Rabbiing on Food Stamps
R. Daniel Isaak is the rabbi of Congregation Neveh Shalom in Portland, Oregon. He decided to join Oregon’s governor Ted Kulongoski on the “food stamp challenge” of eating on only $3/day to raise hunger awareness and protest the paltry federal allocations to families in need.
R. Isaak’s daughter, Myrrh, posted some of his reactions on her blog. A few snippets:
“Should we invite someone for Shabbat?” I innocently asked Carol.
“How exactly do you propose we do that on our $3/person/day food allowance this week?” she responded.
“Oh, yeah.” In that moment it had skipped my mind.
1) When availability of food is an issue, it literally consumes our every thought. Eating is so central to our being that when the budget is so constrained, we can think of nothing else, but what will I do for the next meal.
2) We did a lot of planning. On such a tight budget where every penny counts, it is absolutely necessary to plan meals days in advance and shop with extreme care, watching for sales, coupons and how to cut corners wherever possible. We can’t afford to make a mistake, buying something that might spoil or that our households will be unwilling to eat.
3) No “gourmet” foods or alcohol, and treats must be severely limited. We are daily bombarded with advertising telling us what we “deserve” and basic to all these themes is food, not necessarily for nutrition, but because we are somehow entitled. It’s a challenge.
4) In order to live on such a budget, it is imperative to know how to cook. Prepared foods are much too expensive for a $3/day budget. Unfortunately from much that we know, many dependent on food stamps are products of our fast food generation and either do not know how to cook nutritious meals or live in circumstances where they do not have proper kitchens, making cooking extremely difficult.
5) We had to be creative. Most sources of protein, such as meat and fish, cannot be included. Most fresh fruits and vegetables are also largely unaffordable as are most cheeses. Eggs are cheap, but have the added concern of raising cholesterol to dangerous levels. (One vegetarian Neveh Shalom family suggested that we increase our legume consumption. Another wrote that a bowl of cheerios and milk only costs about $0.35.)
6) Shopping inexpensively can be expensive. Carol’s first stop to plan for the week was at Winco Foods, where she bought some inexpensive staples and canned goods. She talked with our son Misha about how she was going about this project. “And how much did you spend on gas to get to Winco?” he inquired. “Figure that in your limited budget as well,” he suggested. “Poor people have to.” Added to that we know that in the neighborhoods where poor people live there often are no super markets and people only have access to much more expensive 7/11’s or small neighborhood grocery stores.
6) Dropping in to Starbucks for a coffee is clearly not in the cards. You could spend your entire day’s food budget on a simple latte! For that matter going out to eat anywhere at any time is beyond the realm of available options.
7) All this assumes consumers who are not required to be on special diets or eat various kinds of more expensive ethnic foods. The options become fewer and fewer for those who are lactose intolerant or must avoid various grains or suffer with diabetes or are determined to maintain a Kosher diet, etc.
Carol went to book group this week with a couple of slices of bread, her discount peanut butter and jam for her lunch. It prompted conversation among the ladies and they had the opportunity to take a few minutes to think about the issue of food insecurity and what it means not to either have a full refrigerator that one can resort to at any time or the option of going to the local deli to pick up a sandwich.
Thank you, Governor Kulongoski. I think your challenge is a very Jewish exercise. Many reasons are given as to why we fast on Yom Kippur. Among them is to remind us as we stand before God on this most solemn day in the Jewish calendar of those who have nothing to eat. And then when our stomachs begin to growl just after noon on Yom Kippur we read the words of Isaiah that I quoted two weeks ago calling on us to “Share your bread with the hungry, Take the wretched poor into your home, When you see the naked, clothe him, And not ignore your own kin.” Similarly we sit in the Sukkah in order to remind us of the innumerable people who do not have proper shelter and are exposed to the elements. On Passover we begin the Seder with an invitation to those who are hungry to join us in our celebration.
Full post here.