Follow Up to the Last Post – Cheap Food

To follow up on the last post with something related, I offer this article. It describes how the governer of Oregon has decided to try to live on food stamps for a week. I know nothing about the governor of Oregon but I am a big fan of experiments like this. A week isn’t a terribly long amount of time, but so many people in charge have absolutely no idea what life is like for the average American (let alone the average citizen of the world, that is of course a completely different story). The total budget for a weeks worth of food (if you are on food stamps) is $21.00, which makes my occasional trips to the Wegmans olive bar seem completely extravagant.
This is kind of interesting, after the shootings at Virginia Tech last week I had thought about blogging about my experience working in the mental health field, specifically my frustrations. I decided not to, but now thinking about the price of food my experience at this job comes up again. During the year after college and before graduate school, I worked as a counselor at a residential treatment facility (read: group home) for severely emotionally disturbed teenagers. It was a definite change of pace for me. An odd job, the average work day could be spent restraining 200lb violent 17 year olds for a few hours and watching against suicide attempts, or I could spend all day playing football and bar-b-qing. Anyways, where does food come in? Well, seeing as we were contracted by the State, we had to provide a set diet for the kids. Every two weeks we got menus, and then had to do the grocery shopping and cooking for the group. We would get in trouble if we strayed too far form the set diets. Technically the kids were supposed to help with the cooking but with the frequency of problems they were usually kept off limits from any kind of cooking implement. It turned out that of the counselors working during my shift, I was the only one who was much of a cook at all. As such, I got very familiar with the official state recommended diet for 11-7 year old boys. The food we had to provide was amazingly unhealthy, very meat, cheese, and starch heavy dishes, very few fresh vegetables (save for iceberg lettuce “salads”), and almost no fruit. A typical weekend breakfast would include either pancakes or french toast, scrambled eggs, sausage or bacon, regular toast, and occasionally a banana. Follow this with a grilled “cheese” and french fry lunch, and cheese burgers, tater tots, canned corn, chip and salsa dinner. What made this worse was that the budget we were give to shop with was just appalling, so that even when a decent cook like myself was around, there was no way to afford anything of any quality at all. Mushy apples (the kind you buy in the 10lb bags), fake cheese, kleenex style bread, etc. And they wondered why the kids always gained weight; add the food to the fact that many of their medications sapped their energy, easy path to obesity. On the upside, I did learn to cook a mean pot roast (quite an accomplishment for a vegetarian), and my french toast was pretty solid. But still, with all of the money spent trying to address the kid’s many mental issues, I was always amazed at how little attention was paid to their physical health. And, since we were their legal guardians, what kind of life lessons were we really teaching? OK, this has turned into a ramble, good night.

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One Response to Follow Up to the Last Post – Cheap Food

  1. Chuck says:

    I think that supermarket mark-ups of fresh food might also be part of the problem. So I’ll go get some data this weekend. I’ll check the markets for every vegetable I can find that sells for less than a dollar / kilo, then get comparative prices from Coles.

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