Friday, February 6, 2009

Challenging The Welfare State: Eating Well On A Food Stamp Budget

One of the oft-recited justifications that welfare state sympathizers invoke for the large-scale redistribution of money by the government is the 'basic standard of welfare' argument. Essentially, this position involves the claim that human beings are entitled to be provided with a minimum standard of life, a large part of which is dietary (i.e. being provided with enough food to remain alive).

One often hears it claimed that those below the poverty line who are able to keep themselves alive are nonetheless incapable of procuring food that can provide them with the requisite nutrients, fats, and vitamins to maintain a healthy body. Consequently, true welfarists take the 'basic standard of welfare' argument one step further and suggest that we are not merely entitled to be fed by the state but that we are owed a nutritional diet as well.

Setting aside the philosophical problems and logical inconsistencies involved in the 'basic standard' argument, it is interesting to consider whether this last claim has any truth to it.

Ari Armstrong
from Colorado has taken it upon himself to prove that the maintenance of a highly nutritional diet is indeed possible on a food stamp budget.


New Diet Protests Food Stamp Increases

A healthy diet is achievable on a food stamp budget, and Ari Armstrong plans to prove it, again. Armstrong, who previously spent a month eating for $2.57 per day -- see -- will spend February 4-10 eating a highly nutritious, low-carb diet for less than food stamps provide.

Armstrong said, "Not only has Congress increased the food stamp budget since my $2.57 per day diet, but the so-called 'stimulus' package calls for additional food-stamp funds. Enough is enough. I oppose any increases to the food stamp budget, and call for the program to be replaced with voluntarily funded food banks, which offer more nutritious food at lower cost."

Armstrong's new diet, unlike his previous one, will be low-carb, roughly following the advice of such writers as Gary Taubes and similar to "paleo" or "cave-man" diets. The diet will consist of meat, dairy, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, olive oil, chocolate, and spices. It will not contain any grains, vegetable oils, hydrogenated fat, potatoes, or processed sugar.

Armstrong will limit his daily budget to $4.74 per day, less than food stamps provide to a single individual. The Department of Agriculture -- see -- offers a family of four $588 per month, or $4.74 per person per day. (The food stamp allotment is reduced for those deemed able to fund some of their own food.) Armstrong will not accept any free food, and he will shop only at nearby regular grocery stores. He will track all his purchases and receipts at

"With the previous diet, my goal was to minimize daily expenses. With the new diet my goal is to show that a very healthy diet is possible on a limited budget. The cost of my diet will actually be inflated, not only because I'll be eating no free food, but because a week's diet is not able to take advantage of bulk purchases of sales items," Armstrong pointed out. "I've been known to purchase 40 pounds of bananas, a dozen squash, or twenty pounds of meat when they're on sale; obviously that's not possible for a single week."

Part of the motivation to track the new diet was a recent CNN report -- see -- in which a woman on food stamps complains, "We get like the mac and cheese, which is dehydrated cheese -- basically food that's no good for you health wise... Everything is high in sodium and trans fats... and that's all we basically can afford. There's not enough assistance to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight."

Armstrong replied, "That's nonsense, and I'm prepared to prove it. I'm frankly irritated that some food stamp recipients waste our tax dollars on overpriced junk food, then complain about their grocery budget. I'll make the following offer. For anybody on food stamps who complains that they can't afford good food, I'll be more than happy to evaluate your entire monthly budget, including your grocery budget, and recommend judicious cuts, limited to the first five people who reply."
This is an excellent idea and its successful execution will deflate the welfarists' idea that a healthy diet cannot be maintained on a restricted budget.

H/t Diana Hsieh

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