Would You Pay for a Dinner Date with Food Stamps?

Old sports:

This morning, I read a provocative story on


, headlined:

Hipsters on food stamps--They're young, they're broke and they pay for organic salmon with government subsidies. Got a problem with that?

Maybe I do.

The article began with a vignette about two kids from Baltimore: 30-year-old art school grade Sarah Magida, who'd been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession hit; and and Gerry Mak, 31, who worked in the NYC publishing world before moving to the city that is not Maryland's capital for a part-time blogging gig that apparently didn't quite cover his expenses. Magida has been getting $150 a month from the government for food--and she spends the money on things like raw honey, fresh-squeezed juices and gourmet ice cream. "I'm eating better than I ever have before," she told the Salon writer. (She's also eating better than I ever have before, from the sound of things.) Her buddy Mak told the reporter that "half of his friends in Baltimore have been getting food stamps since the economy toppled, so he decided to give it a try; to his delight, he qualified for $200 a month." As he tells the Salon reporter: "I'm sort of a foodie, and I'm not going to do the 'living off ramen' thing." (Is it just me, or does that sound a little ridiculously self-righteous, under the circumstances?) He recounts the details of a meal he'd recently prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes--thanks to tax-payer money. "I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps," he went on, "but it's great that you can get anything."

Great for him, indeed.

Am I the only one who feels a little outraged about this story? Am I over-reacting?

On the one hand, if these people qualify for the government money, what should I care what they do with it? More power to them (I guess?) for taking what they can get. And if I had bucks to spend on whatever food I wanted to buy, I would surely purchase healthy, organic stuff--which is what I always buy these days, anyway, in part because wonderful Trader Joe's makes it so affordable.

On the other hand, I'm irked. Because there I was in good ol' Trader Joe's just last night, buying some ingredients for vegetarian lasagna--and wondering if I should skip the fresh rosemary, since it wasn't really necessary--to make for a little dinner gathering, rather than getting the stuff for a scallop recipe that's my favorite thing, because I know these next couple months are going to be tight. And from the sounds of things, the way I'm scraping by (with freelance stuff) sounds not so different from the way those Baltimore people are scraping by ... and yet I'm contributing, with the taxes I pay, to their food allowance?

Maybe I'm only outraged because (I'm pretty sure) I don't qualify for food stamps--and because even if I did, I'd feel too guilty to be so extravagant with money I didn't earn.

Nonetheless, I can't get beyond the idea that splurging on gourmet ice cream with tax-payer money is offensively self-indulgent and irresponsible. Although maybe it's really the government that I should be taking issue with.

Except that from the sounds of things, most of the beneficiaries of the Agriculture Department's munificence are legit. Salon notes: "Food policy experts and human resource administrators are quick to point out that the overwhelming majority of the record 38 million Americans now using food stamps are their traditional recipients: the working poor, the elderly and single parents on welfare ... [although] recent changes made to the program as part of last year's stimulus package, which relaxed the restrictions on able-bodied adults without dependents to collect food stamps, have made some young singles around the country eligible for the first time." The story goes on to quote a Tufts food economist who notes that a lot of the college grads who are getting food stamps have been unemployed for a while, and generally live very frugally.

Fair enough. But man, it seems so arrogant to spend other people's money on fancy honey!

What do you guys think? Would you feel all right about using food stamps to buy some farm-raised beef for the dinner you're cooking for your new squeeze?


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