Sunday, March 08, 2009

Food Stamp Use on the Rise and a Memory of The Dirty Bird

Given the current economic state I suppose it should not come as a surprise that a record number of Americans are now using food stamps... roughly 32 million of us, a number that's up 700,000 people in a month.

Thankfully, I've never had to give food stamps much thought. I've always made a fairly decent wage – enough at least to keep me in groceries, beer and trashy movies plus a roof over my head – and learned to cook from a woman who could stretch a food dollar like nobody's business.

While standing in line at Attman's Deli yesterday I noticed a sign taped to the beverage cooler that stated (and I'm paraphrasing): "Food stamps cannot be used to purchase hot food. They can only be used to purchase cold food." For whatever reason seeing that sign jogged loose one food stamp memory that always seems to stick in my head.

It happened back when I was living in Pittsburgh. The area featured a local grocery store chain called Giant Eagle which was referred to by almost everybody I knew as "The Dirty Bird," and the nickname was sadly appropriate. Stores seemed to vary wildly in cleanliness, quality, merchandise and odor depending upon where each one was located. The one in Squirrel Hill was pretty nice, fairly clean and a somewhat pleasant shopping experience. Those on the North Side or over near the college campuses? Not so much.

I'd stopped in a Dirty Bird on the North Side to pick up some things for dinner and ended up in the checkout line behind a woman whose hand-held basket was brimming with a delightful array of goodies... nice cheese, some freshly baked bread, steaks, a large container of shrimp and a couple lobster tails.

Things got interesting when it was her turn to check out and she attempted to pay for her purchases with food stamps. The clerk informed her that the stamps could only be used for certain items, and that shrimp and lobster were not on the Food Stamp Friendly list.

What followed was an intriguing exercise in love vs (food) lust. The clerk tallied the non-stampable items and let the woman know the cost. Unable to come up with the necessary cash from the money she had in her purse she decided to – wait for it – dip into the bail money she was going to use to spring her boyfriend from the clink.

Seemingly unmoved she shrugged her shoulders and as the clerk bagged her steaks, shrimp, bread, lobster and cheese lamented that he was going to miss a good dinner and would be fine to spend another night in lock-up.

So much for love.

And while we might not all be heading towards the food stamp line, it never hurts to have a few ideas on hand about how to eat well on a limited budget:
If you have any other good budget gourmet recipes or sites to share please do so in the comments section!

1 comment:

Imee said...

I know! I've been reading and researching info and stats on food stamps a while back and I was shocked... Only in the sense that the numbers are huge, but the fact that many people are suddenly rushing for benefits doesn't surprise me at all.

You and I both are pretty lucky, I've never felt the need to ask for government aid...YET. Curse the day that I will NEED to...