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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

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May 17, 2007

Food Stamp Diet Poll

Today seemed like a good day to create my first poll!

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Comments

Molly

Was your activity level higher than usual due to the yurt building?

Suzanne

Building the yurt took a long time, but it wasn't very strenuous.

Cass

I must say, I have been extremely dissapointed by this entire story. There are so many Vermonters for which the struggle to put food on the table is a daily reality. To turn their concerns into a fun little game for yourself is offensive. Yes, there are leaders all over the country taking this challenge - but they do so in an expression of solidarity and to call attention to an epidemic. There are over 35 million Americans trying desperately to make ends meet and feed their families. I am sure that you have received quite a few letters about the challenges that many low-income folks face that you make no effort to speak to - having young children in the home, dealing with a disablity and the lack of a kitchen, a cabinet full of spices and/or transportation to the grocery store. The vast majority of food stamps recipients do their best to eat well, but the obstacles that many face are legitimate and serious.
I just wish that you could use your popularity to affect positive change - shed some light on an important issue, rather than turning it into some kitschy story. This diet poll is absolutely the last straw for me...I am so sad.

Suzanne

Hi Cass. I'm sorry that you were disappointed. My intentions were good -- I heard about what the governor was doing and decided to do it myself. I was aiming to see if I could hold to my beliefs and philosophies while eating within that budget. Part of the reason I was interested is that there are people on food stamps who keep kosher, who are Muslim and purchase Halal foods, and who are vegetarian or vegan. All must try to keep within their moral obligations given the same amount of money.

As far as transportation is concerned, I went to City Market and didn't try to shop around at multiple grocery stores to get better deals for exactly that reason. Although I currently have a car, one is required for my job, I lived in Burlington for 7 years without one. I walked to City Market and carried my groceries home (up to a mile depending on which apartment I was in). For two and maybe three of those years, I would have qualified for food stamps, but at the time, I didn't know it.

I think I used maybe 1 tablespoon total of spices throughout the week. Maybe about 10 cents worth.

I wasn't doing it to lose weight -- and I can totally understand why the poll could come off as offensive -- But I was surprised at how much weight I lost -- it was an unhealthy amount of weight to lose in a week. I was also very hungry on several of the days, and had trouble focusing on tasks I needed to perform.

I received two letters, one of which I would characterize as angry, the other as disappointed. Someone also wrote this on the blog, "Thanks for all the thought you put into this - it was brave to still shop at City Market and go organic/local style. I've been on food stamps since they were real stamps and I do ok but my 'food stamp diet' is more like the governor's a few weeks ago!"

The best I can hope for is that I made a few people think.

Lisa Crean

I couldn't access the poll--I'm having ancient browser issues--but I'm not surprised to hear Suzanne lost a lot of weight and struggled with hunger and energy/concentration issues during her bold food stamp foray.

I'm disappointed that Cass is dismissing Suzanne's approach as "kitschy." And it's a condescending cliche to lump all poor people together, as this week's published Letter to the Editor writer did. Many Americans, rich and poor, have extremely unhealthy personal food pyramids, with a wide base of processed and fast foods and just a smattering of healthy fresh stuff at the top. Poverty--whether or not you're on food stamps--only ups the challenge of eating healthy in America.

Suzanne's original spin was to merge the very-Vermont concerns of eating local and organic with sticking to the tight food stamp budget. She showed that it can be done. How is this kitschy? It's patronizing--to use the L-to-the-Ed writer's word--to think that poor people can't be creative cooks too! Anybody remember the "necessity/mother of invention" bromide?

My Irish grandmother's phenomenal cooking skills were honed as a child, feeding her many younger siblings after her mother died in childbirth. She left school in fourth grade because of it, and wasn't adapting recipes from fancy cookbooks! Some of my most innovative cooking came when I was literally a starving grad student--amazing pilafs and stir frys using whatever was cheapest that week at the farmers market or grocery store. I've also eaten vegan while living on a tiny disability check in the highest cost-of-living state in the country--Hawaii. The bulk food section--especially the spices!--is something everyone on a budget should explore, even if you buy nothing else at a place like Healthy Living or City Market.

As for being too tired to cook...Yes, we're all too tired to cook sometimes, for various reasons: kids, working 70 hours a week, 18-year battles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. When you're on a tight food budget, or have other mouths to feed, or have special dietary needs, or--like most Vermonters--just live too far away to order up some quick take-out, you have to plan ahead.

And some of us find cooking therapeutic! My mom worked full-time, and raised three fairly bratty kids, and loved nothing more than to come home every night and cook up a storm. The kitchen was her artist's studio, and she really found it relaxing. I honestly didn't know Mac & Cheese came in a box and looked nuclear orange--mine was served in a souffle dish, deliciously chewy and creamy. Oh, and Mom made a go of it on a tight middle class budget. She'd clip coupons from the Sunday paper, and head to all three grocery stores to feed her family most economically on the crazy Hawaii prices.

I applaud Suzanne's experiment. It was hardly a "fun little game," Cass, and it did shed light on the challenges of eating well on the tight food stamp budget. (And remember that Vermonters get about 50% more than the national average benefit!) Suzanne's dramatic weight loss shows that her caloric needs were not met. To continue, she might have to add some cheaper, high calorie foods to her menu. I would love to hear Suzanne's speculation about what kinds of trade-offs she would foresee.

I think that others may be misinterpreting Suzanne's intent through their own rage--which I share--about this country's appalling inaction on hunger. But I caution anyone about accusations of "classism." Class is more downwardly fluid in this country than we would like to think. Serious illness or permanent disability will put even the most "privileged" of us almost instantly into poverty. Before we rush to remove "classist" flecks we perceive in someone else's eyes, we'd best make sure we're not running around with logs clouding our own lenses.

Suzanne, you DID make people think. That's why they're reacting so strongly.

Cass

Suzanne,

I appreciate your comments and taking the time to respond. Many of your points were well taken and only I wish I had felt some of those challenges and concerns come through in the earlier article/posts...

Suzanne

Hi Cass. Thanks for taking the time to read my response to your response! I appreciate your points as well. Blogging is such a casual medium that it can be easy to forget not all of one's readers are already friends or acquaintances -- those who know your intentions are good. In the future, when dealing with serious issues, I'll make sure to remember that.

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