I recently learned that the average EBT (food stamp) benefit in the US is $21/week per person. That's $1/meal.
I have also recently read several mean-spirited comments on newspaper articles concerning people receiving groceries from food banks and about levels of obesity among the underprivileged. The comments tend to say things like "stop eating at McDonalds and buying sodas with your food stamps" if they are polite. They are frequently not very polite.
In response to my comments about the amount of the average benefit, one person said "Well, I just got in the newspaper. If the person goes to this store, pineapples are $2. If they go to this next store, a box of clementines if $3.99" and so on ... on the assumption that a person has time to go from store to store in between possibly working two jobs and having no automobile.
Today I drove across town to the slightly less expensive grocery (the one near me is more expensive) to buy ingredients for tonight's dinner. While trying to shop solely from store brands and what was on the club card, and still purchase the whole foods needed to make dinner, I spent $23. Yep, more than one person's whole benefit for a week on ingredients to make a vegetarian lasagne and some garlic bread. If I had skipped the bread, I would have spent $21. On ingredients for one meal.
The people who are snarky about folks on benefits being overweight and insisting that they can just make different food choices? They don't seem to get that the least expensive foods, that store for the longest, are things like pasta and rice -- or 12 packages of ramen noodles for $1. They don't get that it's not that easy to shop around if you're on the bus and/or working two jobs. They don't get that when the money is gone, it's gone. Around the end of the month, food banks see an increased need. The EBT budget, which is intended to supplement, doesn't go very far -- especially when you live in a high cost area and that EBT benefit may be your entire grocery budget for the month. No, they just want to tell hyperbolic stories about the "woman in an SUV, talking on her cell phone, taking food from actual needy people" or "this couple was well-dressed; they weren't needy." Because, you know, no one could borrow a cell phone or an automobile from a friend or family member, or have enough pride in themselves that they want to look clean and tidy when they go out, even if they are poor.
I am reading a book called "The Spirit Level" that talks about how monetary inequality in societies tends to cause greater problems at the low end of the spectrum and contributes to thinks like poor education, increased mental illness, violence and a host of other social problems. I haven't gotten far, so I can't speak to the analysis in detail. I can, however, see a whole lot of people sitting in a position of privilege that they don't even recognize, pointing their fingers at the less fortunate in what must be an effort to shore up their own miserable self-esteem.
Me? I'm tremendously disturbed that I spent the equivalent of one person's weekly food budget on ingredients for a lasagne. It just seems wrong to me that people are expected to live on so little in this society -- and to endure the sneers and nastiness of people who have no idea how fortunate they really are.
Causes Sharon Cathcart Supports
Shadow Forest Authors, Operation eBook Drop, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS