Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Grocery Adventures

I'm back home, safe and (somewhat) sound after our holiday trip. More on that later, perhaps.

I went grocery shopping last night, and was assaulted by the craziness that is the cheap grocery store on the first day of the month - when food stamps are deposited into beneficiaries' accounts.

It was like the UN in there, and I don't mean that just in reference to the surprising diversity of languages I heard. More in the sense that people were enriching themselves by way of "helping the poor," and acting incredibly entitled to *my* money.

When I'd finally finished my modest shopping, I stood in line. There were no short ones, so I stood behind a non-english-speaking family whose cart was overflowing with stuff. And this is the store with the really deep, large carts. They piled their groceries until the belt was full, but their cart still had two-thirds left. The stuff I saw was not your frugal beans and rice, either. Well, there was rice, but there was also boxed pizzas and steak and rice krispie treats and popsicles and granola bars and cereal and jugs of juice and Marie Callendar's microwave meals and frozen shrimp and jello and animal crackers and Arizona drinks and crab legs. Crab legs!!!

My mom, a divorced, handicapped mother of two was on food stamps back in the day. We had a lot of help from my grandparents, and sometimes those food stamps would build up in the drawer. I'd get permission to ride my bike to the store and spend some of those - on Snapple drinks, ice cream, whatever I wanted (and could carry home on my bike). I didn't understand all the ins and outs of the system then, but I certainly realized that we ate "fancier" than a lot of other people I knew who actually had to pay for their own groceries.

Eventually I developed a philosophy, which was brought to my mind last night as I watched the eastern-european ladies wave their benefits card in the clerk's face and argue for many minutes (I found a new line after 15, and they were still there, holding things up much later when I left the store) about how much they should have, or whatever. Why should the "poor" be more wasteful with my money than I am? Why should they be able to buy boxed cereals - or! - already-made rice krispie treats??? That's absurd. One would assume that they need me to buy their groceries because they don't have a job - or enough of one. If that's the case, they might have time. Time to learn some other skills, time to prepare their own rice krispie treats. My philosophy is that certain foods be scrapped from the food stamp allotment. No boxed cereals. Just oatmeal. Certainly no Snapple! No bread, just flour and yeast and ingredients. No seafood over $5/lb!! Canned tuna will do. Cake mixes, refrigerated cookie dough, pancake syrup out. Heck, throw out sugar and chocolate chips too, and these folks might just be a little more motivated, ya think?

Now, of course there are people who have fallen on temporary hard times, and this safety net is just that for them. While I still think one's family and church be the first lines of defense, I understand that this type of thing can be a "hand up" to them. I DON'T think it's reasonable for this to be a "lifestyle." Most especially when they're buying the kind of things I saw, while chatting away on their blackberry.

And these people can vote.

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