Oh, SNAP!

I don’t often comment on articles I come across in the news, but sometimes I really feel like I need to put my opinion out there. That sounds incredibly narcissistic when I put it that way, but it’s my blog and I will offer my opinion here liberally.

With many states struggling to balance budgets, the topic of food stamps has begun to surface in the media. Recently, the Orlando Sentinel posted an article about the connection between poverty and obesity, and where food stamps fit in the mix. I don’t normally like to make mention of my political preference because I don’t care for the arguments that can ensue as a result. I believe that we are all entitled to our political beliefs and none of us has the right to force those beliefs on others. Sort of like religion. I consider myself to be moderate, but more often falling to the side of liberal than conservative. A liberal Muslimah, imagine that. With that being said, I am not an advocate of eliminating the food stamp program. For many people in this country, I believe it is an absolute necessity. I don’t even want to think about the number of children that would go to bed hungry if the social program didn’t exist. However, I do believe that many people abuse this program.

The current debate here in Florida is whether or not recipients of food stamps, or SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits should be allowed to use their benefits to purchase highly processed foods and sugary drinks. Taking into consideration that the name of the program itself indicates that its purpose is to provide nutritious food to people who would otherwise not have access to it, I would say that stance is completely justifiable. I’ll explain why.

Some media sources attempt to drive home the “fact” that processed food is cheaper than wholesome, nutritious food, hence the connection between obesity and poverty. Eating well can be just as expensive as eating cheaply if you aren’t educated in the art of shopping (or making groceries, as my grandmother says). I don’t believe the amount of processed foods purchased by Americans has anything to do with price, but everything to do with convenience. I stood in line behind a woman in the store recently, and almost had a heart attack when I looked at the cornucopia of foolishness that was her grocery order. The cart was filled to the brim with frozen pizzas, frozen French fries, frozen pancakes, frozen corn dogs frozen this, frozen that. You get the picture. Not a single veggie, fresh nor frozen. Many boxes later, the cashier rang up her total. Being the nosey woman that I am, of course I tuned in. I was curious to see what her basket of mayhem was going to cost. Don’t act like you have never done it. Her total? One hundred and sixty nine American dollars. Paid for with food stamps. By the looks of what was in her cart, I am willing to bet that food wouldn’t last two weeks, let alone full month. What kind of nutrition was she going to provide to her family with that order?

You may say that it’s none of my business how she chooses to nourish her family, but I beg to differ. You see, malnourished folks are more likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. And bear in mind that malnutrition and undernutrition are not always synonymous. Merriam-Webster defines malnutrition as faulty nutrition due to inadequate or unbalanced intake of nutrients or their impaired assimilation or utilization. While a child can avoid starvation while subsisting on frozen pancakes and fruit punch, those foods tend to be more calorie-dense than say, oatmeal and fat free milk. What that basically means is that the calorie count per serving size is significant. If the woman qualifies for food stamps, there is a large possibility that she and her children have qualified for Medicaid as well. I am not looking down on anyone who accepts government assistance. However, when your bad decisions cost taxpayers more money, I have every right to express my concern as one of those very taxpayers.

It’s easy to blame bad eating habits on our children. As a mother of four, I know how difficult it can be to get a child to eat well. But you have to remind yourself that you are the parent, which also makes you the decision-maker by default. As my husband would say, don’t let the inmates run the asylum. Try out different foods. Your child may not like everything, but they will like something.

I can relate to needing to shop for groceries on a budget. My husband was laid off from work for a short while, and I needed to be mindful of the money I spent on groceries. I know that the tips I offer will seem like common sense to some of you, but others still need to hear them.

  1. Avoid convenience foods. You are paying top dollar for bagged salad that has shredded carrots in it. Buy hearts of romaine lettuce, heads of purple cabbage, and shred your own carrots for a fraction of the cost. Store it in a gallon-sized ziploc bag in the fridge and put a few dollars back in your pocket.
  2. Eat what is in season. Strawberries are going to be a lot more expensive in the winter months than they are during the summer. Not only that, but they won’t taste as good. Take advantage of the various root vegetables that stores have to offer in the winter time, and learn to roast them. You will be amazed.
  3. Don’t be afraid of whole chickens. They are much cheaper than boneless, skinless chicken breast. I have purchased hormone-free chickens for just over $5 each. Sprinkle some salt in the cavity and stuff with goodies like apples, celery, and onions. Rub the skin down with olive oil and season to your liking. Pop it in the oven on 425 degrees for 15 minutes, and then drop the temperature to 385 for about an hour, depending on the size of your bird. Serve along with those roasted root veggies, and you have yourself a pretty cheap meal.
  4. Beans, beans, beans. They are a wonderful source of protein when roast chicken won’t do. Incorporate some Indian spices if you feel adventurous and I promise, you will never miss the meat.
  5. Coupons! I know what you are thinking: coupons are only for processed crap. That’s not completely true. I have purchased many boxes of Multi-grain Cheerios with coupons. But don’t limit yourself to food items. The more you save on other household supplies, the more you can afford to spend on produce. A couple of weeks ago, I got six free bottles of Method dish soap. Normally $3.99 each, which was a savings of $24. Do you know what you can buy with $24? Right now, about 16 pounds of fresh green beans. Which are scrumptious when roasted, by the way.
  6. Be a sneaky chef. When it comes to feeding children, sometimes veggies can be a challenge. Grab a butternut squash, which you can probably find for about $1.49 a pound now and roast it up. Puree, and then add to spaghetti sauce. Your 2 year old will be none the wiser.

I understand that the idea of preparing so much food from scratch can be daunting, especially if you currently rely heavily on processed foods. You will eventually find a routine that works for you. Your body will thank you in the long run for taking that time out, and your wallet will thank you as well.

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2 thoughts on “Oh, SNAP!

  1. Very true and great points. I love buying whole birds because there is so much you can do with it. I make a lot of different dishes from one bird. But it’s like you said, you have to know how to save your money when shopping.

    Many people either don’t know, don’t have access or know where to start on how to eat healthy–just look how it’s advertised for us to lose weight (jenny craig or pop a pill).

    • It would be awesome if there were some kind of class that SNAP recipients were able to take as a requirement for receiving their benefit that offered cooking tips and nutritional information. Sad to see so many people not fully benefiting from the program. I wonder how many of them know that they can use their card to purchase not only food, but vegetable plants. So many missed opportunities to educate folks…

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