have benefits if you have a Manufacturing a Controlled Substance on your record.

    I just love living here. Southern hospitality to the red-line. Good country folks. Take their shirt off their back for you…as long as you’re white and heterosexual and Christian. Great people. The best.

  36. Tori
    Tori August 31, 2011 at 11:20 pm |

    maru:
    I already admitted the beginning of my comment was kneejerk.My $80 includes all household and toiletry products, which are generally not covered with food benefits.

    Processed prepared foods are not particularly cost-effective–I see this argument a lot.Why would you spend $10 on frozen garbage pizza made of nitrates and salt and not whole foods?I simply don’t know because my experience is limited.

    I am judging meat consumption by the massive amount that we sell.

    Unsurprised no one had any comments on the education issue.Do you think it would be better if there were more information out there about being less dependent on processed foods, for people of all economic statuses?

    Processed prepared foods are, however, fairly spoons-effective. Whether on public assistance or not, I spend approximately 50% of my evenings either in too much pain or on too many painkillers (which, for me, amounts to approximately 1/4 a T3) to reliably cook on a gas stovetop. Ovens are not the best idea but doable, with microwaves as the safest (but possibly least healthy and cost-efficient) method of heating dinner food.

    I can’t speak for everyone about the education issue, but I know that for me, it’s basically a moot point. Everything I know about the nutritional value of processed foods means nothing when my reality-based choices are processed food or hungry.

  37. Ry
    Ry September 1, 2011 at 8:05 am |

    I’m a single mom on food stamps (at least for the moment, I’m a little nervous with all the cuts my state is making). I work thirty hours a week and go to grad school full time. I get the stink eye at the check out a lot, sometimes I can take a good guess at the specific reason (we were at Harry’s for our monthly splurge of about $30, or I also bought beer that day, etc) other times not so much. There seem to be a lot of double standards around being on food stamps: if I buy a lot of quick, frozen, cheap ass, things I “should learn to cook” (I’m an excellent cook thank you- go work for eight hours, bring your kid home from a.s.p and run back out the door to a night class and see what you have time for), if I buy a lot of fresh produce and not-frozen meats then I must be getting more food stamps then I actually need/deserve and be cheating the system. That perception is based on things people have said to me who didn’t know I was on food stamps, commentary I’ve seen around the internet, crap that falls from the mouths of talking heads on t.v., and also the glowers of cashiers who are def judging me for something even if I can’t tell what. I am always suspicious of catch-22s like that, and I suspect that whatever the real issue is, it has nothing to do with the “worthiness” of the poor.

    1. Captain Awkward
      Captain Awkward September 1, 2011 at 8:48 am |

      @Ry, I’m so sorry that you using the system exactly how it is intended to work is somehow seen as “cheating” the system by other people.

      You met certain income requirements. You needed money for food. The state gave you money for food because collectively (for now) we have decided that there is no social benefit in having people starve to death. You used it to buy food. What food/how much food is pretty much your business. Shame and hunger make a pretty poor meal. Pretty much the whole “science” of “economics” is based on the idea that individuals will make whatever choices “maximize utility.” Maximize away.

      I think the economy is pushing more and more people who thought they’d always be ok into the kind of economic insecurity where they need to rely on government assistance, like food stamps. But the right has so thoroughly poisoned the narrative, that half the people receiving government assistance think that they don’t receive government assistance – that’s for some Other People. So some of the horrible judgment and blame and straw man arguments (and a big old spoonful of racism) are coming from people who are near the bottom rung, trying like hell to preserve a sense of identity that if they are not ON the bottom rung they will be fine and not be like Those People. They have the privilege of knowing what it looks like from up a rung or two and by god they are going to hold onto that. Also, they automatically climbed the ladder using nothing but their own bootstraps and accrued zero advantages from accidents of birth, race, geography, etc. whereas those Other People are just lazy and stupid.

      It’s so toxic and poisonous, and it comes from people who say “Vote for me to prove you’re not like Those People (even though my policies could turn you into one of Those People at any time) and also to preserve your fantasy that you can be rich like me someday and need to protect that eventual future from Those People.”

      We see it with food stamps.
      We see it with health care – Hello, do you think you will always have a nice job that gives you nice health insurance? Do you think you and your family will never get old or sick or have accidents?
      We see it with natural disasters – Well, you should have just moved out of the danger zone! Have you no common sense? Also, all that preparation and planning that kept people safe was wasted if the disaster didn’t hit as hard as expected!

      I don’t know how to heal it or change it.

  38. 1ceuponathyme
    1ceuponathyme September 1, 2011 at 12:44 pm |

    And when your life is full of shit, when you don’t get to go to the movie, when its so damn cold or so damn hot that its nearly unbearable, when you don’t even have electricity because you can’t afford the damn utilities, then maybe a freaking frozen pizza might be the thing that keeps your spirits up and your kids spirits up.

    This. I’m so sick of all of the arguments coming from the ‘you can just…’ position, but the one which pisses me off the most is how this position requires denying the working poor a right to pleasure. Besides not having the time or money to invest in cost-effective and nutritious eating, is it so wrong to want comfort from food when comfort is otherwise so difficult to find? Until we address that life as working poor is life without much comfort at all, we’re going to keep hearing those obnoxious ‘you can just…’ arguments from people who just don’t get it.

  39. Muse142
    Muse142 September 1, 2011 at 1:49 pm |

    I first heard the “you should JUST give up your dignity and time” deal when I was a freshman at Uni, during an in-class discussion in a smallish class of 20-30 students. One of my classmates was publicly lamenting someone they saw pay for steaks and shrimp with their food stamps – what a frivolous waste, right?

    I sat there staring at the holes in my worn-thin winter pants and fuming for the next hour, remembering my own mother using her food stamps to treat my grandfather (who bought all my school clothes that year) to shrimp cocktail for a special meal, and remembering how frugally we ate that whole month to compensate.

    How small and limited must your world be that your first instinct is not to empathize, but to chastise?

  40. Cactus Wren
    Cactus Wren September 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm |

    Sheelzebub:
    It never fails.I post, and people comment in ways that prove my point.

    Maru–I was going to buy ground beef but decided not to as it was actually more expensive than steak.My parents have seen this and commented on it as well–best we can figure, food producers are banking on people thinking of ground beef as a frugal food and reaching for it without checking other prices.And I’ve seen shrimp on sale that isn’t that expensive–I’ve been able to get it for less than what chicken goes for at times.

    Since I started closely examining the weekly supermarket sale flyers that come in every Wednesday’s paper, I’ve realized that “steak” is a loaded word. The cheapest piece of beef available in most supermarkets, any given week, is likely to be either round or chuck. If it’s sliced, it’ll be labeled “round steak” or “chuck steak” — if it’s packaged unsliced, it’ll be a “roast”. I repeat, this is the CHEAPEST piece of beef available, probably less expensive than the cheap hamburger that’s going to cook down by a quarter of its size: but a quick glance at the package, and an equally quick glance at the person who’s paying for it, is going to reveal someone “using food stamps to buy STEAK!” Pass this on by word of mouth, with suitable outrage, and after two or three repeats you’ve got a wholly fictive anecdote about someone buying $12/lb porterhouse or filet mignon with food stamps.

    And even if someone does buy such things — SO FUCKING WHAT? I’m so sick, so bloody sick and tired of this notion that the poor, by virtue of being poor, have no right to anything pleasant or enjoyable. Laura Shapiro, in her excellent book Perfection Salad, mentions a late-nineteenth-century study focusing on a Pittsburgh family of nine who spent nine cents per person per day for food. The person who did the study was impressed by the family’s frugality, but still found room to criticize that they’d bought anything pleasant or flavorful or enjoyable. Round steak? Cheese? Boiled ham? Don’t these foolish, extravagant people realize that for the price of those tasty luxuries they could have bought ten pounds of oatmeal and ninety-four pounds of potatoes? Which, with “proper care”, could EASILY be transformed into something just as appealing. How? Well, I’m sure with “proper care” it would be easy to do, some way or other …

  41. Dominique
    Dominique September 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm |

    This is exactly what Barbara Ehrenreich was talking about in Nickel and Dimed, her account of trying to match expenses to income as a member of the working poor. Turns out being poor is expensive: no money for a car or gas, none for bulk food purchases, none for a down payment on an apartment with a stove and fridge… it’s often a never-ending cycle of catch-22 catch-up to the next bit of income.

  42. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles September 2, 2011 at 12:07 am |

    Amen on the subject of using food as comfort! I love food, it brings me joy. It is not just fuel for me, it is pleasurable. I know I am extremely privileged to be able to buy any food for pleasure and not just fuel. I refuse to feel guilty for using my food stamps to buy something I not only need (food! to live!) but enjoy (frozen pizza! steak, which as other commentors have already pointed out can be really freakin’ cheap!). And when people gasp and rage over someone using food stamps to buy these things, it doesn’t occur to them that maybe they are using food stamps to put together a fun movie night at home or a dinner for a special occasion, because they don’t have enough money to go out. Because of food stamps I can have decent meals at home to celebrate something without spending my paycheck on a far more expensive restaurant meal or day trip somewhere.

  43. Cactus Wren
    Cactus Wren September 2, 2011 at 6:24 am |

    What struck me hard, thinking of Nickel and Dimed, is that never — not once — did Ehrenreich manage to get by on the income from only one $6-$8/hour job. On her own, in good health and with no one to support but herself, she always needed to work two jobs.

  44. wriggles
    wriggles September 2, 2011 at 6:31 am |

    1ceuponathyme: This.I’m so sick of all of the arguments coming from the ‘you can just…’ position, but the one which pisses me off the most is how this position requires denying the working poor a right to pleasure.Besides not having the time or money to invest in cost-effective and nutritious eating, is it so wrong to want comfort from food when comfort is otherwise so difficult to find?Until we address that life as working poor is life without much comfort at all, we’re going to keep hearing those obnoxious ‘you can just…’ arguments from people who just don’t get it.

    One of so many wonderful comments on this thread. Its also partly about the “obesity” crusade. One of the favoured hypothesis gaining ground is that “food palatability” makes people fat.

    What these people choose to overlook in their fervour is fighting this is not necessarily denying indulgence, but part of our body’s survival instincts-they exist for mental as well as physical health. Fighting your body’s instinct to balance the effects of the pressures on you might be okay, but can also lead to a greater vulerability to drug and alcohol use, something often mis-characterized as having an “addictive personality”.

    When you block one defence another one will be required, usually a more extreme one.

  45. McSnarkster
    McSnarkster September 2, 2011 at 7:43 pm |

    Do the people who think the poor should be denied any pleasures in life deny themselves any pleasure in life? I mean, if you don’t think someone on assistance should have steak, even if it’s on sale and just the chuck, I hope you’re using your disposable income to fight hunger or support your local food pantry/soup kitchen or some other charitable cause. Because if you don’t want to go without your nights out on the town or your vacations or your nice clothes and fancy watch–what right do you have to deny people an enjoyable meal? As far as life’s luxuries go, food’s comparatively inexpensive, and a lot more practical than, say, eau de parfum or a night at the theatre.

  46. xenu01
    xenu01 September 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm |

    Cactus Wren:
    What struck me hard, thinking of Nickel and Dimed, is that never — not once — did Ehrenreich manage to get by on the income from only one $6-$8/hour job.On her own, in good health and with no one to support but herself, she always needed to work two jobs.

    This doesn’t surprise me. Even in Philly, where I paid between $600 for a room in a shared apartment and $400 for a room in a large shared house, I always had to work at least two jobs to make ends meet. This is why I never finished school- I never had time and most definitely never had money! Only recently, since I have a partner to share expenses with me (and no kids), have I been able to go back to school and work only one job.

  47. The_L
    The_L September 4, 2011 at 12:07 pm |

    maru: education in making better food choices would ultimately be less costly for everyone, both financially and nutritionally. I imagine this void has something to do with the state of education in the US at this time.

    Obviously, we get into food politics and no apparent way to agree on how nutrition really works at this point. Complicated. There must be something we can do. Soda, for one. We all eat way too much meat and that’s another can of worms. I don’t know what we should do.

    By cutting fast food out of my diet, i basically ensured that the ONLY meat I eat is whatever’s on special at Winn-Dixie. Why Winn-Dixie? Because I have a discount card that lets me pay less for gas. Otherwise, I’d be hemorrhaging money like you wouldn’t believe. (And I’m one of the lucky ones with well-off parents who was able to sock away plenty of money in savings before moving out.) If it’s this hard for me to eat healthy-ish on a teacher’s salary, it must be murder on people with no higher education and no prospects for higher pay than minimum wage. Why are we forcing people to choose between starvation and malnutrition? This is not the America I was raised to believe I lived in.

  48. The_L
    The_L September 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm |

    Jill: Also, maybe I’m confused, but what’s so horrible about eating steak, frozen shrimp and pizza? That stuff can be cheap and it feeds a lot of people.

    Steak and shrimp have reputations as being expensive food, because until recently, they were. It’s only with factory-farming and the like that steak can be even remotely considered “cheap.”

  49. Tired mom
    Tired mom September 4, 2011 at 4:09 pm |

    Comrade Kevin: The most any one single person can be allotted food stamps here in the District of Columbia is $200 per month. It is a supplement to one’s food budget, no less. Even eating cheaply, the most one can make it stretch is maybe for half of a month. I now receive $137 a month, which lasts at most, ten days. And should I feel a compulsion to purchase something more high quality, ten days quickly becomes seven. Hunger advocates have long pushed for more and nutrition classes for those unaware of how to structure meals to best suit their health.This is what is really needed most.

    $137 for 1 person? count yourself ‘lucky’ .. we have 3 people $1154 a month in disability (2 of us get disability, $538 from one, the rest for the other) Disabled son, unable to work but wasn’t classified as ‘disabled enough’ to qualify for SSI (though the SSA said he was, in fact, Seriously and profoundly disabled) .. and we get $124 in FS w/the state telling us that it is only meant to cover 50% of food costs … yeah, sure …

  50. Cattygurk
    Cattygurk September 4, 2011 at 4:54 pm |

    For me, the question is more, how do we make nutritious food more accessible to people in all income brackets, including those on public assistance? This is an incredibly complex question, and not something that can be answered here.

    The fact that people buy whatever they buy- food is an emotional experience for many. Also, if you’re working multiple jobs, have a family, cooking can be very much a luxury and you will prioritize quick and fast over nutrition. That’s simply human and not a moral failing.

  51. Dorian aka coffeesister |_|)
    Dorian aka coffeesister |_|) September 5, 2011 at 3:12 am |

    Thanx for this & for including the Tumblr links! I reblogged then shared that on G+ & already got an assessment of “publicity stunt.” Are attempts to raise awareness ignored under this guise as yet another way ultra-conservatives are reframing the discussion? Not surprising but always frustrating..

    I then shared a story highlighting the health risks of another aspect of poverty: lack of insurance. The reply that received mirrors much of what’s being discussed here. “The question is how much did this gentleman spend on cigarettes, alcohol, soda etc etc that he could not spare $24 for antibiotics.”

    The assumption that I or anyone similarly dispossessed has $24 at all, much less to spare, never ceases to amaze me. Without exaggeration, not having insurance nearly killed me. I was saved thru surgery once the need was urgent enough tho’ my recovery has been jeopardized by my lack of food. My husband & I even lost our food stamps along the way. The only change in our circumstances was that his unemployment went up… but so did our rent.

    We’ve had to apply & reapply to finally get reconsidered. Our allotment will not feed us for a month & our rent is barely covered by our meager income. Being chronically ill, I have food sensitivities to accommodate & cannot work yet cannot be considered for disability either due to the lack of medical records caused by not being able to afford health care. In turn, not eating well enough makes me sicker. Vicious cycle much?

    We walk to our nearest Trader Joe’s a mile away & bus to our nearest Safeway, buying the foods that are cheaper at each (e.g. honey is $1 less at TJ’s but butter is $1 less at Safeway). We don’t have a kitchen, didn’t have a microwave until recently & have only had a refrigerator a little longer than our microwave. No other appliances can be added to the mix due to the expected space & cost issues but also because everything runs off of one outlet in a 100+ year old building.

    For what it’s worth, we typically do just drink water; our luxuries are what we add to the water. Coffee, tea & juice when we can afford them are what help keep us from dehydrating. None of this is surprising to many of you but hopefully it will open an eye or two. Again, what can I say but thanx for helping work toward better awareness & understanding!? My husband hasn’t stopped looking for work since he was laid off two years ago & I haven’t stopped the hard work of trying to get healthier yet we qualify for shockingly little help.

    (|_|*ch33rs*|_|)
    “It would be nice if the poor were to get even half of the money that is spent in studying them.” — Bill Vaughan

  52. Kitrona
    Kitrona September 6, 2011 at 4:19 pm |

    Thank you for this post (and for the fact that the comments are readable, not enraging). It’s so hard being on food stamps; my husband lost his job in April, I have several health conditions that keep me from working, and we have a son that’s almost 4. I feel so judged sometimes when I go to the store, much as I try to ignore it, both because my disabilities aren’t visible (oh how I wish pain was visible!) and yet I have to ride the motorized carts, and because we’re on food stamps.

    The point about emotions is a good one; after so long denying yourself any splurge, especially splurges your friends can afford, sometimes you just have to do /something/ slightly indulgent before you explode! I also liked the point that many of the people who are criticizing poor people for “extravagances” or enjoying themselves don’t deny themselves luxuries and indulgences.

  53. PJ
    PJ September 6, 2011 at 6:00 pm |

    Hey Outrageandsprinkles

    A friend of mine posted a recipe that makes brown rice not only edible, but tasty. However, I do not know if the additional ingredients are affordable for you:

    Ingredients
    2 cups brown rice
    1 can coconut milk
    1 cinnamon stick
    1 tbl of sweetener (I used splenda – sugar should work)
    1 tbl olive oil

    take 2 cups rice and rinse under cold water for 2 minutes. Add olive oil to pan and then rice – saute rice for about 3 to 5 minutes (almost opaque)… add 1 can of coconut milk, 1 1/2 cans of water, cinnamon stick and sweetner and 1/4 tsp of salt (forgot to add salt to ingredients). simmer on low to medium until all liquid is absorbed – about 40 to 45 minutes – stir remove cinnamon and salt to taste…

  54. outrageandsprinkles
    outrageandsprinkles September 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm |

    PJ-That is very kind of you to post that recipe, I will have to try it!

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