2 AUGUST 2013 :: Is food a necessity?

I am trying to get ahead of my weekend, Sabbath, and long list of things to do. This is Friday, the day to prepare for the Sabbath at sundown, and it is the day I am suppose to get my food stamps for August. One person (in Oregon) gets a maximum of $200 a month right now, depending on their income. My income is very low right now, so I recieve the maximum amount. I try to keep all my food purchases, except an occasional value meal somewhere, within that budget.

Since my first effort to "have something left at the end of the month" in about 2004, which was food stamps at the time, I have been trying to make my food stamps last all month. One of the best ideas I ever came across about food budgeting was to create your weekly meals based on what was on sale at your market/s, so I have tried to establish a weekly food budget. It seems like an easy task, but it isn't. When there is a good sale, you want to take advantage of it, but if you go over the budget for any week, especially the first week, the rest of the month suffers.

This summer I am trying to shop at local Farmer's Markets, too. This is something I have never really been able to do. I finally decided to try to have $10 a week for Market items because the one nearest me offers food stamp households a $5 match for spending $10 or more in food stamps. That means I can get an extra $20 in food each month IF I can manage to do that. The Markets here distribute $1 wooden coins for food stamp purchases. Vendors aren't allowed to give change to food stamp customers, so shopping is a challenge. And I try to save what I can of my $15 allotments for the weeks I am not able to budget the way I want to.

Farmer's Market foods are very different than shopping at a store. They are generally fresher, I am told. Some of the Market produce is harvested close to the selling time, I think...that's what one farm booth told me. I suspect much of it is picked for/during the week for each sale day. I don't know if they have a lot of "leftovers" from week to week...keeping produce fresh is a challenge for farmers I am sure. I have been struggling to figure out the best way to store, make and eat the foods I get from the Market. I don't want to waste my food money, especially the foods I buy at the Farmer's Market.

I always assumed that the food at a Farmer's Market was organic. I have discovered that some of it isn't. I'm getting better at noticing the difference, and figuring out which farms have which products. This is my first summer, and the Market I go to nearest my home is advertised as year-round. I will be continuing my experience with Farmer's Markets for the year, and beyond that I suppose. I like the way fresh foods taste, the connection with the farmer, and some of the other differences between Market food and grocery store food. I still have to resolve my dislike of GMO foods and how they are hidden in our food purchases, but right now I am somewhere between grocery stores, Farmer's Markets, and growing your own.

I don't have kids with me these days, so shopping is different for me now. I would never have been able to try Farmer's Markets as a low-income parent. The prices are higher than I could afford. Food stamp families have to buy as much food as they can with each dollar they have, and include some extras that the rest of the world enjoys for their kids and themselves (chips, soda, ice cream, etc). Finding a way to buy enough good food and make it last through the whole month is a challenge...and when you make a mistake with your efforts, you have to find another way to make it through to the next food stamp supply.

At one point in my life, I had to buy almost the entire month's food in one shopping trip. That means a lot of canned and packaged foods, not fresh and organic foods. That was because I had to pay a taxi to get the food home. One trip a month was all I could afford, so I did my laundry on the same trip. Transportation makes a difference in every area of our lives, including how you can stretch your food dollars.

Now that I am getting older and have senior limitations in view, I see that shopping can be even more of a problem. I am thinking that the European style of shopping may become a necessity as long as I am healthy. (I have read they like to shop daily for their meals.) If I get to the point of needing a walker, very small purchases will be a necessity. Wheelchair shoppers have been on my mind for a long time...how do they shop for what they need and get it home on the bus? I need to find the best solutions for my individual situation...as it evolves.

$200 a month is about $6.50 a day for all your food needs. I think that's the price of a combo meal at a fast food restaurant. If you subtract $1.50 a day for condiments like butter/margarine, mayonaise, mustard, ketchup, and other foods like sugar, salt, pepper, and other flavorings, three meals and snacks would really need to cost $5 a day. When there is more than one person in a family that gets food stamps to live on, the increase is about $100 more per person. So, two people would need to live on $7.50 a day, three people on about $10 a day, and so on. As food prices rise, the ability to survive on government programs decreases. What kinds of meals do you know that would fit into that budget?

Low-income households don't have a lot of options. I wish that we had a better system to deal with crisis poverty and ongoing needs, but right now this is all we have: government programs and community/church outreaches.

I know that food stamps seem like a "frivolous" program, but they are the most critical program the government provides. We MUST have food every single day in order to survive. Not having food leads people to do whatever they can to get it. If the American economy crashes, there will be millions more in need of food to get through their trials. My view is that the government better make sure it has more than it needs in funding for this program. The consequences would not be good when there are no food options for people who have nowhere else to turn.

I went into that issue without planning to, but the current budget crises are threatening our nation. It won't matter what party you belong to if you are hungry, starving, or threatened by desperate people. I hope we can find a way through this without too many innocent, struggling people being hurt. Finding the right places to cut back and changing the way we see the responsibility of our government is really very essential to our future as a nation. As morals decline, each area of our existence is going to be affected. I think we need to create a survival focus :: What matters most? What can we do without? How do we save as much as we can? What can we finance in other ways? How much do we really need?

I am not fond of government programs, but they are something we have established and are now essential for those who have no other option. The Bible tells us that the family structure is going to be destroyed as the End Times continue. Some kind of alternative intervention system is going to be necessary to help people in crisis. I would prefer it was the church, a loving and involved effort to meet the needs of those who cannot provide for themselves for whatever reason, who don't have families to support them through a crisis. As the End Times continue, the resources of our churches are going to be needed by its members...leaving less for those outside their congregation.

Those who do not want GOD to be the source of their help need another place to turn to, and the government seems to be that source. These are the people who want the government to provide for every need.

Once we establish a program, it is very difficult to eliminate it. We become dependent on it...whether it is a farm subsidy, food stamps, Social Security, or student loans. As we go through this financial evaluation of our budget, why don't we think about what programs are most critical to the most in need. Food, shelter, and income are the basics of survival.

We can find solutions, if we really look for them.