No “Specialty” Food for Poor People

Today, I sent the following letter to Activistas. I hope you’ll take a moment to read it, too.

I would like to call your attention to a serious frustration that I have been dealing with as a mom on government aid.

I have two daughters, ages 23 months and 5 months, and I am on WIC and food stamps. It’s common knowledge that it is very difficult to feed a family on food stamps alone, but with my husband in school, we have been doing our best to do just that.

Recently, I have been taking great pains (see to switch our family over to organic food. As you can imagine, making food stamps stretch to cover an organic diet is a huge challenge, but I believe that my daughters deserve to eat food that is free of pesticides, antibiotics, and artificial hormones. This has meant regular trips to discount grocers in search of soon-to-expire organic goods, a reduction of meat in meals, more cooking from scratch, and paying a premium for produce, but I think it’s worth it.

A sweet little grocery store, The Green Grocer, just opened across the street from my discount grocer. Sweet! I thought. I can go over there after my discount trip and pick up the things that I didn’t find on discount! I was excited to discover that they carried hard-to-find organic produce, like fresh ginger (a good ginger tea is great for a cold!), as well as the best prices I’ve seen on organic bread and organic palm oil shortening.

I was not so excited to learn that they had been denied the right to take food stamps. When I called the USDA to complain, the woman in charge said, “You are not allowed to shop at specialty stores.”

Apparently, pesticide-free food is too good for me.

True, I can get some of these foods other places, although I have to drive 3 times as far for most of it. But it is very frustrating that I can’t frequent the new local market where the sweet owner gives my daughter free snacks and I can buy almost anything in bulk to avoid extra packaging.

This is almost as frustrating as WIC, which is essentially useless to me now, since they do not allow anything that you buy with their checks to be organic (the exception is the $20 in farmer’s market money that they give out every summer). Free milk with antibiotics, hormones, and pus? Free cheese filled with accumulated pesticides from all of the over-treated grain that the cow has eaten? Free hydrogenated peanut butter? I’m thankful that these services exist, but I wish that I didn’t have to choose between what’s best for my family and what’s most helpful to our budget. If WIC allowed me to simply purchase half the quantity of food that they do now, but to purchase organic food instead, it would be such a blessing!

Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for both WIC and food stamps, and to the taxpayers who are helping us to make ends meet as my husband gets through school. Our experience at the receiving end of these services has caused me to actually look forward to being in a higher tax bracket, because I will know that our taxes will be going to people who are experiencing what we have experienced.

But when the government insists on distributing that money in a way that limits my ability to care for my family, I am upset, not only for myself, but also for all of the taxpayers who are funding this program, and will later have to fund health care to undo the damage that these products are doing to our bodies. These agencies are very behind-the-times scientifically if they think that organic food is elite and unnecessary. And they are bigoted if they believe that lower-income people do not deserve healthy food.

I would like to urge anyone willing to take a stand to contact WIC, the Department of Human Services, and the USDA, as well as the media and anyone else who might be influential, and to tell them that the government should lead the way in healthy eating. With our current epidemics of obesity, heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, and diabetes, the current method of taking care of the underprivileged is unwise and unacceptable.

You can go here to contact WIC,  here to contact the Oregon Department of Human Services, and here to contact the USDA.


15 Responses

  1. Excellent letter, Jenni! It’s the same here in Nebraska, although I think our Farmers’ Market and coop farms program accept food stamps now (woo hoo!). WIC is an absolute waste for breastfeeding moms with allergy babies, too. It irks me that government aid is SO specialized. I wish there was a better voucher type system!

  2. Jenni! I saw your comment over at UrbanMamas on diversity and I am SO glad to know there is another mom of a toddler who is struggling to make ends meet in the Portland vicinity! When I lived in Florida, I was on WIC and I too was very frustrated at the idea that organic food was for those privileged enough to not poison themselves! What the HELL? I remember when they told me I couldn’t buy organic peanut butter because I have to get the cheapest one, which meant the sugar filled store-brand. No thanks!
    Well I will be reading your blog from now on and linking to my own, I look forward to more from you! Well said!

  3. I agree that it must be frustrating not to be able to provide what your family deserves to eat.
    I find it frustrating that so many people accept aid from the government. My husband was in school and we were very poor when we were first married. I have always been a stay- at- home mom. We have never accepted any government aid, even though we would have qualified for it. I think a lot of people could do the same.

  4. Hi, Erica! Thanks for your comment! I know that not everyone thinks that it is acceptable for people who are not entirely destitute to accept government aid, and I can understand that viewpoint. At first, I felt that way myself, but after wrestling with the idea for awhile, I came to the conclusion that, if they had a budget for people like us, then I should swallow my pride and take this opportunity to lessen our debt. I applaud you for accomplishing your family’s goals without government aid.

  5. […] some of you already knew, and as more of you who read this post now know, we are pretty broke over here at Makeshift […]

  6. I understand completely what you mean about WIC and wanting to feed your family “good” food. However, this post sounds like you have an ungrateful attitude. I’m not saying you do, we all have our days! LOL! Remember, most people are not able to afford all organic/healthy food. You can only do what you can. After all, the government is in cohoots with the food and drug companies.

    As far as the peanut butter on WIC, I was able to get the store brand natural peanut butter. It does not have hydrogenated oils or sugars.

    Secondly, do you have health concerns that require different foods? Several of our family members require GF/CF diet and other food. Our bread, which I can not find a recipe for is $8.00 a loaf, our “milk” is about $10/gallon. Anyway, if it is doctor ordered for a health issue, you can take it off your taxes as a medical expense.

    Lastly, for good organic produce. Do you live near an Amish community? We are blessed to live close to an Amish produce auction. We are able to get extra produce for canning here for a reasonable price. I don’t think they take food stamps. I don’t know though.

    Another thougt is the SHARE program or Angel Food Ministries. You get half a month’s groceries for $30.
    I’m not sure if it’s organic. Maybe you could just start out by replacing conveinence foods with foods cooked from scratch. Scratch cooking is much cheaper. It still eliminates many additives, dyes, etc.

    We put out a half acre garden to provide us with organic produce. I know not everyone can do this, but you can utilize square foot gardening or container gardening. I can enough food to last our family all winter.

    Get a book out of your library. You would be surprised at the weeds/flowers that are foods. Our family loves dandelion greens in our salads, and picking fresh berries from the woods.

    Feeding your family better can be done on a budget. I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic to your situation, but I have been there, done that! We work very hard with gardening, gathering, and cooking from scratch.

  7. WIC is supposed to promote healthy eating and have a nutritionist evaluate your diet and teach you every three months, yet they do not provide the organic products because according to the FDA organic is not more nutritious then nonorganic. Although JIF has a new 30% less sugar and lower sodium peanut butter, they do not pay for this either (and yet it costs the same price as the other stuff.) At least you get produce from the Farmer’s Market- we haven’t been offered that yet (they say in a year or two.)

    My children are on a special gluten free diet and two of us are allergic to milk. They do not pay for gluten free cereal. The nutritionist has repeatedly told me that she will be happy to give us lactaid, but lactose intolerance is not the problem- it’s an actual milk allergy. she doesn’t seem to understand that and WIC doesn’t pay for non-dairy milks anyway.

    The really awful thing is that if they would give us the money allotted towards our choice of products, we could actually get organic and GF products. Right now I have three children on WIC, but we had five on it until this February.

    Each child receives $8.55 towards the purchase of 1 1/2 gallons of milk which equals $25.65 per month times 3 is $76.95 per month in milk. I could easily buy organic milk and rice milk with that if it were allowed. They also pay $8.05 per child for cereal- $24.15 per month. I could buy GF cereal with that. $27 per month is allotted for cheese. I get $15 for eggs, which I could spend on cage free organic eggs. $21 a month is allotted for juice and $9 for peanut butter (which would also easily pay for the good stuff.)

    The only reason I am on WIC is because the GF diet is so expenisve. But they make it so hard to be CF too as they have no GFCF options for milk, cheese and cereal.

    I hope that they will come to see that to have healthy women, infants and children, they must be more open with their allowed products!

    Sarah, mom to four children on the autism spectrum

  8. to those who say that we should not be getting government assistance:

    I live in the midst of a large number of illegal immigrants. There are now four houses on one piece of property right next door that contain at least 6 families. They do not speak English and cannot legally work. They can get free schooling for their children (I do not) free health care and free food. Yet I worked and put money from my checks into Medicaid and social security.

    My husband works very hard and puts quite a bit of money into ‘the system.’ We will never see that money, though. It goes to pay for others. We pay large school taxes as did my parents (for 30 years on 4 pieces of property) yet they never used the schools and neither will we. We are just using a bit of that money we put in to feed our children, how is that wrong?

    I absolutely do not think that getting some government assistance while you are struggling to feed your family is wrong. I do think that people who break the law to get it is wrong. I believe that people who eat steak and shrimp and buy new cars should not be getting assistance. I do not get WIC because I am trying to get free stuff, but because my credit card debt is increasing to the breaking point while I try to feed and care for my special needs children.

    So for those who are not living lavish lifestyles or taking advantage of the system, I think it is just fine to get assistance while it is needed.

    Stepping down from my soap box,

  9. I commend those who work through hardships without government help, although I do know that people who are not u.s. citizens and do not deserve it DO get assistance. For that reason, I especially believe that if you qualify and need assistance, families should use their resources to make it through hardships and/or to work to improve their future (i.e. go to school).
    For those that do need to stretch their budget I think key things to remember is to try to save time and money. I have been reading a lot of thoughts on food planning and budgets and how to save money. However, remember that time is money. Especially as a mother spending an enormous amount of time trying to find good sales, find coupons, going to many stores, etc… takes away from the time to work and make money, or to spend with your children/husband. An extra freezer and buying “raw” items in bulk is key to keeping budget low. Buying/cooking raw items not only is cheaper, it’s healthier. Cooking can be a time to spend with children and actually talk to your kids.
    I do understand frustration of the limitations given by assistance. I think the gov’t needs to worry less about making rules on what you can buy and more time making sure that those who get assistance actually need and deserve assistance.

  10. Hey, cool tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a bottle of beer to that man from that forum who told me to go to your site 🙂

  11. I can’t help but marvel at what a glorious country we live in when people with no real tax liability actually have such a sense of entitlement that they complain about the quality of free food. Salute the flag every morning, folks, because there are so many places in our world where you would have starved by now.

  12. Brandon, it seems that you are one of the several people who failed to read this article closely enough to discern its actual message. My complaint has nothing to do with demanding MORE; no, then I would simply join the myriad of people who want food stamp amounts to increase. All I am saying is that there is no logical reason for health food stores to be ineligible for food stamps. Feel free to explain to me why you think such stores should be ineligible, as I have yet to hear a good argument.

  13. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

  14. hello this keori green
    i am a 15 year old child tryin to help the poor we have a group of people that are cooking so if you can help can you supply the things below it has to be a family the dead line is nov 14 thank you

    we have to pick the families for the Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. There are guidelines for submitting your family as follows:

    1) Must have contact information – telephone number and address

    2) An accurate number of family members is needed

    3) A typed summary of why the family should be chosen

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