Taking questions: Food Stamp Abuse?

A shot from last weekend’s farmer’s market. Those peppers were $1 each…

Thanks again for your comments on last week’s post. Things are better on the eating-all-your-dinner front. I think I’ve realized that Charlie is going through yet another growth spurt. One day this week he ate a huge breakfast, lunch, and dinner — like full adult portions. My mother has noticed that he is getting taller — and I have, too. So I just feed him and he eats, some days more than others. The end…I guess. For the kitchen, My husband and I want to get a Learning Tower, but the cost is on the high side to say the least. So we wait.

I didn’t get any new questions this week, but I dug up an old one from my email:

Q: I picked up up some salad ingredients to last my household for the week.  I headed to a local wholesale store, where I gathered an armload of fresh, delicious Romaine lettuce, Roma tomatoes, assorted bell peppers and cucumbers.  With all these vitamin-enriched, low-calorie, low-cost foods, I made my way to the terminal with the shortest line, where there was one family in front of me.  Upon closer inspection, I noticed that these people were buying nothing but large quantities of Gatorade and ice cream for their kids.  If that wasn’t disgusting enough, they had a total of $50 for all this refined sugar, which they paid in full using food stamps.

To say the least, I was appalled. I did some research into this issue and discovered that there is little to no regulation on what people can buy with their food stamps.  Is it so unconstitutional for me to not want my tax dollars to pay for them to get diabetes, so that I can pay more in the future for them to get healthcare?

I’d like to get more involved in fighting this issue but I do not know who to go to first.  I figured you may be able to point me in the right direction.  State legislature?  Federal legislature?  Start small or big?
A: I am not an expert in food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP). It is a highly political issue (just like school lunch) because it is a huge government program. Forty-six million people rely on food stamps and qualifying is actually pretty tough. There are people who can’t put food on the table and don’t qualify for food stamps because they “make too much.” On the other hand, there are people who abuse the system (under 5% of people). I think what bothers the reader above is not the fact that Gatorade or ice cream were purchased — I bet that if the people had one Gatorade and one container of ice cream there would be no email to me. It is that they bought what sounds like a lot of Gatorade and ice cream — $50 worth.

First, while I do sneak peeks at what people have in their grocery carts and sometimes I do have to stop myself from gawking, I think we definitely need to step back and make sure we aren’t judging too harshly. We don’t know what was going on here. Was it a big family birthday party? Did they combine all of the kids’ birthdays into one big bash? We don’t know the whole story. Also you never know when it’s going to be you on the receiving end of government help. You might get a divorce, lose your home, or lose a job. Life happens. 

Second, what I’ve found is that most Americans don’t have a clue about nutrition. In their defense, where are they supposed to learn? In the home? We are going on three generations of convenience food. My grandma cooked from boxes as did my mom — until she taught herself how to cook in the 1970’s. I’m so thankful for that. I am in my mid thirties and I’m still teaching myself how to cook. What about nutrition education? There is no such thing. So if you don’t get it at home and you don’t have access to nutrition education or cooking classes, you are at the mercy of corporations who want you to buy their products. They spend millions and millions of money on ad campaigns. The answer is more education. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, either. A lot of people don’t realize the resources available at the library. I remember telling a mom that the library close to the school had more than just books — it also had CDs and DVDs. She was totally floored. Anyone can check out a big stack of cookbooks and teach themselves how to cook or they could go to the community center and inquire about free programs — but they have to know about those resources. That’s where education comes in. 

Third, many local and state governments are taking a closer look at what people are buying with food stamp money. There have been numerous attempts to ban soda, chips, and candy across the country. In some places, those bans have failed because of lobbying by corporations who want federal money to be at consumers’ disposal. If you feel strongly, write your representative. Personally, I think soda is one of main culprits in the large increases in obesity over the past thirty years and I’d like to see it be banned. You can only eat so much candy before you have a terrible feeling your tummy (I call that sensation “gut rot”), but soda? You can drink a ton of empty calories and really not notice.
What are your thoughts on this controversial question? What did I miss in my answer?
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51 thoughts on “Taking questions: Food Stamp Abuse?

  1. The cool thing about using SNAP in DC is that a few farmer’s markets here take them and will even double the value for families using them!

  2. re: the learning tower – you could check out kijiji.com for your area. Sometimes the things you find on that site are surprising!

  3. Toddlers!! My son was going through a not-eating phase, but picked back up this week. On Wednesday he kept asking for more chicken, more chicken – then he requested oatmeal with raspberries and then applesauce! We played a bit and then he asked for crackers with sunbutter. Crazy night. Another night he ate as much tofu as his daddy 🙂

    As for the learning tower, if you guys are handy, there are definitely free instructions floating around online. I’m not sure if I saved the link.

  4. re: food stamps I think you hit the nail on the head when you said–You have no idea what is going on with the people in front of you.

  5. RE: Food stamps
    I don’t think it is fair to judge what people are buying based on what form of payment they are using. We don’t know their story or if this is even what an average shopping trip for this family looks like.
    I used to work at a grocery store and saw a lot of shopping carts and a lot of food stamps. I had coworkers that would complain when people bought organic food. Saying things like ” I can’t even afford organic, why should they get it.” So it seems that no matter what people on food stamps people are going to take issue with it. Either they buy organic healthy produce and whole foods and get flak or they buy junk and catch flak for that. We don’t know their story or how hard they are working to try and pay the rest of their bills.
    Also, at one terrifying moment in my life I have been on the receiving end of food stamps. It is humiliating. People treat you differently. Also, I have had carts that have contained both healthy and crap foods because I learned there is just no winning. But why don’t we lay off people and their shopping carts when we don’t know enough of their story or how hard they are working.

    1. They didn’t quite make sense. I meant to say: So it seems that no matter what people on food stamps are buying, people are going to take issue with it.

    2. Exactly. People are judging other people’s carts but how would they feel if the person behind them was judging their cart? None of us are perfect.

    3. I get government help and I buy all sorts of things ranging from bagel crisps
      to pretzels I like the honey wheat twists because those are actually made from wheat product and are better than the paste variety… I buy bananas different types of breads–I’m trying to find a healthy bread that I like–haven’t found one yet–so I’m going to keep trying. I buy salad fixings–but veggies are expensive these days and salads don’t fill me up unless they are real hearty veggie filled with some fat to make me feel full….I lke the good fats though like turkey peperoni or eggs. I love tons of raw onion for good cholesterol and low blood pressure Abd I like crutons and turkey bacon bits like the normal consumer would. Sometimes I go eat out and get that new chicken salad from BK without apples…..fills me up if I ask them to load it with onions get extra blue cheese and get the crispy chicken over the grilled. I also sometimes ask for the extra dried berries as they are really good. I’m trying to cut my soda habit out so I’m buying less of it for myself and trying to drink alternatives like flavored water and or all natural green tea. I like eating steaks sometimes I splurge for rib eye at the store other times I usually buy those really thin ones–I never really used to be a steak eater up until a little while ago–I’m trying to eat more and more veggies and less of the junk–but the junk is cheaper–Although I don’t buy like 50 dollars worth of refined sugar in one shopping trip–I also buy organic carrots because I don’t like the other ones–and my friend pointed out to me that it’s probably from all the chemicals they spray on them to clean em and keep em fresher–I just never liked the taste of regular carrots unless they were cleaned cut and either boiled or fried–I hated them raw–organic carrots are great cuz all I have to do is cut the ends off rinse the dirt off and eat them. And they taste great with the skins–regular carrots do not!

      I also get some dark chocolate when I get depressed cuz I have an illness and it makes me feel better after I consume a lot of it within the span I am depressed.

      So don’t be too quick to judge–It would be safe for someone to judge those people who spent that much money on sugar

      but if I get a couple boxes of dark chocolate brownies and a couple bags of
      dark chocolate pieces I should have that freedom. And I would fight to keep that freedom. Chocolate has saved me from hitting rock bottom quite a few times and I’d be pretty pissed off if te government took that right away from me.

  6. I wonder if some states do food stamps differently. Last year, while walking to work, I found someone’s dropped food stamps. (I tried calling the department that gives them out, and they were totally unconcerned. I offered to drop them off, and they said no, just mail them back. All the while, I was thinking about this person that was going at least the 2 days it would take for them to get the mail, not to mention the time it would take the agency to call them or mail the stamps back out, without food. But I’m getting off topic.) The stamps listed specific items that they were for. I don’t remember what the items were, something like 2 boxes of cheerios, 1 gallon of orange juice, stuff like that.

    I’ve noticed that while in line at the grocery store recently too. That the people in front of me will have slips of paper put with certain combinations of items, and the cashier has to ring each up separately.

    So I don’t know exactly what the law is in Indiana, but it seems like to a certain degree they are trying to be sure that the people using food stamps are getting nutritious food.

    1. Michelle, What you’re describing sounds like WIC checks. That is a different program from food stamps. WIC is a nutritional food program for women and children under the age of 5. Each check is dated and lists specific food you must buy including low sugar cereal, eggs, low-fat milk, 100% juice, peanut butter, beans and whole grain products such as rice, bread or tortillas.
      Babies receive either formula or baby food and cereal if they are being nursed. Pregnant and nursing women receive the same types of food listed above.

      1. Sounds like WIC to me too. My state hands out a debit card for food stamps now. Less hassle on the cashier’s and users.

    2. Paper food stamps are no longer issued. The name of the program is now called Nutrition Assistance and recipients receive EBT cards; this has helped remove the stigma necuse the EBT card looks like any other credit or debit card. What you found must have been a voucher for the Women, Infant, and Children’s (WIC) program. It’s seperate from NA and is focused on providing nutrition for expectant mothers and infants.

  7. As far as buying Gatorade on food stamps what’s the big deal. The very well could have a kid or 2 in sports and those kids especially in the high school age go through gatorade in huge quantities. I know I have a cross country runner. At $.99 for the 32oz size my son easily goes through 2 a day or 62 a month. I buy them all at once, and if I find a $.70 or less sale I will that’s $50 on Gatorade right there. Now you could say what about bottled water, for younger kids that ok but the amount the older kids sweat off they need the extra omf of Gatorade. As fat as sugar in Gatorade its harder to find the sugar ones, most are now diet. I know this because my son doesn’t like the diet ones, and at 6’2″ 109lbs running 8-10 miles a day I think he can handle a 32oz size Gatorade or 2 each day.

    For ice cream, as far as junk food goes that’s pretty minor. As you said it could be a party or treats for the family. Now that much candy that would be another story.

    Living on food stamps is not easy at all, you don’t get enough to last the whole month. And finding that balance between getting the good stuff and enough food to feed your family for a month is a nasty tight rope balance. Trust me there are months I screw up and get all the fruits veggies take advantage of meat on sale. And bam your monthly budget is blown. You have to work hard to make it work.

    1. I’m wondering why you think your son needs Gatorade, or even why you think it is a healthy choice?

  8. I think this issue really hit home when I read this blog post: http://winecountrymom.blogs.santarosamom.com/13126/low-income-soccer-snacks/. You’re right, we don’t know what the other family is going through or the reason they are buying what they have. Having been in a rough spot (ended up living with my parents with my husband and son while looking for employment post graduate school) I can totally empathize with the mom in the blog post above. It is hard to not be able to buy what people can typically afford.

    I also agree about nutrition, maybe the family thought that Gatorade WAS healthy. After all it is suppose to replenish our electrolytes… how bad can it be? Until you realize how much added sugar it has and how bad that is for you… I really wish nutrition was required in our schools (I think we may have had a bit about it in my Home Ec course in middle school, but it needs to be more than that!) Especially when you get to high school (but I also think the same thing about finance.)

    1. Crystal: You hit the nail on the head. I work with low income individuals and teach nutrition and healthy eating. I haven’t found one person in this segment yet who doesn’t think Gatorade is healthy. It’s marketed that way and they believe the marketing. They are always hugely surprised when I tell them it is not.

      1. I find that a sports drink called propel is more healthy and it tastes better. I believe its from the makers of gatorade but in a more healthy form. It has vitamins in it and no sugars.

  9. To add to your food stamp considerations, the amount a family needed and was authorized was never based on nutrition standards or food quality. Food stamps are based on what an average low income family actually buys ‘on average’. Many low income families buy a lot of high calorie, low substance foods because it’s what they can afford for what time they have to cook, or even, what the kids can prepare themselves.

  10. If I saw someone purchasing a bunch of Gatorade and ice cream, I would assume that they were getting ready for a party or some other gathering. . .not that that is the only thing their family would eat. Even I have occasional shopping trips that appear to be less-than-healthy, when in reality, I have a fridge full of fresh veggies at home.

    With that said, I understand why people are upset that SNAP funds can be used to purchase junk food. But I think it is important for us to remember that SNAP is a supplemental program. . .alone, it is not enough for the majority of families/individuals to live on. It is also important to remember that the foods that are cheapest tend to be those that are most processed. This, along with a lack of nutrition education, contributes to the unhealthy eating habits often associated with SNAP participants. As Sarah said, we don’t always know what’s going on.

  11. Definitely a toughy! It is true we don’t know the circumstances for the purchase, but it is that small percentage of people who abuse the system that gives SNAP bad press. While the government can’t and shouldn’t regulate what we eat (I want the option to buy foods raw without FDA regulations), I do feel programs should be in place to educate disadvantage groups about nutrition and offer alternatives such as farmer’s markets to shop at with food stamps (supporting local business and healthy eating for the family). Moreover, the government should do a yearly check in on the families to make sure they do qualify for the assistance and possibly only provide assistance for a certain amount of time so people with the ability to do better try to do better.

  12. I think legislating how people may spend their food money is an incredibly slippery slope. Providing education about nutrition and resources (transportation, more farmers markets) so people actually have access to healthier foods would be a much better start. I don’t want to be told what I may or may not put in my own body and everyone else (even poor people!) deserves that courtesy. I also would rather not be harshly judged across the internet because of one specific shopping trip that may easily have been for a party (and yes, even poor people are allowed to have parties).

  13. I have also heard this argument against foodstamps – that people just buy junk food with it. But, I don’t think people really understand what it is like to be in that position. I read an article recently about how diet has changed over the last hundred years or so, and it made the argument that one reason people gravitate toward sweet cheap things (besides the obvious “it tastes good!”) is because it brings one small bright light into an otherwise dreary lifestyle of poverty. If someone can’t even afford transportation or electricity, it makes them feel a little less “poor” if they can escape into a yummy meal. Yes, it is only harming their long-term health; but, if you can barely know where you’ll be tomorrow, it’s hard to care about 30 years from now.

    Education and access can help, but demonizing people for enjoying the only thing they *do* have access to only isolates them further from people who proclaim to want to help them. Remember, condescension doesn’t get you far in changing other people, no matter your intentions.

  14. Awhile back I wrote a post on my blog, arguing that SNAP benefits should not be allowed to be used for soda (by soda, I really mean all “sugar-sweetened beverages” — so I’d include Gatorade in that category). It’s supposed to be the supplemental nutrition assistance program. We don’t allow people to buy alcohol or cigarettes with food stamps, so why soda? There is no nutritional benefit to it.

    The comments on my post have been fascinating, and have shown quite well both sides to this discussion. Sometimes it’s a bit heated, but it does illustrate the complexity and emotion in this issue.


    Also, and this is really cool, SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food-bearing plants! Check out this great site, http://www.snapgardens.org to learn more.

  15. We used and loved the Learning Tower for our twins (almost 7, now). We bought ours second or third hand via Craig’s List. You can set up a key word RSS feed and be immediately notified when someone in your area lists one for sale. Also consider looking into local children’s consignment sales and parents of multiples club sales. I usually see a few learning towers at our local sales each spring and fall. I sold our Learning Tower to another family in my parents of multiples club back in April.

  16. Speaking as someone who’s been there done that-I’d say don’t judge to harshly. Honestly at times it seems like there’s nothing food stamp recipients can do to please “the public.” If you buy processed food you’re wasting the dollars on junk, if you shop the sales like a demon and load your cart with fish and fresh produce people say “they shouldn’t be able to afford that stuff if they’re getting food stamps.”

    There are so many issues that go into poverty-like others have mentioned some people don’t have the information to make good choices, some people may not have access to refrigeration, cooking areas or items, or even a place to safely store their food. Others may rely on packaged or convenience foods because of disability or illness that makes it hard or painful to cook, or they face long bus rides to and from work that leave them little time to prepare meals from scratch (and if they aren’t savvy cooks they wouldn’t know how easy and fast it could be to cook from scratch.) And while it’s awesome that farmer’s markets have started accepting food stamps let’s be real-not everyone has the time or resources to get to the farmers market.

    I work our grocery budget like a maniac to try and get 3 healthy, nutritious meals a day for our family. I hunt the sales, I check out the reduced meat, I buy in bulk, cook from scratch, make chicken broth from my bones and freeze it (something I have the luxury of doing because my parents gave us a deep freeze for Christmas.) Sometimes-when the sales are extra good and there’s some money left over at the end of the week I buy the kiddo a box of ice cream bars or give into a chocolate craving and get a chocolate bar. When it’s 105 degrees outside like it was for much of the summer here and ice cream bar can really make your day. 🙂 And indeed-when the kiddo’s birthday rolled around we too purchased Gatorade and ice cream (not $50 worth but we have a small family.) I know there’s no nutritional value in ice cream or Gatorade but birthdays come once a year.

    Most of the people I know who get aid are making the best choices they can with the resources they have available. They aren’t always the choices that I would make-or the choices that would be best for my family-but they work for them. Some people will make crappy decisions-no matter how much education you give them or fresh produce you make available-but they still deserve to eat. It’s not a simple problem and I don’t think banning certain foods is a great solution-but I definitely think there are ways to make it better and to make it easier for families to make better choices.

  17. Hello! I am representing Little Partners here, and yes the price on the Learning Tower may be high, however throughout the evolution of the Tower and the rest of our product line we have felt that the higher quality the materials used- the safer the end result of the product will be. To assure parents everywhere their little partner is being raised in the safest way. We also have some exciting news- new Playhouse Kit line is out today! in light of our excitement launching our newest product line we are offering a chance to win a Learning Tower- among other great prizes! Enter our Playhouse Kit Tagline Contest here for your chance to win your little partner big prizes: http://www.facebook.com/LearningTower/app_79458893817

  18. Again, you can not judge what people in front of you are doing with their food stamps. Food stamps hit close to home last year when a colse friend was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. Most of his benefits went to buying ensure and gatorade for the first 3 or 4 months. These were really all he was allowed to have to keep him hydrated and get the proper nutrtion after his diagnoses because not only was he unable to keep food down at that time, he was also adjusting to having a colostomy bag and then later a ileostomy bag. Was this the case in the family incident mentioned above? I honestly don’t know but I do know I am not here to judge people or jump to conclusions. We don’t know what is going on in their life at that point in time.

  19. I really don’t understand why people are so up in arms about restricting what can be bought with food stamps. If they are intended to provide increased nutrition, then let them provide exactly that, and not empty calories. Why should free soda be an entitlement? Besides, if they really feel the need, they can use their own cash to buy the junk, since food stamps are not intended to cover the entire grocery bill. They’re supplementary.

    I agree that ignorance is often the case when people buy junk food, but restricting certain foods from food stamp purchases would partway solve the food education issue. By saying “this is off limits”, you’re clearly indicating which foods are nutritionally invalid. Two birds, one stone.

  20. People don’t seem to be viewing this issue very clearly. The answers are actually pretty simple.

    First off, there’s all the difference in the world between what someone buys with their own money, and what they buy with your (or other taxpayer’s) money. If you’re buying food with your own money, it should be largely up to you (although I do favor higher taxes on junk food, to offset their social costs.) But if someone asks YOU for food, you have EVERY right to determine what food you give them. You have NO obligation to give them crap. And this is what food stamps are. The government (other taxpayers) have every right to put whatever strings they want on such programs, including eliminating booze, eliminating cigarettes, eliminating sugary drinks, etc. And we don’t just have the RIGHT to do so, we have the RESPONSIBILITY to do so, since it’s coming from us.

    This isn’t being harsh or judgmental, it’s common sense. Why would we want to poison people we’ll later have to pay to heal? That would be ridiculously stupid. Restricting food stamps to healthy items is both more caring/thoughtful, and more fiscally sound.

    It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are, or what sports your kids play. (My family was once on food stamps, and I used to play sports — I just drank regular water, period.) And processed food is NOT cheaper than raw food — it’s more expensive, b/c it has to go through processing. Quality staples like brown rice and whole wheat flour are fairly cheap, as are some veggies and chicken to add to it. And fresh fruit and veggies don’t require much preparation at all.

    If someone wants to buy stuff for a party, they can do so out of their own pocket. Although there’s no reason kids can’t enjoy fruit juice instead of gatorade or soda. And you don’t need ice cream for a party.

    As far as education goes — I had a health class in junior high that taught me about healthy eating. But the beauty of restricted food stamps is that they make such education unnecessary. If someone CAN”T buy junk, it doesn’t matter what they know about it. And it will in fact educate them over time as they realize what is permitted (healthy) and what is not.

    Frankly, this is not an issue that has two legitimate viewpoints. People need to start thinking more clearly if we’re ever going to make any progress on social problems and our fiscal situation. Anyone who argues that we have an obligation to provide junk food (poison) to people should not be voting, period. Obesity is a bigger problem than hunger among our poor for this very reason. (Most poor people don’t stay poor for very long in our country, so the “one bright spot” argument doesn’t hold much water either — especially since good nutrition will help give people the energy to work and stop being poor.)

    1. If they want it bad enough they will find a way to get it by selling their stamps to others for cash or by having someone else get it for them–it’s really about education when it all comes down to it–and if you take my healthy dark chocolate away from me that staves off my depressive episodes and makes the ones I get not last as long I’m going to be pissed off and vote for someone who will give me more freedoms to buy it and find a way to get it–I’ve got friends who if I helped them out in any way if a ban started would in exchange give me some chocolate–so don’t rock the boat promote the education that will.

    2. We don’t have an obligation to provide junk food. We don’t have an obligation to do anything! But in this country we do have safety net systems for those who are unable to make ends meet. Money is provided to them and, as they are adults, they are allowed to purchase whatever food with it they want. No, you don’t need ice cream for a party. You don’t need any food for a party! You can just sit around and visit. But what if they WANT ice cream? Big deal!

    3. I dont even hardly know where to begin with all of this! Most of you, seem to have a pretty fair understanding of this issue. I also have been on both sides of the tracks. When my kids were little, I had to be on public assistance myself when my husband left and disappeared off the face of the earth for a very long time. Now in the state I lived in at the time, the way it worked was that I was allowed to stay home and just be a mother to my children up til the time the youngest became school age. That was very important to me as our children need us the most in those early developemental years. Once the youngest became school age, I was then required to either look for work, OR to attend job training skills classes and they paid for me to go to school, and child care if necessary. I know different states have different requirements, but I feel the way my state did this, was the absolute best solution for people who were on welfare. Now, for the food stamp issue, it was VERY difficult to feed myself and my kids for an entire month on what they gave me, I am just one of the lucky ones I guess, who had a mom and grandma who taught me how to cook from the time I was old enough to stand on a chair and watch and learn, and was also taught how to stretch a dollar. I was always told as long as you keep basic staples in your cupboards, you will never go hungry. It may not be fancy, there may not be any frills, sometimes there may not even be meat, but there are other forms of protien, besides meat. So, I always had flour, sugar, salt and pepper, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, powdered milk for cooking, oil, shortening, rice, beans, and eggs. I also always kept peanut butter and jelly, and honey on hand. For the most part, I had healthy food and snacks for my kids, but by GOD I also bought 4 junk type snacks each month! Like a package of cookies, or a carton of ice cream, or whatever! Once a week one of those items was used to treat my kids. They deserved it once in a while! How dare anyone try to tell me I dont have the right to occasionally treat my children just because it was bought with food stamps! It was once a dang week, and the other days it was a healthy snack! I know there are a FEW who abuse the system but, guess what? They wont be doing it forever. I believe every state has a cutoff point as did my state. I may be wrong, but I dont think I am. Now all my kids are grown and on their own, and I have worked for a living for many many years now. But I never would have made it if not for the help I received. Having been there and done that, I can say, I have NO issue with my tax dollars being used for occasional treats(junk food). And once again, so its clear, I KNOW THERE ARE A FEW, who abuse the system, but most of them, do not! And my one last comment to “John”…”good nutrition will help give people the energy to work and stop being poor.) ?!?!?!?!?!!! Are you serious??? What planet do you live on? Have you not noticed how high unemployment is??? There are tons of people desperate for a job! Other than those FEW who may be lazy and take advantage, most people would practically sell their soul for a decent paying job!

  21. My family is on foodstamps right now, and we currently get around 500$. It’s really hard trying to buy food, and it doesn’t matter what kind. It can be junk food or healthy stuff, and you’re still dry at the end of the month. My husband and I actually discussed going vegetarian, because the meat we bought took up over $100 of our check. Not to mention that aside from him buying milk and cheese, I also bought almond milk and rice milk, because I went dairy free for 2 weeks to see the affects it had on my body, and later went back on dairy. I learned my body does better without milk. I’d really love to eventually become vegan, but right now my biggest concern is the cost of milk substitutes. A gallon of milk in our house could be gone in 3 days, cause we drink a lot, and we had a toddler, too. Besides, a half gallon of almond milk costs as much if not more than dairy milk. It so hard to start this really healthy diet. I’m lucky that we live in a rural area and there are farms here, but I cant get the food there with foodstamps. If I can fork out some cash, I’ll try to get something, but most if not all goes to bills, and sadly all we have around here, is Walmart, piggly wiggly, winndixie, and save-alot. I really like save-alot, cause on Tuesdays they have a 10 for $10 sale, but some of it just feels like junk, cause they have a really small produce section. I’d really love to shop at Whole Foods, but its over an hour away, and so is the farmers market.

    1. I don’t know if you are a coupon user or not, but they are out there for almond/soy milk. It is all I can drink and I use a coupon every time I buy it. Sign up on product websites for email newsletters. The shelf stable cartons are cheaper than the cold ones, I’ve even seen “off” brands of soy milk at the dollar store. HTH

  22. I wonder if this is even true though. Even if it is, it’s a very small percentage of the people who get food stamps.

    I have to admit I look at those who buy all organic as idiots. It is always better to buy locally grown since the big part of organic is the transportation cost – all the fuel wasted so you can have a precious organic green pepper or cucumber.

  23. I work as a therapist in a mental health facility for low or no income clients. Many of them rely on food stamps to make ends meet, so I witness first hand how these food stamps are being used. Honestly, we have no right to tell these people how to spend their money. We don’t tell people who buy their own groceries how to spend their money, and I don’t believe that because people receive government assistance we can make them “eat healthy”. Everyone has a right to make their own decisions about food, and setting limitations seems unfair. I don’t want to tell other people how to eat, where to live or what to buy because we all have to make our own decisions. Be grossed out, be judgy but don’t demand we set limitations on other people’s choices.

    1. You are exactly right. Once the benefits go to the families, it is THEIR money, and we have no business telling them how to spend it. I know I don’t appreciate people telling me how to spend my money.

  24. A reverse kind of story about the gatorade/ice cream event.

    There was one trip to the grocery store where I stocked up on a bunch of vegetables and fruit (and other non-boxed food items) and I got a “well aren’t you being healthy” from the person behind me and the checker chimed in as well.

    I guess choosing the healthy route makes other people feel guilty for their own choices.

  25. I am so glad you said “We don’t know what was going on there.” We NEVER know what is going on with other people, and we have to remember that, as strong as our opinions may be about what is right and wrong in terms of other people’s actions, they have those same opinions too, and we are constantly being judged by other people who are polite enough not to say anything.

    I understand there is a question of what taxpayer and government money is being used for, but somehow that doesn’t seem to truly be what people are upset about. Why isn’t it enough to just decide what you as one person think is right and wrong, and then do it?

  26. Hello, I’m a foodstamp reciever and I prefer to get healthy foods for my family. Yes, We get soda and icecream as well as fruits and veggies, but I find getting good for you foods is much more rewarding then just junk food. I see a lot of snap recievers spend half a months benefits on pop and candy when they could get healthy flavored waters and fruit. It bothers me to see folks with over weight children loading down on candy and pop when they know its not good for they’re kids. Parents are supposed to wants what’s best for they’re children, and that’s why I buy fresh fruits and veggies and whole grains and splurge on a small cartan of icecream maybe once a month as a treat. Being healthy is important to me for my children. I teach them about being healthy and staying active and show them the differance in healthy and unhealthy. They say that friuts and veggies just seem to taste better and will ask for a banana before a candy bar. Education is the most important key to being healthy and staying that way. I google a lot and have descovered how to feed a family of six healthy meals and snacks on less than $300 a month and not go hungry, my family enjoys a healthy lifestyle.

  27. I’m late to the party on this one. Sorry! 🙁

    Also, I’m staying anonymous because I don’t normally admit to being on food stamps. There’s too much stigma attached and even some of my friends would judge me if they knew. That being said…

    I wouldn’t be able to feed my daughter if I wasn’t on food stamps. I simply don’t make enough money. I can try all day long to find a balance between healthy and “treats” all day long. But no matter what I do, someone somewhere is going to say my choices are wrong. Now I admit, I do use them to buy myself my Diet Dew. But beyond that? I try to stock up on lean meats, fruits, veggies and milk so that my daughter has a balanced diet.

    Do I buy pop tarts and chips? Sometimes. And I’m sure to some people it looks like I’m buying a ton of food, but I do one major shopping at the beginning of the month when my benefits come in. So I can understand that those four cheap frozen pizzas look like a lot. But spread out over a month? Not so much.

    The rest of the month I use the food stamps to keep stocked up on milk and fresh veggies. (My daughter goes through two gallons of milk a week. I’m not complaining!) But god forbid I buy my daughter one regular size candy bar when I’m grabbing the milk because she’s had a bad day or is getting a reward for a good test grade or something. Then I’m abusing things in some judge-y person’s eyes.

    I’m over it. And I’m over the idiots who abuse the hell out of food stamps for making people like me who just want their kids fed and fed a decent diet a bad name.

  28. How can this be called abuse when the more nutritional foods cost astronomically more than the not so nutrutional, calorie dense foods? Really? I can buy enough calories in junk food to feed a small country and not spend nearly as much if I wanted to purchase a pound of apples or green beans (and lets not talk about organic… food stamps or not). Processed foods are cheap and when you are trying to live and feed your family… that bottle Gatorade is a lot more filling and less expensive than that bottle of orange juice.

    Dig a little deeper:
    Abuse is when you have people selling their stamps to buy cigarettes or liquor or worse. Abuse is the store owner who actually allowing patrons to purchase those non-food items using the stamps and not buy any food for the house… selfishness
    Abuse is the family that lies and cheats to get the maximum benefit amount.
    Abuse is a parent outright REFUSING to better themselves for the sake of keeping their food stamps.
    Abuse is making a child (or a parent purchasing the food) feel like they cannot enjoy items that others (without food stamps) enjoy just because they receive food stamps.

    All speculation aside though… get out of their freakin grocery cart, dude! It seems as if you dont have a lack of gain… otherwise you could NEVER fix your fingers over your keyboard to make such a terrible judgement of someone who you didnt have enough courage to ask why they were purchasing what they were purchasing with their food stamps. Is the gatorade and ice cream really the issue? Or is it that this individual sees the purchase a misues of their tax dollars? NEWS FLASH: if you’ve ever taken a deduction on your taxes… that deduction provided by the federal government… you, have just gotten government assistance. You dont have to take the deduction… but I bet you a food stamp that you do… and you might even spend your refund on gatorade and ice cream… but who am I to judge?

    …Sorry for the rant… I really dont like when people judge others with out at least inquiring about the facts.

    (Gooz frabah gooooz frabbahh – anger management LOL!)

    Ok off of my soap box…
    Now I have been a recepient of food stamps in the past. Public Assistance in my family almost seems like a “generational curse” and crutch because my family could not fanthom not getting those benefits (food stamps, public housing, etc). They would not work harder. They would not seek a better way. They were content with what they got and that’s it. I can speak to it, because I lived through it… and I still live experiencing it from them.

    Now I can remember being made fun of as a child because my sister and I received the free boxed lunch with two slices of bread (no meat), fruit cup and a small carton of 1% “a-day-away-from-expering” milk. Oh how I would have loved to have a PB&J for lunch (who cares about gatorade)… What I remember the most was the ridicule… even when my mom did get us the “designer” foods for lunch… I remember the judgmental looks in the grocery store as an adult trying to take care of my kids when I was laid off (I was a full time student, student worker and an intern… Not lazy or taking advantage of the system).

    So who is to blame in all of this? Who knows… but where is the motivation of betterment? Especially when this is all a person knows…. they become stagnant in the system feeling hopeless. Taking away junk food is not going to solve the issue. If a person thinks so… remember, where there’s a will there’s a way. Unfortunately most people put their “will” in the wrong places. Patience, nutritional education, more patience, and even more patience may help but might not be enough… but certainly a judgemental eye, comment or discrimination wont help either.

  29. I had a very rough patch that involved a yeat of EBT cards and WIC checks. And you know what, when my daughter had a birthday, I used my ebt card to get her a cake and ice cream for it. Getting food stamps is hard enough with how judgmental people can be. I noticed that the second people saw the card in my hand, they would scrutinize everything in my cart. You never know what their situation is. Maybe their child is having surgery on their tonsils soon. Maybe it’s their birthday. Maybe they did a really good job and deserve a treat. Maybe they have an adopted child [which you receive state assistance for]. Maybe their dog died yesterday. Take off the judgmental hat and stop worrying about things that DO NOT AFFECT YOU!

  30. I just have to respond to the original Gatorade comment – I’m a single mom with colorectal cancer, I just finished my third surgery in 1.5 years. Lost a very well-paying job since I can no longer work and I was just approved for SNAP. I live on Gatorade – it keeps my fluid/electrolyte balances in check since I’m on a very restricted diet. Don’t judge – as stated above, you don’t know the family’s situation.

  31. wanted to let you know about a new petition I created on We the People,
    a new feature on WhiteHouse.gov, and ask for your support. Will you add your
    name to mine? If this petition gets 25,000 signatures by February 11, 2013,
    the White House will review it and respond!

    We the People allows anyone to create and sign petitions asking the Obama
    Administration to take action on a range of issues. If a petition gets
    enough support, the Obama Administration will issue an official response.

    You can view and sign the petition here:


    Here’s some more information about this petition:

    Ban use of food stamps for sales of soda, energy drinks, candy,
    chips, donuts, etc.
    Misuse of food stamps for soda, candy, energy drinks, chips, donuts,etc.

  32. I have been on food stamps for a few years now (I am on disability) and it’s not something I will admit freely. I notice a lot of people tend to judge (especially people my age because I am relatively young) once they find out I receive gov’t assistance.

    As far as what I spend my food stamps on…it varies really. I tend to naturally gravitate towards healthy foods (lean meats, fresh veggies and fruit, etc) but I admit I am a sucker for convenience sometimes. I don’t often buy chips or cookies or ice cream, but my kryptonite is frozen foods. I try to go to stores like Trader Joe’s as often as I can because their frozen selections tend to be healthier than what you can find at your regular chain store, but I don’t always make the trip. And I really enjoy my Turkey Hill brand iced tea. But still. It’s really nobody’s business what is in my shopping cart…and the same goes for how I pay for it.

    Sure it bothers me to see people with carts full of nothing but Doritos and Coke…but that’s my problem and not theirs. I don’t choose to eat that way. And like they’d be offended if I said anything to them I surely would be offended if some stranger gave me some lecture about my food choices.

    Live and let live. The diets of strangers are nobody’s business but theirs.

  33. I think it’s a catch 22. If one sees a person with food stamps/EBT with a cartload of junk food, they get judged for using government money to buy unhealthy food. On the other side, if one sees a person with food stamps/EBT with a cartload of healthy food–meats, fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, whole grains, etc.–they get judged for spending government money on more expensive food that the average person may not be able to buy. The poor cannot live on beans and rice alone. And we should not expect the poor to be punished for being poor. Not only don’t we know the circumstances that cause them to buy a cartload of junk food, we also don’t know what led to them being on EBT to begin with. Many people who have food stamps work full-time jobs. They’re not unemployed–they’re under-employed. They pay taxes just the same as you do, and have a right to government assistance…just as you do if you’re ever in that situation. Even two people working full-time jobs for minimum wages don’t make enough to live on, and the cost of living is rising every day.

  34. “The poor cannot live on rice and beans alone.” Really? What about those who make just enough not to qualify for assistance or would rather eat cheaply than further drain the economy by having an EBT card. We ate a LOT of rice and beans growing up. I admit to being “judgy” about what are in people’s carts. If it is produce and “healthy stuff” I tend to look the other way, but I am guilty of cart profiling if it is full of frozen convenience items and junk. If you literally have a cart full of junk without one healthy item, then yes, I’m going to judge. I would expect others to judge me the same way. In fact, I’m pretty sure people do judge when they see the “manager’s special” and “reduced” meat and produce in my cart. It really gets to me when I see money wasted on name brand items when I can barely afford store brand with both my husband and myself working full-time jobs. As for the unemployment rate, if we take out all of the “now hiring” positions from the unemployment rate, I’m sure we would be amazed at how low exactly unemployment is. No, these are not white collar, sit down all day, 80K with benefits jobs, but they are jobs. Jobs that I’ve worked at in the past (and definitely ones that my husband has). I’ve seen people whining (and heard the whining) about being broke and out of a job; when I mention that Taco Bell or a local convenience store/gas station is hiring, they feel they are too good to work at those jobs. My husband worked in food service and at convenience stores for years and learned much of his customer service skills from those jobs (and, in fact, met the person that hired him to work at his present job). No ‘fense, but I find the “you can’t take away my dark chocolate” comment oh so amusing! I wonder if I can get away with that: you can’t take away my beluga caviar because it keeps me from being depressed! Seriously? You can’t take the money you earn from your job to buy a dollar’s worth of dark chocolate (yes, on sale. If you can’t take the time to shop sales, you don’t DESERVE the chocolate).

    1. Also, I’m judgy by what’s in people’s carts because I liken it to my form of people watching–food watching. I like to imagine what people are cooking with what’s in their carts.

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