And the food had to be satisfying and taste good too, otherwise, what's the point?
January 4, 2005 7:48 AM   Subscribe

The Challenge: Purchase, prepare and eat healthy, mostly organic meals on a food stamp budget. These are the results.
posted by anastasiav (63 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
While I know there is a great deal of value in both the implementation and results of this experiment, and I applaud the work that Robert Waldrop is doing, what I really find most interesting about this article is not the results listed, but the questions not answered. To me, at least, this project proves very little, since (for example) most urban poor are not going to be able to have either the time or the space/resources to grow a garden like the one implied in the article ("We were liberal with our use of herbs, onions, garlic, hot red peppers, habanero pepper salsa, and chipotle peppers, all from our garden"). Also, despite the fact that they said that prep time per meal was, on average, 15-20 minutes, I found myself wondering about the prep time that wasn't counted ... the menu planning time, and (perhaps most importantly) the shopping time. For instance, is it possible to purchase all the items used in these meals at the prices listed if one does not have a car?

Also, the author notes (apparently without irony) that "We buy olive oil at a locally owned supermarket for $10/gallon. They don't have it at that price all the time, so when it is cheap we buy several, and then we don't have to buy it for quite a while." Considering the entire food budget for the week was about $60.00, I find myself wondering where the author thought the food stamp recipient might find the resources to drop an amount at least equal to 1/6th of the weekly food budget on a gallon of olive oil.

Here's a link to a previous Metafilter discussion an a related topic.
posted by anastasiav at 7:49 AM on January 4, 2005

Good link. Points out some of the hardships that people on food stamp budgets face. Your analysis of the budget in the article is spot-on ... they shouldn't have used their garden produce unless they counted the cost of it in the budget somehow, preferably by what it would cost to purchase the ingredients at supermarket prices.
posted by SpecialK at 7:53 AM on January 4, 2005

Can you use food stamps at the places they bought the food?
posted by smackfu at 7:54 AM on January 4, 2005

Amen on the car comment, anastasiav. Maybe "modern" food stamp living is different then I recall, but I seem to remember begging for a weekly or semi-weekly car ride to a store on a regular basis back in the day. I don't think anyone would have been terribly receptive to the idea of driving all over town, the "friends without car" thing was already old enough as it was.

Plus, I believe modern food stamps aren't stamps at all anymore, but simply a charge card of sorts. Would folks like local grocers even be set up to accept them? Someone in the know have any insight on if those cards require merchants to do anything unusual or special to accept them?
posted by Pufferish at 8:00 AM on January 4, 2005

I'd be a little concerned with the fact that meat was the central item in nearly all their meals. But then I guess if this is more about keeping budgets down than purely about healthy eating, it's a moot point. If you are reliant on food stamps, cheap, ground meat will go a long way in filling out most meals.

Very interesting link at any rate.
posted by spicynuts at 8:01 AM on January 4, 2005

smackfu, maybe I'm being stupid, but as a non-USian I need something clarifying. Are you saying that people on welfare in the US aren't given real money to buy their food?
posted by veedubya at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2005

Guess the analysis doesn't factor cost opportunity, energy and other costs. Poor cost analysis doesn't mean it's not economic to prepare food at just couldn't be the best thing for cash flow and damn many depend a lot on cash flow.

On a tangent: damn we're so civilized we can't afford to have all the population NOT worry and spent tons of time on food ? Guess we're on perennial tsunami ?
posted by elpapacito at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2005

Veedubya: yes, that is exactly what is being said. People on "food stamps" in the U.S. are literally given "money" that can only be spent on food. They used to be given in the form of books of "stamps" that you tore out as you used them -- thus, the name. Nowadays they're usually on charge cards, but in both cases you cannot use them for anything other than food.

There used to be a huge problem with poor people "selling" some/all of their food stamps for lesser amounts of "real" cash. Not sure if you can do that anymore, at least easily...
posted by Pufferish at 8:08 AM on January 4, 2005

Who was it that said something about the bitter condescension of the well-fed, well-clothed toward the habits of the poor. After reading this article, I'm hounded by a half-memory of this sage saying. Someone please help.

That said, I've managed to keep myself alive on much less than that using similar tactics, but much less meat. They're right about whole foods being the key. And I liked the idea of churches and community centers having oat rollers and pasta-makers. Why not?
posted by squirrel at 8:12 AM on January 4, 2005

"Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well- warmed, and well-fed." - Herman Melville

This is fascinating as a logistical exercise and annoying as a "see, anyone can do it!" article which, to be fair, is not what I think the article was getting at. We live on a budget, though nothing like the food stamp budget, and even we don't spent $3/dozen on eggs. $3 for food can go a lot farther than buying a dozen eggs. One of the things this article misses is that if you don't spent food stamp money one month, you have it for the next month, there's no benefit to spending as close to the alloted amount as you can. Some of the tips are good -- planning for leftovers, learning to put up food for the Winter -- and some were downright pesty. I also thought the prep time estimates were really low, especially since they don't include cooking or shopping time. If you're trying to feed a family and you have a few items that need tending in the oven/stovetop at the same time as you have to watch kids and do all the other household maintenance [remember, many people who are on food stamps ALSO have jobs] there's no way you want to be making apple pies.
posted by jessamyn at 8:14 AM on January 4, 2005

Veedubya: Food stamps are a separate program from welfare, but yes, they give you a benefits card that you swipe like a debit card at participating places. I suspect this is because thay want to be sure you spend it on food.

On preview, what pufferish said. But I have links.
posted by dame at 8:16 AM on January 4, 2005

Two minutes flat, jessamyn. You rock. Thanks.
posted by squirrel at 8:24 AM on January 4, 2005

The first thing that I thought when reading the article was -how far did they travel to get all this?

The second thing that struck me was if two of your stated goals are health and environmental sustainability you could certainly do better than eating meat every night. Beef in particular has a very poor yield for the amount of resources used to produce it(even from local producers). They could have tried replacing ground meat with a nut/bean protein source. I don't think it would have made much difference to the budget.
posted by isthisthingon at 8:27 AM on January 4, 2005

Some laboratory ought to do scientific studies on various "organic" foods and see if there generally are any real differences except price. Eating healthy on a budget doesn't mean spending double for eggs.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:30 AM on January 4, 2005

I applaud the study, for its academic "proof of concept" value. But I think there's another dimension, besides that of having lots of foodstuffs used in this week that were not purchased (the garden-grown food and the olive oil).

The materials with which to cook are not included. Yes, a pie pan, skillets, spatulas, cutting boards and knives can be amortized across a lot of meals. But those materials are not inexpensive and, as elpapacito mentioned, the poor depend on cashflow, not on time-optimized value. Outfitting a kitchen with the bare essentials to cook is probably a $50 proposition, and that means buying everything at a "dollar store" and not at some high-falutin' Wal Mart.

The materials to store the leftovers, the ziplock bags, tin foil, and tupperware are also not included. And, even you buy 'em at the dollar store, are not cheap. Bulk food storage also has required containers and these must be factored in to any cost calculation -- I mean, where does one store 10 gallons of olive oil?
posted by zpousman at 8:32 AM on January 4, 2005

what I really find most interesting about this article is not the results listed, but the questions not answered. To me, at least, this project proves very little, since (for example) most urban poor are not going to be able to have either the time or the space/resources to grow a garden like the one implied in the article

But you can get fresh food from farmer's markets. I live in the heart of the city, and there are several weekly markets. The one I frequently go to has been provided with the cardreaders and other equipment to accept the food cards, so people can go there and purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, etc. with very little effort. In the summer when everything is in season it is almost criminal the amount of food that can be had for a few dollars.

It can be done with a little bit of effort, but the big thing is convincing people to actually make the effort.
posted by QuestionableSwami at 8:37 AM on January 4, 2005

And if that's not confusing enough, there's also WIC in the U.S., which is an even more limited "grant" program than food stamps.

Cashiers love it when you pay them in what basically amounts to three different currencies. They loved it a lot more before computers caught hold, and they had to sort it all out on their own.
posted by Pufferish at 8:38 AM on January 4, 2005

Thanks for the Food Stamp info. I'll admit that I'm shocked that, in this day and age, a system like that exists. It seems like it's modelled on the Victorian workhouse principle: make living on the parish as degrading as possible, and only the most desperate will apply.
posted by veedubya at 8:40 AM on January 4, 2005

How is it degrading? I buy my food with a debit card because it is easier, and it is the exact same transaction as the food stamps card uses. If you didn't get a good look at the card, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference...
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:46 AM on January 4, 2005

They want to prevent people from spending food stamp money on cigarettes. That's why they have a complicated system.
posted by smackfu at 8:50 AM on January 4, 2005

So, I live and eat like this most of the time. I don't use food stamps, but I am a poor graduate student. When living by myself I only spend about $120 a month on food and rarely eat out. This year I grew herbs and cherry tomatoes from seeds on the window in my apartment and had more than enough to share. I signed up for a subscription a local organic farm and received weekly deliveries of fresh vegetables, more than I could ever use. The cost (after splitting a small share with an office mate) was less than $10 a week. I leaned to buy those small sandwich steaks (about $2 for 2) and use them in everything. They are great in a wrap, stir-fry or by themselves.

Learning to cook has made the biggest difference in the variety of things I eat and their cost. I can see this being hard for parents with young kids, but once they are old enough you have your own sous-chef.

However, $3 for a dozen eggs will never work for me.

The point is that it is possible to eat well on a shoestring. It’s even easier if you live in an urban area with access to farmers markets, good grocery stores and the public transportation to get there.
posted by Alison at 8:50 AM on January 4, 2005

good link. as a former working stiff and returning student, i've been wondering how i could keep up my whole foods diet on a non-existent budget. wish there was a bit more specific info, though.
posted by blendor at 8:54 AM on January 4, 2005

In my humble opinion, it's degrading for two reasons:

Firstly, it clearly indicates that the person buying the food is living on or near the poverty line. That is extremely personal information. Some people might not mind others knowing that, but I imagine that a lot of people do.

Secondly, it presupposes that the person being helped is somehow unfit to make their own decisions regarding how they spend the money given for their welfare. Poor == stupid == untrustworthy.

Maybe it's just a difference in perspective, given our different cultures, but I'd never imagined that such a thing could happen in a modern society.
posted by veedubya at 9:02 AM on January 4, 2005

How is it degrading? . . . If you didn't get a good look at the card, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference . . .

You can tell the difference because someone buying something with food stamps almost always has to do two transactions—one for food that qualifies and one for other things (paper products, soap) that don't. I live in a 'hood with many food stamp recipients, and it drives me batty. I try to be patient because I know it must suck not to be able to afford food, but Jeebus, the line goes slow.

I'm painfully aware that there's a very large gap forming between people for whom food was, and is, a huge part of their lives, and the people for whom food is just that thing you have to find every few hours between doing something else. There seems to be a move towards, unsurprisingly, a lazy attitude towards food, which is sad to witness.

Some people just really hate cooking. I grew up in a family that loved food, and I still care what I eat, but cooking is time consuming and bores me silly. It has nothing to do with being lazy but has everything to do with having only so much time and preferring a number of other pursuits to standing in a kitchen and chopping things.
posted by dame at 9:03 AM on January 4, 2005

Maybe it's just a difference in perspective, given our different cultures, but I'd never imagined that such a thing could happen in a modern society.

Yep, you definitely don't live in the United States. If you think having to use the programs sounds degrading, imagine how degrading applying for them is... here in Michigan, we've decided we enjoy making people do this so much that we throw everyone off the program every few months if they don't get jobs, make them suffer without any assistance a while, and then make them re-apply from scratch. And this applies to most of the programs seperately, of course.

The theory of every aid/insurance/coverage organization in the U.S. seems to be "if we make it annoying enough, you will eventually just go away instead of us having to pay you benefits."
posted by Pufferish at 9:16 AM on January 4, 2005

Food stamps here aren't the same as welfare. In welfare they just give you a check to spend on whatever you want. The idea is that food stamps are supposed to only provide food. There's also things like Section 8 housing assistance, which is meant just for housing - they don't give you a check for that either, for the same reason.

Regarding the point about being unfit to manage money, that idea is definitely behind the food stamps only being for food - coming from the fact that a lot of poor people are pretty unfit to manage money, a heightened perception of that, and the idea that "they are going to spend their welfare check on beer and crack."
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:18 AM on January 4, 2005

Fair enough, odinsdream. There are plenty of changes I find sad to watch, too.

And TheOnlyCoolTim, does being poor mean you don't deserve the same human flaws others possess? Does it mean subjecting yourself to tongue-waggings from the "well-warmed" who have no clue? Does losing the sperm lottery mean you deserve a life of drudgery and scrimping only?

Did you ever see the MASH where Charles loans BJ and Hawkeye money and then uses that to demand they do everything for him? It's pretty disgusting the way that people think giving someone money gives them the right to interfere, demand, and judge. In one of the richest countries in the world, everyone deserves the freedom a basic living provides, and that freedom includes the opportunity to make some bad decisions. The poor aren't any dumber than anyone else. It's just harder for them to hide it when they screw up.
posted by dame at 9:30 AM on January 4, 2005

I found this to be irritatingly quaint and really rather offensive. It's utterly useless because of the vast number of subjective conditions. Geography, ethnicity, education level, etc... that's just the big stuff. Get into the most mundane of details and it falls apart completely.

The omission of prep. times is a thinly veiled excuse for saying, "Oh those are just details... they don't really matter much because I'm a fabulous cook with 20 years of experience and no welfare-to-work job I'm forced to go to from 6am to 5pm!" She can go to those peoples homes and shop for them, because the only reasonably priced store on the bus line where I live is the Sav-a-lot. Not getting much organic anything there. In fact, she can just go ahead and cook for them too, because most of them have rarely eaten a meal that wasn't out of a box.

She didn't list a single recipe that I could find except for plugging their book, The Better Times Almanac. Ground meat almost every single day? And what's with those "Redneck Salisbury Steaks?" god help us all... Not only that but, what prices they bothered to include were, frankly, shocking. $3 a lb. for ground (whatever)? $3 for a dozen eggs? I also suppose that folks will grow tomatoes in the trunk of abandonded car down the block? Last time I checked gardens required land, poor folks don't tend to own any of that.

The only thing this social science fair project illustrates is that the whole food-agro system itself is beyond reproach and hope. We've been marketed so much crap into our diets that it will take a major education campaign over generations to reform the damage. It doesn't end with people either, it ends with companies selling us healty foods too, good luck with that. Imagine, we used to know what food was good for us by instinct. We've lost that ability from 100 years of hard sell.

Pushing the organic agenda isn't going to be the solution to this problem, either. Only teaching people to shop well, cook well and understand how ingredients interact will do that. That assumes that our entire commercial food service industry, as well as the constellation of goverment agencies involved "drink that cool-aid" too. Not going to happen in our lifetimes.

While their hearts are in the right place, they've lived in their rarified intellectual hippy culture too long, none of this crap is going to sell in the hood. Sorry.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 9:39 AM on January 4, 2005

Where's my tongue-wagging? A lot of poor people aren't good with money. It can be both a cause and effect of being poor. Read up on lottery winners, for one example.

An exagerrated perception of this (i.e. one person takes a welfare check and spends it on crack, leading to one news story) leads to public (i.e. Middle America) outrage at social services in general and a move towards cutting welfare, food stamps instead of cash, etc.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 9:43 AM on January 4, 2005

I'm really sorry to derail this thead slightly, but ... Why shouldn't it be discouraged to live off of the public's money? Being in a situation where you need public assistance is a consequence of either not being able to manage money or of having an unfortunate event happen to you that makes you unable to support yourself or your family. It's called 'public assistance' because it's only meant to be a helping hand for a little while, until you either figure out how to support yourself or you get back on your feet after that event. If you don't manage to sort things out, it's meant to turn into a boot to the arse so that you're forced to. Should we just let people live off of public assistance forever? (The perception of "they are going to spend thier welfare check on beer and cigarettes and crack" is only there because it was true for quite a while, so the system found a way to partially insulate itself.)

This thread makes it sound like everyone else should be supporting those who can't figure out how to make their lives work.
(Note: Veterans, the disabled, etc. aren't included in my 'figure out how to make your life work' rant, so don't even bring them into the discussion.)

That being said, yeah, the article is biased a bit towards, "Hey, we're well-meaning clueless organic urban hippes! Look what we can do!" On preview, Dean's right: this ain't gonna sell in the hood. (And I had the same reaction to "Redneck Salisbury Steaks"... Sheesh.)

... And how do you use multiple gallons of olive oil, anyway? I've been working off of the same liter bottle for about six months now, and I cook with it pretty frequently...
posted by SpecialK at 9:48 AM on January 4, 2005

Going over my records for 2004, I'm embarrassed to say that for my household of 2, I spent more than 3 times what these people did on groceries, and I don't really think we live all that extravagantly.

If nothing else, this link makes me embarrassed for my suburban over-consumption, and thankful that I don't have to rely on foodstamps.
posted by crunchland at 9:59 AM on January 4, 2005

It seems like it's modelled on the Victorian workhouse principle: make living on the parish as degrading as possible, and only the most desperate will apply.
posted by veedubya at 11:40 AM EST on January 4

Speaking as one who has been there, this is exactly right. Social Services does their absolute best to A) discourage you from applying in the first place by making you jump through 1000 burning hoops, and then B) discourages you from continuing by making you do it all over, backwards.

They're nasty, nasty people.

Once you've been on S.S. for a while, they "employ" you at less than minimum wage- they get away with this by explaining that the benefit money you receive is actually part of the payment for your work. This takes valuable time away from actually looking for a job that might provide a living wage. It's called Workfare, and it's completely back-asswards.

I still have five dollars in foodstamps that I keep in the back of my wallet, to remind me of what it was like.

another workfare link

/off topic
posted by exlotuseater at 10:05 AM on January 4, 2005

Why shouldn't it be discouraged to live off of the public's money?

SpecialK, you're talking about shaming people not encouraging them to get off of assistance. What good has shaming anyone ever done?

That's like telling me I'm fat, do you think it's going to make the weight mysteriously disappear? Hell, now. Instead of shaming people for needing assistance, we should be helping them learn how to get off of it, and giving them a hand doing it.

It's tough enough to be poor without having the person behind you in the grocery store line looking at you like you are slime.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:06 AM on January 4, 2005

It's disingenuous to suggest that organic foods will be cheaper than big-chain stores. Even here in Nebraska, where there's a cow on every block, and you could walk next door and have a farmer kill you some cattle for eatin', it's still cheaper to buy meat at the grocery store. The one organic store in my area (which is a co-op) charges about twice as much for the "natural" version of the items found at the local Wal-Mart. I love knowing my food isn't filled with preservatives and grown with strange hormones, but there's no way it's cheaper -- unless you're growing/slaughtering yourself.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:09 AM on January 4, 2005

I don't think anyone would argue that living off public programs should be discouraged. Arguing positive versus negative enforcement, however, might be an interesting argument. When someone falls, nobody argues that they should get back up -- but if they can't, are you better off giving them a hand up and hoping they stay standing when you let go, or kicking them until they find the motivation to pick themselves up?
posted by Pufferish at 10:10 AM on January 4, 2005

This has very little relation to the reality of the urban poor (the occasional availability of "community gardens" nonwithstanding). I'd much rather see someone do this experiment in New York City with a carefully-rationed Metro Card, or even in my small city, where you can go to overpriced neighborhood minimarts and bodegas full of overpriced, canned/pre-prepared/gross crap, or take a 45 minute, $1.25 bus to the supermarket where you can only buy as much as you (and/or your kids) can carry on the 45 minute, $1.25 bus trip back. Being poor in an urban area can be its own fulltime job--you add kids to the mix and I am suprised anyone makes it out.
posted by availablelight at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2005

I actually don't think this is a derail because it goes to the heart of such "experiments" as this: the underlying idea is that poor people are dumber than us and need to be steered around. We have the right to do this, of course, because it's our money they are living off.

To begin with, being poor sucks and the money the government provides, even if it were doubled, is hardly luxurious. Generally, the misery of being poor is motivation enough to desire its escape; your moralistic "boot" is not necessary. Why then are some people still poor? Access to opportunities, for one. Being poor can snowball and send you even deeper, for another. If you have an unreliable car and no access to mass transit, it can be hard to hold onto a job. This has nothing to do with not being a hard worker; it has to do with bad breaks compounding other bad breaks. And "public assistance" sure doesn't include a car.

Why should you give poor people money? Well, you certainly need them to be poor. Without some people getting crap wages, everything you have would cost a lot more. You profit from others' misery, so making it a little less miserable is the least you can do.

Then again, that argument is pretty irrelevant, because what it comes down to (for me, obviously) is that every human deserves freedom--freedom from as well as freedom to, and when you are poor, you are not free. Your options are few and the grinding dullness of never having quite enough is utterly soul destroying. It should not be a privilege to attempt a satisfying life, especially in the U.S., where money is plentiful (if hoarded by a few).
posted by dame at 10:54 AM on January 4, 2005

This is an interesting study and I would love to see some of those recipes for buffalo dishes. However, I agree with the people who say this might work in theory, but in practice it would be near-impossible. I am not on food stamps, and I have a car, and I wouldn't have the first clue where to find ground buffalo meat near me. I don't think it would be extremely accessible to someone living on the South Side of Chicago, let's say, who doesn't have a car. (and who is facing further possible public transit cuts, but that's another topic) Growing herbs and things from the garden also would not be feasible for someone living in an urban high-rise.

Yes, this can be done in some cases, but this is not the be-all-end-all of possibilities.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:00 AM on January 4, 2005

Okay, let's go down this path then, I don't think it's a derail either.

Poverty (in the US) is a multifaceted problem that simply cannot be solved by a single or a couple of solutions. It's just that simple. There is no "workfare" or, "welfare to work" or, other form of forced manual labor that will help anything but some governors re-election campaign.

Being poor is not always a result of being uneducated, it's not always a result of being knocked up, it's not always a result of being lazy, it's not always a result of loosing a job, it's not always a result of drug addiction, and it's not always a result of being some race or another. Though, most of them (not us, I trust) assume that it's either one of all of those things that is a prerequisite for public assistance. That's because we've been sold that bill of goods for generations. Our politicos have crammed that down our throats for so long that most just assume it's fact. So much attention on matters that acutally consume so little budget... it's beyond me. We've always spent more on weapons than food.

Don't forget, we still have servicemen who are eligible and receive "food stamps." 5.15 cents an hour will never pay the bills, no matter where you live, no matter how few or, many people you support with it. It isn't enough for one and it damn sure isn't enough for a family of 5 or, 6. Those people who earn only minimum wage are eligible for "food stamps" in many states and quite frankly, they deserve them for not being paid a living wage.

We are forced supplement the minimum wage because lawmakers can't bear to part with another dollar or, two an hour for what they consider to be the bottom rung of society that doesn't even vote. Even if the companies that paid to put them in office would stand for it, they won't do it. Do you seriously expect that the woman who hands you your latte should feed her three kids on that wage? C'mon.

While that condition exists, I will happily endure some part of the taxes collected on my wages to supplement the families that need it. Even if that means that those who don't deserve it will get it... that's the price we all pay. Pure and simple. Don't tell me that every person in every cube everywhere in your office deserves their salary. Some just don't. There is always cracks in all walks of life. To expect to remediate just the cracks among the poor is condescending and stupid. Besides, I'd rather see more taxes moving towards more food for more poor families here, than being given somewhere else to push the Pax Americana.

Back to the posters topic, I do feel that the people who did this did more to help than the current administrations efforts to educating people, which apparently is prayer and encouraging them to pray as well. Jesus hasn't pulled off that whole "fishes and loves" trick in a couple thousand years, that means that you and I have to do it...
posted by Dean_Paxton at 11:06 AM on January 4, 2005

Work a day (or more) to pay for groceries or spend an extra 5 minutes in the check-out line... that's a tough call.
posted by poipill at 11:08 AM on January 4, 2005

This would be a lot more difficult for anyone not already in the 'grow-it-yourself and preserve for future use' mindset.
From what I read, easily 1/3 [if not more] of what they ate that week was already laid by. Most people on foodstamps [I speak from past, personal experience] don't have that reserve. They live from week-to-week and just don't have the resources to put up food for 'a rainy day'.
I for one applaud the use of the 'debit card' foodstamps. There's no way that the money meant for food can be sold for beer and smokes because the only person that can use the card is the one it's issued to, unlike the old foodstamps.
posted by kamylyon at 11:12 AM on January 4, 2005

How nice of them to try living the life of a pauper for a week. This 'study' is insulting. Take away their 'home grown herbs, olive oil, free range eggs at $3 a dozen' take away their bread machines and other cooking impliments, the ingredients already in their homes and then try to live on $60 a week, week in, week out.

Secondly, it presupposes that the person being helped is somehow unfit to make their own decisions regarding how they spend the money given for their welfare. Poor == stupid == untrustworth

Usually it is a few that spoil it for the many. Few people take advantage of a loop hole and eventually it becomes cost prohibitive to allow this to happen for the many. I could give you many Canadian examples of a few rotten apples spoiling it for all.
posted by squeak at 11:47 AM on January 4, 2005

Take away their 'home grown herbs, olive oil, free range eggs at $3 a dozen' take away their bread machines and other cooking impliments, the ingredients already in their homes and then try to live on $60 a week, week in, week out.

Actually, what -I- want to see them try is doing this with regular shutoffs on their various utilities, for random periods of time while they fight through paperwork to get them turned back on. That should ramp up the uninformed-ness of this study to rather hilarious proportions.
posted by Pufferish at 12:27 PM on January 4, 2005

All they proved was that it was possible to eat well, for very little money, using food that is grown for the most part locally and organically (which is a net positive for the earth as well as one's body.) And once you have a good amount of experience cooking, you can do it without a huge amount of time.

That in itself seems like a worthwhile experiment. Even if it isn't realistic for many people, it could be a goal for many.

There seems to have been more condescension towards the poor in this thread ("because most of them have rarely eaten a meal that wasn't out of a box") than in the linked article.
posted by gwint at 1:14 PM on January 4, 2005

Where the heck did these people get buffalo for $2.50 a pound? I love buffalo, and it's always $9 or more a pound around here.

I buy free range eggs because I don't like to think of chickens being kept in cages on my account. Fortunately for me, I can afford it.

I shop at a supermarket that caters mostly to a blue-collar, immigrant clientele. I see people buying healthy food with WIC and EBT cards all the time. I do think that it would be helpful if there were better nutrition education in US public schools, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:20 PM on January 4, 2005

Sidhedevil: One of the major tenets of the Better Times site is to buy directly from the farmer and not from the supermarket. They even provide information on how to do this. Whether or not this is practical is (of course) conditional on any number of previously-mentioned factors.
posted by trey at 1:25 PM on January 4, 2005

Dean_paxton: quite frankly, they deserve them for not being paid a living wage.

We are forced supplement the minimum wage because lawmakers can't bear to part with another dollar or, two an hour for what they consider to be the bottom rung of society that doesn't even vote.

Ok, hold on a second. While we're on this topic, let me point out an argument that clashes.

Dame: Why should you give poor people money? Well, you certainly need them to be poor. Without some people getting crap wages, everything you have would cost a lot more. You profit from others' misery, so making it a little less miserable is the least you can do.

To the socialist/left wing mindset, paying people a "living wage" makes sense.
Unless, of course, you take into account that the basic things that people are buying with public assistance (like food stamps) are produced or otherwise handled by people earning minimum wage. So if you pay everyone a living wage, you make the basic items more expensive. Usually what will happen is that some people get a raise, and some people get fired or laid off, and the price of goods goes up to the point where the people who got a raise can still barely afford them .. because you've still got to pay these people, and consumer packaged goods industry stores (like grocery stores, to continue the example) run at margins of at most 2-3% already.
(There are obviously exceptions to this argument, like WalMart, that make huge profits at the expense of their employees. Let's leave them out of the equation.)

So what ends up happening when you raise the minimum wage? You've got more unemployed people than before. (Oregon's unemployment rate, after they voted in a measure to raise the minimum wage each year to keep pace with inflation, bears this out.) You've got fewer people earning a higher wage, but their actual local buying power hasn't changed for the products that really matter to them. And you've got the rest of us, whose salaries didn't go up by enough to make a difference (... we are, after all, lucky to have jobs in a state with 7% unemployment.), whose buying power actually went down. WAY TO GO!
posted by SpecialK at 1:32 PM on January 4, 2005

What about those of us who don't live near a farm? I guess we're just doomed to burn when the End Times come or whatever.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:45 PM on January 4, 2005

Sidhedevil: Like I said, it may or may not be practical.
posted by trey at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2005

I just want to say that it would not be impossible for urban poor in many cities to find a way to pool their own resources and find ways to grow some of their own food and "co-op" the storage and very local (street-level) distribution of staples of various types like oil, flour, sugar etc. Difficult maybe from a cultural and educational standpoint, but not impossible.

Actually I suspect there's quite a bit of that going on among the Mexican and South American populations here in Los Angeles, where a lot of immigrants are only a generation away at most from actually working on farms, unlike most white Americans.

The point that the article makes toward the end about how "producers and consumers" should work out their own arrangements for transactions, that's a good one. Alison's subscription to a local farm above might be a good example of such a thing. And Alison, if you're getting far more food from them than you need, I'd suggest donating that which you can't use to a Food Bank or homeless shelter or other charitable place of your choice.

While I agree for all the reasons stated above that this article isn't entirely helpful - seems like a "happy homemaker" wrote it, heh - it is still an interesting example that could be inspirational to some and expanded on.

And that food beats Ramen and PBJ anyday.
posted by zoogleplex at 2:02 PM on January 4, 2005

Gwint if that's the only thing you could pull out of what I had to say on the topic, I respectfully invite you to pound sand...
posted by Dean_Paxton at 2:20 PM on January 4, 2005

This seemed to me to be an experiment that really didn't accurately reflect the difficulties of people on foodstamps. Rather, it reflected people of means "roughing it" for a short amount of time.

The details were crap, the conclusions were crap, and the method itself seemed... well... foolish. Shopping organic (and presumably often paying higher prices for organic) doesn't make much sense for people on foodstamps, even if there are ways of doing so.
posted by insomnia_lj at 2:21 PM on January 4, 2005

SpecialK, while I agree with you for the most part, I don't buy into the "paying people enough money to live on will make us all broke" agrument. It's been used for a thousand years. What you are essentially saying is that when you pay the many more, the few who already have more will have less. Pure and simple. They said remarkably similar things in 30's when workers fought for fair wages in coal mines, auto plants and farms...
posted by Dean_Paxton at 2:31 PM on January 4, 2005

None of these "experiments" can go any farther than just scratching the surface of what people struggling to make ends meet have to deal with.

This one assumes that we're all starting from a level playing field -- that everyone understands what organic food is, for example, or is savvy enough to understand how advertising manipulates messages about health and taste.

At least this one didn't involve outright lying to people, like Barbara Ehrenreich did in her Nickel and Dimed screed.

Somewhat off topic, but related: Another interesting point that could have been made in the piece relates to how (dis)connected people are to the food chain in general, and how people in general are becoming less and less aware of what we put into our bodies. People with less education, or simply less time to spend focused on food (because they're working two jobs to make ends meet, for example), are more at risk of being harmed by what they ingest.

There are cultural losses at play here, too. I spent some time working with an urban Native American group in Minneapolis some years back, where they were taking kids back out to the reservation for the summer to teach them about gardening, among other things. When the kids brought fresh produce home to their families, though, the group found that they had to teach the parents how to cook with fresh veggies, since many of them only knew such foods from cans.
posted by Framer at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2005

Hey! I've done this! Foodstamps brought me to make a killer lentil soup and amazing avocado/bean sprout/sun-dried tomato sandwiches. But getting foodstamps for one person can go quite a ways ... I don't think the allotted amount per month doubles with two people and so forth.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 2:50 PM on January 4, 2005

Actually, SpecialK, I'm perfectly happy having the government redistribute it after the fact. Then again, if unempoyment benefits manage to be enough to live on, then I'm willing to take a 3 percent increase in unemployment.
posted by dame at 3:17 PM on January 4, 2005

And Alison, if you're getting far more food from them than you need, I'd suggest donating that which you can't use to a Food Bank or homeless shelter or other charitable place of your choice.

Actually, if I tell them that I'm going to be out of town, the subscription folks will just take the food to a local shelter. On the weeks when I have too much food I have a few hungry friends who are always willing to help. I think this subscription thing is available in other places besides Pittsburgh; it's worth a look. Everything is delivered right to your neighborhood. Sadly, it only goes from June until the end of November.

As far as recipes, I use canned chickpeas at least once a week.

1 brownie pan lined with foil (trust me)
1 can chickpeas
3 tbsp olive oil
4 cherry tomatoes (sliced & seeded)
1 tsp hidden valley ranch dressing powder
2 tbsp cashew pieces or other nut pieces (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
Whatever other veggies you have on hand.
Meat from leftovers (optional)

Mix everything in the brownie pan and spread in a layer on the bottom. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

I either wrap the baked chickpeas in a tortilla with a little sour cream or I have them with rice. Usually there is enough for 2 or 3 meals. The whole recipe costs $2-3.
posted by Alison at 3:28 PM on January 4, 2005

"Actually, if I tell them that I'm going to be out of town, the subscription folks will just take the food to a local shelter."

That is awesome!!

"Sadly, it only goes from June until the end of November."

Well that's the nature of farming, hun. :) You might want to get yourself a home canning kit and learn how to can and pickle! It's pretty easy. Mmm, pickled tomatoes. :)

I kinda went thru this as a kid, when my mom and stepdad #1 decided to play a real-life version of Frontier House and take me along. We grew much of our own food and had a lot of "laid by" staples, and mom learned to can and pickle. We also got food stamps and WIC back then.
posted by zoogleplex at 4:11 PM on January 4, 2005

We had a farm share, too, and it definitely was a big cost savings on vegetables.

They didn't have buffaloes, though.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:30 PM on January 4, 2005

Alison, that's more like it. I have a bunch of them too. Let's put together about 300 more and give it away for free... Actual recipes with real ingredients they can find in their crap stores. I know, I live like that everyday. I feed anywhere between 6 to 10 people every single day on about $120 a week. I promise we don't eat rice and beans every day, either.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 5:05 PM on January 4, 2005

Lets see what else I've got…

I have a freezer full of shredded squash and zucchini sealed in those little snack-sized Ziploc bags. Every time I make pasta I add all or half of a baggy and a few tablespoons of pine nuts. With some sauce, garlic toast and/or meatballs it's a full meal.

Fresh garlic butter is really easy to make by slicing half of a garlic clove really thinly and mixing it with a tablespoon of butter.

I have a mini hand held food processor that I borrowed/stole from a friend. In order to make pesto sauce I just combine olive oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, pine nuts, grated parmesan cheese, dried or fresh basil (grown indoors on the window) and blend it until it's almost a liquid. It's really easy just to make a just few tablespoons at a time.

I'm also a big advocate of replacing a regular baked potato with a sweet potato. They don't cost too much more and taste sooo good with butter.
posted by Alison at 5:45 PM on January 4, 2005

And for slobbing out:

1 can chick peas
1 onion
1 chilli
1 teaspoon ground cumin
tiny bit of oil

fry onions in hot oil with chilli - wait just before browned - add chick peas , cumin , cover and lower heat - cook for 5 mins stirring occasionally - add salt at end

eat on toast - never look back
posted by dprs75 at 4:50 AM on January 5, 2005

Cause if you look back you'll see your farts have blown out the back wall? Can of garbonzos, indeed!
posted by squirrel at 1:33 AM on January 8, 2005

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