Saturday, April 28, 2007

Footnote to that footnote

Thanks go to Crooks & Liars for this link.
If [Oregon] Gov. Ted Kulongoski seems a little sluggish this week, he's got an excuse: he couldn't afford coffee.

In fact, the Democratic governor couldn't afford much of anything during a trip to a Salem-area grocery store on Tuesday, where he had exactly $21 to buy a week's worth of food - the same amount that the state's average food stamp recipient spends weekly on groceries.
Yep, the Governor is eating for a week on what a Food Stamp recipient could buy. He's hardly the first to try this experiment, and, just like the others, he quickly discovered that it ain't easy. And that's not even taking into account the hidden health perils of having to live that way.
Along the way, [Christina] Sigman-Davenport, a mother of three who works for the state Department of Human Services and went on food stamps in the fall after her husband lost his job, dispensed tips for shopping on a budget. Scan the highest and lowest shelves, she told the governor. Look for off-brand products, clip coupons religiously, get used to filling, low-cost staples like macaroni and cheese and beans, and, when possible, buy in bulk.
Good tips for saving money - and, potentially, for malnutrition. Many people struggling to pay for food do indeed go for "filling, low-cost staples like macaroni and cheese" - which are also high in fats and carbohydrates and often very high in salt. Even for many of us not on Food Stamps, who are not - what's the term, "food insecure?" - even for folks like us, finding foods that are nutritious, not overly high in fats or salt, and affordable can be a real struggle. One of the things I find endlessly irritating is nutrition gurus who tell us how we really should be eating fresh this and fresh that and specially-prepared the other and who apparently have no concern whatsoever about the cost. (I remember Jeff Smith, the so-called "Frugal Gourmet," slamming people who wanted to use lower-cost substitutes in his recipes. Oh, no, it had to be this and it had to be fresh - even fresh saffron, which can run from $60-$200 per ounce. Questioned about this, he said he defined "frugal" as "making the most out of what you've got," which is fine except for the fact that most of us don't "got" fresh saffron.)

The fact is, it is expensive to eat healthy and even more expensive to eat both healthy and well. When we are telling people, as we are always telling them when we hold down the minimum wage, when we get chintzy with Food Stamps, when we mouth condescending, vapid slogans like "workfare, not welfare," when we say "liveable wage" proposals are "anti-business," when we are telling people to look for "filling, low-cost staples," we are telling them that they must eat unhealthy. That they and their children must live in constant risk of being malnourished with all the adverse health (and particularly for children, cognitive) consequences that entails.
After the hourlong shopping trip, Kulongoski said he was mindful that his week on food stamps will be finite and that thousands of others aren't so lucky.

"I don't care what they call it, if this is what it takes to get the word out," Kulongoski said, in response to questions about whether the food stamp challenge was no more than a publicity stunt. "This is an issue every citizen in this state should be aware of."
Good for you, Governor Kulongoski. Now let's see some follow-up. But yes, you can have your coffee first.

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