The food-stamp diet
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) stood before the refrigerated section of the Safeway on Capitol Hill yesterday and looked longingly at the eggs.
At $1.29 for a half-dozen, he couldn't afford them.
Ryan and three other members of Congress have pledged to live for one week on $21 worth of food, the amount the average food stamp recipient receives in federal assistance. That's $3 a day or $1 a meal. They started yesterday.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.), co-chairmen of the House Hunger Caucus, called on lawmakers to take the "Food Stamp Challenge" to raise awareness of hunger and what they say are inadequate benefits for food stamp recipients. Only two others, Ryan and Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), took them up on it.
Ryan's shopping list for the week:
|2 jars strawberry preserves||4.80|
|1 jar chunky peanut butter||2.48|
|2 packages angel-hair pasta||1.54|
|Chock Full o’ Nuts coffee||2.50|
|3 cans tomato sauce||4.50|
|2 containers cottage cheese||3.00|
|1 loaf wheat bread||0.89|
|1 head of garlic||0.32|
He could have added some extra calories by forgoing the coffee; I think he's going to regret that particular choice.
The story also notes the irony of eating poor: that the cheapest foods are also the unhealthiest, which is why the poor have trouble with obesity, cholesterol and other diet-related ills.
"No organic foods, no fresh vegetables, we were looking for the cheapest of everything," McGovern said. "We got spaghetti and hamburger meat that was high in fat -- the fattiest meat on the shelf. I have high cholesterol and always try to get the leanest, but it's expensive. It's almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet."
Looking at the politics of it, the stunt -- while compelling -- is still something of a stunt. The $21 a week is an average, for starters; the neediest people get more. Second, food stamps were never intended to cover 100% of food costs; they're a supplement. Third, food stamps aren't the only programs available to the hungry. There are food shelves, local food programs and private charities as well.
In addition, the lawmakers are doing this in hopes of adding $4 billion to the $33 billion food-stamp program -- which would boost that $21 weekly average up to a whopping $23.50 or so.
Still, people do go hungry, even if nobody actually starves. And the healthy-eating challenges deserve to be addressed somehow. A few bucks spent helping the very poor buy fresh vegetables now might prevent far more expensive taxpayer-provided health care down the road.
food stamps, hunger, politics, midtopia