Friday, June 18, 2010

My Food Stamps Reform Fantasy

I've had some troubles recently, and some problems with formatting before publishing the last post added to it, but I hope to be back to regular posting soon, as I have more frequent dependable internet access for a while. Anyway, here's a bit for today!

This post is somewhat off the usual topic of this blog, in that it is of a more cultural focus than spiritual, though it is certainly impossible to separate the two.

Listening to an old episode of Catholic Answers LIVE entitled, "The Sanity of Smallness in a 'Super-Size Me' Culture", I was reminded of what happened to me last night at the grocery store:

A couple in front of me, aged between 30 and 45, were purchasing all their groceries with food stamps. As I casually looked to see what they were buying (or, it could be said, what we were buying for them), I noticed a container from the deli section labeled "Food Stamps Eligible". In the container were some sort of teriyaki-flavored fried chicken pieces. I thought about how raw chicken would be much more economical (and healthier), but conceded in my mind that it was, at least, meat.

The fresh cookies from the bakery were harder to justify, but not as hard as the frozen-fully-cooked-super-processed-uber-salted BBQ chicken wings, which were, in turn, not as difficult to justify as the cans of name brand soda.

Now, before you fill the comboxes with anger, let me just say this: I have no problem at all with helping those in need. As Christians, this is not an option. I would argue that, if my earned dollars weren't going to government social programs, I could do much more to support local food pantries that actually get real food into the hands of local families living in poverty.

At the very least, I would (and do) argue that food stamps, or any other government benefits for those who do not earn money should not pay for junk. Really, this is in everyone's best interest. How about a quick reworking of our welfare system. Here's my basic plan:

In general, you need to show that you are trying to get a job or trying to work to provide for yourself and your family. Whether this means applying to jobs or submitting copies of your paystubs is up for debate. Either way, you must be able to show that you're not just sitting on your butt. If you're not working (or trying to work), you're going to go hungry. Send your kids to school, and they'll get fed. If you're a lazy bum, your stomach should be grumbling. It's called motivation.

OK, so you're working or trying to get a job, but you're still not able to support your family. If you qualify for assistance, here's what that means:

Upon entry into the program, you will be required to attend a couple basic cooking classes. These will cover the following basics:

1. Clean & safe preparation of food, especially safe cooking of meats (checking internal temperatures and so on).
2. Budgeting your money (since you'll only be getting your account reloaded once per month, you need to understand how to make it last by watching what you spend).
3. Basic cooking (you need to know how to make a basic fried/baked/grilled meat dish, a few types of vegetable dishes, and so on. We're not talking about Emeril-level pizzazz here, we're talking about going from raw chicken, dry rice, and frozen green beans to a simple, delicious, nutritious meal using a few spices and proper cooking. Let's even cover slow cookers. You'll be working all day, and it's nice to come home to a cooked meal that you prepared in 10 minutes before heading out the door earlier in the day).
4. Clean & safe storage of food (you're going to be making most of your diet from scratch, so you'll mostly need to keep the staples, like flour and rice, with your frequently replenished produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. You're not going to have a freezer full of store-bought, microwaveable, over-salted, nutritionless snacks).
5. Keeping your kitchen (and home) clean and pest-unfriendly (learn how to do dishes and clean your home. The goal is to feed yourself and your family, not roaches and rats).

I could go on and on, but these are some basics.

Food stamps should pay for staples (basic ingredients like rice, flour, dry beans, meat, fresh/frozen vegetables, eggs, and dairy) and not much more. I understand that it's nice to have a pop every now and then. I understand the temptation to buy microwaveable frozen dinners and snacks. But neither of those are real food.

What is real food?

Take some raw chicken. Cut it off any bones, and cut it into small (1/2" or so) chunks. Fry it in a little butter or just straight in a skillet. While it's frying, boil (or steam) some green beans. Add a dash of ground red pepper (or another seasoning) to the beans after you drain them. You could cook some brown rice for more fiber, carbs, and to stretch the meat a bit more. Put the rice on a plate, and put some chicken on top (you could even make a nice gravy by adding some flour and milk to the drippings after you've cooked the chicken, and pour the gravy on top of the chicken and rice). Put a sensible portion of chicken, rice, and green beans on the plate.

Pour a few glasses of the lemonade you made last night (from lemon juice, sugar, and water), have your family members sit with you at the table.

Thank God for your blessings (your family, your food, etc.). Ask Him to nourish your souls as the food nourishes your body.

That's some real food.

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