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Eating on the cheap

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Last month, echoing our articles about eating on food stamps, the Washington Post columnist Sally Squires ran a column about the food-stamp stuntmen, aka politicians stumping for improvements to federal food-aid bills.

The politicians, who subsisted on $3 or $4 a day, suffered mightily. But, Squires asserted, they didn't have to. "With a few cooking skills and a little basic nutrition knowledge, it's doable," she wrote.

She cited Tom Wolfe, the owner of a Maryland natural-food store, who claimed that $25 a week was more than plenty to dine on if the shopping was limited to "grains and beans certified-organic and a mix of organic and cheaper non-organic vegetables."

She also suggested a look at the USDA's new webpage for food-stamp recipients, which features simple recipes to make at home.

Then Squires went shopping herself. Her successes? Cheap protein (dried beans, canned fish, fresh eggs, tofu) and frozen veggies. Her failures? Expensive whole-grain bread and fresh fruit. Fruit, she wrote, was "a big challenge until I found a large watermelon for $5.99."

Nowhere did she mention the provenance of her purchases, which made grocery shopping sound far easier than it is. At $1.89 a dozen, her eggs were a bargain — and definitely not organic. Same for everything else — even the fresh salmon she shunned was priced at a measly $7.99 per pound, which means it was almost certainly farmed, not wild.

Squires concluded, "In short, eating on a food-stamp budget was challenging, but not as difficult as some members of Congress might think." Maybe — so long as you buy only the cheapest possible versions of "healthy" foods with no regard for how those foods were grown, caught, or produced. 

Even Wolfe, the $25 king, made sure to note that he tried to buy organic. Not all food is created equal.