Politico offers Cory Booker an absurd food stamp menu

by Laura Clawson, 2012-12-04

Newark Mayor Cory Booker is embarking on a food stamp challenge, eating on $4 per day for a week. And Politico has a truly lunatic set of suggestions for a day of Booker's meals during the challenge. The fact that it's Cory Booker is of course one of the key limitations of the food stamp challenge as a tool for raising awareness of how difficult it is to live within the constraints of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: the politicians and religious leaders who attempt it are generally those who already support more benefits; you don't see John Boehner and Eric Cantor trying this. The fact that the challenge typically only lasts a week is another limitation, of course. You know it'll end. You can plan a whole week of meals ahead of time, knowing how much you'll have each day; past a week, and especially as the budget tightens at the end of the month, it would get much more difficult. It's a limited thought experiment in poverty and nothing more. But there are things to learn.

Politico's Bobby Cervantes is either trying to make an overly subtle point about how Booker will go hungry if he buys himself brand-name foods, or is just grasping for something to say on a slow news day without having thought it through even a little. Because wow:
One six-ounce strawberry and banana Yoplait yogurt (99 cents) and an eight-ounce carton of Tropicana orange juice (39 cents), $1.38. Total nutritional value: 290 calories, 57 grams carbs., 9 grams protein, 1.5 grams fat.
Two Safeway eggs (53 cents) and one Oscar Mayer bacon slice (45 cents), 98 cents. Total nutritional value: 170 calories, .7 grams carbs., 12.8 grams protein, 14 grams fat.

In what world is Booker going to be able to buy one slice of bacon? Even one slice per day? It's not a real suggestion if it's not actually an available option. Not to mention, bacon is expensive and not even an especially good protein source. Similarly, that six-ounce Yoplait is 17 cents an ounce. If you want yogurt for breakfast, a 32-ounce tub of yogurt is more like 10 cents an ounce. It's a bigger initial outlay and you have to consider whether you really want that much yogurt, but 99 cents for a six-ounce yogurt?


Cervantes's menu suggestions go on like that, planned not for a week at an average of $1.40 per meal, but for roughly $1.40 per meal, meal by meal, planned as if you can buy that one slice of bacon, those two slices of bread or cheese, and not have to contend with the monotony of a diet bought for cheapness. By the time you get to the dinner suggestions of a sandwich with two slices of cheese, two slices of turkey, and no condiments or a single Gorton's fish plank, you're maybe getting the idea that it would be miserable to live this way.

But the lack of seriousness of the suggestions is distressing; the food stamp challenge is already so far from reality that it always runs the risk of trivializing the realities it's supposed to illuminate. Straight-up Politico-style one-slice-of-bacon trivializing diminishes the lessons that can be extracted from the food stamp challenge, lessons more about privilege and freedom than about calories and carbohydrates.

This piece is reprinted from DailyKos Labor