Veggies and poor shopping

My first job, at the age of 16, was a cashier at the large chain grocery store in town. Think something like Shopper’s or Safeway. I worked there off an on till I was about 20. So when I was reading the Post’s District Extra article “Healthful Foods Not An Option For Many” I was trying to think back to those cashier days and remember what did the people buy? Did they buy a lot of fresh veggies? I know they bought a lot of meat. That I remember vividly. Tomatoes. Iceberg Lettuce. Collards and Mustard Greens. Cucumbers, yes. Fresh broccoli, not that often. I kind of doubt that WIC checks that passed through my line mentioned any fresh foods. A quick list of the CT WIC program shows that the only fresh veggie listed is 4lbs of carrots, but that can be substituted with 4 cans of carrots. Of course, food stamps gave more leeway. Still, meat was the preferred product of the stamp holder. But the good thing about WIC was it forced the holder to pick healthier juices and foods.
Also the director of DC Hunger Solutions mentions several items that stores, in areas where there isn’t a decent grocery store, don’t have. Things like skim milk, whole wheat bread and brown rice, healthier options. Whole wheat bread and brown rice, I had to acquire a taste for those things, particularly after being raised where white rice and Wonder bread were king. Southern food, although very tasty, bad for you. Fry everything! With solid Crisco. Season with pork. White rice. Grits. Super sweet tea. Yum. Brown rice, whole wheat bread I don’t think of them as part of the great tradition of southern food. There might be a cultural disconnect. The citizen who goes to the Popeye’s more than she goes to a store for healthier food, might do so because Popeye’s might be more familiar, cheaper and more convenient (no dish washing, prep work or cooking). Looking at the Popeye’s menu, sides include corn, red beans, potatoes, green beans and collards. Unfortunately, the salt content is way up there for those items.
Problem with the healthful option besides being not available is that I don’t think people have been sold on it enough to buy the healthy options when they do make an appearance. I noticed one store mentioned they lost money on fresh veggies, which spoil faster than your regular bag of chips. Lucky, there is a farmer’s market in Anacostia. Sadly, that is only for part of the year and one may have to pass several more convenient fast and low priced options before getting to it.

11 thoughts on “Veggies and poor shopping”

  1. Funny you mention this. Last week, in Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck), the person in line in front of me used food stamps to pick up the purchase. I was a little conflicted because, let’s face it, Whole Foods is a bit of a luxury. I can’t afford to do all my shopping there… it’s for special treats or things I need that I can only get there. Then I started to think, hey, everybody should be able to eat healthier– it shouldn’t be confined to only the affluent. I’m ok with our tax dollars ensuring everyone eats healthier because it’ll lower healthcare costs which we all shoulder, eventually. It’s a good thing, right?

    Then I looked closely at what was purchased: two pounds of chedder cheese, a bunch of ground beef, cheesey poofs (organic of course!), tortillas, a six pack of soda and a six pack of beer (beer paid for with cash of course).

    I got even more conflicted. What’s the point of paying premium prices if you’re going to eat crap? At least the cheesey poofs were organic.

  2. Cheddar (organic?)is not crap.
    Ground beef (organic? Humanely raised?)not crap.
    Soda, yeah that’s crap.
    Cheesey poofs, so crap.
    Tortilla’s, I don’t know. More than likely crap.
    Should the poor and socially conscious
    be regulated to the Giants and the Safeways?
    What I’m hearing T. is that you don’t want the economically disadvantaged using their govt funded resources on expenisive food. They’d get more bang for thier buck, maybe, at the Giant. But your egalitarian side wants fresh and decent food for all. Am I interpreting your conflict correctly?
    Sometimes there are things at Whole Foods that’s cheaper than the Giant. Like plain milk. Then think of the mini-marts in the hood. Those places charge Whole Food prices for things like tuna. Oh, there’s an idea for a story (hint, hint) do some comparision shopping between the quickie marts and the Whole Foods.

  3. Having been on food stamps, I’ve become exceptional at shopping for goods which aren’t taxable, which pretty much guarantees they’ll be on “The List”. Now when I was on food stamps, i was also, somewhat fortuitously for my diet, unemployed. This meant that I could buy lots of fresh vegetables and meat (the cheap, long stewing kind) and make good meals at home. That’s the issue though: it takes time to cook a great meal which is health from scratch. The thing was that I still wanted something to take my mind off it, and in my case it was expensive ice cream. Luckily for me, it was on “The List”. It was $3 a pint and not healthy, but it was what I needed to get me through it.

    I probably ate healthier on food stamps than ever since, and that was on a budget of $130 a month. There wasn’t a Popeye’s nearby, but I could see going there without thinking too hard about it. At the time a meal cost $5, it was easy, filling, it involved no clean up and you can see the cost upfront. If I had been working, I would probably have succumbed to Popeye’s more often, because I’d be dog tired. The job I got laid off from that got me onto food stamps, was at least 90 minutes away by bus, each way, up to 6 days a week.

    I even made my own tortillas from Maseca and water. That’s a job in and of itself.

    I’ve seen people use EBT/Food stamps at Whole Foods, and it can go either way. You don’t need to buy expensive food on a tiny budget, and often you’ll end up cutting out the quantity you do need. On the flip side, you can make it work, if you’re careful and don’t buy luxuries. Milk from Whole Foods tends to stay fresher longer because almost all of it is UHT.

  4. Mari– as I said, I’m conflicted. Healthiest food is great. Healthier food is good. Expensive not healthy food is bad. I’m not sure that two pounds of cheese and several pounds of ground beef is all that healthy, nor cheaper than Giant. I haven’t done a comparison shopping for it, but that would be interesting to know. But, if I was forced to live on that for a week or two, I’d want it to come from Whole Foods, for sure. I’d also run by the Giant to pick up some laxatives because that diet can’t help the digestive system stay regular.

    I guess my bigger point is that even at a place like Whole Foods, the purchasing patterns are probably the same as you pointed out, despite access to healthier food.

    When I was poor, albeit not on food stamps, I would buy 5 lb bags of pasta from Safeway and the cheapest sauces, a dozen eggs and an onion and could eat for about $15/wk. Granted, it tooks years to be able to eat pasta again… but that’s how T fed ‘po T.

  5. I would be curious to see a price comparison to the corner shops and Whole Foods. I ran into the one across the street from me to find some parmesan cheese and they didn’t have any. I was looking for some milk and they didn’t have any that wouldn’t expire soon. They did have a large assortment of junk food and some mystery meats in the freezer. The prices for everything seemed kind of high compared to what I’m used to paying. Then again, I’m pretty sure that groceries are cheaper in the suburbs to begin with.

    -The Viceroy of Lost Umbrellas

  6. Vicroy fear not, I have price quotes. I went to Whole Foods and G & G on NJ & Q, because the Savemore on North Cap doesn’t have prices on their stuff. I chose 3 things many quickie marts have milk, eggs and cans of tuna.:

    Can of Tuna
    Whole Foods .99
    G & G Mrk .99

    Dozen eggs
    Whole Foods $1.39 (reg) $1.99 ex lrg
    G&G $1.69

    Gallon of Whole Milk
    Whole Foods $3.49
    G&G $3.69

    Results- Whole Foods can beat G&G on some prices. However, G&G wins on the laziness front, when I just don’t want to leave the TC for food.
    A better test would be to find the prices of these three items at the 7-11, Bates market, Savemore, and anywhere else in Shaw that isn’t the Giant and you can get all 3.

  7. I might be heading to a market in VA for some food shopping tommorow. I’ll check some prices and see if they compare.

    The Viceroy of Lost Umbrellas

  8. Right before graduating from college several years ago, I became pregnant with my daughter. With no job yet and a new daughter to take care of, I put my tail between my legs, and applied for food stamps. Being on EBT is really helpful financially, but a big downer for your pride. Truxtonian is a great case in point as to why. When you are in line, at the cashier inevitably says, “debit or credit,” and you have to reply EBT, can you actually see the people in line examining your groceries, and looking you up and down i.e.: She’s dressed to well to be on food stamps, she has on somewhat expensive clothes/shoes, Didn’t I just see her get out of a Benz in the parking lot? (Oh yes, I did drive a benz to the groc. store to use my stamps, just wasn’t mine!)It is embarrassing, and to me, it was demeaning. And as you can see, it was not all in my head, as some have told me, people really take an interest in what you buy when you are on food stamps. So give people a break, they’re going through a tough time, and need a little help, so let them eat cheesy poofs if they want, and if have the nerve to shop at store like whole foods that is perceived at expensive, then more power to them. If someone objects to that, then maybe they think we should go back to the days of being handed out government issued groceries, like cheese. Live and let live. If you are offended by how someone else is spending the stamps you help, in part, pay for, just shrug it off anc consider yourself blessed not to need them yourself.

  9. I never shopped at wf because I’ve always thought of them as being expensive, but that’s untrue.
    their sale prices are better than any market here. where can I get a lb of organic butter for $4 on sale?
    I’m taking my mom who’s on FS and battling cancer to get her some healthy food there next week.
    and if anyone comments, I’ll just thank them for their help and they don’t need not worry bout supporting her anymore when her cancer does it’s terrible job.
    I never question how rich people get their money at a checkout line,
    they could be a slumlord, or anything.

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