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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Food Stamp Challenge /= Fat Poor People

Meagan McArdle is being roasted over her article that the poor and food stamps and she has been told by Unfogged to take the Food Stamp Challenge to live on 3$ a day in food.

"What about the argument that the poor are forced into eating high-calorie diets by the expense of produce and whole grains? This is silly on many counts" Says Meagan.

I agree. There is nothing about being poor or being on food stamps that is contributing to obesity. Poor people during the Great Depression, were not obese and they had no free food available to them. They didn't starve either. Most of our parents or grandparents survived the Depression and the food shortages of WWII quite nicely, thank you.

Here is why "poor" people on food stamps are obese.

1. They don't know how to cook and make efficient use of food or leftovers. The schools no longer teach home economics and if you come from a family that has been on the dole for generations you have no one to teach you those skills.

2. They don't know how to budget or plan. Again. If you haven't gained those skills through education or by example you don't know where to begin

3. It is just easier to buy pre prepared foods and high calorie junk food than it is to make meals.

The way that the Food Stamp Challenge is constructed is ridiculous and deceptive. Going out on a daily basis and buying only $3 of food a day? No one does this......not even obese people on food stamps. You get your food stamps once a month and then go to the store to buy food. If you have spent the entire food stamp allotment at one time (poor budgeting skills) then you will need to have some cash to buy items like milk that later in the month. If you cook, you also buy staples that can be used for multiple meals and ingredients that will last for months. This means that in the next month, you will have more available to buy other things.

The $3 a day per person is also deceptive. In California the maximum per person is $152. The average is $89.

Your food stamp allotment depends on the size of your household. The maximum allotment for one person is $152 per month. The maximum allotment for a four-person family is $506. In California, the average amount of benefits per person is approximately $86 per month, and the average amount of benefits per household is $200.

Are you going to eat luxurious meals on a food stamp budget? Not hardly. Can you prepare good, healthy, tasty, nutritious meals on a food stamp budget? You bet.

So then, lets assume that I am a household of 2 people and that I am getting a $200 allotment a month. How will I spend that allotment on food? What meals can I make? I'm up for the challenge.

I will post some of the meals and costs of a $200 budget. Using the rule #3. Eat only food that you have purchased for the project. Does not include spices and condiments. I'm going to assume in my budget that I already own some basic things like salt, pepper, some spices and condiments like catsup, mustard and so on.

One of the problems with food stamps and you assume that they spend no other money on food is: that if you do have to spend every last amount of allotment on food for that one month it doesn't enable the person to accumulate pantry staples like cooking oil, flour, sugar, cornmeal etc. Assuming the person has ZERO food in the house, starting a budget on food stamps is going to be tough.

Next post...... My shopping list and a rough outline of meals for 3 weeks.


  1. When I was young and stupider, I was on food stamps for about 3 months. Since I wasn't rasied on junk food, I bought fresh food and the only pre-prepared stuff was spice packets for Tacos and such. I also was really into home cooked chinese food at that time and such meals from scratch are very cheap. Food stamp allotments are plenty to live off of, if you are wise with the money.

  2. You both need to get a clue. I myself have never been on food stamps but I know many people who have been, and it is my job to educare the public about the benefits of healthy eating. To deny rhe economic link to obesity is to be ignorant, indeed. I'd love for you to roll up your sleeves and take the challenge yourself, then come back and report what you were able to eat for a month. The $3 a day is an average... that means $90 a month, in case you are mathematically challenged. Come back and let us know how many fresh fruits and vegetables you consumed.

    As someone with a good stable income who has been cooking healthy vegan meals for 30+ years, who routinely sees people struggling to feed their families on Ramen and Spaghettios, I am anxiously awaiting the results of your challenge.