A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

One family's experiment living on a food-stamp budget

First Trip to the Market

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Food shopping, particularly at my beloved Wegman’s, is usually something I look forward to. The store is always bright an cheery—warm in the winter, cool in the summer. The food and flowers are  beautiful. Everything is orderly; I like order. The choices seem endless. And as someone who revels in trying new foods, there is always something to discover.

Ordinarily, I have the luxury of paying little attention to posted prices. I look at them, certainly, but unless something registers as outrageous (like swordfish steak for $21.99/pound), the information goes past. It had not previously registered that a half gallon of Wegmans conventional fat free milk costs $2.06, while their organic option is $3.49 and the the Organic Valley brand that I usually buy (because it is packaged in a paper carton and doesn’t have the plastic taste) is $4.49. As I entered the store today, I realized that I would have to pay attention—close attention. And I was actually feeling some anxiety about whether we can maintain the SNAP budget.

My list wasn’t long but included salad fixings for the meal I’m to deliver tomorrow afternoon to a friend with new baby, broth, mushrooms, onions, celery and arborio rice for the risotto I’m bringing to Saturday’s party, and milk. Normally this would be an easy: Produce section for the veg and the natural foods section for the milk, broth and rice—DONE. But the Pacific Natural brand mushroom broth that I would usually purchase for this recipe was $3.79 and I felt like I needed to do better that that as I was making a double batch. So I cruised on over to the soup aisle—where Michael Pollan says that I must never shop—and checked out the broth offerings. No mushroom. But I could get beef broth for $2.99/carton less a $0.50 discount with my Wegmans card. My first compromise!

Now the milk. I generally buy organic milk because, as the mother of pre-adolescent daughters, I worry about the added hormones. I also prefer my cows not to be taking a whole lot of antibiotics for their sake and that of the environment. Now, faced with the $2.43 price differential between my usual choice and the least expensive—conventional—option, would I put my money where my parenting (and environmental) mouth is? Being that sort of creature, I split the difference and purchased the Wegmans organic milk. I’ll live with the turned up noses until the girls get used to the plastic taste—which can’t be good for them, right?  We’ll see if that choice remains sustainable.

Learning: I now get the concern over the cost of organics—particularly organic animal products where the extra cost appears to be magnified. But I don’t feel like taking it seriously when my well-healed students say it.

Position: For now, at least, the organic milk is still worth it for me.

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