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Eating On $35 A Week Isn’t A Gimmick


March 25, 2013
By Andy Brack

Could you eat on $35 a week?

Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker did it in December as part of a challenge to eat for seven days by spending the average budget of food stamp recipients.  After seven days, he admitted it was tough.  He described how he suffered from caffeine headaches and got very hungry when his food supply dwindled by the end of the week.

Last month, Gov. Nikki Haley said she wanted to change the food stamp program in South Carolina to keep food stamp recipients from buying junk food.  While that might sound good at first blush, it’s really just a simplistic way to target “those people” on food stamps.  Lift the hood on Haley’s suggestion and you may wonder how a libertarian governor could endorse such an authoritarian prescription to take away choice.  (A similar proposal by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to limit the sizes of sugary beverages was thrown out by a New York court this month.)

So it’s no wonder state Rep. Bakari Sellers, D-Bamberg, cleverly challenged the governor to put her money where her mouth was by eating healthily for just $35 a week.  Haley declined.  But her spokesman didn’t miss the chance to attack Sellers by alleging he was pulling a stunt.

Governor, this is not all about you and attack politics.  It’s about the 878,022 people in South Carolina who get food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.  In January, the federal government pumped $114.9 million into the Palmetto State for food assistance.  Yes, that money is supposed to supplement other food purchases, but the reality is many people — including a lot of working people — in our state are so poor that all they have to use to buy food is food stamps.

Sellers challenged Haley to draw attention to how hard it is to find affordable healthy options in rural counties like the one he and Haley grew up in.  Many people who get food assistance aren’t eating junk food because they want to, but do so because they don’t have the access to places with healthy food choices or have money to pay for them.

Sellers is pushing a bill that calls for healthier lunches to be provided at local schools, which are where many kids in his House district get their only square meal of the day.  His proposal calls for lunch vendors to provide daily meals with a maximum number of calories so there’s a continuing incentive to remove fat and sugar.  The bill also would ban high-calorie snacks and soft drinks from school vending machines.

“This is the only bipartisan approach that can truly curb health care costs by preventing preventable diseases,” he said.  His bill currently is stuck in a House committee.

If you wonder whether you could eat a healthy diet on $35 a week, it is possible.  But you have to be very smart about what you buy.  You have to be a good planner, buy in bulk, and eat less meat.  And you need to have your own garden to supplement the weekly budget.

That’s the experience of an Oregon woman and her husband who ate on $35 a week — for both of them — for a year and a half.  (You can check out her tips and experiences at www.35aweek.com; the blog is on hiatus because the couple recently had a baby.)

“It takes a LOT of time, energy, and resources to eat well on $35 a week — things people working full-time and taking care of kids probably don’t have, so I get it,” she said.  “And sometimes when you are down and out, a bag of greasy chips and a soda are really your only indulgence — the only thing you look forward to at the end of the day.  You don’t WANT pickled ginger carrots and a piece of wheat bread.

“It’s easy to be sanctimonious about other people’s eating habits when all your own needs are met.”

Sellers said he planned to eat for a week on $35 at the end of the month.  He said he would highlight the results on a new Web site, www.HealthyMarch.com.


Andy Brack is publisher of Statehouse Report.  He can be reached at:  brack@statehousereport.com.

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