If you lavish your food on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then your light shall rise in the darkness,
and your gloom shall become like midday;
Isaiah 58:10 NABRE (Catholic Bible)
How do you shop for groceries when you are on Food Stamps (A US poverty program that provides benefits for food only)?
It’s not easy. Especially when you realize that while food prices are skyrocketing, Food Stamp benefit amounts are decreasing.
At this point I’ll admit, I’m on Food Stamps myself. I have Asperger Syndrome (autism spectrum disorder), and I’m on SSI disability though I should qualify for Social Security disability as the adult child of a worker, but I foolishly spend many years trying to become an employed citizen instead of a disability case (in the govt’s opinion.)
When I first got on Food Stamps a few years back, I got $200 a month and had a hard time making that stretch to the whole month. Now after some benefit cuts I think my last Food Stamp amount was $160 (it varies for no real reason) and there is a new cut in Michigan yet to come.
For people on disability, this is supposed to be your whole food budget for the month. The monetary benefits are just for things like rent or property tax, home heating, electricity and such. (You are supposed to somehow get soap, detergents, new second-hand clothes and replacement appliances out of the air.)
So how do you cope with the Food Stamp life?
Get Over the Shame
It’s horrible and oppressing to be on Food Stamps or any poverty program. The first time I went shopping to my local grocery store with my Food Stamp card, I couldn’t bear the thought of the grocery clerk knowing I was a bum on welfare. But I had no choice but to go through it.
And then, there was the first time I bought frozen shrimp or a cheap cut of steak— important because I’m doing low-carb. There are all these rumors about welfare recipients buying steak every night. (But then we’d have to go without food for 3 weeks in the month.)
Then there are the faux conservatives and faux Christians who love to post pictures of fat women holding little kids and claiming they are Food Stamp/welfare recipients, and suggesting that such women be shot or at least starved for daring to be fat while on welfare.
Face it folks, lots of poor people are fat BECAUSE they are poor and eat a lot of high-carb cheap food like ramen noodles, rice-a-roni and Hamburger Helper (perhaps without the hamburger). Eating like this makes you fat, and it damages your ability to handle carbs. It causes you to crave MORE carbs. And since the government’s solution to overweight is to eat MORE complex carbs, most fat people (rich or poor) can’t fix their weight problem even if they had unlimited access to ‘diet’ food.
Have a Plan
You can’t shop like you always have while on Food Stamps or a tight budget. You can’t buy what you like. Here are some rules that have helped me:
- Go on a low-carb way-of-life. Go to a thrift shop and buy an old Atkins diet book, or look up the basics online. This way of eating kills your appetite after a few days.
- No beverages. No soda, juices, coffee drinks, milk, milk substitutes (soy ‘milk’). Tea from tea bags is OK if you reuse the teabags (I get 3-4 servings out of mine most days, sometimes 5).
- No candy, chips, cookies or other snack foods.
- Read labels. Sometimes store brands have the same ingredients, sometimes not. A generic stevia sweetener at Family Dollar contains maltodextrin (a sugar) while the Truvia national brand and the Walmart store brand lack this. Go for the Walmart brand!
- Get it a good rut. I have a low-carb tuna casserole recipe (well, 2) that I could eat nearly every day. So I stock up on the ingredients I need for it when they are on sale or when I can get to a Walmart.
- Drink lots of water. If your tap water is nasty, get a filter pitcher like Brita or Zerowater. Sometimes when you think you are hungry, you really are just thirsty.
- If you are not a small child, go with 2 meals a day. (If you are on low-carb, this won’t make you hungry.) Or have one or even two minimalist meals and then a good larger meal.
- Consider other resources: a family member with money who invite you to dinner sometimes, food from a garden, picking dandelion and clover from your (unsprayed) yard for cooked greens, and food banks.
- At the end of the month, if you have been frugal enough with your Food Stamps and have some money left over, you can buy a small something that you’ve been craving, such as a bottle of diet soda or low-carb snack food.
What fresh hell is this? It’s what you have to consider when you are poor and/or disabled. I was lucky enough that my therapist, who is also a pastor, works with the local mid-county food bank and he was able to encourage me to go.
This is what the food banks in my area are like: they are restricted to residents of the local area only, so there is only one food bank I’m allowed to go to.
They have mostly unhealthy food I can’t eat like cereals, often sugary cereals, Hamburger Helper, rice-a-roni, even ramen noodles (Please, never give ramen noodles to a food bank! They are cheap enough most poor people can buy them on their own if they really want to abuse their bodies with them.)
Canned tuna, when they have it, they limit to one to a ‘customer’. One day I got a frozen ham, another time some frozen venison. They get venison from deer hunted on crop damage permits. My therapist arranged for me to get a whole deer through the food bank once, which is a big help except I’m only beginning to learn to cook venison.
So, this is my way of shopping on Food Stamps. I hope it helps people in need, and awakens compassion in people who are financially more blessed.
And if you are the sort of person who is angry at evil ‘welfare’ recipients including the disabled, please spare the effort of telling me I am lazy, that my autism spectrum disorder means I’m a spoiled child and my parents didn’t spank me enough, and that I ought to get a job EVEN IF I’d lose my Medicaid and I’d have to do without medical care and prescriptions for my kidney failure and diabetes, and die.
(I think God has a purpose for my life and don’t want to commit suicide at this time. Or ever. Even if it would save the govt money for me to be dead— the savings would only go to more vacations for Obama anyway.)
So if you are that angry guy, don’t bother post hate-y comments that will just get deleted, and read your Bible. I’d suggest starting with the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.).