Universal Food Stamps? If the Industrial Food System No Longer Provides Cheap Food, What Are We Keeping It For, Anyway?

Sharon January 3rd, 2009

I think the above is an important story, one that demonstrates an increasing shift in our society’s relationship to its food.  Vermont’s policy change on food stamps is likely to be mirrored by other states, and this represents both a fundamental shift in the reality of American need, and also, I think, the final stake in the heart of the industrial food system.

http://www.timesargus.com/article/20090103/NEWS02/901030330/0/SPORTS 
The well-known Food Stamp program got a new updated name Friday, and Vermont Gov. James Douglas was on hand for the launch, standing in front of three tables of food at Shaw’s Supermarket Friday afternoon. The state’s expanded nutrition program was symbolized by the display of foods for breakfast, lunch and dinner, underscoring the new name and “3Squares” focus on healthy eating.Enrollment in the program currently stands at 31,000, or more than 12 percent, of Vermont’s approximately 250,000 households. Those households represent more than 61,000 individuals in the state. The program has expanded by about 57 percent since 2001, when it served 39,000 individuals, said Steve Dale, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.Douglas said he anticipates that “tens of thousands of additional Vermont families will be eligible” for 3Squares VT. “What better time to make that important change than now, when so many Vermonters are struggling to pay their bills in these challenging economic times,” he said.

During the summer, anti-hunger advocates and members of the Vermont Food and Fuel Partnership looked for the most effective way to confront an expected winter crisis caused by spiking fuel bills that could force Vermonters to cut back on food. The consensus was to raise the eligibility ceiling for the supplemental nutrition assistance program and eliminate the asset test, which Douglas called “a burden to participation.” Those changes, agreed to last summer, went into effect Jan. 1.

Now people with gross incomes of 185 percent of the federal poverty level, up from 130 percent, are eligible for the program. That’s $3,269 a month for a family of four. And people will no longer have to spend down their savings for their children’s college education or their retirement to qualify.

“That’s still lower income, but when you take away the onus of being the poorest of the poor, people realize, ‘This is for me!’” said Renée Richardson, the director of the program.”
 

I have to say, it was a bit of a shock to realize that if we lived in Vermont, my family would qualify for food stamps.  But, of course, that goes along with what has been a massive national shift – away from food stamps as a method of helping the most vulnerable and towards food stamps as a food subsidy that essentially makes food affordable for many people.  In the last few years we’ve seen food stamp enrollment (and let’s be honest, they’ve changed the name before, they will still be calling it food stamps, no matter what marketing VT does) move up to 1 in 9 Americans, and 1 in 6 people in Michigan and Washington DC.  That is, they effectively now operate as a subsidy for a substantial, and rapidly increasing portion of the US.  Given the scale of the expected economic crisis in 2009 and 2010, it would not be surprising to see those numbers hit 1 in 5 Americans.

Now I want to be clear – I am in favor of food stamps and any strategy that helps keep people from going hungry, and that ensures adequate nutrition.   I’m also strongly in favor of any new program that reduces or even attempts to reduce the stigma of accepting aid when it is needed.  That said, however, the question needs to be asked – are food stamps the best possible way to address the issues of food security and access that we’ve created in our society? 

First of all, let’s talk about what’s driving the vast increase in food stamp enrollment in the US.  The first factor is state enthusiasm – that is, there has been a laudable push to bring more hungry people into the food stamp program.  There has also been a push by the states to expand their food stamp enrollment because food stamps are federally funded, and effectively transfer federal dollars into the state – that is, the food that food stamp recipients purchase in Vermont gets spent in Vermont. 

 Food stamps are an extremely effective way of subsidizing state economies, because virtually every dollar gets spent directly – that is, unlike, say, tax returns that often get saved or put into markets that benefit others, low income families don’t have a lot of reserve, so the money they get circulates around – it gets spent and used in the economy, upping the velocity of money.  In this sense, food stamps are a much better investment than, say, bank bailouts – money given to Citibank, for example, goes into the bank’s coffers to offset its existing debts, and is mostly never seen again.  Food stamps given to low income families get spent at the supermarket or the farmer’s market and get money circulating in the community.  In a comparatively poor state like Vermont, this is absolutely urgent.

But, of course, there’s another, not so helpful reason why food stamp enrollments are rising – people are struggling. 2007 saw vast rises in the price of basic foods, and while some foods have declined in cost somewhat – milk for example – agricultural prices are always based in large part on the last season’s production, and so consumers can expect to pay high prices for a long time. 

Moreover, as more and more industrial food producers are forced to stop absorbing higher commodity prices, and make up for shifts in their bottom lines that occurred last year, prices are likely to remain high while companies attempt to remain in business.  With one major industrial producer, Pilgrim Foods, already in bankruptcy, we can expect to see some measure of consolidation in the system – leading, probably to higher prices overall.  Combine that with dramatic month over month job losses and pay cuts, and the prospects are overwhelmingly for more and more people to struggle to put food on the table. Indeed, food pantries and food stamp application handlers are all reporting more and more people who never thought they would be in there present situation needing help.

I think it is important that those of us who think about food begin thinking about food stamps not as an emergency support program, but as a normative food subsidy for Americans – the move to include middle class citizens in food stamp programs is likely to grow, and the fact that the middle class now needs food stamps to get by is not just a bad sign for the temporary economy, but a serious structural shift in our food system.  The exapansion of food stamps is already having a substantial impact on the food system as a whole – remember, states are being flooded with dollars that can *only* be spent on food – this means that the food marketplace is being shifted as a whole, for as spending drops, we are shifting dollars in a particular direction.  Again, I have no difficulty with this to the extent it mitigates hunger – but we do need ask who these subsidies are actually supporting.  If we are going to make a massive federal investment in the food system, we should be subsidizing investments that improve local food security, support goals of cutting global warming gasses and reduce the externalization of a range of problems from health costs to ecological damage onto the shoulders of already burdened taxpayers.

In this sense food stamps are not an unmitigated good.  At this point, food stamps disproportionally benefit the industrial food economy -  many farmer’s markets and CSA programs cannot or are not set up to accept food stamps, and low income families often struggle to get transport to farmer’s markets and farmstands that do accept them. CSAs usually require upfront payments that food stamp recipients cannot make – and while many CSA owners attempt to accomodate low income shares, their personal profit margins are sufficiently low that this doesn’t always work. 

Not only does this prioritization of the industrial do considerable ecological harm, and also reduce the access of lower income families to healthy foods,  but it works against the interests of the states, which lose most of the dollars spent their as they go back to industrial producers. A rational system would be something like Michael Pollan’s proposition that food stamp values are doubled when spent directly at farmer’s markets or through CSA payment programs.  So to would using some federal subsidy and education money to teach people – children and adults – how to cook and eat seasonally, so that they could get the most from their food stamp dollars, buying high quality, whole foods.

But more importantly, the rise in food stamp use should make us look seriously at our industrial food system, and our food system in relationship to the world at large.  For a long time, the one thing that you could say about American industrial food was that it was cheap.  But if food is no longer inexpensive, not just for the poor, but for the American middle class, then the single virtue of the industrial food system begins to collapse.  That is, even with a system of externalized costs, one that defers paying the full price of pollution, industrial food is no longer affordable.  So why were we keeping the industrial food system around again?  Certainly not because there are no better choices – if we are going to subsidize expensive food, why not good, nutritious food that will lower national health costs, enrich small farmers and improve overall food security? 

If we are to accept that something as basic as food has now moved out of the realm of ordinary affordability, this should make clear to us precisely how vulnerable we are to hunger even in the US.  The fact that we have acknowledged a need for a subsidy that extends well into the middle class (and it actually extends further than implied, because food stamps automatically make you eligible for things like subsidized school lunches) means that the industrial food system no longer is managing to do the one thing that you could say in its defense – provide affordable food.  And if this is no longer the case, there really is no defense left for industrial agriculture.

Sharon 

135 Responses to “Universal Food Stamps? If the Industrial Food System No Longer Provides Cheap Food, What Are We Keeping It For, Anyway?”

  1. Anon of Floridaon 03 Jan 2009 at 10:35 am

    Wow, this piece reads word for word like a contemporary description of what Dmitry Orlov wrote on the collapse of Soviet Agriculture.

    Where are the dacha gardens now?

  2. Joannaon 03 Jan 2009 at 10:53 am

    Yep… since my partner was just fired yesterday,

    (*insert heavy irony here* oh, but it had nothing to do with the agency losing several hundred thousand dollars in funding *end irony* – if she’d been laid off, they’d have had to provide a reasonable severance package – firing carries no such burden to the agency)

    we now qualify. Two do-gooder social workers who, as a consequence of our decisions to enter a low paying field, have no savings whatsoever. We were close to qualifying _before_ she was fired – even with both of us working fulltime – now we definately do. And our family is going to need it.

    The only good thing is that I do think VT is pretty good about access to farmer’s markets with the food programs. I do recall seeing a _LOT_ of signs saying they accept the food programs at our local market, which is only ten minutes down the road. And VT has quite a lot of farmer’s markets too, making access better than it could be.

  3. Jenon 03 Jan 2009 at 11:46 am

    The regional HFS that I shop at for bulk, etc. accepts food stamps as does the Whole Foods here. I’m very supportive of food stamps being accepted at these places and farmer’s markets and CSA’s, BUT I have to mention the reason I know they accept FS is because recently I was behind someone at the store who was paying with them. She was dressed VERY nicely with matching purse/shoes, manicured nails/coiffed hair, etc. I watched her pay with a food debit card and couldn’t help feel a bit peeved. Here I stood ready to pay well over a $100 to buy healthy food for my family and support this regional store (TN, WNC, and SC) since Whole Foods put the local store out of biz, and I’m wearing 10 yr old pants that were actually turned into maternity pants during my 3rd pg and my 6 mth old haircut, bushy eyebrows and very UNmanicured nails. Now I bit my own tongue thinking I shouldn’t begrudge her and glad she was purchasing healthy food, but wow I guess if you can budget in all those things for yourself, maybe your situation isn’t that bad or maybe THAT’S WHY you are able to buy food?
    I’m am currently budgeting in our CSA share and how I can use it to supplement our garden produce. I’m thinking of my good friend whose bookstore is closing and how she would love to shop at such a store and how they would not take food stamps, but she planning her garden and feeds the kids beans and rice everyday (which is great btw).
    I guess my point is I’m not sure I think we should be increasing FS qualifications just yet. I do agree with you regarding programs teaching cooking/gardening skills. Maybe those should be requirements before you are allowed entry into the program. I don’t want FS to go to the BIG IN either, but I hate the programs to be abused as well.
    I know some schools have gardens, but so few and so what is it we are teaching children in Health class? Um if I can remember it was little to do with actual health which at it’s core is about food.
    It’s discouraging when the problem goes so deep. It’s this crazy hamsterwheel we keep spinning.

  4. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 11:46 am

    A while ago, an older woman I work for pointed out to me that since I am now a recipient of
    Social Security benefits I probably also would “qualify” for food stamps. In the past I have always avoided any relationship with the federal government as I have been supporting myself “under the table” for the last 14 years or so. But taking the Change into consideration, I thought that if I could use food stamp money to put food by for sharing with my community in the future, it might be ok. So, I trotted into the local Human Services and got an appointment, answered all the questions, having brought in all the required paperwork…which includes proof of income, print out of utility use from propane
    company , proof of vehicle ownership, property taxes etc ……….and everything is going along just fine until we get to the one thing that I didn’t bring…a full statement from my bank for all accounts. Checking and savings. I was told that not only would I need to supply acct. numbers but a full printout of account activity for the last whatever period of time and the
    Red Light began flashing in my mind. This gave Uncle Sam complete access to EVERYTHING…
    My concern was not that I have too much…I don’t. My savings account is $1,465, well under the $3,000 limit. But what would appear would
    be any checks I cashed or deposited from those under the table housecleaning jobs. So, as I
    was leaving with the agreement to return with the bank statements within a certain deadline of time, I asked how much I might be able to expect in Food Stamps. The very nice and helpful woman said that according to the information I had provided, about $22 a month.
    $22.00.
    Nope.
    grace N.M.

  5. siobhanon 03 Jan 2009 at 11:49 am

    I was on food stamps for many years. One of the unfortunate aspects of the program is that anything that qualifies as “food” can be gotten with your card. I don’t have a problem with families purchasing a few splurge items now and then, but a lot of the food stamp budget goes to Snickers bars and Cheez Doodles. Because they are considered food.

    If junk foods were eliminated from the equation and people could only buy apples and chicken and oatmeal, etc., we perhaps wouldn’t have such rampant obesity in the lower income households. When I had my card, items I wouldn’t have considerd using money for became much easier to justify bringing home. Specifically, ice cream.

    I would much rather see people buying federally susidized toilet paper than Ruffles and Oreos. Healthwise, it would be a better expenditure. Even though many folks have issues with tissues, I think a long time will pass before average households begin trying out reusable butt wipes, likewise snot rags, diapers, pads, and a whole mess of other Conveniences.

    Food Stamps can be used at our farmer’s markets, but the one time I tried it the system didn’t work and it became embarrassing for me to keep standing there in a sea of yuppies while they swiped and swiped my card. And that brings me ’round to another problem. That whole foods are for the wealthy and junk food for the poor.

  6. AnnaMarieon 03 Jan 2009 at 11:59 am

    I live in VT and have struggled these past few months. We make well below poverty level but are completely debt free so I was hoping we would be okay. Unfortunately several things have happened that make it clear we could use some assistance. Being self employed is difficult in good times but my income has dropped about 35% in recent months.

    Since the program now allows you to have a savings account, I qualify. I am struggling with this in my heart but my head says take it.

    I’ve printed out the application. That’s my first step.

    One good thing is the local butcher where I purchase my local meat accepts the card as do the farm stands so I can still buy local. If I keep my dairy purchases to Cabot I’m buying local diary.

    It’s hard to decide what to do but I know I’ll have to make a decision before long. I just hope I can live with it.

  7. MEAon 03 Jan 2009 at 12:07 pm

    I’d love to see FS expanded to cover garden seeds and other means of food production.

  8. kathy harrisonon 03 Jan 2009 at 12:17 pm

    During the first depression, women from the county extension services visited the homes of families recieving food aid to teach woman how to cook with available commodities. A better use of some financial increases might be a similar program along with the distribution of seeds and gardening information. I know that WIC does a good job of offering recipes. I called the extension service to ask about an advance canning workshop for folks like me who can a lot and are ready for more advanced info. I was told they no longer have those experts available. How about some money for scholarships for home economic majors willing to devote a year of public service after graduation? Local schools are a dreadful waste of space most of the day and much of the year. That space used for the cooperative processing of food and community dinners would be a step forward for those without the resources for canning at home. Woman are going to have to take the lead here, both in demand for services and in volunterism.

  9. Shambaon 03 Jan 2009 at 12:44 pm

    what a wealth of information this website is! I would never know what’s happening to so many other people if I didn’t read the comments here. I hae some questions that occurred to me as I read these today.

    grace in NM: only 22 dollars–not much even for one person! I had no idea that would be so low. :(

    Kathy Harrison: Did your extension services staff tell why they didn’t have the advanced canning experts available anymore? Like, maybe, there aren’t any they can contact ??

    To anyone who could use the help with foodstamps: Please take the time to check into if you can get them. I can only imagine what’s that’s like emotionally, psychologically to apply for them but they are there for you when you need them. I’m happy to see any tax money I pay to go to help people who need this kind of help.

    Abundance and Enough For All of Us,
    Shamba

  10. nikaon 03 Jan 2009 at 12:50 pm

    Idea for connecting farmer’s markets with low income food stamp recipients who may not have access to market (my area BIG time):

    Perhaps a food stamp collective action that forms a food buying club – a group of people (say several of the many puerto rican families in Southbridge, MA near where I live) car pool to a “proven” farmer’s market (as in, one that is known to have a good and steady showing of producers who are qualified to and are accepting food stamps) and buy in bulk for the various families. (I would use it as a gateway activity to get community growing efforts kicked off so that the same people might provide for themselves and neighbors instead of driving miles to a farmer’s market)

    Am thinking this might be a neat project to try out here in my area. The diversity of economic and living conditions as well as cultural differences in the region make this place VERY complex to advocate for.

    If you know stuff like this that is ALREADY happening – please let me know!

  11. TheNormalMiddleon 03 Jan 2009 at 1:13 pm

    “She was dressed VERY nicely with matching purse/shoes, manicured nails/coiffed hair, etc”

    Would you have prefered that she was dirty and mismatched and disheveled?

    Maybe her parents gave her a matching purse and shoes for Christmas, and perhaps a friend did her nails because poor people have every right to feel good about themselves too.

    This peeves me on many levels.

  12. GidsMomon 03 Jan 2009 at 1:38 pm

    The state of Washington also upped its income limits to qualify for food stamps. It is quite humbling to see that we qualify. I checked into it but, like Grace, I did not want to turn over all of the information required. We have state supported health care for our family but I guess since we do pay for that ($45 per month for our kids and $140 per month for my husband and I) the state only asked for income verification. To enter the food support world I would need utility bills, statement from our landlord, bank statement – come on. That’s just too much unless we were starving – even then I think I would try my church and different community organizations first.

    Jen – If I did get food stamps I would still color my hair. (: It would seriously have to be the end of the world before I give up my blond.

  13. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 2:14 pm

    deciding what to do:

    If there is to be a new and budding Informal
    Economy, these decisions will have consequences.
    Being “self-employed” is a whole different world for those who have been receiving a W-2 form
    for all their working lives.
    I dropped out of the W-2 world when I moved to NM but before that, from the time I was 15
    to 47, had this “credential” that identified me
    as a good citizen and tax paying patriot working as a psych nurse, art therapist and then part owner of an independent bookstore.
    I think Kathy Harrison is right in looking toward
    our County Extension services for creating
    new (old) programs.
    grace, NM

  14. Shelleyon 03 Jan 2009 at 2:54 pm

    How is receiving food stamps different than receiving WIC? I also am looking at my dad’s ration card book from WWII and thinking how much it looks like old fashioned food stamps. It’s scary to think about how many people may need FS and how that will consolidate the industrial food producers. But like everything else that many of the readers of this blog do, we can stand on the outside of this system and do things our own way, helping others out when we can.

  15. Jenon 03 Jan 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Let me reiterate. There is a difference between spending TIME making yourself look attractive and spending MONEY. I buy $8 haircolor to cover my gray. I make my eyebrow waxings last as long as I can before I spend the $12 on it every 3 months and I get my hair cut, not styled, twice a year. Now I can afford to get all of these things done and still buy healthy food, but I make a choice to be frugal and use my money to buy local, which cost more and to pay ahead on mortagage etc. I don’t think having an opinion regarding owning a very nice car (which she did by the way) and obviously spending money on DESIGNER clothing, yet using FS taht might be used by someone else. I do think poor people should look good, but why is it they look better than those of us who have money? We don’t teach our society how to be frugal and feed themselves, we teach them how to look good and buy more stuff.

  16. Sarahon 03 Jan 2009 at 3:11 pm

    I live in Minneapolis, where farmers’ markets and food co-ops have a very strong presence. The co-ops all accept food stamps, obviously, and one farmers’ market, in a low-income and primarily immigrant-occupied part of the city, IS set up to accept them as well–you swipe your card in a central location and are given chips worth $1 each. I’m sure more farmers’ markets (and even CSAs, maybe?) could find a way to make this happen…it seems that they tend to appeal, and market themselves, more to the middle class, but maybe as increasingly more middle class folks are using food stamps, local food systems and markets will find a way to tap into this money.

  17. young snowbirdon 03 Jan 2009 at 3:27 pm

    In Phoenix, Arizona they do not tax vegetable, herbs, and fruit plants at the nurseries as they are considered food. I will be checking with them soon to see then if they will accept food stamps for this same “food.” Hmmm.

    For me personally, I would be able to make a better go of it if the interest payments on my credit card was lower, and if other interest payments on things like my student loan and mortgage were lower – enabling me to pay off the principle faster and thereby clearing out my debt. Out of a $841 mortgage payment I made yesterday only $167 went to principle! And I’m at 6.2% fixed rate. sigh.

    I can foresee a revival of a Jane Addams type neighborhood system where those skilled in food production and canning techniques teach others in their area. Due to the nature of convenience dependence such a large percentage of our population has evolved into, there are skills that have been lost that will desperately need to be re-taught.

    Industrial agriculture exists for Industry. So much of it really does not produce good quality, healthy food. Check out the Documentary King Corn for quite an eye opener!

  18. young snowbirdon 03 Jan 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Just my 2 cents, Jen.

    It might not have been her car. She could have gotten those clothes at a clothes closet for working poor women, and she may have some really fine skills at finding bargains at shops. I am floored sometimes at how much some folks don’t spend on items that once were priced really high, because they know their designers and shop shop shop until they find the best deal then buy. Ferrrigamos for $12, Geoffrey Bean for $8. Hey it can be done, and has been done alot.

    For me, its not that important to me to wear designer clothes and look all polished all the time. It takes too much work. But, I put my energy into other things.

    It’s important not to assume the lady spent alot just because it looks like she did.

  19. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 3:52 pm

    applying for foodstamps and giving up one’s blonde: one does not exclude the other.
    WIC stands for Women, Infants and Children.
    Special subsidy for Mothers and young children.
    Our very small town Farmer’s Market can redeem WIC coupons through a program our Chamber of Commerce participates in. Might be because we are rural?
    I always feel like I don’t want to get inappropriately personal, so that often keeps me standing on the sidelines/not commenting
    but if the “box” is caving in and falling apart at
    the seams (as it NEEDS to) we can all just
    not only think outside of it, but get happy and
    try finding ways to not cling to the pieces for dear life. Not to be repetive and boring, but
    having lived with an income under poverty level
    for 17 years, NOT having food stamps, has been
    …….fine! You simply choose, once and for all
    how you are going to live. You give up what you can and find what you need. Again, I am
    very aware that having young children factors in heavily. But, being “poor”, I made a really great lucious lasagna for my new years eve dinner, I was on the pre-ordered waiting list for Depletion and Abundance, I bought a SunOven, and a 23qt
    Pressure Canner last summer. And then those
    colored pencils I mentioned the other day. I am
    Happy. I am waiting for a call from the local Extension Agent on just what has been written in the above comments and am pretty sure I will have enough abundance this coming summer to
    take some to the Farmer’s Market. I have
    supported this life by creating my own informal
    part of a small town economy cleaning houses for faculty at the local Tech College and doing home care for elders and terminal adults AND
    REDUCING MY NEEDS. Which for me, meant
    being content with living I guess at the bottom
    of the continuum, in a trailer (of all things, but I have 2 very nice “real” oriental rugs, lots of books and a very excellent collaged wall to cover the flaws) (smile).
    ok, that’s it.
    grace NM

  20. Segwyneon 03 Jan 2009 at 4:29 pm

    I usually get this blog delivered to my inbox, but I really wanted to comment today. First, my family (husband, me and 5 children) have been receiving food stamps in NH for several years now. When I was a child, my parents received food stamps for a couple of years in the late 80s. Back then they were paper coupons that were sent in the mail and you could easily find a way to “work the system”. The new debit card style is a great way to reduce fraud, but also limits some of our options. And what happens to our food stamps when technology fails? Where we live, the local HFS accepts food stamps, and the farmer’s market says they do, but I haven’t figured out how to use them there and no one seems to be able to answer me when I am there, so I just budget cash for it. We receive nearly $600/month in food stamps, but feeding so many growing children, that goes by quickly, especially considering that I homeschool and therefore don’t take advantage of the free lunch program at the schools. We live in an agriculturally rich area (Connecticut River Valley) with many small farms. We buy our milk from a farm that has raised dairy cows for 10 generations now. But there are restrictions on who can accept food stamps as payment, and these small farms cannot. Since we have to pay a portion of our food budget out of pocket, we have decided to use that part for our local small-farm purchases. I really wish that the regulations would be changed so that those small farmers who provide so much food for our community could accept the stamps. I use them at the HFS to get bulk food and good food, and then I spend the rest at the local supermarket, which is making efforts to find as many local suppliers as possible.

    Our food philosophy clashes with that of WIC, so we don’t use that program, but they do provide farmer’s market coupons in the summer and fall, in the form of a booklet of coupons valued at $1 and $5. Change is not to be returned from the coupons, which help prevents fraud, and is a great way to help spread the food wealth around.

    Oh, and vegetable garden seeds do qualify to be purchased with food stamps if you purchase them from a store that accepts them. That means that I can go to my HFS and purchase organic seeds with my food stamps. It is worth a call to your local nursery to see if they are set up to accept them.

    I am loathe to limit what foods one can buy with food stamps, because there are several different diet philosophies out there, and I don’t want anyone to tell me that I can’t buy locally produced, organic ice cream because someone else doesn’t think ice cream is “healthy”. Or that I can’t buy a lamb leg once in a while because red meat isn’t “healthy”. Or that I must buy tofu because it is “healthy”. I understand the frustration of seeing someone buy candy bars with food stamps, but you don’t know their usual spending habits.

    I think I covered everything I wanted to say. :)

  21. MEAon 03 Jan 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Jen — thank god you didn’t seem me yesterday spending $193 on 10 items of clothing (first I have bought 2nd hand or made– except for boots) in decades or who know what you might think of me. Certainly that I should never had free school lunches for my children, back when I was making $14,000 a year and paying school fees for myself.

    I’d one of those people who you could put in desinger clothing, make up to to nines, and I’d still look like sack of potatoes tied around the middle so I don’t spend money on hair color or cuts or make up. Point if, if I did, I wouldn’t look well turned out, so I might get a pass for those lunches after all.

    I have a friend who cuts her own hair (she was trained as a hairdresser) takes a couple of old dresses, spends an hour at her machine and looks like she just stepped of the page of a magazines. She gets her shoes and accessers in swaps for making on-of-a-kind garments for others. You’d look at her, and think undeserving rich.

    I don’t think people who don’t need Food Stamps should use them, but you really can’t judge people on what they look like. I read about a woman who was stuck leasing an expensive car because it was the only transport she could find for what she could pay a month when she needed a car in a jam.

    Jen, please don’t be so judgemental. It makes me feel that if you ever met in IRL, you’d think I was a terrible person just because of the way I looked.

  22. Lauraon 03 Jan 2009 at 4:51 pm

    This is just a general suggestion: If your family has been scraping by without foodstamps and now you find you qualify for foodstamps, keep buying your groceries with cash as you always have–and use the foodstamps to start your own food storage at home. Think of what even $100 in food stamps would buy each month if you purchased 25 pounds of flour, 25 pounds of sugar, dried beans, rice, baking soda, etc. As soon as you’ve built up a nice pantry, you’ll spend less and less of your cash on food. Your grocery bill will drop dramatically. Then that money you save can be put towards some classes at a community college to learn new useful skills. If you’re going to take foodstamps, you may as well maximize the benefits.

  23. Jenon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:17 pm

    If you read my OP you would see that I bit my tongue (mentally) not wanting to be judgemental. I applauded her food choices. But Please give me credit for recognizing an original creative put together outfit from store-bought handbag/shoes. The REAL POINT here is the Conspicuous Consumption of Americans. Why aren’t we giving people food that need it rather than shoes & purses? I had a friend for years who never worked (or wanted to) FT. At one point in her life I convinced her to go back to grad school, and again instead of working, she went and got food stamps. I was appalled, but yet what am I suposed to do? Public money is constantly abused. I have no doubt that anyone reading here is the type of person to abuse the system…um because aren’t we all here trying to change it? Please don’t feel defensive. Why are we complelled to defend the image of prosperity? It seems to me that’s what got us in the pickle we are in.

  24. The Screaming Sardineon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:18 pm

    I’m glad others here aren’t as judgmental about what food stamp recipients look like. My first thought when Jen described the woman as well dressed is that I have a ton of very nice clothes from when I worked as a legal assistant several years ago. The clothes don’t look outdated because they’re classic clothing. As to hair and nails, as others have said, it could be that a friend did them, or perhaps she’s an out of work nail tech. Perhaps she bartered for such services for watching a neighbor’s kids. As to what car a person drives who receives food stamps, it could be any number of things: a borrowed car or having purchased the car when she was gainfully employed. I bought a new car in 2007 when my income was steady and I could afford it. Since March, 2008, my income has dropped 70%. Hindsight is 20/20, and I definitely wouldn’t have bought a new car in 2007.

    When you’re “poor,” sometimes you like to dress up. And since there’s such a stigma against people who use food stamps, maybe she didn’t want to look like the typical poor person that Jen, et. al, expects. She wanted to still hold on to some dignity, since there are plenty of others out there ready to knock her down for getting help from the state.

    For those who are considering food stamps, get them while you can. I think the system will collapse in the next year or two, and there won’t be any safety net. I definitely qualify, but I also buy in bulk and use the local food pantry; therefore, some of my food stamp allotment goes to buying a lot of canned goods that I can store.

    Plus, you’ve paid into the system with all the taxes you’ve paid. I’ve been self-employed for several years, so (correct me if I’m wrong) I’ve probably paid more into the system since I didn’t have an employer to pay the other half of the social security tax.

    If you do get food stamps, however, watch how you dress, how you keep your hair, or what vehicle you use. It’s unfortunately damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you look nice, you’ll be excoriated. If you look grubby, then you’ll only reinforce people’s stereotype of “them poor people.”

    I do wish that food stamps, as someone mentioned above, wouldn’t cover junk food. It should also allot a certain portion to toilet paper, diapers, and other necessary items.

  25. siobhanon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Segwyne,
    I just think that if someone has to spend a real money dollar on candy or corn chips, they might think twice. Also, food stamp expenditures on mainstream corn producta represents a double subsidy to Big Ag.

    But again, splurge on leg of lamb by all means; and I’m certainly happy to see a local organic dairy get food stamps for ice cream…

  26. Jenon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:36 pm

    Okay it seems as if my point is not sinking in. Let me try this: we need to marshal our resources in such a way as individuals that places a priority on self-sufficiency rather than what our image is and how we look to others at the grocery store. Please don’t “straw man” my argument by implying that individuals don’t have a right to have integrity or confidence. This is about how we choose to spend our money and time. My critique is about how we as Americans are more concerned with how we look rather than how we live.

  27. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:53 pm

    One of the first times I read Casaubon’s Book
    Sharon talked about how coming CHANGES
    might be experienced. I don’t have the
    energy to go back and reference that, but
    one of the things she talked of is that we might be “set against” one another. As there is a sense of scarcity, we begin eye-ing “the Other”.
    Judging.
    Well……
    and here is the opposite of the above, but judging nonetheless and I am working at it. When I went to Albuquerque to check on my son’s cats that he had left home alone for holiday visit with Michigan family, I was accompanied by my friend who wanted to stop at Whole Foods for her bulk. I wandered around, while she carefully measured and weighed for a while but since I had already spent my discretionary funds on the colored pencils, I couldn’t shop much and ended up getting some very on sale pasta and yes, a bag of organic cheese curls (yummmm) also very on sale. The pasta for the apocalypse, the cheese curls for immediate gratification. And I went out to sit in the car till she was finished shopping. The reason that I went out was not that I found it hard to look at stuff and not buy, but I found myself have a significant rise in really negative feelings about the whole scene in general. Before leaving that morning I’d seen a photo on one of the news sites of 3 little boys looking out the blown in back window of their family’s vehicle as it tried to flee Gaza. The looks on their faces would not leave my mind. And then, here I am in Whole Foods, beautiful people with full carts, children dancing about
    pointing to various things they wanted their mothers to buy…everyone is so cheerfull
    smiling at one another. At me.
    The little hood I live in…I can guarantee you that NOT ONE SINGLE neighbor of mine has ever stepped foot in a Whole Foods store. And never will.
    So…to keep it a little short…there are degrees
    of everything. Even judgement. And what I found myself saying in my head was….I will NEVER enter this store again. Ever. I cannot support this.
    Oh, and I also got a roll of toilet paper…”green”
    $1.49 a roll. A single roll.
    graceNM

  28. Anonymouson 03 Jan 2009 at 5:58 pm

    Wow… great post… great discussion in the comments too. There are several things I’d like to mention, so in no particular order…

    Jen – I totally see your point, my DH and I have had similar experiences – we go to the co-op and decide we can only buy X, Y, and Z, because we don’t have enough in our budget for W; when we get in line, there is a very well dressed, manicured (the fake nails that cost quite a bit each week/month to get filled, etc.), young woman with a new looking BMW key on her keyring buying her groceries with FS, and some very nice other products (that my DH and I would love to be able to afford) with some of the money she probably would have otherwise spent on food. HOWEVER, I also see the points that others are making – it IS possible to be thrifty and not look your “income.” Most of my co-workers are very surprised that my DH and I make as little as we do. BUT, I still think the somewhat “angry” thoughts are just fine! There is a part of me that would love to have acrylic nails, drive a BMW, buy the more expensive and healthier local, organic foods, AND still pay our bills and mortgage. These young women obviously have a need, and we have our own priorities… Se la vie…

    I certainly like the idea of Michael Pollan’s that Sharon brought up and the pre-FS classes/training. It would be great to have community volunteers or professionals that could council folks on budgeting/priorities prior to receiving FS (of course, emergency aid should be provided, when NEEDED). I would also love to see gardening clubs aimed at FS reciepeints (sp). Oh, and let me say what a fantastic idea Laura made about spending the first few months of FS on building a good storage pantry!

    I volunteer with a program of the USDA – Food $ense, a K-8 (more like 1-5/6) curriculum that is run by the extension office. Classroom teachers in schools with a certain percentage of free and reduced lunch students can contact the office and have the program delivered to their students. The program teaches My Pyramid, and doesn’t stray from USDA approved lines – as it is funded by a USDA grant. The aim of the program is that the students will take home the lessons they learned in class to their families. There are fliers and newsletters (in the two most common languages in the area – English and Spanish) that go home with the students, and each meeting ends with a healthy sample/snack that relates to the content for that lesson (6-10 weeks of 45 min – 1h lessons, once a week). It’s a great start, and many of the kids really are learning and enjoying learning about nutrition, but it is a voluntary program that is initiated by the teacher. I would love to have a similar program run at the schools, year-round, that went over all the topics that have been brought up – budgeting, priorities, thrift shopping, gardening, etc. There are classes offered at other times, but in an area with neighborhood schools (most kids live within a reasonable [w/adult] walking distance in town), perhaps greater strides could be made when meeting with the parents directly…

    As for limiting what kinds of food folks can buy with FS – I think there are some things that can definately be put on that list – and since things like that are not that expensive, perhaps they can become the occational(sp) treat they should be – ice cream, store-bought cookies, candy bars, twinkies, etc.

    –Erika

  29. Erikaon 03 Jan 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Oops… that was me…

    –Erika

  30. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 6:17 pm

    ice cream, candy, store bought cookies, twinkies, Sugar.
    Sweetness
    Pleasure
    Comfort
    People are needing sweetness, pleasure, comfort.
    And in the United States of America, the cheapest way to that end is candy and twinkies.

  31. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 6:20 pm

    that’s why they put them so near or AT the
    check out.

  32. young snowbirdon 03 Jan 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Jen, you are the one that made the comment on how the woman looked. Could it be that you have absorbed the lesson that it is important how a person looks, and that those who get all dolled up are more wealthy than other people? Your comments suggest that it bothered you that your appearance that day was not up to the same standard. You put that judgement on yourself from what you have absorbed from society. Please don’t put on the other readers here what is an issue for yourself.

    I do see that our society “values” a polished look more than an unpolished one. I personally have been snubbed in a jewelry store because I didn’t look rich enough to be waited on. They lost a $500 sale. And I have been passed over for jobs because I wasn’t a good enough “face” for the organization. But not everyone thinks like that. Its only the people who think the way you describe that perpetuates it.

    I recall a story that Estee Lauder told in her biography. She was a young person at the cosmetic counter with a large group of ladies who also sold cosmetics. Into the store walks a heavy set Mexican woman with older clothes and not so good shoes (actually I think Estee said NO SHOES, but I think she was exaggerating.) The other ladies at the cosmetic counter shunned the woman and busied themselves pretending to do anything other than wait on her. Estee approached the woman to assist her. The woman said that she had been saving all year to get herself and her daughter really good makeup. Estee sold her several hundred dollars of product and the lady walked away beaming. Estee’s colleagues all had their mouths dropped open.
    Estee said she learned a lesson that day. Never judge a woman (wealth or desire or anything else) by the way she looks.

  33. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 6:54 pm

    “looking your ‘income’ “.

  34. siobhanon 03 Jan 2009 at 6:54 pm

    Now the comments are veering into image conciousness and away from food. When I first read Jen’s initial comment, I thought – well this lady might have just been released from jail and gone to a clothing bank and gotten her nails and hair done by a friend or through vouchers on a welfare to work program. Or she could be a lying b*[email protected]#$ that’s figures out a way to scam it. Either way, she’s buying good food. Unless she was just buying Organuic Cheez Doodles…

  35. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 7:08 pm

    yup. and as I have sat here all day reading and feeeeeeeeeeeeeling things, instead of being productive by spreading the manure I brought home in the truck for the raised beds, I’ve been munching those really good Whole Foods brand cheeze curls….”made with real cheddar cheese” it says…but not organic. Well, close. And whose to know, maybe that woman is one of the “readers” who lurks but never writes? Wonder what she might be feeling?

  36. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 7:09 pm

    who’s

  37. peter in Auston 03 Jan 2009 at 7:12 pm

    Hey Jen you are really copping a kicking . Dont feel too bad though . Most of my wardrobe is from opshops [recycled] I like to think I look great when I go looking for bargains , and yes I am poor and old .Maybe she was also …but then maybe she wasnt.. Regards Peter.

  38. young snowbirdon 03 Jan 2009 at 7:53 pm

    I think its very interesting what Sharon has written here, and how the conversation has evolved into questions of who looks rich and who does not – should those who look rich get FS or not.

    The situation appears to be that two different sets of values are in conflict. Those who followed the “old” ways of saving, budgeting, doing more with less, and focusing on the basics for long term security. The other set is those who worked by the rules of the “new” way, the Gorden Gecko “greed is good” way, Dressing for “success” so that people will see you as a “success.” Racking up the credit cards, buying expensive cars, and houses more than actually affordable in order to appear to have made it in the new society.
    Once TSHTF and the “old” way proves the way to go again- the more sustainable way, how will the folks who followed the “new” way be treated?

    Food is a basic human need. Do we deprive people access to a basic human need because they were not “responsible” in the past, because they played by the wrong rules? Will wall street traders get to have FS or should they have stockpiled while they had the chance? How do we work through the attitudes involved in this conflict?

  39. TheNormalMiddleon 03 Jan 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Jen, quite frankly the reason your comment peeved me so much (and I’m sorry I jumped on you, I really should have been nicer) is because I am probably like that woman you just “described.”

    My husband made about $70K a year at his job (automotive industry) and I was a school teacher @ $30K a year. We were doing great here in NC where we live, and were considered a high-class middle class family. I came from older money, which makes things a little easier for people like me.

    Flash forward 10 years. Our second child was born with substantial medical issues due to a genetic disease we carry. I had to quit my job as a teacher because I felt it was super important for me to be the one that took her to the hospital for treatment 2-3 times a week during the first year of her life. Not to mention all her doctors appointments (she has about 10 specialists at the children’s hospital) and therapy appointments.

    Anyhow, I quit my job. We were down to $70K a year, which is still pretty good for a family of 5! Then my husband lost his job.

    We had a child with SIGNIFICANT medical needs, no insurance, and no income.

    So yeah, during those years I drove a nice mini-van (paid for) and my mother, who has “old” money bought me clothes and keeps my kids in cute clothes she buys for them. My best friend is a stylist who waxes my eyebrows and cuts my kids hair and does my nails once every 6 months to keep me feeling human. I still buy my haircolor for $2.97 at Walmart (Colorsilk #31) and do it every couple of months to boost myself esteem. Things have gotten better in my house but it is still tight.

    I am now a school teacher again, and my husband is making a little in short time work, so we’re raising a family of 5 on about $50K a year.

    Life is good. But I know what it feels like to be that woman you described. It sucks to have people think you should be dirty because you are poor. It sucks to feel like people think you’re “abusing the system” because your car parked outside isn’t a beat up piece of crap. It sucks to feel judged. Period. I hope you never feel that way.

  40. TheNormalMiddleon 03 Jan 2009 at 8:08 pm

    Hit submit too soon…went to fold a load of laundry and felt like I needed to clarify a few things that I left out of my story.

    People like Jen will ask “why didn’t you sell your paid for car?” The answer is, eventually we did. And we sold our house to pay off medical debt that was ridiculously high. We lived in a shitty rent house with mold for almost a year, and then with inlaws until we were back on our feet again to buy a house this past April.

    I’ve had so many well intentioned people ask why poor people don’t do this or that (having cable or going out to eat when you are poor is a crime, didn’t you know?)

    So we gave up our house and our car and waited until we could replenish those things in order to pay off MEDICAL debt. It is a damn sight different than credit card debt. I’ll go in debt another $70,000 if my kids health is on the line, period.

    But not once during that year and a half period of hell did we look dirty or even “look poor.” As my grandma always told me, you might not have much, but you can always be clean!

  41. meaon 03 Jan 2009 at 8:15 pm

    Jen wrote:

    “Okay it seems as if my point is not sinking in. Let me try this: we need to marshal our resources in such a way as individuals that places a priority on self-sufficiency rather than what our image is and how we look to others at the grocery store. Please don’t “straw man” my argument by implying that individuals don’t have a right to have integrity or confidence. This is about how we choose to spend our money and time. My critique is about how we as Americans are more concerned with how we look rather than how we live.”

    My first thought on reading this was a rather flip comment on “then why get your knickers in a twist over how she looked,” but I think you are saying something deeper than it bother you that she looked nicer than you did but with her food stamps could buy some things you felt you couldn’t affort.

    I once went through a month of gut wrenching agony over a friend (whose friendship I lost over my unkindness because I gave her a month rent(gave)
    becuse I don’t lend money) rent when she was broke. I could afford it it: it meant I didn’t go to a WorldCon on the other coast. What got me steamed up was the fact that a week later she waltzed in to show me a sword she’d brought at that WorldCon. My God, I ranted and raved and named her 0to anyone who would listed, until someone said, “but look what a wonderful gift of selfrightousness she gave you.” and that stopped me in my tracks.

    I’m not suggesting that you felt the horrible (and soul destroying anger) I felt, or that you annoyance was anyway the nastiness than my hatered, and yes, it reached that point, was. But I do think you felt a flash of temper (and please, correct me if I am wrong) over the fact that she wasn’t responded to the growing crisis in what you consider to be the correct way, rather than, as I orginally though over the fact she didn’t seem to need food stamps.

    Personally (as they may be for the reasons I posted above, that I will never achive any sort of personal beauty) I don’t give a rat’s arse about how she was groomed, or if she did it on pennies or comitting welfare fraud (well, I do care about about the latter). But I think that it’s very important that in a situtation like this people cling to things that they find beautiful. Yes, I’d rather it was what I consider great art, and not fake nails, and that they did it by using the public library or trashed picked books rather than by cutting corner in their children’s diet.

    Now, to be honest, I probably don’t grasp the full extent to which some people go to be beautiful, because it’s a culture that doesn’t interest me. (Not that I don’t appreciate a good looking man, esp. on in a kilt.) Some people may well be putting to much time and energy into that, just as some people put too much time and energy into NASCAR racing or (as I do) growing roses or re-reading ancient books.

    I could devote every minute that is aloted to work, childcare, housework, foodgrowing and good works to dealing with the crises at hand, and perhaps I should, but I feel the world would be a lesser place without our sense of beauty. People and cultures in the bleakest circumstances have created things they found beautiful. I think of the man who painted roses over his daugher’s bed in one of the ghettos because she would have to stay under the covers all winter as she had no warm clothing and they had no heat. I don’t know how long it took him, I don’t know what better use the paint could have been put to (perhaps to preserve a bit of wood on the outside of the building) but I find it hard to begruged that child that tiny bit of beauty and that symbol of her father’s love.

    Surely we can address the future in such a way that those of us who love to express our sense of beauty in our dress along with those of us who love to express it in works of art or our gardens or by taking a few moments to look at a sunset can still do so without feeling that we are robbing society by not engaging in endless toil and drugery.

    MEA

  42. TheNormalMiddleon 03 Jan 2009 at 8:42 pm

    MEA, its called creature comforts. Poor, rich, or somewhere in between, we all like creature comforts! Just because you are poor doesn’t mean your taste for good food or a manicure, or whatever “floats your boat” goes away. If anything, your want for that creature comfort is exemplifed in your time of less.

    Like Sharon talked about in her recent post on the long showers. You don’t realize what a blessing something really is to you until it is gone away.

    For some it is shoes and pocketbooks, others it is books, some it is seeds and garden gadgets.

    We each have our own creature comforts. Mine, personally is good coffee and good wine, 2 things that are VERY hard to rationalize or afford when your’e living off boxed macaroni and cheese.

  43. The Screaming Sardineon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:03 pm

    This discussion reminds of me of something Wayne Dyer said. He was walking with a friend and gave a beggar on the street a significant amount of money. Wayne’s friend chastized him and said that the beggar was probably going to buy booze or drugs with that money. Wayne said that it didn’t matter. What mattered is that he felt compelled to give; he felt love and generosity. What the beggar did with the money was up to him (the beggar), and he would have to answer to the Universe/Higher Power for his own actions.

    So whether a person is cheating the system or not, or whether the person is “dressing the part” or not, it really isn’t our business to judge. Easier said than done, though.

  44. MDon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:06 pm

    I shop on the “poor side of town”, and I am training to do medical research. The grocery stores try to price their goods to move, even though a lot of customers buy with FS. I can now tell who will be paying with FS, especially at the beginning of the month, by how much diabetes-causing, cancer-causing stuff is in their cart. I understand a half-gallon of ice cream for comfort- but seven? A roast for Sunday- but four? No fruit but a small bag of oranges? No veggies but one small bag of greens? No carrots or bananas? Soda and fake juice? Medicare and medicaid are going to be swamped in a few years by completely preventable diseases in people who can least afford to get sick. I grew up poor, but it was rural poor-with-a-garden, not urban-poor-fed-on-junk. I desperately want to offer that single mom with the bright-eyed children the veggies in my cart, but I do not want to be viewed as “judgmental”. I just know what will happen to those bright eyes later without fruit and vegetables. And it makes me really sad. I hope they reform FS to include education about feeding kids right, for all our sakes in the years to come.

  45. graceon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I am very gratefull to have chosen to spend the day here in Casaubon’s book and put off the
    raised beds for tomorrow.
    Sharon…this is how you give Place for
    Tikkun olam.
    thank you everyone,
    grace NM

  46. Anonymouson 03 Jan 2009 at 9:11 pm

    There are very few food that aren’t enhanced by a good wine, but I think Mac&Cheese is one of them.

    I think the creature comforts are just as important to the soul (sorry to those who think we don’t have them, but I do, and writing this post, and I’m not disputing your right to think you or I don’t have one, nor am I stating that just because I think we have then that I means we have them, so I think it’s okay to post that as my opinion, not a fact) as beauty and joy. Beauty and joy rarely leave crumbs in bed as does my great comfort reading and eating biscuts in bed.

    A British social worker once explained that she never understood why the women she worked for couldn’t give up fags until she realize they were one of very few things they did for themselvess and spent there money on. Everything else went on and for their children and their men.

    Glad that things got better for you and hope all is well with your child.

  47. MEAon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:15 pm

    Above post was mine.

    Didn’t mean not to sign

  48. Jadeon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:37 pm

    Is this really about ants and grasshoppers, prodigal or faithful sons?

  49. Lizon 03 Jan 2009 at 9:56 pm

    As a contractor with the Food Stamp program (the federal end of it that deals with the merchants, not the people who use Food Stamps), I had to comment.

    Food stamps are accepted by many CSA’s and farmer’s markets, as others have pointed out. They are also accepted by many food-buying clubs. I don’t know how widespread those are, but they seem to be popular in my part of Virginia. The organization that oversees the club takes orders and prepayment for a pre-arranged amount of food, which they are able to buy in volume for much less than an individual would pay in a grocery store. There’s no overhead, since everyone who takes part is a volunteer, and the wholesale price is passed on to the consumer, many of whom pay with food stamps.

    The real problem is in rural areas where stores are few and far between to begin with, and where many older or poor people have no transportation. They end up buying from whatever convenience store is nearest, which probably has very little, if any, fresh foods or produce, and a small selection of other foods. It’s hard to cook healthful meals when all you can find is canned beans, canned pasta and canned soup (or ramen noodles, which are fast overtaking the soup inventory). This is often the case in inner-city neighborhoods as well, where there is little access to supermarkets, and the small neighborhood stores carry much the same inventory as the rural gas station/convenience stores. Many of these rural older people learned to cook, as did many of the urban minorities, whose traditions still include good meals from fresh foods. But if you can’t buy the ingredients, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are.

    As far as the appearance of food stamp clients is concerned, I wonder whether anyone has considered that an obviously well-dressed and apparently well-off person might be buying for someone else. The program allows a person to appoint an agent who can shop for them. I have been an agent for a food stamp client, and got more than one inquiring look when I came to the register in my professional clothing and good shoes. There are many reasons for someone to be paying with food stamps.

    MD, you mention seeing multiple roasts and cartons of ice cream in people’s carts at the beginning of the month. Many food stamp recipients buy the majority of their food as soon as their EBT card is credited. Part of the reason is that the merchants, knowing that their food stamp customers have money at the beginning of the month, have substantial sales then. So the food stamp client saves money by taking advantage of the sales. Another reason is that some specialty grocers, like seafood and meat vendors, will give a discount on larger purchases, so they save money by buying a month’s worth of meat at one time. There is also a fear, I think, that if the money isn’t spent, it might be somehow taken away. When the food stamps were actual pieces of paper, like paper money, they couldn’t be taken back once they had been disbursed. There were enough problems when the debit cards came into use that I think many people worry that if they don’t use most of the balance right away, the rest of it might not be there when they need it.

    One last thing–regardless of what Vermont or any other state calls it, the Food Stamp program has been officially renamed to “SNAP,” which I believe stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

  50. meaon 03 Jan 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Thinking about the question of healthy vs non-health food, when I serve at the soup kitchen it seems that every time someone else serving comments about how healthly the food it. The kitchen serves the traditonal meat, spuds and a veg, with a salad (little more than ice-burg and a few chopped peppers), and white bread, with baked goods for dessert and apples. Obviously to the vast majority of the US, this is healthly food. I think there would be an outrage if suddenly all that was served was lentil soup and brown bread, even it it seems healther to me.

    I have a sil who is cetain that people will die if they don’t eat enough red meat (since I’m not dead, she thinks I eat more than I let on). Perhaps those buying roasts think they are doing the right thing. And I’m not sure all the information about healty eating would change their minds. It certainly doesn’t effect my sil.

    When I was in library school, I studied human information behavior, about how people aquire and evaluate information, and I remember 2 facts that seem germain here. One was that it’s very hard for people to accept information that contracts beliefs that have a personal pay off for them (The example was smoking — it’s hard to accep that you may get cancer when you are enjoying a fag.) The other is that the more personal connection you have with a source, the more likely you are to believe it. So, if your mother said you need to eat your meat, you are more likely to believe it than a poster on the wall that says, eat less meat, more veg. Now, if you are bibliophile (as I think many of us are) it’s easy to accept information from written sources, becuase we have a close relationship with books, but not everyone has.

    There is lots and lots of reseach (mostly by madison ave) about to change people’s minds. The only way I’ve seen it put to use for “healty” food is the drink more milk ads.

    I think one was to change minds (and honestly I don’t see this happening one a large scale, though I hope I’m wrong) was as a previous poster suggested, by having people prepare and enjoy good tasting healthly food. And some of that is a aquired taste. It’s very hard for poeple who over salt, for example, to cut back.

    But looking at what I think was Sharon’s main point, we’ve got a broken system here. The cost of good (for a lot of factors) is rising, and the gov’t response by and large seems to be feed them cake and hope they don’t notice that all we are doing is feeding into a system that is going down rather than teaching them to bake brown bread. (Something other than dough got mixed in that metaphore, sorry.)

    So we are left with the question of what can we do to help fix it, or better yet, I think, junk it and come up with something new.

  51. margareton 04 Jan 2009 at 12:01 am

    You CAN use FS to purchase garden seeds. And even fruit trees. If you can find a seller who takes them. Meijers here in Michigan does, and I have a friend with three lovely blueberry bushes courtesy of his FS card. It can be worth it depending on how much you’re getting.

  52. Don in Maineon 04 Jan 2009 at 1:02 am

    Finally got over here to see what’s going on. Nice job Sharon and all of you. Reading a bunch of back posts and comments all day and feel right at home.
    The food stamp thing is something I’m actually thinking about. I think is was Laura above who suggested using it to increase storage. Heck if Goldman Sachs can get bailed out and AIG, it’s almost kind of dumb on my part not to take a few extra dollars and get myself better set. Always more to do and there are some things I like I can’t produce. Doesn’t seem to be any stigma for the giant banks to take handouts. I live very low on the food chain, and very low impact, which means I’ve probably been eligible for years.

    That said, I’m a product of the 80’s recession and the “back to the land” movement. Helen and Scott lived just down the street. Elliot Coleman is a neighbor.Been heating with wood for the last 25 years. Live in a small solar saltbox I built myself, no mortgage. Raised beds, you all know the drill. Chickens and pigs. Pig rodeos are so much fun. One of my kids fondest memories.

    Getting on to geezer hood now, and don’t quite have the energy I used to have. Putting by the 4 chords of wood we need each winter is getting harder and taking more time. Everything seems to.

    Anyway, Sharon, you go girl, and I’ll be here more often now.

    Don in Maine

  53. Rosalieon 04 Jan 2009 at 1:52 am

    If you consider that Food Stamps, or whatever name they go by in your area this week, are another direct government subsidy to the Industrial Food Complex, all of this makes sense, and the fact that more families may now qualify for assistance – and why the govenrment is allocating more funds to this program – should also come as no surprise. Looks like the Food Industry, like the banks and car companies, are gonna get their bailout, too.

    Please, can we stop blaming the “victims” here? You know how it is: as long as they can keep us fighting between ourselves over non-issues, we won’t be fighting the system over what really counts!

    Best wishes to all,
    Mo Ro
    (Rosalie in Missouri)

  54. Don in Maineon 04 Jan 2009 at 2:09 am

    A couple of quick facts about Maine food stamps. 1 in 8 people get them. Occupying Iraq for one day costs the same as 2 years of food stamps for Maine.
    Just food for thought, Chuckle.

    Don in Maine

  55. kmmon 04 Jan 2009 at 8:49 am

    What a couple have mentioned about the need to tighten up what FS can be used on is a definite neccesity. As a property manager of low income housing I can tell you that there is a lot of abuse of the system … intentional and unintentional. There are some people who need the help of FS and some people who take it simply because they can.

    What is needed beyond cooking skills, etc. is actual budgeting skills. The public assistance isn’t a massive amount of money, but it could be spent better. So could their regular paychecks. Especially where there is children involved.

    I’m not casting the first stone. I’m not perfect, nor do I believe myself better than those receiving public assistance. I pay my taxes willingly so that those that deservedly need the help as a bridge get that help.

    However, I’m concerned that without any real boundaries in the program that it develops dependency rather than self-sufficiency. We’ve already watched generations of families get caught up in that cycle, we don’t need to add more. There has to be some kind of middle ground, even during tough times. Some “catch” to prevent this unintentional side effect of the “help” being offered via the taxes paid by others.

  56. meaon 04 Jan 2009 at 10:15 am

    I’ve spent most the night, sleepless, pondering some of the larger questions raised by this discussion, mostly about how to we respond to things that we see as wrong.

    I have to say, first and foremost, that much of what I’ve done goes under the wrong (or at least not right) heading. I chose to have my children in one of the most emission producing ways possible, and knowing that, I’d never give them up. I have a housemate, but that is more of a blessing to me than any sort of burden, even if it help lower emissions, I’d do it anyway. (I think I’d even do it if raised emissions.) I may use a little less hot water than most, but with all my efforts, I’m not the poster child for “not contributing to the mess that we are in.” With me, it’s often a case of do as I say, not what I do.

    At the same time, I really can’t blame others for making the same choices that I have. How can I say, you shouldn’t have a car, when I drive one? I can say don’t idle the engine (which I have to say I am careful about), but all the not engine idleing in the world isn’t going to fix things.

    For a long time, I’ve tried to teach myself that what others do is there problem. I can control what I, I can control how I respond to them, but I can’t control them. (Heck I can’t even control myself much of the time.) When, for example a friend’s child died of cancer, and the set up a foundation to cure that particular sort of cancer, I said nothing becuase I knew they were feeling a grief I couldn’t even imagine, and that this must give giving them a little solace. But Ialso knew that these small familiy foundations that raise a few thousand dollars are pretty much useless becuase they don’t have enough money to fund any sort of research. Perhaps this family didn’t know that. Perhaps if I mentioned it, they would have said, “oh, then we’d much rather the money went to a larger foundation, or to help the child life team at the hospital where he was treated, or who know what else.” Did I do right to stand by, respecting, as I thought, their grief, or I did I add to their burden by not telling them something they would have wanted to know, and when they found out later, they regreated not knowing?

    It’s not that I don’t preach to people about PO, and try to lead by example (mostly of the how not do, as in this is how not to empty your water barrells). I think I may have put more people off PO by talking about it than opened people up to the idea. But I try to refrain from pointing out what I think they are doing wrong. There are some areas which really are wrong when it comes to conservation. There may be factors why someone is taking a long shower on the first day of the month and resaons why it’s not taking (over the course of the month) any more water than usual. But I don’t see any justification for turning on the shower and then not turning it off if you get out to answer the phone (assumng, of couse that it’s not a hardship to turn on and off your taps).

    Maybe I’ve gone to far to saying, hey, you must have reason for letting the water run 20 mins while you are on the phone. Maybe I could say, shall I turn the water off for you.

    I really, really don’t know how I should feel about people (myself included) who have gotten us into this mess. Anger, sorrow, compassion? Do I say, well, you can have bread, but no butter, we’re saving that for the people who had the sense to get goats? Do I say, well, you drove a SUV, but your children had no choice but to ride in it, so they get butter, but you don’t? Do I say, heck, as long as there are goats, (can one make butter from goats milk, does it have enought fat?) everyone gets a fair share of butter?

    For a long, long time (since the start of humanity, perhaps) the general thought, and reality, has been if you can afford it, you can have it. Sumptary laws have never worked (though rationing has). Lots and lots of people who didn’t “deserve”things have had them, and other people who have had must as much right to the basics, haven’t have even those.

    If we start punishing those who got us into this mess, I’m one of the first again the wall, as I certainly contributed. I don’t know who else would be there, but I know there would be others. (I may have a fat, relentless ego, but I didn’t singlehandlely great GCC, PO and the financial melt down.) Some of them would excuses. Some of those excuses would exhonorate them in the eyes of some, and not of others.

    So, how are we suppose to feel about other people and their actions? Do we have a right to hold them responsible? A duty? Do we try to fix the mess without engagine others who created it?

    I really would appreciate comments, and answer.

  57. Wanna in NJon 04 Jan 2009 at 10:49 am

    It annoys me off that my tax dollars goes towards subsidizing Big Agriculture making the less healthy food cheaper. How’s that for democracy?

    I finally got around to checking out my retirement funds and discovered two of my mutual funds includes Monsanto as one their top 10 holdings. I will be liquidating them over the next few months. Yes, I know I am very behind in doing this.

    When I was unemployed, I volunteered fot a summer at a food pantry for HIV positive clients. I would be shocked to go into the warehouse and find boxes of fresh produce just sitting there rotting away. When I asked why they weren’t put out, I was told “The clients don’t like that kind of food.” This upset me terribly, to see food wasted like this. The sanitary conditions were also upsetting to me (same sponge used in the clients bathroom thrown back in the kitchen sink to clean the dishware).

    Jen has a right to her thoughts and feelings and to express them. We all do. We can each say what we think and feel without putting anyone else down. Just because someone thinks differently than I do, doesn’t mean that one of us is right and the other wrong. We just see things differently. I think its important that we feel safe in expressing ourselves because its the only way we will hear and learn from everyone.

    I know our society values beauty and youth. Before my last job interview in Nov 2007, I dyed my hair so I wouldn’t look old. I got the job and I haven’t dyed my hair since. I’ve been doing a lot of work on loving myself just as I am, and that includes my grey hair. It used to be that old folks were respected because they survived long enough to get grey hair!

    May we all have the clarity to see beauty everywhere in all its forms.

  58. Wanna in NJon 04 Jan 2009 at 11:32 am

    Mea,

    I have pondered the same question and have read some helpful perspectives in various spiritual books.

    Everything you see in your outer world is a reflection of whats going on inside your mind. As you let go of fears and judgments, the world becomes a friendlier place.

    Some Toltecs say you need to reach a place of “no pity” so you can amass enough energy to act freely and clearly.

    Some Buddhist say that as long as you have food in your stomach, a roof over your head, and can sleep at night, you should do what you can to help others.

    Some who have reached a fairly enlightened state, literally do see everything thats going on, all the suffering etc, as being perfect. As more and more become enlightened, because we are truly only one, eventually everyone will recognize that we are one and act accordingly.

    I personally feel that we are each on our own path, some are meant to be “politicians”, some are meant to be activists, some are meant to live quiet lives so they have the time and energy to practice being present.

    I have learned that I must not compare myself to anyone and find myself better or less than another. Only you can know whats right for you. And the way to do it is by getting quiet enough to hear the quiet voice beneath the chattering mind.

    What choices lead to greater peace? After one gains clarity, it is easier to get in touch with how you can best contribute your energy.

    But worry is a waste of energy and does terrible things to your body. Please be kind to yourself and try not to feel guilty about doing too little/too much.

    For me, right now, I am working on loving myself and finding the more I love myself, the freer I am to extend myself out into the world. Hopes this helps some.

  59. anonymouson 04 Jan 2009 at 12:56 pm

    If I haven’t missed the main thread of what Sharon finds to be important and what she preaches endlessly about on this blog, is FOOD SECURITY. I don’t think anyone wants to punish anyone by letting them starve. I think the effort needs to be focused on destroying the system we have currently and rebuilding it in a sustainable way. Food Stamps are NOT sustainable neither is big agriculture. Whoever said women are going to have to take the lead on this were right. We have to find spaces in our community to teach, grow, and produce. Food is not a right. One used to have to catch, preserve, grow, their own. And what you had is what you had. There were no food stamps and if you were poor you LOOKED poor.

  60. Johnon 04 Jan 2009 at 12:57 pm

    This thread was an interesting read. A few comments as a teacher of argument and rhetoric:

    –When we call other people “judgmental” we are making a judgment! There is, unfortunately, no neutral position, no completely objective place to stand. What we are really saying when we call someone else “judgmental” is that we don’t agree with their value assessment (but this requires a judgment). This is a fairly common logical fallacy.

    –Someone like Thoreau might be tickled with this debate. We are so invested in our “creature comforts.” We look for ways to justify this or that expenditure even as we know we should be saving the money, paying the mortgage, or doing whatever it is we should be doing. My impression of what Astyk is saying (and she’s not the only one out there making this point) is that we need to rethink how we live our lives, especially given how our economic situation is changing. This is something we all should do, no doubt. As de Tocqueville said, we as Americans are “restless amidst abundance.” We need to figure out why that is and how to change it. One of the ways to do this is with productive dialogue!

    –The issue raised here by Jen concerning food stamps is important. Whereas some wanted to make this an issue of class, I think this is “missing the forest for the trees.” Whether one thinks it’s important or not to look a certain way at the grocery store, or whether one is being ethical in using food stamps and then spending money to have their hair colored a certain color or buy a pair of designer jeans, it seems Jen’s point is that we need to think about how we live our lives, how we spend our time and money, and whether we are being efficient and frugal about it. We ALL have felt this way when we feel like someone has been given free money and they aren’t spending it wisely (name your bailout). The issue is not about how “poor” people should look. It’s about how we should “marshal our resources.”

  61. Lisaon 04 Jan 2009 at 1:09 pm

    Jen
    Your girlfriend you “talked” into going to grad school, my. Is it possible that after she finished her higher education she still could not find employment?
    I have a bachelors, experience and am 48 years old. 3 years ago my job closed I took a penance of severance, and looked for a job. The last and maybe the third interiew I had (in 3 years) was for a job working with adjunct teens. 800 people applied for this one position that paid 8.00 an hour but offered benefits after 3 months. I did not get the job even though i have the education, experience, references and a genuine love for this kind of “work.” My husband lost lost his airline job a year ago, he was a captain on a 767. He got his hernia fixed (bill is on the way, we have two college age kids, could never dish out 800.00 for cobra bought short term emergency insurance insead.) Now that his hernia is fixed we wait and hope for a job driving truck, things are very very slow in MI. My dear, advanced education is no longer a sure win for employment any type of employment from blue collar to white. We will do both but have not had the opportunity.
    We received food stamps and medicaid after one of my friends kept urging me. Thank God. I was hungry, I think we all were. Let’s talk about stereotypes I see poorly dressed young couples with a couple of children using food stamps. I have yet to see a woman as you describe unless it was me, which it was not because I would not shop there. I can look pretty good (don’t look too close though eyes are tired from worry face is taught) but the black coat black turtleneck ( all purchased at Goodwill) and black heels from K-mart (they are three years old probably should check k-mart for a sale.) I can turn some heads. My friend does my hair (friendship and love is good) I use that cheap makeup at walmart probably lasts a year, costing 16.00 total. Please hold the judgement. Furthermore, there is a nasty little observation concerning f.s users and obesity. Cut me a break use your head. When one has NO money food BECOMES a focal point in one’s life. Eating becomes a hobby. In fairness there are a lot of other things wonderful things to do w/o money but food does take on a new meaning when one no longer has any cash to go to the movies, out to eat, buy a new can of paint to spruce up some old possession etc.. In addition, if I have gained weight ha, I am sure I have, my straight leg size 27 levis purchased at, yes, Goodwill are getting tight it is because one I wear insulated underwear at all times (heat goes no higher than 60) and two, I was soooooooooo hungry but didn’t know it. Moms have a way of watching before they eat, only if there is some left do they indulge, NOW with food stamps I can eat and I LOVE it!! We have meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and we splurge on dinner rolls (should see my daughter’s face when there are dinner rolls,) At night when all is quiet and i am spending quiet time with god, I have my fav, olive loaf cheese mayo with coke zero (bought in liters when on sale.) We put lots of money into the taxation system of the U.S, because hubby worked hard to become an airline pilot. I am using a little of it now and I feel no guilt only gratitude. Please excuse errors my dollar cheaters are hiding.

  62. Jenon 04 Jan 2009 at 1:24 pm

    LISA:
    “Your girlfriend you “talked” into going to grad school, my. Is it possible that after she finished her higher education she still could not find employment?”

    No. She had worked for a newspaper for over a decade, but during a personal crisis I convinced her to go back to school so she could get a job doing something else. She was IN grad school with a stipend when she got food stamps with no debt. She could have worked, but she had never in the 13 yrs I’d known her worked FT, BY CHOICE. She was not ashamed of it either, she had never paid for her own car, it was always given to her. She was in her mid 30’s at the time. Really, this person had NO excuse. She was healthy and able and this was before the current economic crisis we are in. I brought her up ONLY as an example of how the system is abused. I’m sorry I’ve hit such a chord here. My point was made several posts ago so I’m only answering the question Lisa posed.

  63. Lizon 04 Jan 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Mea and others who mentioned the same concerns,

    I too have struggled with whether and how to talk to people about peak oil and food security and general preparedness. The reaction I’ve gotten has more often been a shrug and a smile (if it was even that polite) than interest. So I’m less likely to stick my neck out any more, except on my own blog.

    But one thing I learned after a couple of years was that even if people don’t appear to be listening, what you say does sometimes creep in there. In the last few months, several people have come up to me and said, “You were right, we need to stockpile food and learn some of the old skills.” I’ll be teaching a whole young family to knit this coming weekend, partly as a result of something I said to the father months ago.

    When my kids were teens, they accused me of being a packrat. Recently one of my daughters told me that she understands now why I saved anything I thought might be valuable later, and she’s beginning to do it too. Even one’s children listen, whether they appear to be doing so or not.

    So even if it doesn’t appear to be doing any good, talking to people does work. They hear the media go on about prices and shortages and job losses and all the rest, and the natural reaction is fear. A few of them will remember that someone offered a way to deal with it, and they’ll come back to you to find out more, or will at least start looking for answers. That’s one more person or family who may become part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.

  64. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 2:02 pm

    Jen, for what it’s worth, I tend to side with you in this debate. Dressing up the way that girl did is done, not in order to simply look ‘good’ (which is entirely possible to do without looking like you spent a massive amount of money on it), but in order to convey the image of a higher socio-economic status. If you’re wearing designer clothes, you’re effectively saying ‘I’ve got money’ (even if that’s not true; even if the clothes came from a second-hand store). And if you’re going to stand in front of me, effectively telling me ‘I’ve got plenty more money than you do’ (by wearing designer clothes) and ‘I’m spending your tax dollars’ (by using food stamps), then yes, I do have a problem with that.

    And BTW, I’m not at all suggesting that people should wear ‘rags’ or be dirty. I ALWAYS look clean, and I NEVER look like I spent a ton of money on my clothes. There is a lot of middle ground here, and setting up the debate in ‘designer clothes’ vs. ‘rags’ terms is plain dishonest.

  65. graceon 04 Jan 2009 at 3:10 pm

    I have been outside splitting wood and thinking about it all. Decided to go all the way back to
    Sharon’s words. Last paragraph
    “…this should make clear to us precisely how vulnerable we are to hunger even in the US.”
    and what comes to my mind is really, how
    serious this issue of food is, on a very PRIMAL
    level. As in even How we obtain food, How we
    pay for food, Who should or shouldn’t eat certain foods, Who should decide these things, and on and on. The intense subjective nature of our comments is very revealing.
    grace
    NMex

  66. The Screaming Sardineon 04 Jan 2009 at 3:28 pm

    So should a person who purchased nice clothes when they could afford it be forced to give up those clothes because they’re now on food stamps?

  67. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 3:40 pm

    “So should a person who purchased nice clothes when they could afford it be forced to give up those clothes because they’re now on food stamps?”

    First of all, it’s not about ‘nice’ clothes, it’s about designer clothes.

    Second, the point I’m making is this: when a person is conspicuously using my tax dollars (by e.g. paying with food stamps), s/he should refrain from engaging in conspicuous displays of wealth.

  68. TheNormalMiddleon 04 Jan 2009 at 3:55 pm

    “Second, the point I’m making is this: when a person is conspicuously using my tax dollars (by e.g. paying with food stamps), s/he should refrain from engaging in conspicuous displays of wealth.”

    How wonderfully self-righteous! Give yourself a pat on the back!!

    Does it matter that I have been a public servant teaching public school for years and that my husband has paid taxes for twenty years before he was laid off? And your comment would be well put upon our polticians on both sides of the aisle—they quite readily live and show grotesque signs of affluence and wealth while they spend our tax dollars. Didn’t they just give themselves a pay increase while we’re in a recession? I think they did!

    And pray tell, how do you define conspicuous displays of wealth? Maybe we need a law that says that people who are using government assitance of any form or fashion need to wear a red arm band or something of the like, so we can be easily pointed out? Hmm. Sounds familiar.

    I know we all judge. It is just astounding to me how blatant it can be at times towards people of lesser means than yourself.

  69. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 4:15 pm

    TheNormalMiddle,

    Brining up politicians is a strawman. This wasn’t about politicians and the myriad abuses that they engage in, but about food stamps. If we had been talking about politicians, then I would’ve posted (or not) about politicians.

    Next, I have never, ever in my entire life had clothes of the kind that Jen described. I could not POSSIBLY afford to buy them new, and I see no reason to buy flashy clothes used (though I do buy used clothes; just not flashy). Frankly, I wouldn’t wear them if I could: I do not appreciate conspicuous displays of wealth by ANYONE (including people who are or were public servants for years, since you brought that up), but when the people engaging in such behavior are also receiving my tax dollars, then that adds insult to injury.

    Look, I don’t have much, but I have enough. I spend half my income on rent (I have a small bedroom, and I share my apartment with two people), and maybe a quarter on food. I have no problem whatsoever subsidizing people so that they could afford the SAME standard of living that I’ve got (i.e. nutritious food, safe housing, appropriate clothes for the climate). I DO have a problem with subsidizing a HIGHER standard of living (or for that matter, the appearance thereof) than I’ve got, without getting something in return. If you want to call me self-righteous for that, then be my guest.

  70. The Screaming Sardineon 04 Jan 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Oh, that’s right. Us po’ people should look the part. Should I give up my college degree somehow as well? Should I blacken a couple of my teeth so I look the part and people are more comfortable?

    Or is it that some people are scared to death that, there by the grace of whatever you believe in, there go you. Because it could, and does happen, to any one of us at any given moment due to health, poor decisions (i.e., wrong degree, wrong choice of mate, wrong geographic move, wrong career choice), etc. And pointing the finger and villifying those who don’t “look the part” feels a lot easier than to actually and logically assess the fact that bad luck may just come a’knocking at your door.

    It’s much easier to villify your neighbor than the Wall Street ponzi schemists and the politicians. More vitriol is reserved for the welfare people who don’t goosestep to certain mercurial stereotypes than the government who is stealing us blind!

  71. The Screaming Sardineon 04 Jan 2009 at 4:22 pm

    “Brining up politicians is a strawman. This wasn’t about politicians and the myriad abuses that they engage in, but about food stamps. If we had been talking about politicians, then I would’ve posted (or not) about politicians.”

    Who, pray tell, set up the food stamp program if it wasn’t politicians/gov’t?

    “I DO have a problem with subsidizing a HIGHER standard of living (or for that matter, the appearance thereof) than I’ve got, without getting something in return. If you want to call me self-righteous for that, then be my guest.”

    You don’t include Congress, Wall Street, the Fed, IRS, and the like, in that?

  72. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 4:23 pm

    Wait, wait, wait. When did I say that people should have black teeth? What on earth are you talking about?

  73. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 4:24 pm

    “You don’t include Congress, Wall Street, the Fed, IRS, and the like, in that?”

    Of course they are included. It’s just that this wasn’t about them.

  74. New readeron 04 Jan 2009 at 4:27 pm

    Maybe we need a law that says that people who are using government assitance of any form or fashion need to wear a red arm band or something of the like, so we can be easily pointed out? Hmm. Sounds familiar.

    Can we please refrain from pulling out the Hitler/Nazi card when faced with something we find objectionable? The combox disagreements have been refreshingly civil, I hope they stay that way.

  75. Johnon 04 Jan 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Hi TheNormalMiddle:

    “Conspicuous consumption” was coined by an economist named Thornstein Veblen in 1902: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1902veblen00.html

    In short, “conspicuous” consumption is any kind of purchasing that is concerned more with conveying a certain status to the public. The middle class is especially guilty of this since it is only the trappings of wealth they can obtain, and not “real” wealth in itself. As far as I’m aware, anybody can be guilty of this including teachers, preachers, tax payers, and the like, perhaps especially folks like this!

    Identifying consumption as being conspicuous is the exact opposite of being self-righteous, rather, it is an attempt to critique our obsession with those kinds of goods that we buy which are bought to convey status, something we all do.

  76. The Screaming Sardineon 04 Jan 2009 at 4:30 pm

    “Wait, wait, wait. When did I say that people should have black teeth? What on earth are you talking about?”

    I’m talking about your view of how a welfare recipient should look like. If the clothes aren’t “right,” then it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the appearance is picked apart, since the person is being judge on how s/he looks.

  77. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 4:35 pm

    “I’m talking about your view of how a welfare recipient should look like. If the clothes aren’t “right,” then it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the appearance is picked apart, since the person is being judge on how s/he looks.”

    You’re trying to turn this into a designer clothes vs. rags debate. As I said before, there is a LOT of middle ground (I happen to live in it myself), and denying it is plain dishonest.

    Also, what John said.

  78. veraon 04 Jan 2009 at 4:46 pm

    Gadzooks. The discussion kinda ran away from the issue, didn’t it? I don’t really care how people look when they buy with FS. Not enough knowledge to know the situation. If the system gives it to them, ok. I think we would all agree here that some foods ought to be cut out. There are good quality deserts, and there is crap. There are good quality snacks and there is crap. Why not direct FS to better quality foods?

    But what really bothers me about this discussion, and also about Sharon’s otherwise excellent post is… are we so bankrupt idea-wise that subsidies are the only way we can think of to solve the food issue?! Subsidies for Wall Street, subsidies for the poor, subsidies for the middle class. Is this any way to run a viable economy?!

    How about veering off in the direction of fixing the broke food system? It ain’t gonna be fixed via more FSs. What would Sharon do if she ran Vermont? What would YOU do? And I mean stuff that deals with the underlying problems, not just another “let’s throw taxpayer money at it” nonfix.

  79. veraon 04 Jan 2009 at 5:00 pm

    “If the Industrial Food System No Longer Provides Cheap Food, What Are We Keeping It For, Anyway?”

    I see 2 questions hiding in that line. 1) How do we get rid of the industrial food system that no longer does what it did well, and continues to do all those things it does badly? 2) What would another, better system look like, and how do we get about getting it? How do we secure cheap, nutritious food for all? Is it even doable?

  80. Isison 04 Jan 2009 at 5:03 pm

    “How do we secure cheap, nutritious food for all?”

    I don’t see why it has to be ‘cheap’. All that’s necessary is that it be affordable. As I mentioned above, I currently spend maybe a quarter of my income on food. This doesn’t make food cheap for me, but it does make it affordable.

  81. TheNormalMiddleon 04 Jan 2009 at 5:28 pm

    I’ve hijacked the co box too much already; one last post just to say I am sorry for being so reactionary. My tone was not kind.

    I felt judged and when you’re down, the last thing you want is to be kicked too. So I reacted. And I’m sorry.

    On this topic I think alot of us will just have to agree to disagree. I don’t want to take away from Sharon’s most fantabulous blog. It’s great! 99% of the time I agree with everything here and the comments to boot. This is just one of the rare times I don’t.

  82. nikaon 04 Jan 2009 at 5:29 pm

    Such hue and cry.

    Having a multicultural background, I have been the recipient of the bad that comes from assumptions.

    My take home message is that when people are prejudiced and ruled by assumptions there is very little I (you) can do to change their minds.

    I am acutely aware of being judged and rather enjoy the inevitable confusion by those who operate from a judging stance when they hear me speak and what I have to say and perhaps when they learn a bit about me and my background.

    For what its worth (not much?), I suggest that Jen and others who are disturbed by the experience spend a whole lot less time watching the lady in front of you at the grocery store (and wasting untold precious moments judging her based on so little) and a whole lot more time developing a little compassion and also tending to your own business. Its all you have because, short you making a citizens arrest (based on what evidence?), there is little you can do.

    Resiliency will not include class warfare or any such wastes of time.

    Resiliency comes when you operate from an outwardly oriented humane mindset.

  83. Sololeumon 04 Jan 2009 at 6:01 pm

    This topic has really hit a nerve eh!

    However I put it to you that food stamps and such are a subsidy for the supermarkets and BAU.

    We’ve read Jim Merkels Radical Simplicity and are going to go fully bulk for our food needs that we can’t or don’t grow. One trip once a year to a bulk food store – about 200 kilometres away from our mountain farm.

    We’ve been flaking our own oats and milling whole organic wheat for a while now but now we buy bulk oats, wheat, soy beans, sugar, salt and herbs and spices and the annual total is….
    $526.85.

    We now only go shopping for toiletry items and the occassional treat – Club Dark Chocolate!!! and some beer!!

    We aim to live on my part time 8 hour per week job that will keep our little used vehicle on the road, pay our phone bill, Shire rates and clothes -

    All our beans, greens, spuds, onions, leeks, garlic, pumpkins, and dairy are produced ourselves.

    Apart from the dairy – what we do can be done from backyards across the western world..

    When you think about it people who get food stamps have plenty of time to garden and so the government should just supply the staples, and a subsidy for the $1,000 or so for flaking, milling, juicing machines.

    And of course the massive education campaign to teach the masses how to cook!!!

  84. Lizon 04 Jan 2009 at 6:05 pm

    There was one excellent system that provided food for nearly everyone. Not cheap food, but mostly affordable. It was called the small farm. When small farms got run over by agri-business, we all suffered–individuals who could no longer find real food at any price, the environment, animals who lost their habitat, the families who lost their farms, the small towns that dried up because their source of income disappeared. Even the mega-corporations who appeared to be profiting at first will lose in the long run, because it isn’t a sustainable system.

    Restoring small family farms is not something government can do (partly because government won’t do it, and partly because a farm isn’t something you can start up overnight, like a factory). About all government can do is to get out of the way and allow the people who want to farm in America to do it. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening any time soon. There is too much clamor for cheap food, and too much interference from Monsanto et al.

    As a partial measure toward restoring America’s agriculture, as many of us as possible need to be growing as much of our own food as possible, and everyone who simply can not do that needs to start buying through farmer’s markets, CSA’s, the guy down the road with a farmstand in his driveway, etc.. Every person whose tomatoes come from their own back yard (or front yard or apartment balcony or community garden or farmer’s market.) is one less person supporting agri-business. The only way to defeat the current agricultural system is to refuse to participate in it.

  85. Lizon 04 Jan 2009 at 6:09 pm

    “When you think about it people who get food stamps have plenty of time to garden and so the government should just supply the staples, and a subsidy for the $1,000 or so for flaking, milling, juicing machines.”

    Um, I hate to get back into this part of the discussion, but the majority of people who used food stamps in the past were the working poor. Now it’s apparently exanding to the suddenly unemployed middle class, but that doesn’t change the fact that you can’t feed yourself, much less a family, on what you make from a minimum wage job in the US (or two of them). As Sharon said, her own family would qualify for food stamps.

  86. Ponyon 04 Jan 2009 at 6:18 pm

    “The real problem is in rural areas where stores are few and far between to begin with, and where many older or poor people have no transportation. They end up buying from whatever convenience store is nearest, which probably has very little, if any, fresh foods or produce, and a small selection of other foods.”

    This brought a couple of thoughts to mind because I had a conversation with a friend who was concerned about people in inner city areas too, where there were few stores (mostly 7-11 type), and it was a long bus ride to shop at real ones. Also, I have noticed that you see few gardens in the country as you drive along the road. They are more likely to be in the small towns, if there are any at all.

    But I just read a charming book called ” French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France” by Richard Goodman. The village he settled in was so small that it had no stores of any kind, but separate trucks drove into the town square every day, to sell baked goods, fruits and veggies and all sorts of other products. I saw the same thing in small villages and RV parks in Mexico.

    If there is a need, perhaps someone will step in to fill it. CSAs are already doing that in a different sort of way.

    The idea that there are healthy foods that poor people don’t want to eat is depressing, though.

    This has been a fascinating thread.

  87. APCon 04 Jan 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Great site. I live in France, and am very interested in this debate/conversation. I came to europe in 95 and married here in 2000. My wife is a french national. We began raising sheep 5 years ago as a hobby and because I thought it would be good for the our 2 boys. We started with 3 ewes and borrowed a ram every year from a local. I’ve now got my own ram and have added 4 ewes to the “herd”. Boy, am I glad I did. I have a sneeking suspicion that things are about to get really tough here.

    Learning to knit is something that hadn’t occured to me, but what a great idea.

  88. Sololeumon 04 Jan 2009 at 7:32 pm

    But my point Liz is that you can live on very little money – although you must stop eating out, and out of boxes and tins – eat fresh, home grown if possible and buy wheat, oats, beans etc in 25kg bags – once a year and don’t go near the shops..
    Even on the paltry US minimal wage it is only a couple of hours work per week for the staples.
    People must learn to be more self reliant, and more competent in day to day living… and stop wanting all the crap that ends too soon in landfill… and its good for the planet too…
    http://www.radicalsimplicity.org/

  89. Texicalion 04 Jan 2009 at 8:11 pm

    Here in the Sacramento area it seems some of these ideas are getting through. I live close by a demonstration garden run by the University of California Master Gardeners. In previous years they had themes like “Waterwise gardening” and the like. There were always workshops on fruit trees and vegetable gardens, but that was not the focus. This year: Victory Gardens.

    One other point. In my understanding of the term “middle class” does not simply refer to the median income group. It is a term for a group that is neither poor nor rich, but makes an income which provides stability and independence. That is why the health of the “middle class” is considered to be important to the functioning of a democracy. If feeding your family requires the assistance of the government, then I find it hard to believe that you are middle class. This is in no way a criticism. In my opinion far to many people have been tricked into seeing themselves as middle class by those in power to create a group of persons who advocate for the policies of the wealthy (who they believe they could join at any time, but who are profoundly fiscally insecure. Thus policies that screw the working class/lower class are supported by a “middle class” that is nothing of the sort.

  90. Dianeon 04 Jan 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Sounds like some of you would like to institute sumptuary laws. How archaic. And beside the point. In 1970/71 I lived with a disabled roommate who received food stamps. He didn’t pay rent but three of us ate for three weeks on his monthly allowance so we were getting nine “person weeks” from a four week supply. I would guess the program is not as generous these days but I learned a lot about frugal shopping and cooking that still applies. And these days I am having to apply that knowledge again. Everything possible is made from scratch including dry cereal and much of our bread, beans and grains are often a main dish and meat is stretched in soups, stews and stir fries. Health food stores often have great prices on bulk foods and seasonings and whole grains provide more nutrition than refined. None of this is new but frugal living became unfashionable along with tie-dye, bell bottoms and constructive rebellion. Now a new generation will have to learn the same lessons. I hope enough of our food system remains intact to feed us on this simpler level.

  91. Ponyon 05 Jan 2009 at 12:36 am

    The media tries to convince us that “middle income” is the same as “middle income”. Nothing of the sort. As Texicali says, “It is a term for a group that is neither poor nor rich, but makes an income which provides stability and independence.” Middle class people value independence and work and personal responsibility, no matter how much money they make.

    There are people whose income falls in the median range or are even rich but don’t have those values. (Look at some movie and recording “artists”.) Meanwhile there are people whose incomes may be low but will always be “middle class” because that’s how they live and think.

  92. Nellon 05 Jan 2009 at 1:19 am

    I appreciate Sharon’s post, as well as the discourse of respondants. I usually remain silent, however I feel compelled to comment to Jen and some others’ comments regarding food stamp users. 20 years ago I worked as a care/case worker for a dear disabled man. One of the many tasks I provided was his meal planning and prep, which included grocery shopping for him with his food stamps. I recall the embarrassment I felt and the stares I would get from others on the occasions that he was unable to accompany me. At times I even went to stores out of my way so that no one I knew would see me – even though this was part of my job. My issues were was based in part on my own previous bias (baggage/ignorance/snobbery) and “jugement” towards the use of food stamps. I did learn from those experiences that I have no room to judge others, for things are often not as they appear.
    Peace,
    Nell in Kitsap

  93. margareton 05 Jan 2009 at 6:50 am

    “When you think about it people who get food stamps have plenty of time to garden ”

    This is an assumption. Most people on food stamps have jobs, often full time, sometimes more than one. I work as a waitress. My job is exhausting, and I am a single mom. Which is exhausting as well, though immeasurably more rewarding. I’m not suggesting that I personally don’t have time to garden. I love my garden, and I make time for it. And I think that more people should try gardening. But I felt uncomfortable with the undertone of judgement in this statement, and I want people who are blessed enough to not have to rely on FS to understand better what the lives of those of us who do is really like. Receiving benefits does not increase my free time, it helps me feed my child.

  94. Paulaon 05 Jan 2009 at 7:30 am

    Liz made some good points about current industrial agricultural systems: refuse to participate. This is the only way to defend ourselves against the system. Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible for many, especially in urban areas. A mix of not knowing where to buy local food, not knowing how to cook the food, and not understanding nutrition all play a role in why people rely so heavily on industrial agriculture. And Monsanto likes it that way . . . I guarantee it.

    When you research agriculture, you really see how controlled the markets are. Large percentages of markets in the US, like hogs and poultry, are dominated by a handful of corporations who are diversified enough to handle the impact of market downturns. How does an independent farmer compete against such a regime, unless he or she breaks off into the organic/natural side of the markets? Hell, even those markets are now saturated with big corporate names.

    I have seen the degradation of the American farmscape firsthand. I was raised on a working dairy and beef farm. My parents were never paid well for any commodity after about 1982. If there was a good year, profits were drained from a rise in operating costs the following year.

    If you look back at American history from the early 80s on, it is quite evident that these years marked a huge shift into a consumer-based economy. People stopped farming and raising gardens. Women left home in droves to work office and factory jobs. Two-car households became the norm. In this time period, I believe many practical skills were lost in America. We are at a tipping point now, driven by corruption, overconsumption, and greed.

    As for the food stamp discussion, our family went on them once, two weeks after we had a baby and my husband lost his job. I did not like being on them, but at least the state of WI made the process friendlier by issuing debit-style cards. This helped take away some of my embarrassment as I paid for my groceries at the checkout. There were times I would pay for groceries with cash instead-like if someone I knew came into the checkout line behind me.

    I understand that food stamps are an absolute necessity for families at certain times in their lives. I know because I have been there. The disabled and elderly are especially deserving, I believe. But the whole time our family was on food stamps, I felt ashamed because people knew us as a hard-working, finacially-sound family. Walking to a checkout line with a food stamp card in-hand brought on emotions of defeat in my eyes.

    We are again at the income level to where we could receive a bit of assistance. But we now have land to grow food on, and I feel that we need to strive for self-sufficiency and not rely on the government. It is hard to say how long the system will keep providing food stamp dollars. America is in tough shape financially, and it’s only a matter of time before the pendulum swings all the way back.

  95. Lizon 05 Jan 2009 at 7:42 am

    “But my point Liz is that you can live on very little money – although you must stop eating out, and out of boxes and tins – eat fresh, home grown if possible and buy wheat, oats, beans etc in 25kg bags – once a year and don’t go near the shops.”

    I’d like to suggest that you come to a large city in the US, live in the only decent apartment you can find in a neighborhood you’re not afraid to live in (you might be lucky enough to get housing assistance for that apartment, but again you might not, and even if you do, you’ll still have to shell out a considerable amount of your own money), find a minimum wage job (if one is even available), and also wipe out of your memory that you know how to find, store and cook the right kind of food. Replace those memories with growing up on junk food, sugared cereal and fast food burgers, because that’s all you know.

    Most cities have no place for anyone to grow their own, and only a few have decent farmers markets (even those are a long bus ride from most places in the city). Chicago is one city that is really working on making garden space available, but there are other problems besides just setting aside the space. My daughter lives in urban Baltimore, and found that she couldn’t grow anything outside because the rats would eat it. Rats will also be happy to eat your wheat, oats, beans, etc., even if you store them in plastic containers, even if you are lucky enough to find a place to buy them with your food stamps.

    Please don’t anyone think I’m justifying the current system. It should be clear from my other posts that I’m not, and anyone who is reading my blog knows how strongly I push self-reliance. But blaming the people who are caught up in the system just doesn’t work. For things to change will take an effort from every single person who is able to help in any way at all. It will take community action to educate consumers on the value of real food and how to grow and prepare it, it will take federal action to stop favoring agri-business over small family farms, and it will take individual action to stop buying fast food and processed food, and to stop pointing fingers at the ones who are still less enlightened than we are.

  96. Rebeccaon 05 Jan 2009 at 8:24 am

    Most people on food stamps literally do not have time to cook -most of them work 60-80 hour weeks and have to care for children as well. Have you ever tried working that kind of schedule? Cooking is an added burden. And in many states (like Alabama) the unemployed can only get food stamps for a short time -3 months here -even if they remain unemployed.

  97. Ravenon 05 Jan 2009 at 8:37 am

    I’d add to the last comment what occured to me when I read the comment Liz is responding to (sorry if that’s confusing) – what if you’re living in a crappy 2 bedroom apartment with your 4 kids? Where on earth do you store a year’s worth of bulk purchases in plastic buckets? I’m not saying something couldn’t be worked out, I just know that most of my neighbors when I was living in that kind of place would give up long before trying to buy more than a week of groceries, simply because the cabinets/rooms were so dinky.

  98. Sharonon 05 Jan 2009 at 8:43 am

    Wow, I haven’t been back to this thread in a couple of days, and there’s a lot of passion here – very interesting. I appreciate that most of you have been able to talk about a very sensitive subject in a fairly balanced way – that’s hard, and I genuinely appreciate it on all sides.

    One of the things that genuinely fascinates me is how concerned most of us are with fairness – everyone here is, whether the fairness is fairness to those receiving food stamps or fairness to those who arent and who are struggling to get along. I sometimes wonder if the reason that we get so inflamed by basic questions of fairness in people who aren’t that different from us is that we feel so very helpless to deal with the questions of justice between us and the really rich and powerful. That is, we live in a sea of such profound and miserable inequity, and are really functionally forbidden to do more than lament it – it is so hard to get a handle on the depths of our inequity unless we’re willing to pull out the torches and pitchforks. So the questions of fairness that are accessible – is it reasonable that she has it easier than I do in some ways, at least to my own perception, become so important to us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not immune to them either.

    To those who wonder why I don’t object to the whole idea of food stamps – I think that at this point, small scale, local agriculture is fighting against so many counter subsidies that shifting even a small number of them towards local agriculture is likely to have a huge benefit. Yes, some farmer’s markets and farmers take food stamps – but usually only larger, well organized ones, because the process of getting set up to do so is costly and time consuming for them. The two large, established markets in my region both do – and the small, growing ones mostly do not. Shifting policy so that food subsidies are going towards local agriculture is essential – because in the world of subsidies it is damned hard for the small to compete with the large. In the longer term, of course, the large will lose – but it can take down a lot of the small with it in the first.

    Sharon

  99. Anion 05 Jan 2009 at 9:33 am

    When my son was a baby and I was a struggling mom on my own(not thru choice), I was in school and working but really broke. I applied for food stamps- a long long application and process, was made to feel terrible for asking and then was awarded I believe $22 for the month- and told I had to re-apply the following month. I resolved to just go it on my own after that and never returned. We had times when my son was little(before I had this farm)when I had $1 to my name and we just ate what was in the house. I still recall when some friends donated their “extra” cheese and orange juice from their WIC allocation- my son was over 5 then so we wouldn’t have qualified for it anyway. What a treat- real orange juice and Cabot cheese! I could never have afforded it.

    I applaud anyting that gets people fed- and I won’t tolerate any judgemental crap on anyone’s part about it. When I was training a new volunteer at our local food shelf she commented about a client that he didn’t look like he “needed this”- what she meant was he looked healthy, carried himself well, etc. Would she prefer he stunk and cowered in the corner? I very carefully explained to her that we assume everyone who comes here is in need of this assistance or they wouldn’t come here and that there is no way to tell by looking at someone if they are “deserving” of the food shelf.

    I would qualify now for the expanded food stamp assistance-and although I grow food I don’t grow all I need- and purchase other than produce or eggs at the store. I might consider even taking advantage of this program-if things got tighter. I will not go unwashed and in rags if I do however just to make someone feel that I am “in need” of it.

    At one of our Farmers’ Markets we do take EBT cards but it is rarely used. I take the Farm to Family coupons happily and strive to help people max out their coupons fully. I love that program- it is simple and effective and I wish more money went to it.

    I think that we never know what will happen to us down the road- sometimes through no fault of our own even- and we should approach assistance to others with this in mind. It could be us someday needing the help.

  100. Joannaon 05 Jan 2009 at 9:53 am

    I will say that the commentary on this thread is a prime example of why I dread the coming necessity of getting food stamps for the first time. I have two children, so I will do it regardless of pride. But how horrible to think that now _everything_ about me will be scrutinized. What’s in my basket? What car am I driving? What clothes am I wearing? What are my children wearing? Do I look like I know how to cook and can? Do I look like I am trying to get other means of caring for me and my family going while I am taking this temporary help? Do I look like I have a clue about nutrition? Have I been abusing the system? How long have I been accepting handouts? All this and more will likely be going through the mind of the person watching me pull out that card.

    Lovely.

  101. MEAon 05 Jan 2009 at 10:07 am

    I can understand your worried, Joanna, but please remember — it this will be any help — there are also people who don’t care about any of the above, and are just glad you have a way to feed help feed your family — lots of them post here. Some of them are getting FS and other help, too, formal or in formal.

    Good luck.

  102. Sharonon 05 Jan 2009 at 10:13 am

    I read this letter, written by a poor Southern Housewife to President Roosevelt in _Down and Out in the Great Depression_ which is a collection of letters written about conditions during the period. I think it shows that the discussion here has a long, long history:

    “There is plenty of people on relief who have plenty, just want to idle about and not work and think its fine for some poor working man to keep them, there are hundreds and hundreds of folks who should bee making there own living and could get work if they wanted it. It is coming to the point where no one wants to work everyone is just fighting to get on relief.

    An Mr. Roosevelt, I do believe if you could really see the ruin it is doing you would I know stop it, the idleness it is causing, the sin in is causing and all sorts of mean things….I am sick most all the time, can’t afford a doctor or help and just have to strugglile along. Those on relief both black and white dont’t even raise a garden or a thng to help themselves,gjust getting more an dmore each day. The taxes are getting os heavy on us few who are trying to get along it takes all we make to pay our tax. Please make folks go back to work.”

    The division of people who ought to be natural allies -those who are struggling and don’t get help, those who are struggling more and need it – this is a tough thing to navigate. As long as we buy the narrative that this is an either/or discussion, we don’t get too far.

    Sharon

  103. MEAon 05 Jan 2009 at 10:48 am

    Sharon,

    The letter you quoted reminded me of a story from one of Turkel’s books — about the man who took his team of mules to plough for some sort of public work where he’d get some food. Since he hadn’t been able to feed the mules, they collapsed. The work wasn’t done, and he didn’t get the food.

    But, hey, those who don’t work, don’t eat. Paul was an iron wasn’t he.

    MEA

  104. The Screaming Sardineon 05 Jan 2009 at 11:38 am

    I think the gov’t likes it when some people judge those who use food stamps. It keeps the “what is she wearing” crowd’s attention diverted from fighting the real problem: the greed of corporations and gov’t.

  105. MEAon 05 Jan 2009 at 11:54 am

    Wanna — just wanted to thank you for kind thoughts and kind words.

    MEA

  106. margareton 05 Jan 2009 at 1:08 pm

    I’ve been over the stigma of the stamps. Of course, I live in Saginaw, MI. And more people get them here than don’t. So rare is the food seller who can afford not to accept EBT. Here’s how I rock out my food stamps each month. Our farmer’s market takes EBT, and that’s where 1/4 to 1/3 of my budget goes in season. I pay cash to purchase produce items in bulk that I like to can or store, and that helps me through the sparse winter. My income fluctuates seasonally. I spend anther 1/3 to 1/2 of my food budget with our local co-op which also takes EBT, and which offers local and organic bulk items. And the rest, plus some cash out of pocket goes toward grocery store items (canned goods, treats, and things like pasta that I can get much cheaper there than through the co-op). I also budget in a trip to our ethnic markets for bulk rice and spices from time to time. And I keep a garden which keeps us happily eating home grown collards almost year round and a variety of other things through the growing season. I’m not proud to be poor, but I’m not ashamed. I use my time and money well. I have my health. I have amazing friends and family. I have a warm comfortable home and a car that runs. And I am looking for a job in my field of study, but in the meantime, I’ll live as well as I can and enjoy where I’m at and what I have to the maximum. And maybe next time I go to Kroger, I’ll put on that pretty little suit I save for the occasional job interview, do my hair and my nails, and strut around like I own the place. Just for the fun of it.

  107. graceon 05 Jan 2009 at 1:23 pm

    margaret,
    thanks. I always feel better when I know I am
    reading about a home girl….having lived most of my life in Michigan. And still having many
    friends since childhood there who even given the dire straights “don’t want to hear it”.
    thank you,
    grace N Mex

  108. Isison 05 Jan 2009 at 1:38 pm

    I just wanted to comment on the fact that many people felt shame about having to apply for and pay with food stamps. I have to say this sounds a little bit strange to me. Now, granted, I never did receive public assistance, but I grew up in a crisis ridden region, where e.g. rationing and blackouts were part of every day life. Basically, what I got out of the experience is that there is no shame to being poor; to have a lot of money amidst so many struggling people, and to put that on display, is what’s shameful. So… Give me the choice between going grocery shopping with food stamps, and going shopping in Prada, I’ll take the food stamps any day. Wearing Prada would make me feel like a freak, I don’t think I could lift my head looking like that. Food stamps… While I do hope that I never struggle badly enough to need welfare, I don’t think I’d be ashamed to use it if I did; though I’m sure I’d be scared to be so financially vulnerable.

  109. Fernon 05 Jan 2009 at 1:45 pm

    What I can’t figure out is how folks can tell so easily if someone making an electronic payment is using an electronic ‘food stamps’ card or a credit or debit card. I think they’d all look the same to me.

    I’m trying to figure out how some sort of food stamps/rationing minimums system might work that addresses the junk food concerns. The food desert concerns I haven’t contemplated yet!

    What if …
    it WAS more like rationing from WWII?

    Break down the usage for ‘fresh/canned/frozen’ produce, ‘proteins’ (meats, nuts, fish, cheese, milk, tofu, tempeh, beans), grains (open for debate on if they should be at least 50% whole grain products, eliminating white bread/rice/flour), fats, and ‘condiments’. Condiments would have to include everything from salt and yeast to sugar and chips.

    Fern

  110. Wannaon 05 Jan 2009 at 2:03 pm

    This discussion on fairness reminds me of something Gloria Steinem wrote in her book on Revolution From Within. To paraphrase her, the easiest way for those in power to control others, is through education. If they can get people to buy into the way things should be, then we will follow along willingly, self police ourselves and police others too via (dis)approval. Then the law enforcers only need to deal with the law breakers (minus politicians and CEOs of course becos the rules don’t apply to them).

    This programming comes through formal education, tv, magazines, etc. The gov is subsidizing DTV converter boxes for folks who are still using antennas. Seems odd, tv doesn’t seem essential enough to subsidize but if you see tv as a way of quickly reaching the masses to set public opinion via the media monopoly, then its understandable. Just imagine if everyone turned off their tvs, radios and internets and had to form their own opinions.

    The more rules we have: be successful, look successful, and the more energy we put into these external goals, the less time we have to think for ourselves and question whats really going on, and how we support the madness with our choices, and how much freedom we actually have to drop out of the rat race.

    And the more energy we spend competing against one another (because of scarcity mentality), the more divided we become, unable to unite to fight a common cause. They’re counting on us to care about ourselves, getting our fair share. If we didn’t, they wouldn’t be able to manipulate us. Maybe we shouldn’t be so reasonable. Maybe instead of playing by the rules they have established for us, we should be playing by their rules, there aren’t any! :)

  111. veraon 05 Jan 2009 at 2:41 pm

    All this agonizing over being on foodstamps! Must be part of the brainwashing we get. The rich certainly aren’t bashful to spend their bailouts on expensive junkets, corporate jets, and million dollar bonuses. You figure that’s what preppy academies & parents teach them? Must be… They don’t waste their energy on judging whether their people are “deserving”. What a quaint concept, they would say.

  112. curiousalexaon 05 Jan 2009 at 2:50 pm

    Why she wears fancy clothes:

    a) Until she lost her job, it was the lifestyle she had been taught she deserved/earned.

    b) She works for someone who decided to downsize her life, getting rid of the extra designer duds in her closet. (true story on flylady – the housekeepers inherited a large amount of Prada and similar. And that’s what they wore, even to come clean, because that’s what they had.)

    c) It’s the only thing in her closet that currently fits.

    d) (as previously mentioned) the items were gifts, or great finds at second-hand stores.

    e) she was shopping on her way home from a job interview.

    f) she finally wore out her last pair of jeans (something I’m dangerously close to!), and had to resort to her office wardrobe (something I’ve been avoiding!)

    Most of the time, I’d guess a) to be the likeliest answer. If you’ve recently lost your job, and were never the weekend-wear type, you’re not likely to go clothes shopping while job-hunting. But you may choose to use food stamps in order to keep your car payments to find a new job. Trading for an older clunker risks unknown repair problems.

  113. curiousalexaon 05 Jan 2009 at 2:56 pm

    I need an econ lesson.

    If most people can’t afford to buy food without subsidizing, where do the subsidies come from?
    (Which is where the expansion seems to be headed.)

  114. The Screaming Sardineon 05 Jan 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Fern wrote: “Break down the usage for ‘fresh/canned/frozen’ produce, ‘proteins’ (meats, nuts, fish, cheese, milk, tofu, tempeh, beans), grains (open for debate on if they should be at least 50% whole grain products, eliminating white bread/rice/flour), fats, and ‘condiments’. Condiments would have to include everything from salt and yeast to sugar and chips.”

    I wish they would do something like this for food stamps. I’d think it’d be very easy to do. Many stores have those internal programs where if you buy, for example, 6 gallons of milk, you get a coupon for the 7th gallon free. Since that kind of technology is in place, it should be utilized for food stamps.

    It might also be a good idea that if a person purchased more healthful food, that they’d get a little bonus of an extra $5 or $10 a month in their food stamp account. That would reward those who make more healthful choices which, in the long run, would help with healthcare costs.

  115. Isison 05 Jan 2009 at 3:16 pm

    curiousalexa,

    You said:

    “Why she wears fancy clothes:
    a) Until she lost her job, it was the lifestyle she had been taught she deserved/earned.
    [...]
    Most of the time, I’d guess a) to be the likeliest answer.”

    See, this is what really ticks me off. Yeah, there’s the (important) issue of fairness, but the thing that really, really gets to me is when people flaunt wealth (whether real or not). This idea that ‘I’m hard working/smart/middle class/what have you, and therefore I DESERVE luxury items’ – I can’t stand it. Especially because it usually goes along with the attitude of ‘I’m better than those who can’t afford these items’. I find the attitude physically nauseating. (Not least because it drives consumption, which in turn drives the rat race and the ecological disaster that we’re currently in the middle of.) It’s nauseating to see it in anyone. The fact that some people with this attitude happen to be on welfare is simply the icing on the cake.

  116. Jenon 05 Jan 2009 at 3:19 pm

    Ugh. I’m still surprised at how my comment(s) were COMPLETELY misconstrued and the discussion became a runaway nightmare about fairness. Which was not what I talked about. I completely support food stamps. I, like Isis have a problem with conspicuous comsumption. How ANYONE here thinks that one should look the part of a homeless person, dirty, etc, is beyond me. I can only guess it’s a self imposed stigma. I dont use food stamps, but I also don’t look like I have any money. We have 2 paid for vehicles that are hardly driven since my dh works from home. It’s shocking how everyone assumed that mean old Jen was falsely accusing the poor woman in the store for being too materialistic while she buy HIGH-priced food with food stamps. There should be restrictions on how much “unhealthly” food one can buy with assitance. My question for you all is why am I the wrong one is this scenario? Does noone here not know ANYONE who has abused the system? Or who spends their cash on stuff for them? The point about creature comforts is guess what, when you are poor…you dont get to have creature comforts. When you are poor you get a stick of candy in your stocking one a year. I mean really people we are so spoiled.
    I havent always had enough money. I’ve worked 60-80 and 3 jobs at once. Ive eaten one FREE meal a day at the restaurant I served at while trying to go to school and am in the student loan debt to prove it. I waited until 30 to have a child and even then my dh only made 25k a year and I took no maternity leave, not even 6 weeks so that I could work from home and not have to leave my daughter. Blessed we were that he found a new job just in time making JUST enough more to squeak buy. I worked at a grocery store to get a discount on food to help out.
    Now was all that fair? Yes, no, who cares? Could I have received FS? Yes, but I didn’t. Does that make me special? no. I actually never thought about even getting them. The thing is, if I had no other choice I would. Would I show up looking like I stepped off a magazine cover? No. But that’s likely because I would be tryingt o pull together food resources NOT matching shoe/purse hair cut ones.
    Sharon this is not about fairness. Because it’s not fair that our food system is the way it is. It actually about people doing the right thing and not worrying about “what they look like?” anymore.

    I’m mostly just ranting now because I was tired of the sense of entitlement I kept seeing spread over this discussion. Entitlement is killing this country. Entitlement is our NATIONAL disease.

  117. Aon 05 Jan 2009 at 3:45 pm

    While I’m all for Food Security at every income level the idea of gov’t help via food stamps makes me raise an eyebrow.

    My brother works in marketing. Part of his job is monthy visits to contract vendors, many of which are convenience stores. His territory includes a large swath of the lowest income area in the state.

    He has personally witnessed some of the vendors in these lower income areas participating in illegal sale of food stamps. Qualified recipients are selling this assistance for tobacco and alcohol and everyone turns a blind eye. He’s even mentioned this to mutual friends in law enforcement and they said it’s so widespread it’s pointless to waste their time on it. This fraud might be responsible for “well to do” looking people using assistance and why I do not support this program. Not saying everyone participates in this, but am willing to bet a substantial percentage does.

    My spouse and I give generously to food shelves and we feel that private charity is much better at distribution to the truly needy. *IF* the gov’t found a way to distribute food in lieu of money/vouchers I could get behind their program. Until that change happens I’m 100% against a program so rife with fraud.

  118. Lizon 05 Jan 2009 at 3:51 pm

    To avoid a bunch of posts, I’m going to reply to several people.

    Sharon, it really is quite easy for a merchant to start taking food stamps. The application is online, and the requirements are simple. The applicant must have at least a green card (citizenship isn’t required, but permanent residency is). They must have some kind of government-issued photo identification (driver’s license, etc.). If their business is located where business licenses are required, they have to provide a copy of that (believe it or not, there are still some places in the US where you don’t have to have a business license–my county is one of them). They have to answer some questions about what kind of groceries they sell. Once all that stuff is turned in, someone like me comes to visit the place of business and verify that they actually are selling groceries. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

    Specialty retailers who sell a limited variety of food are welcome. I inspect bakeries, produce stands, seafood places, frozen food route sales, farmers markets, food buying clubs, even one lady whose produce came from her back yard and who sold it by pulling a big child’s wagon around her neighborhood. You aren’t required to have a special EBT terminal. If you already take debit and credit cards, you can use the same terminal for them, but it’s also possible to call a phone number to verify that the EBT card you’re being given is valid and has a sufficient dollar amount on it to cover the purchase. All that’s needed in that case is a telephone. Many of the frozen food route sales companies do it that way.

    So there’s really no reason for a food merchant not to accept food stamps if they want to. In the past, many of them didn’t want to deal with the paper coupons, but now the funds are deposited directly into the store’s bank account, so there’s no hassle at all.

    Fern, the EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card is different in each state, but they’re all fairly distinctive. In Virginia, it’s called the Cardinal card (solid blue background, big red cardinal, our state bird). Anyone who’s paying attention would be able to tell whether the person in front of them was paying with a VISA/MC or a Cardinal card.

    Screaming Sardine, while I personally agree with you about rewarding healthful shopping, the unfortunate fact is that many food stamp recipients are elderly, poorly educated, don’t have a good grasp of English, etc., etc. Making their use any more complicated than having to remember their PIN (which many elderly clients have a real problem with) is probably not feasible. But food stamp users are able to participate in any kind of promotion that a grocery store is offering, so if the store is having a buy 6, get one free, it doesn’t matter whether the customer is using cash or food stamps.

  119. The Screaming Sardineon 05 Jan 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Jen wrote: “The point about creature comforts is guess what, when you are poor…you dont get to have creature comforts. When you are poor you get a stick of candy in your stocking one a year. I mean really people we are so spoiled.”

    So again, I ask, if someone has to go on foodstamps, are they required to give up all the “creature comforts” they already paid for when they were gainfully employed? Should they go live in a tent, even though they have a house already paid for? And who gets these “creature comforts” they must give up? What happens if they become gainfully employed again? Can they get their “creature comforts” back?

  120. Lizon 05 Jan 2009 at 4:01 pm

    A, if your brother will report the abuse he sees to the Food and Nutrition section of the USDA (phone numbers online and in the phone book), you can bet they will do something about it. The police don’t have jurisdiction–it isn’t a criminal offense. I have no connection with fraud investigation and enforcement–that’s done by USDA employees, not contractors. But I hear enough to know that it isn’t tolerated when it’s discovered.

  121. Isison 05 Jan 2009 at 4:14 pm

    “Should they go live in a tent, even though they have a house already paid for?”

    You’re again dishonestly trying to turn this into a designer clothes vs. rags debate.

  122. Sharonon 05 Jan 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Jen, since you are talking to me directly (I wasn’t picking on you, really, I can see your point and I quoted that letter not because I thought one “side” of this was bad or wrong, but because I genuinely see both sides of it – the frustration of those who feel they have less because they are supporting people who could do better, and those who don’t want to be judged unfairly), I will say that I don’t think I do agree with you.

    Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not someone with a lot of interest in appearances, and I agree with you that conspicous consumption is pretty tacky. On the other hand, I have a farm and 27 acres of land – compared to someone like Isis, who lives in a house with two roommates, I’m a pretty big conspicuous consumer. Now there’s a story behind that land – we shared with family, we lived dead cheap to afford it, we are trying to grow food for our community – but it is also a big whompin asset, and to someone who dreams of getting land and can’t get there despite working their asses off, I probably look like a pig sometimes. It would be easy for me to say that land is a “good” kind of conspicuous consumption, and designer clothes are a bad kind, but then again, that’d be awfully easy for someone like me, who adheres to Molly Ivins’ philosophy of clothing “Woman who wears clothes so she won’t be nekkid.”

    And yet I know people whose crappy paying jobs depend on their physical appearances – waitresses and hostesses at that kind of restaurant, people who work at high end retail stores (my sister did this for a while, and it is very hard to keep up the needed appearances with what they pay you), a number of other jobs that treat women as ornaments. Would it be better if our society didn’t – sure, and I’ll put that on my “battles to fight” right after “get everyone growing food” is all done ;-) . In the meantime, the people who have those jobs, have those jobs and I’d rather they keep them than be totally dependent.

    That said, I think you’ve got a real point – people do take advantage of the system, and while I don’t want anyone going hungry, I think that we do have an entitlement problem. In fact, I’ve been working a post about the ways our sense of entitlement keeps us from responding appropriately to the current economic system. I feel very strongly that staying out of the safety nets is the honorable thing to do when you can – they are going to be very much stretched in the coming years at some point many of them will probably give way, and it will happen sooner if people who don’t need food stamps or whatever take advantage of them. It is a complex balancing issue.

    But tilting at conspicuous consumption brings us back to the question of what is conspicuous consumption – it is a good subject. Is my farm and my stores of beans and rice conspicuous consumption in a world where some people are hungry? Are we going to call it conspicuous consumption when women are reduced to prostitution to keep their kids fed, and thus need to spend money on aesthetics (and yes, that happens)? Do we have to go instantly to the one piece of candy in the stocking – is there a more moderate position. The problem is one of definitions, and I don’t think it is easy to answer.

    Sharon

  123. MEAon 05 Jan 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Could we define a few terms here:

    I though designer clothing was stuff that had a label in — you know, someone other than the home dresser maker had designed it. That the sort of stuff most people wouldn’t put on to go food shopping was haute coulture — mostly one of a kind stuff, or for a limited pret-au-porte market.

    I’d laugh at one any who turned up grocery shopping in a Dior evening gown, but for a number of years I wore a wool coat made by a Hungarian designer for a lady in Prague. It was given to a friends mil as she fled on 6 hours notice in 1956 — a neighbor came to a class she was teaching and didn’t thing the mil should wait to go back to her office for her coat and gave her the one off her back.l

    Coat turned up in the US sometime later with mil, who gave it her to dil when she died (or just before, I guess), who never wore it becuase it didn’t fit, but was too nice to throw out, and eventually traded it to me for a leather coat I trash picked in NY. (She knew it was trash picked — and wore in skate boarding in Soho.) I wore it to work for several years — I was freelancing, and yes, bought into the must look sucessful to be sucessful. Then the lining shattered, and I wasn’t looking forward to relining it, esp. as all I had was pink rayon from a dress up a sil had passed to us, and I hate lining, esp. when you have to make a pattern.

    At that point (I was ill — chronic condition had flared up, my mother was ill — and she said that if either of use went down the childcare arrangments for 3 children and the care my father’s needs would go down the drain and said that I had to give up something) I bought a coat 2nd hand.

    I kept the old one, becuase something always turns up. In this case, it was a London Fog rain coat liner that I’d bought from the clothing closit at church for 50 cents thinking one day I’d made a Harry Potter costume. When I remember it, and tried it, it turned out it that only two evenings work and the coat was usable again. It’s keeping a soup kitchen patron warm now.

    But if go we by the designer rule, either the mil should have ditched it (I mean, do refugees deserve to look that good?) or I should never has passed it one the soup kitchen. Maybe I should have never worn it in the first place since it gave the impression that I cared about how I looked.

    I also took full advantage of the government entitlements that help out people who buy houses by letting them deduct the interest. I made so little when I adopted I didn’t get any money back to offset expenses, so I guess I go down with the cheats.

    BTY, I know a fair number of women who abused food stamps. They were all turning tricks on the side and a $20 a time and 4 or 5 men a night (generally after a day of house cleaning) they were making, even after they paid their pimps it tipped most of the over the amount they could make — it’s not that all FS users turn tricks, but one of the populations I was working with was women who were sex workers. Given the misery of their lives and of their childrten, I don’t give a damn about they few extra dollars they were getting.

    For heaven’s sake, our lives are going to miserable enough: do we have to go around making judgements about people looking too good for their station. I’d rather smile at someone who is wearing a bright colored sweater or nicely patched jeans and wonder if the patches were put on as a fashion statement by someone who should no long be induling or if the sweater is lambswool when it should be Red Lion. Perhaps we need to re-introducing forlock tugging.

    MEA

  124. Jenon 05 Jan 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Sharon,
    “Conspicuous consumption” was coined by an economist named Thornstein Veblen in 1902: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1902veblen00.html
    By his defintion, any kind of consumption which is concerned only with status is “conspicuous.” This completely excludes stashes of beans and rice and land to house/support your family. It may hold status for some people, but is still utilitarian. Your land serves more purposes than to make you look good. Take the case of thrift store jeans vs. NEW $200 jeans molded for your specific ass in mind, then yes that’s conspicious.

    I’m not frustrated at supporting those who have less. I remind my daugther more frequently than I should how lucky she is to eat vegetables. She goes with me to shop for teh pantry and REALLY understands that there are people who are hungry.

    I’m frustrated that FS recipient or not, our idea of what is a luxury is desperately wrong. I loved your post about showers btw, it’s exactly what I’m talking about. Simple pleasures have become cliche, a code word for champagne and cavier on a plain white imported linen tablecloth.

  125. veraon 05 Jan 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Well, it looks like the “never say quits” arguers about appearances have successfully blocked any discussion of the initial issues raised by Sharon’s post. I give up.

  126. Sharonon 05 Jan 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Jen, I’m familiar with Veblen – but that assumes that you can identify something in a food stamp recipient in particular as “only concerned with status.” My point was that her clothing may not be just about status – it may be about keeping her job, which requires a certain kind of appearance (working in many status-oriented jobs even as peon requires that you have the look, the manners, etc… that someone who has money has). And Veblen’s category requires us to imagine that status is unconnected to other issues like economic viability, finding a partner, trying to transcend class lines (it is easy, for example, for well educated people to express their “suitedness” for particular kinds of jobs based on certain kinds of physical assurance and their language – someone who doesn’t have those things may need to rely more heavily on the visible signs of class status simply to get a job).

    I don’t think that’s a reality for many people – class is more complex than that. We don’t like to admit, for example, how much women keeping out of poverty, particularly when they have children, depends on their attracting and keeping a mate. Our society emphasizes a particular standard of beauty – highly energy intensive and highly processed. Personally, I don’t find it very attractive, and I’m fortunate enough to have a husband who shares my tastes. But the whole society establishes that to a large degree women’s status has to do with their attractiveness – and a woman who invests herself in that as a way of dealing with the real problem of female poverty isn’t evil – and her consumption isn’t just conspicuous – her status isn’t just arbitrary, it enables her to function in the society as a whole.

    I agree we value the wrong things as a society. But asking the poorest people to simply stop valuing them right now because they are poor puts the onus in many cases on the people who have the least power to buck societal assumptions.

    Moreover, I think the careful watching of anyone who receives certain kinds of subsidies creates what I think would be a violation of our moral obligation to judge one another fairly – I don’t blame you for getting angry and frustrated, but I do think that holding the poor to a higher moral standard than the rest of us, understandable as it may be, is probably the wrong approach, in part because it is doomed to failure.

    Sharon

  127. Fernon 05 Jan 2009 at 5:39 pm

    I also think that there are western societal archtypes that the ‘well dressed people using food stamps’ concept violates. It blows the Romanic concept of “The Noble Savage” away, and does damage to the concept that poverty is supposed to be somehow ‘purifying’ … at least in others.

    Fern

  128. Rebeccaon 05 Jan 2009 at 5:50 pm

    I am on food stamps right now, and because I have time to cook from scratch and such (I am mostly unemployed) I’ve been able to eat very well and even save some food for my food storage. My state’s food stamp card is very conspicuous: it is bright blue and has “Alabama EBT” written all over it.

    To whomever said it was easy for a vendor to take food stamps, first they have to take credit cards, and that’s not easy to do. The machines are expensive, the subscriptions are expensive, and then you have to pay so much of each transaction to the card company. Which is why so many merchants don’t take cards.

  129. MEAon 05 Jan 2009 at 5:51 pm

    I’ve often joked (with irony) that I live a 2nd hand life. If someone else didn’t buy the jeans 1st they’d never end up in the thirft shop, and once people can longer afford to buy them in the first place, I’ve lost my 2nd hand life.

    I’ve had a lot of problem with the “you deserve it” advertising, becuase it suggests that if you can afford it you deserve it, such as a weekend at a spa, but if you can’t afford it, you don’t deserve it, such as basic dental care. And I think that is in part what’s getting up Jen’s nose. Am I right?

    Looking in terms of a solution that doesn’t involve food stamps…

    For ages I’ve been trying to get local chuches to consider offinging a “friendship dinner” or some such other name (nothing that would involve getting a liscence) on the last Friday or Sat of the month, where anyone who wants can get a cheap (sorry, it has to be cheap because it’s coming of my pocket — actually, it would come out ofthe money I give monthy to the soup kitchen and it has to be Fri or Sat becuase those are the only nights I could get there, cook it and serve it) meal. There are several pockets of poverity that I know about in local towns, where there is no easy access to soup kitchens and food pantries are very limited and strained. And again and again I get, no, there isn’t any need. I realize it’s time to start again. (I also realize that if I were any sort of person I’d whip together some sort of grand application and end up with a kitchen on wheels, tons of money for food, and a devoted staff serving several locations.)

  130. Sololeumon 05 Jan 2009 at 6:40 pm

    Folks I truly apologize for sounding a bit snooty about the poor and having free time – I just didn’t realize how horrible your country is compared to Australia. Our minimum wage is probably twice to three times yours in real terms as low income earners get subsidized pharmaceuticals, the whole population gets Medicare vide a Health Care Card that everyone has, and even in our cities most people still live in detached housing – the further out they get smaller now with the McMansions, but still enough land to grow some food.

    I urge you with the comming Obama years to aim for a truly national approach to welfare – here there are no food stamps, just a welfare payment people can live within and rent assistance is provided on top, a Medicare system is so good you need not have private insurance (we are in our mid 50’s and still don’t) and cheap pharmaceuticals paying only $5.30 if on a low income conscession card. Some dental assistance is also available but strongly used and so queues are long!

    Like others on this blog I beleive we should put out from supporting the current consumer society and become much more productive ourselves – this means we will be materially poorer – but also we will be healthier and if enough of us do it the earth itself will be able to breath a sigh of relief.

  131. curiousalexaon 05 Jan 2009 at 7:02 pm

    Jen – my comment wasn’t actually directed at you, it was towards the tangent I saw the thread taking. I apologize for not making that clear.

    Isis – I agree that entitlement is an ugly thing. There was a certain amount of sarcasm in my comment (which text doesn’t show, sorry!)

    Part of my point (in option a) was that the hypothetical person was living according to the rules she was taught, and very possibly does not know/realize there are other rule options.

    I think we need to be careful about judging other people by our own rulers. I sure hate it when others judge me by *their* rulers! My life doesn’t measure up to most – I have yet to finish college (I’m in my late 30s). I don’t have consistent paid employment. I have deliberately chosen time over money throughout my life. By most people’s measure, I am a flake and a failure. And yet I’ve also been told that I know the most interesting things, people come to me for advice on sustainability, and years ago someone commented to my then partner that I was the person they wanted to know if society crashed because of my interest in pre-industrial revolution skills.

    My “job” is to explore, learn, and share. I get paid in respect and appreciation, rather than cash.

    My choice of time over money has allowed me to accept an offer to visit a friend in Maine this spring to learn firsthand about backyard livestock – raising and butchering rabbits and chickens. This is knowledge I will bring back to my communities in Illinois, where friends have expressed interest, but due to work commitments have no access to learning. And certainly not the in-depth several weeks immersion I will be able to experience. (we plan to explore tanning as well!)

    And now I’ve gone off on a *totally* different tangent! I felt a need to insert some different perspectives – thank you TheNormalMiddle, among others, for sharing yours!

  132. curiousalexaon 05 Jan 2009 at 7:08 pm

    MEA – I have often joked with my friends to please do NOT live the way I do, or I couldn’t live this way! I am fortunate to have friends more than happy to let me take care of household chores they detest in trade for room and board. If they didn’t have traditional cash-paying jobs, none of us would live in this nice brick bungalow in a walkable neighborhood with an amazingly wonderful library! (Granted, I also wouldn’t be in a huge sprawling metropolitan area, either.)

    Diversity is the key to life, in so many more ways than we can imagine!

  133. Lizon 05 Jan 2009 at 8:00 pm

    “To whomever said it was easy for a vendor to take food stamps, first they have to take credit cards, and that’s not easy to do. The machines are expensive, the subscriptions are expensive, and then you have to pay so much of each transaction to the card company. Which is why so many merchants don’t take cards.”

    That was me, and vendors are NOT required to take credit cards first. The people who deliver frozen foods don’t have a credit card terminal on each truck, believe me. The driver calls the office with the person’s EBT card number, and gets verification that there is sufficient balance on the card. Same goes for many small farmer’s market and produce stand vendors. I can’t stress this enough–it is not necessary for a food retailer to take credit cards in order for them to accept payment by EBT.

    Unfortunately, for those who have credit card terminals, the credit card processors don’t distinguish between EBT and other debit cards. I think they should be required to, but that’s only my opinion.

    I don’t know about other states, but Virginia has what is often called the “Cardinal machine.” Vendor who use those do not have to pay a transaction fee for EBT sales. It was originally a way to make it easier to accept the EBT card if you didn’t already take credit cards. But I think fewer merchants are using them now that so many stores take credit cards.

  134. Rosaon 06 Jan 2009 at 12:09 am

    Someone above (I’m sorry, I scrolled through and can’t find it again) mentioned a neighborhood in Minneapolis where the farmer’s market takes EBT cards. That’ s my neighborhood!

    This is how it works; you can use any credit card to buy farmer’s market tokens. It costs fifty cents per $20 in tokens (I don’t know if there is a charge for the EBT/WIC/food stamps users). The cost pays for the credit card conversion machine/service. The labor is done by volunteers, screened by the market board, who are also doing things like selling tote bags and handing out market maps.

    Part of the reason this is possible is because the market really wanted it to be; part of it is because of long term activism by local food/small farm people, like our fabulous Land Stewardship Project. But the biggest part of it is that the local Hmong community spent years fighting for reform of the food support programs, which back in the ’70s didn’t consider rice or asian greens suitable for WIC, or certify ethnic grocery stores for food stamps. It was organizing by recipients, and coalitions of groups with similar goals, that made the change.

    Where food stamps go is a big, real political issue. Instead of worrying about what food stamps should be restricted to, or that people are buying the wrong food, we should be worrying about expanding how they can be used and then making good choices available to everyone. Organics & locally produced foods get criticized as being elitist, and then programs get cut when budgets get tight – one way to change that is by finding the non-yuppie consumers, and making that connection.

  135. deweyon 06 Jan 2009 at 10:51 am

    I usually have the luxury of going to work frumpy and wearing boots, but I do own a few pieces of good clothing, and if I lost my job I would not be giving them away to befit my lower status. I would actually wear them much more often, and maintain them carefully, because I would not be hirable for well-paying jobs wearing clothes that indicated low status. Surely this well-dressed food stamp user, if recently unemployed, ought to be trying to find a new job so that she doesn’t have to keep taking food stamps. To do that, she has to comply with the expectations of the hiring class. There are a lot of people who are only qualified for white-collar office jobs. If you do something you find more meaningful, it’s fine for you to scorn that way of life, but you can’t expect people to give it up readily when their alternative choices would be limited to fry-cook or Walmart-slave.

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