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Food Stamp of Approval, Part 1*

When I read my fellow Indy Star colleague Erika Smith’s August 17 column, “Living Off Food Stamps Leaves Children, Adults Hungry. Trust Me, I Know” I had to take issue with the basic premise of her words.

I took so much of an issue with it that I decided to do a little “grocery shopping” myself, using her model as a basis for my adventure in “food stamp” shopping.  I made a few adjustments around the edges, but I did eventually prove my initial theory;  you can buy substantive, healthy food provided you know how to do two things: shop smart and cook.  Luckily, I can do both and have been able to do so for a long time.

Whereas Erika chose Wal-Mart for her experiment, I used the Meijer at 38th and Moeller Road. It is a major store and on a bus line.  I was given grief for using my own car to get to the store instead of public transportation, however, not everyone who uses food stamps takes the bus.  I was also given grief for not having children.  Newsflash, not everyone on food stamps has kids.  I decided to use $160 as monthly budget.  I chose $160 because while the average person, as Erika pointed out,  may get $132 in benefits, a single person at the poverty level can get up to $200 a month.  So my $160 split the difference.  To be honest, the $160 figure didn’t really matter because I never got that far because I know how to do two things, shop and cook.

I managed to pick up, for me, the equivalent of at least three weeks worth of food for about $90.  How did I do it?  Like this.  For my meat I got four sirloin steaks (on sale) for $16 and ten chicken breasts (on sale) for $12.  That is 16 pieces of meat and chicken for $28.  I don’t eat meat everyday so that was enough to get me through the month.  I also got lettuce, broccoli, celery, five pounds of potatoes, four ears of corn, and a pound of green beans for a total of $10.65.  I got them all fresh, no frozen or canned foods.  And for those of you who say it won’t keep,  you will be amazed at what you can do when you clean your vegetables and put them in the freezer.  I also picked up some ground beef and tomato sauce, $6, which would get me a couple of meals.  And I also bought spaghetti, Farfalle, the bow-tie spaghetti and pasta penne, $4.72; add the two jars of Alfredo sauce which I got two for $4 and parmesan cheese, $3.39.

Breakfast was easy, two boxes of Frosted mini-wheats for $5 and two loaves of Brownberry bread for $6.  Lunch was a little more difficult, the turkey and roast beef for sandwiches, a half-pound each ran me about $7 and two 2-Liters of Diet Pepsi was $2.  I also got popcorn (unpopped and the non-microwave kind) for $3.99  And I did five lean cuisine meals for $10.  My total food bill at that point was $90.75.  Now because I had a Meijer’s coupon I got five percent off so it was actually closer to $86.  Which meant I still had $73 leftover and a another week’s worth of food I could purchase.  And please note, I haven’t even broken out my coupons.

Unfortunately, my wife told me I was not allowed to bring any of this stuff back to the house because there was no room in the refrigerator for me to prove a point. But I did.  If you don’t know how to shop or cook and all you get are unhealthy processed foods, your “food stamp” budget won’t last long.  But if you are a responsible consumer, and are willing to pick up a culinary skill or two, you will be amazed at how far those dollars can go.  Maybe that is where we should focus our energy and attention providing folks with more skills as opposed to more dollars on their EBT cards.

*After writing this column my editor at the Star suggested I put my mouth where my words were and actually live off this budget to do a true comparison.  After some e-mail exchanges we agreed I would live off $40 of food next week.  That experience will run in my next Indy Star column.

  • malercous

    Abdul: Some people do get $200/mo in food stamps. Those are people who also have no other source of income. Pretty much homeless folk. A $160 is a very generous amount to allow yourself considering that a person getting $700/mo wouldn’t get near that amount.
    I trust that you are cooking your food over an open fire, or if you can afford it, a can of Sterno. Also, if you had enough income tyo drive yourself to get the food, well, you are much better off than anyone getting $200/mo in foodstamps. Or do you live in your car? Amazing that you’d say that foods will keep in a freezer. Duh, everyone knows that. Most people who are eligible for $200, or even $160/mo in foodstamps can’t afford a freezer. Electricity doesn’t grow on trees.
    One can also find popcorn cheaper than you did, but since there is no nutritional value in popcorn, why bother?
    All you’ve done Abdul, is demonstrate how out of touch you are with the reality that our lesser fortunate brethren have to deal with on a daily basis. If you would like to truly demonstrate how easy it is to be poor, why not do so legitimately? Give it a straight-up shot. But do so on equal footing, not your air-conditioned limo pseudo-attempt which compares apples to Toyotas & proves nothing.
    If you are up to it (which I’ll give 5 to 1 odds you won’t), why not try to live off of what someone on SSI disability pays ($729.mo) and the allotted foodstamps (It’s not gonna be near $160/mo) an average single person gets. You will have to pay all of your bills for the month, but you can cut them in 1/2 since you have a roommate (not a wife who earns more than $729/mo though, that would be cheating, but you don’t have to feed anyone but yourself). You may be eligible for a free bus pass, which you will need since you won’t be able to afford a car. Take any & every available social-welfare program that you’d be qualified for (hypothetically).
    Please try it, but you won’t be able to do it. Being poor is not as easy as you try to make it appear. Please contact me if you’d care to take me up on by bet, $100 will getcha $500, and that’s as low as I’ll go. Here’s your chance to prove your point, do it. This charade of yours proved nothing, why not try something real if you want cred?
    I’m calling your BS on this Abdul, are you up to it? I know you personally, and I’ll take your word for the outcome, but I know what it’ll be.

  • Abdul_here

    I call BS. You want to make excuses for the poor instead of showing them the way out of poverty.

  • malercous

    It is BS. Typical Republican BS; promoting the “Prosperity Gospel” and blaming the victim. Why not take up the challenge?

  • bianca

    I make 729 a month and I only get 31 dollars in food stamps this is not fair because I am pregnant