When the hypothetical family cut back its food expenditures to the point where they equaled the cost of the economy food plan (or the low cost food plan) for a family of that size, the family would have reached the point at which its food expenditures were minimal but adequate, assuming that “the housewife will be a careful shopper, a skillful cook, and a good manager who will prepare all the family’s meals at home.” (bold added)
The Atlantic article that pulls this quote links to the original 1992 article in the Social Security Bulletin, The Development and History of the Poverty Thresholds. It’s a great article, laying out the history of the use of food prices in calculating poverty levels, and it lays bare some of the assumptions behind the calculations about “how little you can live on” when it comes to food.
The quote above lays out what a household needed to be able to do this: the knowledge of how to shop and cook efficiently, and the time to do so. It also says something often glossed over: that the USDA originally created the “Thrifty Food Plan” not as an ideal bottom line, but as “an “economy” food plan, costing only 75-80 percent as much as the basic low-cost plan, for “temporary or emergency use when funds are low.”
So we base food assistance on a number that was set as a low-ball, temporary number, and then we tell working families who are often unprepared and unskilled at shopping and cooking that they need to adhere to that number.
But not to worry. Those skills are easy to pick up, right? Cooking? Easy! Shopping? People do it for fun! After all, it’s just “housework.” It’s mostly traditional women’s work, really – unpaid because its just something women do.