Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Food Stamps II

A commenter (ed. "A"--"the one and only comment, for which you ought to be truly grateful.)* on the posts about living on food stamps challenges me to think further. Perhaps a Q and A format is appropriate:

1 Do I think it's possible to live reasonably healthily on food stamps? Yes, I do. It requires a lot of work and thought, and a good bit of knowledge, but it can be done. I'm less sure of the "organic" lifestyle--I agree with the commenter that the writer was a special case.

2 If my wife and I were told today to start living on $21 a week each, could we do it? Yes. We've the background and knowledge and the free time. Even more important, we've got a starting inventory of staples, like cooking oil, flour, beans, rice, and sugar. And most important of all, we live a quiet, steady life (knock on wood), one that's adapted to long range planning and stable habits. That's very different from the hand-to-mouth life of someone living day-to-day--you don't have the money to buy a 10 pound bag of rice, it's just one vicious cycle after another.

3 Are food stamps intended as the sole source of food dollars for their recipients? No. USDA's Economic research Service has an interesting article on the whole issue of food stamp spending here. (I was surprised by the spending patterns--I had the usual preconceptions.)

4 Which is larger, $21 a person per week or $326 per month for a family of four? Mathematically, they're about equal, but feeding four on the budget is not four times as hard as feeding one. Both workwise and moneywise, feeding four should be more efficient.

5 Do we have irrational expectations of food stamp recipients? Absolutely, read Jason De Parle or the book I just finished, "Off the Books" for some insights. (Plan to post on "Off the Books" separately.)

6 Is good food available in the inner city? That's an example of the sort of irrational picture in our mind we have--food stamp recipients and "inner city" are synonyms. It's just as difficult to get fruits and vegetables in a small town as in the big city, at least in the off season. Where I can walk to two big supermarkets, whole wards of DC and whole counties in rural America don't have one. (When I lived in DC, there were 3 small supermarkets (one Safeway in the basement of an office building around 11th and F, one about 1200 11th St, and one around 1800 P) I could use. I think they're all gone, although there is a Whole Foods in the area now that it's been gentrified. Small urban supermarkets don't carry large economy sizes, because people can't carry them, don't have the money to buy, and don't have the cars nor parking space to do pickups. We're talking close-in NW DC here, not Anacostia or east of Rock Creek Parkway.)

7 On the third hand, while we debate eating on $21 a week, much of the world lives on $1-2 a day.

* Adopting the habit of a few bloggers of splitting their personality in order to try to be funny.

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