Anyone Can Do it!

As I’ve said, meal planning is a vital part of eating well on a budget.   That’s well illustrated by the debate around the SNAP Challenge, in which lawmakers and policy advocates attempt to live for a week on the amount of cash that an average SNAP recipient receives.

Most policymakers have been comfortably food secure for years. Their daily food routine consists of meals out, coffee on the go, and grocery packaging convenient to their busy lives.   Invariably, we see them having to forgo Starbucks and pack PB&J to their committee meetings.   Meanwhile, conservatives tweet pictures of their coupons and stewing hens and laugh at their out-of-touch opponents, while asserting that “housewives and moms” just “know how to make a budget stretch.”

It all makes me crazy.   Yes, its ridiculous to try to live on DC-area takeout for $31 a day.   But its equally ridiculous to assume that every low-income family has the time, knowledge, equipment, and ability to pull off a weeks worth of meals for four people for $70.

Democrats in congress want you to believe that you have to survive on merely peanut butter and tortillas, but it’s simply not true.  I watched others on twitter posting their receipts and pics and figured I’d join in the fun. Eating healthy and low cost can be done.

So: food stamps are perfectly adequate – if you just use them properly!   Want to fix food aid?   Ask a housewife!   Ladies! (it’s always the ladies).  You could totally do it just like these people, if you only knew how!

If they only knew how.

Where I had several years of Home Economics in school (mandatory for both boys and girls), my children take “Home and Career skills” for a few semesters.   I think it’s a valuable class and I’m not knocking it, but nowhere are they learning anything that would help them figure out what to buy at the grocery store if they had a limited amount of cash and a family to feed.   The food portion of the class has focused on 90s-era health advice (fat is bad, don’t eat too many eggs because of the cholesterol), with some label-reading exercises and a bit of cooking (most of it in direct contradiction to the nutrition lessons – cookies, scrambled eggs, and the like).

Well, surely if the government expects people to shop wisely in order to stretch their funds, there must be education plans for low-income families to teach them how to do this? And there are!   SNAP-Ed is a program to provide nutrition education for SNAP beneficiaries and others.

The goal of SNAP-Ed is to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy food choices within a limited budget and choose physically active lifestyles

But SNAP-Ed’s “Guiding Principles” document makes it clear that the major concern is not education on how to make money stretch, it’s obesity prevention.   Most of the “outcomes measures” used to evaluate educational programs revolve around whether participants replaced butter with margarine or increased their vegetable intake by a certain percentage.

Teaching people to shop for different things doesn’t work if they’ve never learned how to shop at all.

The collection of educational materials on budgeting on the SNAP-Ed website is almost entirely 2 to 4 page flyers full of advice like “use applesauce when baking instead of butter,” and “homemade pizza saves over frozen store brand,” without addressing the fact that first, you need to know how to bake or make pizza crust.

And that’s assuming you have the time to bake after you get home from work, a working oven in which to bake, and a baking sheet upon which to make your pizza.

Pretty big assumption, that.

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