San Francisco Chronicle
The Food Stamp Diet
June 8, 2007
THE HOTTEST diet sweeping the nation has very little in common with Atkins or South Beach. Carbs, in fact, seem to be the only item on the menu: Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, is eating a box of crackers, a loaf of whole-wheat bread, tortillas and brown rice. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, subsisted on cornmeal -- until he cheated and had a pork chop. Eric Gioia, a city councilman in Queens, N.Y., found himself feeling "lousy" and "tired" after a few days of white bread, corn and ramen.
That's how the 26 million Americans who depend on food stamps feel every day.
A long list of politicos, both local (Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, has been filling up on 19-cent bananas and peanut butter sandwiches) and national, have taken a weeklong "food stamp challenge." By attempting to subsist on what they can buy with a week's worth of food stamps -- the average benefit is about $3 a day -- they hope to draw attention to this long-neglected, much-maligned program, which is up for reauthorization (and, hopefully, an $4 billion increase in benefits) in this year's Farm Bill.
Here's what Americans can learn from their ordeal: On $3 a day, it's tough to buy the fresh fruits, vegetables and quality proteins that make up a healthy diet. If a recipient makes a single poor choice at the supermarket -- breaks a single jar in the kitchen -- she may go hungry for days. There shouldn't be any doubt in our minds that increasing benefits for the food stamp program is a vital use of our resources.