Skepchick Quickies 12.5

On December 5th, 1952, London was enveloped by a thick smog that ended up killing or injuring thousands of people. The good news is that it led to more environmental laws and regulations.


Mary Brock works as an Immunology scientist by day and takes care of a pink-loving princess child by night. She likes cloudy days, crafting, cooking, and Fall weather in New England.

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  1. Mary

    Mayor Cory Booker, is definitely a very unusual politician if he’s willing to go on food stamps to prove a point. Most people wouldn’t do that, especially people in power.

  2. This food stamp challenge thing still baffles me.
    I get the idea of empathizing with the poor. I totally do. I support anyone who undergoes this challenge to draw attention to poverty and the difficulties faced by the poor.
    Got it.
    But my family of four has a food budget of $600/month.
    There are 30*4*3 = 360 meals to be served per month.
    That’s $1.66 per person per meal.
    And we’re very healthy on that diet. We eat delicious food. And we’re living in Ottawa, the capital of Canada.
    We’re already doing this “SNAP challenge” every month, and we didn’t even mean to.

  3. I assume your family has a decent place to live, transportation, time, ability, resources? A decent place to cook with good cookware? Someone that has the time and ability to cook (or several someones)? Someone that has the time and ability to shop and get sales and plan meals?

    As a single person, I can also tell you that cooking for one person IS NOT THE SAME as cooking for a family. It’s hard.

    1. Indeed, if I were a single parent, working three jobs at all hours of the night and day, it would be much harder to make time to do my own cooking.
      But then this challenge is a fraud, too, because the mayor/chef/rich person doing it is going to have at least as easy a time as we have of it.
      The proper challenge would be to live in a cheap apartment, commute to two far-flung part time jobs – *then* live off the food stamp level of sustainability.
      Simply asking people who are firmly in the middle/upper classes to eat more cheaply is not going to demonstrate anything.
      As for single vs family. I would thing a whole family would enable you to spend less money per meal, but would require slightly more work.

      1. I think you’re mostly right, but at the same time, it’s still a good point to be made. Also, I assume you have some great options for good, cheap produce — Newark may not.

        I went my first 8+ years in Phoenix without a car, and I lived on my own. It was HARD. Shopping was HARD. Public transportation is time-consuming, and then of course the logistics of carrying things and finding the time to go to the store on your way to/from somewhere, etc. It was a pain in the ass.

        The Safeway.com started their delivery service. If you could afford the $10 fee or whatever it was (no tips allowed), it was AMAAAZING.

        1. Newark isn’t very nutrition friendly. In the severely impoverished sections, the produce departments of supermarkets that accept food stamps are a disaster. Yet, since it is NJ, the cost of the food is quite high. Buses are really not convenient or cheap.

          What Booker isn’t doing is proving that he is having it as tough as an impoverished family living off of foodstamps. He’s attempting to show one individual who thinks that the pittance we provide to the needy is somehow a vast largesse, that this is not so.

          1. W-w-w-w-w-wait …

            A store that has food can refuse to sell it to me because I’m on “food stamps”? How the hell does that work?
            “Oh, look, honey. I’ve found a way we can make our budget by buying raw foods, preparing everything from scratch ourselves. I’ll make the food at night after the kids go to bed, freeze it in yogurt containers and –
            “Uh, dear, that Target/Safeway/Thingie/bulk store won’t sell to us because we’re on food stamps.”
            “Oh, shit. The only stores that do take stamps sell us pre-made, processed cow rectums for way too much money.”
            “Yeah, I know.”

            If that’s the case, this challenge is even weaker, because the rest of us can shop for the best deals and the poor people who actually use food stamps will be excluded from some purchases.

          2. dtkgreg – I don’t understand why this challenge is “weaker” because of that assessment. The point is to show the hardship of people who rely on SNAP for everyday nutritional needs, and that very limitation of choice is part of that hardship. Are people misinterpreting this challenge?

          3. W-w-w-w-w-a-i-t!

            For someone who seems to think this is such an awful idea, you don’t know much about the topic….

            WHY does it “weaken” the argument? Are you sure he isn’t taking that into consideration already, and only shopping at stores that accept food stamps? Why are you so very against this? You are gasping and flailing about, but not saying much.

            For the record, Mayor Stanton, of Phoenix (my city) did this first.

          4. Hold on a sec … I’m *not* against this idea. The objective is to shine a light on how shitty it is to live below the poverty line. I fully support bringing attention to the state of poverty in our respective countries.

            I said it baffles me because living on $1.66/meal is not hard. Our family has been doing it for over a year.

            What makes it hard is *everything else* that comes with poverty: the 14 hour days at far flung part time jobs; the inability to make large all-at-once shopping trips by loading up your car; the access (apparently) to certain stores.

            If you want to do it right, do it like those CEOs who take a turn on their own shop floors. Live like poor people. Work 14 hour days for next to nothing. After the kids are in bed, try making a week’s worth of dinners after you get home, using those two old pots and a stove where two of the coil burners don’t work.

            Like I said, I appreciate what they’re trying to do. It just feels like that “I want to live like Common People” song, where somebody wants to do poverty tourism.

          5. Several mayors of BIG cities are taking notice of people who have to live on very small amounts of money to feed their families. Instead of villanizing people on food stamps, they are being empathetic and trying to see it from their perspective.

            Yes, yes, it’s political, but I mean, no shit, Sherlock, it’s political. You seem to be implying that is a bad thing. You also seem to be implying that the publicity is a bad thing. How is it a bad thing? You are implying it’s bad without explaining *why* it’s bad.

            “If you want to do it right, do it like those CEOs who take a turn on their own shop floors. Live like poor people. ”

            How is this any different? I don’t get it. The mayors aren’t going far enough? That’s your complaint? Why not just say, “I wish they would go even further!” Would have saved you a hell of a lot of typing.

            Mayors also need to run their cities, and they have to do these sorts of things while also still being mayors of large cities.

            This is getting a discussion going. This is helping people think about the situation in a more empathetic way instead of just screaming “WELFARE QUEENS!”.

            How is that bad?

      2. Also, when I’m talking about cooking for a single person, I’m not just talking about the “less work” part. Although, is it REALLY “less work”? Recipes and ingrediants aren’t made for single-person cooking. And I have a tiny fridge/freezer; it can only hnandle so many left-overs. Not to mention how not-fun I find it to cook for just me. And trying to find the time, when I have no other motivation except to feed myself? It means I rarely cook.

        “Easier”? I’ve always found it easier to cook for at least two people.

        1. Oh, for a single person, SHOUT OUT TO FRESH & EASY, man. Hahaha. I am lucky that there is one right on my corner, AND the guy that owns my apartment complex owns a row of town-homes right next to the F&E and so there is a gated walkway that goes directly from my street to the F&E.

          But I still rarely cook! I am terrible at it. I wish I was better at it, but I’m not. :(

  4. I would really dig to hear the final upshot of the Food Stamps challenge, particularly whether the redneck moderates her views at all!

    I am outraged that somebody in my own demographic has such extreme views when I think that it was my own mother, an army wife, who really taught me about empathy, and she learned it largely from her father, who was a decorated WW1 veteran who fought on the Western Front at Ypres and elsewhere and was at the Gallipoli landing.

    If you have been through all that shit, you would think it should teach you sympathy for others rather than to breed intolerance. MwadeNC really does give us army brats a bad name.

  5. I get it, but this is, after all, an experiment for publicity. I suppose if Booker wanted to truly be more authentic, he could quit working for his constituents for a month and go live in poverty like Morgan Spurlock did. Unlike those CEOs, it wouldn’t be good for him to be completely cut off from his job over a Twitter bet.

    Your concerns also seem something like when some folks complain about MythBusters not having enough scientific rigor on their show, which isn’t necessarily the point anyway. He doesn’t have to starve for me to for my economic strata (and those above me) to get what he’s doing. That in itself would be ‘poverty voyeurism’ on the part of the viewer. Unlike the woman in the Pulp song, this is less about personal curiosity and gratification and more about educating himself and a certain aggressive Twitter account.

    I think for a greenhorn in terms of maximizing every dollar, $1.66 per person per meal can be quite difficult. And the sad truth is that since 2008, a lot more families have fallen into the every fraying U.S. social welfare net. If nothing else, this could serve as a pretty good education for someone who doesn’t know how to make better food choices with limited options, as Booker clearly already regrets some of the choices he’s already made:


    And again, I don’t know what Ottawa is like, but Newark is one of our most troubled cities which is saying something.

    1. I see your point.

      If it really is hard for reasonably smart and well-to-do people to live this way, then I guess it is valid.

      I guess I’m just weird with money or something.

      If it really is hard for most middle-class people to live on food stamp levels of funding, then good for Cory Booker for starving himself like this and explaining to the rest of society that they have it so easy.

      Nonetheless – I remain baffled. What does everyone else eat that I don’t?

      1. When I had to eat on a budget ($20/week), I could only afford eggs, deli meat, cheese, bread, and a bag of carrots. Plus mints to make the hunger go away and maybe a $1 banquet frozen meal. I lost 20 lbs over a few months. I only had access to a microwave and a stove that didn’t work. But I also didn’t have any money in savings due to my minimum wage job and I lived in fear of having to spend money on extras like healthcare, and the less I could eat, the more money I could use for emergencies. I was lucky and I didn’t have to live like that for more than 1.5 years, though, and I had a car.

      2. “I guess I’m just weird with money or something.”

        By “weird or something” do you mean better? Becuase that’s what it seems like you’re saying.

        I remain baffled. What does everyone else eat that I don’t?

        This is seriously not the right question.

        Let me repeat my paragraph above, since clearly you didn’t really read it:

        assume your family has a decent place to live, transportation, time, ability, resources? A decent place to cook with good cookware? Someone that has the time and ability to cook (or several someones)? Someone that has the time and ability to shop and get sales and plan meals?

        As a single person, I can also tell you that cooking for one person IS NOT THE SAME as cooking for a family. It’s hard.

        It’s mroe than just “how” you spend “your money”.

      3. Well the stunt is good I guess in that it brings light to the problem, but it rarely actually solves it.

        What would be good is if there was FOLLOWUP!!! Which looks like there’s not going to be much.

        Chicago’s mayor some decades ago decided to live in the projects here to determine the scale of gang violence. During her stay it went down to zero, but after she left, it skyrocketed and nothing changed.

        Publicity stunts are OK to bring light to a problem, but it needs to be followed up on by real action, something many state governments are notoriously shitty at.

  6. Ah, student days! Poor but happy times, compared to now (rich but happy times).

    Marilove and Mary make excellent points, that it’s really hard if you’re not set up properly and that’s one reason why we can’t truly relate to those in long term poverty.

    Like, even when I first moved out to a student home with mates, we lived right next to the supermarket so transport was not a problem.

    Like, when you have a proper freezer, you can buy a whole side of lamb cheap that lasts for weeks.

    Like, if you have a slow cooker, you can do fabulous dinners with cheap cuts of meat and reheated it tastes better each day.

    Like, if you have a good education you can do mental arithmetic easily and hunt for the best deals.

    Like, if you have some money stashed away, you can take advantage of sales.

    Like, if you have some knowledge of science, you know to buy the staples first and hold off on the chips, icecream and soda.

    And so on.

    I was going to point out that $1.66/meal is actually $35 a week and the challenge is even stricter at $30/week.

    I was also going to say, prices in Oz are higher but I still reckon I could do the challenge – but it would prove nothing cos I’m set up. I mean, I have a garden with herbs, FFS – it makes a difference!

    Throw me into New Jersey OTOH, and I reckon I would be in diabolical shit. If we add race, gender, disability I hate to think…

  7. As several people pointed out on Mayor Booker’s blog, he isn’t exactly getting the best bang for his nutritional buck. Canned beans, for example, are much more expensive than dry; I’ll bet he can find very cheap lentils at a store specializing in Indian or Middle Eastern foods (as I do). Stick-to-the-ribs staples like eggs and peanut butter are also more economical that some items on Booker’s menu.
    As for food stamps, hizonner would be better off living in nearby New York ($147.45/mo) or Connecticut (%143.89/mo). Still, I’ve made do on less than $33.30 a week. Just had to do without beer and coffee.

    1. You are right. How would I go about it? To answer that I picked a line from “The Art of War in the Western World” as a rough rule of thumb.

      In the 18th century a British soldier had as rations 2 pounds of bread and 1 pound of meat, cheese and other foods.

      I also fished out the receipt for last week’s shopping. So I can show you how Aussie prices are and give dtkgreg some idea what we all spend it on.

      So staples – $3/3L milk, $1.90/500g cornflakes, $5.50/kg cheddar cheese, $11/kg porterhouse steak (the last 2 were specials). Bread is $2-3/ 800g loaf, depending. So you could eat quite well on bread and cheese/ meat for $5/day, no need to lose weight.

      I think the kicker is, e.g. that steak is a bit borderline, you would rely on a sale coming up at the right time, you could not do it consistently.

      As Ehrlich once said, if you are always on the edge of a cliff, it’s only a matter of time before you fall off!

      So for dtkgreg, the real luxury expensive stuff was scotch fillet steak 1kg $25, dishwasher tablets $24/100, 20 bottles of soda $1.25/1.25L, icecream bars $10/3 packs (2L overall). Grand total $204 for 2 people fortnightly.

      Cheap convenience food: pizza slice frozen meatlovers 600g $5, frozen dim sims 35 piece 1.75kg $7.79.

      Hey, Marilove! Mmm, dim sims!! nom, nom!! Cheap, quick, tasty!

      Anyway, for the challenge I would also go a lot of rice and pasta, and maybe some meat pies, variety being the key. Not easy, but doable in the short term.

    2. You might not be able to in Chicago on $33 a month though considering most of our really poor neighborhoods have not so much as a wal-mart, target, or any other such grocery store for 2-3 miles.

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