Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

Have we mentioned that Chelsea is living off of the 21 dollar a week food stamp diet? She’s two weeks into it and says the free samples at Whole Foods help a lot. Here’s part of her shopping list from last week:

a bag of spinach ($1), 6 mangoes (.69 each), two jars of peanut butter (two for $4), two cans of tuna (three for a dollar), canola oil ($1.39 per pound), 24 bananas ($2.40), 16 oz. shredded mozzarella ($1.77) and a big splurge — 24 popsicles ($2). What a country!

Mary, in her Notes, June 12, 2007
Food Stamps

We Accept Food Stamps [Maulleigh / Flickr]

It’s not just our producer Chelsea who’s giving the $21 a week food stamp diet a shot. Lawmakers across the nation are taking the “food stamp challenge,” limiting their weekly food budget to the average amount that food stamp recipients get. That’s $1 a meal, if you’re keeping track. Activists and bloggers are taking part as well, and then there’s the significantly larger group of Americans who have no other choice.

The challenge is designed to call attention to the realities of hunger (or food insecurity, as it’s now known) among America’s poor. You’ve been nudging us to talk about these issues for a while: Allison with her farm bill pitch, and Kate McShane with her reaction to Chelsea’s endeavor. Is the food stamp challenge a winning strategy, or just a gimmick? Even if it is possible to eat on $21 a week, is it possible to eat well? And what’s your reaction to that number; is it ludicrous or luxurious?

Barbara Lee

U.S. Congresswoman, 9th Congressional District, California

Marion Nestle

Professor of Nutrition and Food Studies, New York University, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development

Author, What to Eat

Author, Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health

Miss Maggie

Blogger, Hillbilly Housewife

Extra Credit Reading

Lyndsey Layton, Lawmakers Find $21 a Week Doesn’t Buy a Lot of Groceries, The Washington Post, May 16, 2007: “‘All of us in Congress live pretty good lives,’ said McGovern, who ate a single banana for breakfast yesterday and was going through caffeine withdrawal by midday. ‘We don’t have to wake up worrying about the next meal. But there are a lot of Americans who do. I think it’s wrong.'”

Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Congresswoman Lee: Day Four, Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, June 8, 2007: “This is such an unhealthy diet. I am trying to eat the most healthy food I can afford, but I have no problem imagining how someone eating like this could quickly develop diabetes or high cholesterol. And with all these carbs, I can see how easy it would be to gain a fair amount of weight.”

Miss Maggie, Food Stamp Challenge, Maggie’s Musings, May 17, 2007: “I love anything that brings attention to hunger in America. It is my pet political issue, because to me it’s not political at all. It’s more basic than that. When children are hungry you feed them. Doesn’t matter where the children come from, hungry children should always be fed.”

kactus, Food Stamp Chronicles: Week 5, Super Babymama, May 27, 2007: ”

So now I will be very carefully buying food for the week with cash. A trip to the pantry on Wednesday–which I always put off because the workers at this particular pantry are amazingly vicious–and a trip to the grocery store for essentials like veggies and potatoes, and we will make it to the end of the month. Saturday my food stamp card is renewed, and we start the whole process again.”

kat, Cook Awhile in my Shoes: Flirting With Food Stamps, Eating Liberally, May 17, 2007: “I’m glad politicians are volunteering to venture beyond the Land of Milk and Honey to get a firsthand look at the food deserts so many Americans never see, even if it’s only for a day or a week. Our awful agricultural policies have created a food chain that makes it possible, for the first time in history, for poor people to be both malnourished and obese.”

It’s bigger than the moment., Living Deliberately, May 18, 2007: “One thing I’m hearing and noticing is that the monthly amount for a family on the average food stamp rate totals what many American families have for their food budget without government assistance. There is an under current of sentiments like, ‘Well we do it without help and the government shouldn’t be feeding people,’ or ‘They only use the food stamps for the real food and they use their wad of cash for the junk.'”

Gina, Living on food stamps, G’s Place, May 17, 2007: “I think it is good that the Congressmen are experiencing what it’s like to not have enough food. But is adding more money to the food stamp budget the answer? In the short term, yes it may be. But let’s SOLVE the issue, let’s make jobs. Don’t let big factories in the US use illegal labor. Don’t reward big companies for sending jobs overseas to access even cheaper labor.”

natasha, Food Stamps: Not a Lifestyle Choice, Pacific Views, May 27, 2007: “Popular culture often demonizes the poor, calls them lazy, treats them like criminals. People so untrustworthy that they’re made to go through a half mile of paperwork for an extra $3 a day to spend on food. Nobody wants to put up with being treated that way, or living with that little, so if public attitudes towards the poor were at all rational, they wouldn’t include the sorts of tedious platitudes that can be cut through by a half minute thought exercise.”

Related Content