June Food Stamp Challenge — Day Nine, Judgment Day

by Katy on June 9, 2010 · 88 comments

Today is day nine of the June Food Stamp Challenge, and I want to address issues of food judgment. You may say, “Oh no, I would never judge other people’s food choices!” but I beg to differ. We all do it. I certainly do it. I notice when people who seem to be struggling financially are buying bottled water, junk food or cases of beer. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but it’s hard not to notice the world around you.

I wrote about my grocery shopping trip a few days back and received this comment from a reader:

“I am inclined to ask the same question as Molly on Money (who asked  ‘Do you feel the quality of the food your buying has gone down with this challenge?’) about the quality of your food. One of the problems today is the overconsumption of processed foods and their “cheapness” being a drawing card to those of limited means. Chips, cereal and deli ham are all pretty poor choices…and you can see why the health of those on food stamps may be at risk. Certainly those items could be part of your “do without” mantra…even if you are experimenting with food stamps.”

Readers were quick to defend me, and I feel that this reader’s comment struck a nerve because it brings up an issue that no one wants to admit to. We look at each other’s food choices and judge one another. We notice what’s in each other’s grocery carts, and modify our own behavior when when we’re not alone. (Have you ever noticed how a group of people will only eat a small amount of sweets, and then that last cookie on a plate never gets eaten?) Our first lady, Michelle Obama has even taken on the challenge of addressing our nation’s growing epidemic of childhood obesity. She judges.

So is this bad? Was my purchase of a large amount of fruit and vegetables completely undone by a bag of “guacachips” and a pound of lunch meat?

If I truly felt defensive and private about my family’s eating habits, then I wouldn’t be putting it in the internet for all the world to see. I certainly asked for it.

I am not a perfect eater. I veer towards sweets, and have a tendency to eat more than I should. I’m not a dieter, and actually feel pretty good about my body. I think I can be healthy and attractive without being gaunt. I did secretly weigh myself at the beginning of this challenge, because I was curious whether I would lose or even gain any weight.

Of course, the issues of weight and healthy eating are not one and the same. One does not denote the other.

I am not perfect, but I do try and serve healthy meals and to provide opportunities for healthy snacks for my family. I also provide special treats like chips or pretzels in school lunches, an occasional box of sugar cereal or a hot dog when we go to Costco. There’s always fruit in the kitchen, and a big green salad with dinner. Our bread is whole wheat and the only drinks available are water, milk or orange juice.

So go ahead and judge, we all do it. It’s not a great thing, but it’s far from the worst. I dare you to try to ignore other people’s grocery purchases, it’s not easy.

Do you feel that you judge other people’s food choices? Are you more likely to notice what a person is buying when they’re using food stamps? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 85 comments… read them below or add one }

Laura June 9, 2010 at 11:25 am

I am so a grocery voyeur. I ALWAYS look at what other people are buying. Always have and always will. I’m especially fascinated by what people buy at Costco, the giant bags of chips, the huge muffins, 2 dozen croissants, and so forth. I don’t know though that I am judging; I just feel curious. But to be honest, I probably am judging in some way, maybe when I feel good that I didn’t buy any of that stuff.

Judging the purchases of others who use receive nutrition assistance has been a big topic recently, apparently because so many more people are receiving assistance. Some are upset because people are buying chips or soda or cake mix with their food stamps; others are upset because someone is buying organic produce or free-range chicken when they should apparently be buying Kraft macaroni and cheese or ramen (although I personally think ramen has taken a rap; it can be a nutritious meal with the addition of greens and some additional vegetables and protein).


Katy June 9, 2010 at 11:37 am

Ahh . . . cake mix. Should people who receive food stamp benefits not get a birthday cake? I know that making a cake from scratch is sometime beyond MY energy, pantry or mindset. My husband’s favorite cake is a box yellow cake with chocolate frosting. So that’s what he gets for his birthday.

If we’re all taking on the role of government spending stewards, then perhaps the bigger issue is the military. But that, is an entirely other can of worms.



Angela@MyYearWithoutSpending June 9, 2010 at 1:37 pm

That’s my husband’s favorite cake too! I have had to accept that he likes it better than anything I come up with from scratch. I guess he actually likes that “packaged” flavor that I think tastes fake and awful. But it’s his birthday, not mine. So my ego has to get out of the way!


Laura June 9, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Here’s a link to an article regarding attitudes about what people on food stamps should buy: http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/should_food_stamps_buy_organic_salmon
and this:

It’s the comments that are interesting.


Elizabeth L. June 9, 2010 at 11:31 am

We all judge. I know I do. I’m also quick to judge people who seem to be in a lower income bracket based on their food choices. But then I get defensive when others judge me. We all choose to do things or buy things for our own reasons. When looking into someone’s cart, we can’t tell why they are buying something. Maybe they had a bad day and just want to buy the fried chicken instead of making it. Just like you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, you can’t judge a person by what’s in their grocery cart.

We may believe our way is better, that what we buy our families better for our bodies and the environment, but we can’t expect the whole world to adopt our views on food choices or green living. I try not to judge people, especially those facing hard financial times, because I don’t know how they got there. And really, it’s not any of my business.


Annie Jones June 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I absolutely, positively, judge what is in someone else’s grocery cart. But never more harshly than I criticize what’s in my own cart. I want to be a person who buys whole foods, cooks everything from scratch, avoids all processed junk, etc., and I do okay toward that goal, but I’m not and may never be where I think I want to be with it.

However, I don’t think I judge someone any more or less for using SNAP. I remember a story I read from a lady I knew only in an internet forum. She was the mother of 6 or 8 kids and the family and was able to get food stamps while her husband spent the last weeks of his life in the hospital. At some point during that time, her youngest had a birthday, so along with the basic groceries she purchased with food stamps, she also purchased (with cash, I suppose) a birthday cake at the stores bakery. She was a from-scratch cook, but just didn’t have the time or energy to make a cake for her daughter because the family needed to be at the hospital as much as possible. Someone behind her in line made a rude comment about her purchases and food stamps, bringing an otherwise strong woman to tears right there in the store. 🙁

The point being, one simply cannot know what another person’s situation really is.


Katy June 9, 2010 at 12:05 pm


You never really know what’s going on behind someone’s facade. Thanks for the reminder.



Annie Jones June 9, 2010 at 11:56 am

I’m sorry if that didn’t make sense.

Her husband suffered a horrible work accident and they were able to get food stamps while he spent the last weeks of his life in the hospital.

Hope that clarified a little.


Ann June 9, 2010 at 12:19 pm
Katy June 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Okay, I bite. In what way did I miss your point? I addressed issues of healthy eating. I addressed the issue of judging each other’s food choices and I addressed the issue of a base of healthy eating with occasional treats.


Ann June 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Wow. Hostile.


Beth June 9, 2010 at 3:28 pm

I read somewhere that people tend to interpret electronic communications more negatively than they’re meant. If there’s a choice between a neutral reading and a negative one, folks often pick the negative.

I try to keep this in mind when reading forum posts and e-mails. I think Katy genuinely wants to know how she “missed the point.”


Katy June 9, 2010 at 6:21 pm

I guess I need to work more emoticons into my writing. 😀 ;-(


Lisa June 9, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Of course I watch what others buy and probably pass judgement too. As for watching more closely when people use food stamps, I don’t believe that I do. But during the past year our small community had several Amish families move in. I was curious and paid special attention to what type goods they purchased. I was shocked to see disposable diapers being bought for their baby. Then , we saw them load up in a fairly new pickup truck and drive away…with the man in the family behind the wheel. Even now, I am unable to rid myself of the idea that they must not be “true” Amish. Why do I get so caught up with such trivial nonsense???


magdalena June 9, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Lots of Plain people aren’t Amish. Me, for instance. I get the double-take when we get in the truck! Or buy beer. Live and learn, hey?


Anne Marie @ Married to the Empire June 9, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I’ve never actually seen anyone paying with food stamps, but admittedly, I’m not all that observant. But yes, there are times I judge what’s in other people’s carts. I used to be pretty bad about it until I started sale/coupon shopping. Suddenly, I was the one with the seemingly-unhealthy cart. For example, Super Bowl weekend traditionally has meats and soft drinks on sale, so I stock up on those things. Anyone looking at what I’m buying would probably think we’re unhealthy gluttons. But they wouldn’t know that 1) I’m stocking up to take advantage of sales, and 2) I buy the majority of my fruits and vegetables at another store with better prices on those things.

That’s taught me to try not to pass judgement on what other people are buying. I don’t know their shopping strategies or why they’re buying what they are.


Cate June 9, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Yes, yes, yes! I’m also totally a grocery cart voyeur. I love peeking in people’s carts. But at the same time…I know that if you were to look in MY cart on any given day, we would appear to have the strangest diet ever. For example, in the summer we buy all of our produce at the farmers’ market. We always buy all of our meat and eggs there. So in the summertime, were you to peek into my Kroger cart, we would appear to subsist on flour, sugar, beans, rice, and maybe some shampoo. So I try not to judge too much. :-0


Kris June 9, 2010 at 1:25 pm

Thanks for the post. Once I started posting my meals up for the challenge I felt really embarrassed by some of my food choices and, I’ll admit it, considered lying to make my eating habits seem healthier. I might not have the healthiest diet in the world but frankly, it’s much better than the way I used to eat. There will always be people who make better food choices than I do and I am okay with that.

And like the first poster, I do look into other people’s carts but usually its a quick glance to see if there is something they seem to be stocking up on that I may have forgotten was on sale at that particular store.


Jenny June 9, 2010 at 1:44 pm

I’m guilty of this too. Just today I was reading a Mommy blog and she had photos of her special family dinners and there wasn’t a vegetable in sight- lots of fried meat, white bread, and white starches. I forced myself not to comment on the lack of fruit and vegetables but still I worry about her kids not getting proper nutrition. At the same time I’m guilty of buying capri suns for my kids for a quick snack drink. Everyone has their own eating style and I wouldn’t like anyone to comment on what I’m serving my family for dinner (leftovers if you’re curious).


Christine June 9, 2010 at 1:46 pm

I was just in Costco over my lunch hour to pick up a new pair of glasses, and found myself wandering around. I noticed so many people’s carts, so full of food, and I found myself just thinking what an unbelievable bounty is available to us here in the United States. That’s just an aside though.

I’m still not sure what Ann’s point was — perhaps, giving her the benefit of the doubt, the point is that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy food, which encourages people on food stamps to forgo the whole foods and purchase the processed foods.

That is undoubtedly true — if you look at the amount of “caloric value” per dollar, then Kraft macaroni & cheese is a lot less expensive than an apple. For about the same amount of money, the purchaser gets enough calories to feed a family of three or four an entire meal. The apple, not so much, even though it is far more healthy. This is, perhaps, a result of the government’s agricultural & energy policies which subsidize the makers and purveyor’s of Kraft macaroni and cheese over the growers of apples.

Before we can change these incentives, we will need to change the way that government approaches food subsidies. It does no good to lament this fact without acknowledging that all of the incentives are skewed in favor of bad food at the expense of good food. Perhaps an apple, being good for us, should be subsidized while Kraft macaroni & cheese, being bad for us, should be taxed. Or, perhaps, agricultural subsidies should be withdrawn for all (or all but the smallest independent producers) and people learn to pay the true cost of their food at the grocery store rather than through their income tax withholdings. This will, of course, raise prices for food. Is that a bad thing? Or not?


wendy June 9, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Christine, I could not agree more with your point about how food subsidies are allocated. And while I do not disagree that an apple is more nutritious then mac& cheese, I would point out that there is mac & cheese and there is mac & cheese. Naturally there are brands other then Kraft that use real cheese and organic pasta, or even better one might chose to make homemade macaroni and cheese with quality ingredients for a low price. The Kraft brand (as sold in the US) uses artificial flavors and coal tar based dyes to color their product.

Appalled by the ingredients Kraft uses for their customers in the US, I wrote them a while back. I copied their response below.

Dear Valued Consumer,

We received your recent e-mail about our Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.

We completely understand that as a parent, nothing is more important than your family’s health and well-being. That is one reason Kraft Foods is so dedicated to making the safety and quality of our products our top priority.

So that is why we follow the guidelines of government agencies that are responsible for the safety of our food. In the United States, Kraft Foods only uses ingredients that have been recognized as safe for food use in accordance with U.S. Food & Drug Administration regulations. We will continue to use the current ingredients, which are recognized as safe.

Our products around the globe are different to reflect local preferences and tastes. Yet we use the same standards to select ingredients, always putting safety first.

Just so you know, our Macaroni & Cheese products are sold primarily in the United States and Canada. Although we have a variation of pasta and cheese products in Scotland/northern England and Australia, neither has made any changes to their recipe since 2006.

Thank you for sharing your concerns. Your views on our products are very important to us and we take them to heart.


Kim McMiller
Associate Director, Consumer Relations

Apparently other policy changes are needed concerning what constitutes food in the US.


Ann June 9, 2010 at 5:10 pm

You got it.


Rebecca June 9, 2010 at 2:06 pm

I think I judge less now that before our family was on FS. I know I love to look at what others are buying, mostly out of sheer curiosity. I often get into conversations in the check out about a food I had never tried, or something I had that they hadn’t tried.

I know the first time we were on FS, I had just had our second son, 11 months after our first was born. My husb was driving taxi part time and trying to finish school. We stopped answering the phone because I couldn’t pay the bills. I was terrified. Thanks to WIC we had formula, eggs, milk and that was about it. Then the FS started and we had over $400 for the four of us (2 babies). We ate like kings. It felt weird buying organic, steaks, GF foods but we couldn’t use the money to pay any bills, we had to spend the money on food, so we ate great food.

I know that over time I have become less and less bothered by others judgements, in all areas of my life. I know that raising 2 autistic children has made a difference, so has being on FS. I try and remember that a person making rude comments about my food choices or my child’s behavior doesn’t know me, knows nothing about how I live my life, and I really don’t care what they think.


magdalena June 9, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I’m coveting the Guacachips.


Katy June 9, 2010 at 3:24 pm


Guacaway from my Guacachips.



wendy June 9, 2010 at 4:44 pm


I want to try them!


magdalena June 9, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Okay, seriously – we lived poor and without any food supplement for several months last year. It was tough. We did eat white box mac & cheese (I used ketchup packets from a friend’s house for the milk portion), went without dairy, ate 99-cent packages of hot dogs. We drank pop because it was cheaper than water, and we didn’t have a secure source of clean water. (It was from a spring, and although beautifully clear and cool, there wasn’t anyway to know if some animal had contaminated the spring source.) We ate huge give-away zucchini and onions for vegetables, day after day. I couldn’t afford to invest in yeast, a bag of flour and sugar to bake bread, for heaven’s sake. And I’m well-educated in nutrition.

Be careful with your judgments; you don’t know someone’s circumstances.


Susan June 9, 2010 at 3:35 pm

Yes, I have judged others using food stamps in the check out line.
There was this young woman with a baby, who used food stamps, wic, and coupons. She was able to stretch her budget to get almost twice as much food that month!
Then, there was a grown man, dressed like a young teen; who was buying steak and junk food and didn’t have enough food stamps to cover the cost. He was looking for someone to give him the difference. His problem, his children had him buy new clothes and he didn’t have any money left over. He was wearing the designer clothes my MIL bought for her grandchildren because their parents couldn’t afford them.
I judged them both. And probably I was wrong to do so. But, I have tried my best to stick to our budget for nearly 40 years now. That has meant going without new clothes in order to feed my children.


Jennifer June 9, 2010 at 4:53 pm

I do find myself judging but then I try to think about the possibilities of what they are doing with that food. I also judge my own cart and sometimes laugh at the random things in it. For instance, I had to buy some items for VBS at our church. 3 huge jugs of apple juice and 2 large bags of animal crackers. I wonder what people thought of that purchase? Or the time I had to come up with an “x” snack for my daughter’s kindergarten class. I bought several packages of the refridgerated breadsticks, something I rarely buy to make “x” shapes. What did people think of that purchase I wonder? Actually I think I got all of those things on the same trip LOL. I also think to myself maybe they are having company over, maybe it is someone’s birthday, etc. I try to think a little more positively rather than judge, but I know we all do it, including me. It is very hard not to.


Alison June 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

Jennifer – it’s also what keeps the folks at the register entertained!

Katy – I read your blog daily. I love to cook and shop for food and consider myself somewhat savvy on doing both without breaking the bank – however I regularly learn from you and your blog about ways I can do better for my family and our budget. Judging from the number of comments to this post, you’re providing a great forum for thought-provoking comments we’re all interested in.


Jeanine June 9, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I must be the only person that doesn’t give a HOOT about what is in someone else’s cart.

I am seriously trying to nudge my cart to the side and run back to the truck to get my reusable bags and coupons!

I didn’t pay any more attention when I used SNAP than when I didn’t.


Jay June 9, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I don’t think I judge people’s food choices so much, but I definitely roll my eyes when I see them using produce bags for every. single. piece. of. produce. As though bananas really need to be wrapped in their own sheet of plastic… I just wish these would be outlawed or something already. People would cope with it so fast, everyone would be fine, and so much less waste would be created.

One “judgey” thing I’ve always wondered is why people buy coffee even when they’re super-strapped for cash. I’ve thought this was odd ever since I read The Grapes of Wrath in high school, and the characters were starving and used their last pennies to buy milk and bread and coffee. Maybe it’s because I’m not a coffee drinker, but I don’t think of it at all as a staple, and I’d WAY rather eat than get a caffeine fix!


namastemama June 9, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I must answer the coffee question because this is one I struggled with this month. I LOVE coffee. I have a french press, use filtered water, take the temp of my water, grind my own free trade organic beans and have a cup of bliss. of course, it’s time for me to buy coffee during this challenge. I buy in bulk, 5# at a time. I do apparently have a $ limit. For whatever reason the coffee I buy is 11.18 a pound. Last month I held off and was not willing to pay that. This month I got it on sale and total $ was 41.94, yes for coffee. This will last me and my hubby for months. so 1/4 of the money I’ve spent so far was for coffee. I would rather eat beans and rice than drink Folgers. I love beans though and can make them so many ways and they are cheap. I can save money elsewhere to have a great cup o’ jo. Would I still buy these if I were really of food stamps, I can’t say but I certainly wanted to see if I could still have a ‘luxury’ item and make the challenge for the month.


Marie-Josée June 9, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I judge when I see obese people buying loads of junk. I am overweight! Much of my food self-righteousness has faded, due to my struggle with weight, although I eat a mostly organic, healthy diet. I’m judging less since I’ve really grasped the concept that most overweight people KNOW what a proper diet is (such as myself), so either they are dealing with emotional eating, or they can’t afford to purchase healthy foods. I feel sad and angry that eating organic foods is mostly an option for the rich (or richer). I am rooting for a food revolution with access to organic, fresh and humanely produced food for all.


wendy June 10, 2010 at 3:16 am

I am with you Marie-Josée regarding a food revolution. It can be tricky avoiding HFC and MSG saturation and foods laced with pesticides and industrial waste dyes used to color most non-organic foods and candy in the US. Many people do not realize that rather then using food based colors many food companies are choosing cheaper coal tar based dyes to “liven” up their processed products. I want to believe that if people realized this they would reject these products and the “food revolution with access to organic, fresh and humanely produced food for all” would commence.


ConsciouslyFrugal June 10, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Or they’re just not all that invested in being socially acceptable. Some folks simply don’t care about adhering to external pressures to conform. Or… (on and on). There are a million and one reasons why people are the way they are. Fatness is not inherently indicative of poverty or emotional trauma. Making such assumptions embraces the bigoted foundations of fat people=bad. Marginalizing segments of the population based on appearance and/or perceived lifestyle is asinine. For fat folks who judge other fat folks, it’s referred to as the “projection of internalized oppression.”


SanQ June 9, 2010 at 6:15 pm

Wow. Well I’m the other one. This really surprises me that so many people care about other people’s GROCERIES. Wow.


Katy June 9, 2010 at 6:18 pm

I wouldn’t say that I “care” as much as I notice.



terilyn June 10, 2010 at 10:53 am

I watch closely to see if someone is buying multiples of something. Then if it is a product we might use, I ask them, “was it on sale?” It’s not that I”m judging their choices, I just don’t want to miss a good sale.


Kristen@TheFrugalGirl June 10, 2010 at 2:48 am

I don’t really pay attention in real life! lol The only time I notice is on blogs, and that’s usually when couponistas are all, “Check out this great food I got for $.10!” and most of it is processed.

Of course, it’s possible that they’re off buying fabulously unprocessed foods and just not posting them.


Karen June 9, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Maybe some of us are more aware of judging than others. It’s kind of the brain’s job to look around and see what’s what, so judging is normal but perhaps we don’t always notice we’re doing it.

The word judge has both denotations and connotations; so it can be used for good actions ( i.e., we all must judge situations in life, or we get into trouble) or bad actions (sitting in judgment without knowing the facts). This last category is what we’re talking about here obviously.

I realize that I’m being judgmental at the grocery store during two scenarios, neither involving food stamps: one is when I see a truly thin person unloading fat-laden snacks and sweets onto the conveyer belt, and very little produce. I would love to be able to eat that stuff sometimes without worrying about weight, truly, but that’s not my situation. Call me envious, but there seems to be an odd rule in life: if you carry some extra weight, very often your diet is MUCH better than that thin person’s. Go figure.

The second scenario is when I see a parent with young children unloading just crap, juice boxes with almost no juice in them, over-processed dinners, etc, and I feel bad for the kids that they have a poor nutrition role model and a parent who seems not to want to cook a real meal for them. This is something I feel I suffered from and it took me years to figure out how to eat better, how to carve out a better relationship with real food.

But after reading the many comments here today, I can really see that I need to try to suspend judgment in these cases, because who knows–both the thin person above with her junky snacks, and the parent in the second set-up might really have a legitimate reason for buying this stuff.


Diana June 9, 2010 at 11:12 pm

I wouldn’t say I judge, but I notice quite frequently. I have a healthy sense of curiosity!

I did several months ago however. I was behind a couple that had a cart load of groceries. There’s not much to do when the line is that long. Watching them unload their cart, I had to wonder…1)how the heck did they stay so thin and 2) why would you need that much junk? I couldn’t help myself. It was all processed (soda, chips, boxed, etc) Maybe they were planning a party. I don’t know, but it seemed a bit to random (cracks me up seeing carts that are all beer, chips, & steaks. BBQ!). Did they have a whole herd of children? Who knows. I had to give myself a good talking to! lol


wendy June 10, 2010 at 3:23 am

Excellent point Diana, normally, I only buy minimally processed or whole foods. But, I have a few events (graduations and BBQ) this month and will be buying snacks (chips, pretzels, etc). I am a tad overweight, and wonder what people will assume about me when they see several bags of the goodies in my cart.


Kim June 9, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Many years ago when my grown children were very young we were on foodstamps. My husband had gone to other pastures and it was only my two little ones and I. We got a lot of foodstamps, though I can’t remember how much it was. It was so humiliating because we had those paper things in booklets that you had to rip out one by one to pay your bill. I didn’t know much about healthy eating then. My mom was a “keep up with the Jones'” kind of shopper. We were conditioned to buy the top name brands of everything and I think I probably did a lot of that even with food stamps. But I always bought the important stuff first. So my first shopping trip was all meat, fruit, veggies, and ingredients for baking bread. It was always more than we could eat in a month. Now I stockpile food but back then the thought never occured to me. So I’d return with what food stamps I had left and pile the cart with goodies for the children and I.

Now when I shop and see folks with carts full of goodies I always smile and think maybe they’re doing just what I did and buying all the important stuff first and this is their goodie run.


Mrs. B June 9, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Wow…I just went to Trader Joes and bought 6 tins of sardines, 2 bottles of maple syrup, a gallon of milk, 2 boxes of crackers and a large extra dark chocolate bar. It makes me wonder what other people were thinking…probably something like that person is going to have a bad stomach problem tonight 🙂 . I had just come from Costo buying a box of oranges, bananas, tomatos, spinach, eggs…probably thought I was a health freak there.

I love your posts and all the comments that follow.


Katy June 9, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Thank you.

-Katy 😛 <----- Happy emoticon.


Ruthie June 9, 2010 at 8:29 pm

I notice sometimes. I don’t think I judge, but I might. It’s never as bad as fast food, and you can get that in the drive thru where no one sees it but you. You just can’t have food stamps pay for it. I’m a vegetarian, and my husband is a vegan, but I think it’s a lot *easier* for people to eat a varied diet inexpensively if they don’t exclude animal products, so I don’t judge there. And I like chips and candy, and grew up eating them, and I turned out fine (maybe a little pudgy :-)). If I had to budget so much that I couldn’t have the occasional treat, I’d be a sad girl indeed.

When we first started this challenge, I was under the impression that foodstamps didn’t cover everything, only nutritious foods. Someone replied to my comment on this blog that I shouldn’t be judgmental about people’s food purchases. Which I wasn’t, I was just incorrect. At that point I didn’t know there was a difference between food stamps and WIC. WIC attempts to fund only nutritious foods: ” infant formula, milks, cheese, fruit and vegetable juices, shell eggs, canned/frozen fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, canned fish, and peanut butter.”

I don’t really care what people spend their food stamps on. If they could only buy foods like the ones WIC covers, they would possibly have a very healthy diet, or they might eat sardines and cheese on whole wheat bread at every meal. And they wouldn’t be able to make a birthday cake for sure (OK I guess they could make whole wheat fruit sweetened peanut butter cake, which sounds pretty good to me :-D)


The Saved Quarter June 9, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I have definitely felt judged, particularly with using WIC at Safeway.

Just before Thanksgiving, I used a produce voucher for a can of 100% pumpkin. There was a long line behind me and I already felt bad for taking extra time with multiple transactions (each WIC voucher is a separate transaction), when the cashier said that I couldn’t use the voucher on the can because it had a picture of pie on the front. It wasn’t pumpkin pie filling, and despite my showing her the booklet that says any 100% canned vegetable is okay, she called over the loudspeaker asking for a manager to come up because “I have a problem with a woman using WIC.” I was so humiliated. The manager argued with me but finally agreed that it was okay. I cried in the grocery store line. It was awful and I spent 20 minutes checking out, with an audibly cranky line behind me.

Another time, I was buying a coupon deal that gave me an overage. Corn Flakes were on sale for $1 and if you bought 4, you got $3 back; I had coupons for $1 off two boxes so it ended up making me $1 for every four boxes purchased. I bought several dozen boxes of Corn Flakes with my coupons and used the overage to buy toilet paper and dish soap. The cashier was coupon-friendly and excited to see how I much money I’d get back, but she when she saw that I was using EBT, she made a statement that stung a little. She said, “You’re smart – using all those coupons and getting so much with your food stamps. You know, I see people on food stamps buy all kinds of crap. I hate it when they buy filet mignon, because I work my ass off and I can’t afford filet mignon. People shouldn’t get steak with food stamps. ”

My family doesn’t eat Corn Flakes; I bought them because I needed toilet paper and dish soap and didn’t have the money to do so. But I have bought steak – and organic steak, at that – with my food stamps on other trips. We don’t eat meat frequently and the one steak was our one red meat night for the month, and was cut small to make two meals for four.

There is judgment if you buy healthy but expensive items – steak can be lean and is a good source of protein, for example. There is judgment if you buy inexpensive junk food. The judgment seems to be worse if you’re using food stamps because it seems like some people think, “I’m paying for their (expensive food/junk food). They should be eating (fill in the inexpensive but nutritious blank)!” The cashier apparently thought several dozen boxes of Corn Flakes (cheap and healthy?) were a-okay, but a package of steak upset her.

I’m no less a hard worker just because my family has fallen on hard times; I may use my food stamps more wisely than some, but I also have access to the internet to print coupons, time to find deals, and time to spend in the supermarket doing multiple transactions for $1. Single parents working full time minimum wage jobs may not get as many great deals because they don’t have that much time; people in poverty may not have access to computers to print coupons; and that doesn’t even take into account access to grocery stores (food deserts) or transportation. I couldn’t take a few dozen boxes of Corn Flakes home on the bus, just so I could get toilet paper and dish soap!


Diana June 9, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Thanks for mentioning the single parent time crunch!

Parents working full time also don’t have as much time to devote to meal planning. Although I am not a parent, I know many working moms. I also know how much work it can be just to plan healthy meals for my elderly mother and me. Should they be judged because they resort to a quick way to feed their children? Everyone needs the occasional (or more 🙂 go to heat and eat or granola bar breakfast.


wendy June 10, 2010 at 3:48 am

“I hate it when they buy filet mignon, because I work my ass off and I can’t afford filet mignon. People shouldn’t get steak with food stamps. ”

Saved Quarter, It is horrible that people have been conditioned to feel agitation regarding the food choices of those who require food assistance but never once question corporate subsidies or military allocations such as aid to foreign militaries and foreign constructions projects. Nonetheless, you sound as though you do a great job of feeding your family with the resourses you manage.


Christine June 10, 2010 at 8:27 am

I agree with you, Wendy. I also question seriously whether anyone on FS is actually buying “filet mignon” which costs the earth. It is more likely that they are buying some form of lean steak. It does seem that sometimes people believe that people recieving food assistance should eat nothing but beans, lentils and rice — gratifyingly healthy and full of self-denial at the same time. I personally love beans & rice, but would go stark raving mad if I had to eat them all day every day.

I like this entire conversation, though, because I think it brings up some really good points. Does the fact that someone receives taxpayer assistance give “us” the right to tell them how to live or what to eat? If the answer to that is “yes” then I have some instructions I’d like to give AIG, Goldman-Sachs, Citibank and GM about how they spend their money (of course, those instructions would probably be inappropriate for this thread). Why does society respect the choices of rich people who receive taxpayer subsidies (and there are plenty of them) but feel absolutely justified in telling poor people who receive taxpayer subsidies how they need to live?


wendy June 10, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Christine, I feel this is a very important conversation, and commend Katy for addressing every aspect of the food stamp challenge. I can not tell you how many times I have pondered the very question you asked, “Why does society respect the choices of rich people who receive taxpayer subsidies (and there are plenty of them) but feel absolutely justified in telling poor people who receive taxpayer subsidies how they need to live” I have come to the sad conclusion that it is a result of our corporately sponsored media. Oftentimes, CEO’s will be cast in a warm glowing light and the working poor are often cast as lazy and ignorant. After years/generations this becomes indoctrination. I refuse to believe that people are born and raised to act this way with constant messages to look down instead of up. As someone who had to rely on WIC when my oldest was an infant (20 years ago) despite being a two (low) income family, I have come to the conclusion that taxpayers aren’t subsidizing food programs, rather they are subsidizing the inadequate wages that too many employers pay their workers.


terilyn June 10, 2010 at 10:58 am

Saved Quarter—
I think your post is the best I’ve read on this subject. You put a face to the problem of poverty, and the use of food stamps. I’m very sorry people were so rude to you. Sometimes the most heartless people are really the ones the most wounded in heart and in need of pity.


Magdalena June 10, 2010 at 4:22 am

Dear SQ, I wish I’d been there when you got hassled about pumpkin, either to argue your case, or better, to buy you the can of pumpkin! For heaven’s sake, what is wrong with people? The clerk and the manager had no compassion, and what about the people in line? Why didn’t someone help? Why do people feel better passing judgment and being hostile? Wouldn’t you feel better about yourself and life in general if you made sure a family had pumpkin pie at the holiday?

Let’s face it – we judge others so we can feel superior. Believe me -it is better to feel good about ourselves as human beings we act with compassion and humanity.


Jennifer Lorenzetti June 10, 2010 at 4:42 am

I judge; I know I do. I try to remember that everyone’s circumstances are different, but then I cringe when I see someone morbidly obese with a cart full of pop, chips, and snack cakes — and it isn’t a cliche; it happens almost every time I go to the grocery. I do need to work on simply letting what I observe pass through my mind and right out the other side without judging.

On the other hand, my secret obsession is the fear that I will be judged. We grow our own veggies, get eggs and meat from a farm, buy local butter, bake our own bread, and get a lot of other stuff from the farmer’s market. That means, when I actually do have a shopping cart in hand, I have chips and snack cakes, pop and energy drinks, and paper products — the things I can’t grow, and the splurges. In fact, I would like to get the splurges down to nearly zero, so that all I am buying at the grocery is ingredients and health/beauty/paper.


Shannon June 10, 2010 at 5:27 am

I wonder if people are more judgemental of a FS recipient’s grocery order than they are of someone paying for groceries out of pocket? In other words, whenever my sister bums money, the behind-her-back conversation is about how she would have plenty of cash if she would give up the cigarettes.


Jennifer Lorenzetti June 10, 2010 at 5:41 am

Shannon: Yes, I think so. And I think the impulse is good on the macro level, but horrid on the micro level.

What I mean is: FS are the money of taxpayers, routed through the government and given to the recipient. It is a good thing for taxpayers to want to keep an eye on what is done with their taxes, so taking an interest in the FS system as a whole is probably a good thing.

OTOH, on the micro level, one shouldn’t generalize from one FS recipient’s cart. We just don’t know if the purchases in that cart are representative of normal or an anomaly to that person. We don’t know if the purchases are a splurge, a gift, a desperate attempt to manage time (like the poster above with the family member in ICU), a savvy buy (like the corn flakes story above), or what. On top of that, it is just bad science, and therefore bad economic analysis, to generalize from a single data point.


Shannon June 10, 2010 at 11:24 am

exactly 🙂


Mandy @ Tiny Tables June 10, 2010 at 6:34 am

Judgement or not. I thought the point of this challenge was creating nutritious menus on a limited income to prove that it could be done. This challenge has also inspired me to talk to my local farmer’s market to get the token system that the guy from the link Katy posted talked about. I also plan to push my CSA to get their food stamp situation worked out.


Ann June 10, 2010 at 9:06 am

Yes. That was the point. It is easier to use overly-processed food to eat cheaply.


Alison June 10, 2010 at 6:39 am

And Mark Bittman at the NYTimes is adding some fuel to the fire with his post today: Why Whole Foods’ Shoppers Are Thin and Albertsons’ Aren’t http://post.ly/j3zs


Christine June 10, 2010 at 8:32 am

This is exactly what I was talking about above — I can’t claim to have thought of it first, but I am a huge fan of Michael Pollan. When, oh when, will my taxes stop subsidizing Con-Agra and Archer Daniels Midland, and McDonalds, and corn and soy, and start subsidizing local food production and distribution and broccoli, strawberries and spinach?


GLM June 10, 2010 at 7:07 am

OK, I’ll judge – how DARE you have chips that I can’t get??? (And probably couldn’t control myself around, either!) 😉


Jeanine June 10, 2010 at 7:08 am

I just thought of something…

When I went to apply for SNAP, it involved all matter of paper work. Birth certificates, ss cards, paycheck stubs, cancelled checks from paid rent, lease agreements….everything but our blood types. The process was fairly easy, just took a LOT of time.

After reading these comments, something struck me.

Never once was I ever offered a class, a book, even a flyer on how to responsibly purchase food with my SNAP benefits. I said then, and say now, 620.00 was entirely too much a month for a family of four…(although we did pay 525.00 a month in rent on a part time income…maybe that was why the allowance was so much…but still. )

I wonder why DHS (at least in my part of the world) doesn’t offer any classes or something to educate the recieptients on nutrition before being approved. Seems like it would be a requirement.


Tammy June 10, 2010 at 9:46 am

I agree wholeheartedly! I think if it were provided in a helpful, respectful manner it would be great! However, (and I may be jaded here) did anyone see Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution”? We have gotten so far away from cooking real food that many young people not only don’t know how to cook it, but may not have ever tasted it! The episodes in the schools were eye-opening to me The cooks were right – cooking real food takes more time, $ (in the school cases), availability issues and then the kids don’t like it – cause they’ve never tried it. I really try to expose my kids to healthy food and cook that way as much as I can, but not everyone would make those choices or have the luxury of doing so. Wouldn’t it be great if instead of just being handed the card, we could give people a suggested menu and recipes along with shopping list? I know there are services out there who provide menues, recipes & shopping lists and I have subscribed to them on occasion and really benefited. As far as judging what everyone else is buying – I’m not willing to throw that stone – cause I’m far from perfect too.


The Saved Quarter June 10, 2010 at 9:59 am

On the flip side of this, we live in an affluent area (although we aren’t affluent ourselves) and there is no cafeteria at the school my children will attend. School lunch is brought in by an outside catering company every day. The meals are often organic, the meats and milk antibiotic and hormone free, there is no junk filler, and they are balanced and nutritious. There is a website that parents go to and pick their child’s meals for the week and add personalized notes or stickers. Lovely, but it costs $5 for kindergarteners, $6 for 1st and 2nd graders. I don’t have $100 a month in my budget for my kindergartener to have lunch!

I haven’t asked about the free lunch program yet for my son who starts in the fall; I’m not sure how they handle that, but I do know that less than 1% of the student population gets it. I’m pretty sure I’ll be packing his lunch, as I don’t want him to be targeted as the poor kid right off the bat!


Laura June 10, 2010 at 10:13 am

I used to work for nutrition services for our school district, and the information for who receives free or reduced lunches was and is VERY confidential. It’s just like other possible confidential information a school maintains; they could be in a great deal of trouble if they let out that information without your permission. If you qualify for free or reduced lunches, go for it. I’m sure the catering company and the school have a way of keeping your information private. And you might also be surprised (if you knew) who else receives free lunches. I worked at a school in a fairly affluent neighborhood, and was surprised by how many kids received free or reduced lunches.


Andrea June 10, 2010 at 8:40 am

I ALWAYS peer into people’s grocery carts…it’s very fascinating (think more anthropological than judgemental, but seriously, there’s a lot of crap in those grocery stores)…I’m always amazed by the food combinations people buy in one trip (I usually go through the express aisle because I don’t buy much from the conventional grocery store), like white bread, zucchini and beer. A roast chicken, salad, rolls and wine. Diet soda and doughnuts. I always wonder what people are buying it for (making dinner for a date? school lunches? feeding old people?). In the regular lines I’m awed by the sheer amount of food people buy in one trip. Fascinating.


Stacy S June 10, 2010 at 9:03 am

I read your blog often, but rarely post. I’m inclined to today because I am so fascinated by the comments that have been posted. I live in Canada and, as far as I know, we don’t have food stamps or any equivalent program. We have employment insurance, which is similar to welfare I believe. We have food banks, where people can get free food given to them if they qualify. Money and food is donated by individuals and possibly stores – there’s always food drives and events where admission is a donation to the local food bank. A food bank generally stocks canned goods and non-perishables. Common requests for donations are formula, peanut butter, pasta and canned goods. Presumably people using the food bank would purchase fresh food themselves.
As for the food system and government subsidies, that’s a whole other issue and discussion…it needs to be addressed but it’s so complex that I fear I will go off on a tangent if I start writing about it!
I know I look in carts and wonder what drives people’s choices, but then I look at mine. Since I tend to be restocking the pantry or bulking up on sale items, I often have an eclectic mix of groceries myself! I have a habit of, say, being miffed about someone’s bad driving, then thinking…perhaps their mom is really sick in the hospital, or maybe their boyfriend just broke up with them – it gives me a different perspective and makes me less judgemental. Perhaps I should use that same approach when looking in people’s carts…


fairydust June 10, 2010 at 9:05 am

My judgment seems to change with my particular situation. I admit that I do notice what’s in the cart of the person ahead of me if I’m standing there with very little else around me to look at.

I used to marvel at well-dressed people and their obviously upscale fancy foods (that I felt I couldn’t afford), back when we were borderline bankruptcy cases with no jobs.

When I was on Atkins losing my 60 lbs, I definitely noticed any particularly large person getting lots of sugary soda and donuts — whether I was judging or just plain envious is still not clear to me.

But nowadays since entering the world of couponing, I find myself wondering at the folks who are buying items that I know there are high-value coupons for, but they’re not using coupons! I stand there aghast that they’re just throwing their money away (IMO). Sometimes, if I have the right coupon and I’m not using it, I’ll pass it up to them. I don’t feel righteous or anything, I just figure it’s a pay-it-forward gesture that’s easy enough to do. But, really, the amount of money folks spend buying things at full price is almost scarey (now that I know about coupons) — back in the day, I probably did the same thing while I was buying what we wanted each week instead of what was on sale and there were coupons for 🙂

I’m thoroughly enjoying this challenge, Katy, and really look forward to your posts!


WilliamB June 10, 2010 at 9:12 am

I judge. It’s the snippy little voice in the back of my head mouthing off again. I see obese persons buying lots of junk food, I see old people buying junk food, I see families, even my friends’ families, buying bags of drinks that advertise “10% real fruit juice!”. (This one’s a twofer: chemical water *and* wasteful expensive packaging.)

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that judging isn’t always a bad thing. I think the bad thing is to judge based on inadequate data. Judging by a single cartful isn’t valid – whatever the little voice in the back of my brain says about it – but if you see a pattern then you have data upon which to make a judgment. So while I tell my little voice to shut up in the supermarket, I don’t when it’s my friends because I know what my friends’ patterns are.

For the record, I consider filet mignon expensive but not junk.


Beth D. June 10, 2010 at 9:31 am

As a former grocery cashier, I just wanted to mention one thing about WIC. I totally feel for the woman who was hassled by the manager over the can of pumpkin. However, having been in the cashier’s shoes, you should know that the requirements for WIC are EXACTING. There were extreme rules that did not allow us to make any exceptions and if we did, it was considered fraud which meant possible jail time! I remember one time a woman wanted Cheerios and the WIC coupon listed a certain size that was no longer made. We could not sell her a smaller box and she had to go back to WIC to get an updated coupon! I felt bad for her, but there was no way I was “committing fraud” for her cereal needs.

Working for the same place for so many years, after a while I got to know the people who were on food stamps who were honestly trying to nutritiously feed their family the best way they could. I also got to know the people who who were trying to scam the system and that made me mad. (One woman would find a certain cashier she knew and got her to ring up cigarettes as “non-taxable food item” so she could buy them with food stamps.) You can’t make accurate judgments on just one cart, but over time patterns do emerge.

I try not to judge what other people are buying, but I do love to make a game of trying to guess what they are doing with the random assortment of stuff people buy. Last week, the guy in line behind me was only buying (not on sale) frozen pizzas and pounds of ground hamburger. I imagined he was having a party for high school boys 🙂


The Saved Quarter June 10, 2010 at 9:52 am

I completely understand the exacting nature of WIC coupons, and the need for them to be used correctly. What was troubling to me in that situation was how the cashier handled it, calling over the loudspeaker that “I have a problem with a woman using WIC.” She could have just as easily said, “I need a manager on aisle 7” and not humiliated me in front of all of those people. She also could have looked at the official WIC booklet that I was showing her, which matched the one in her drawer, showing that the product I was buying was allowed. I’ve had other cashiers who weren’t sure if a product qualified and found out without being rude, without announcing to the whole store that I was a problem and broke!


Jeanine June 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Amen sister!

There’s a WAY to say anything.

I’m sorry she made you feel as such. Shame on her.


Beth D. June 10, 2010 at 10:11 am

I definitely agree with you Saved Quarter! I would never have handled it that way. I just have to say, for me, I never thought of women with WIC as being broke, just smart to use a program when they need it. It was the gosh-awful specificity of WIC that drive me crazy.

It always seemed like there was one cashier who thought of the loud speaker as like a walkie-talkie. One woman actually said “Can someone please come get money out of my drawer? It has too much, maybe $5000 and my drawer is locked.” Um, yeah.


My Roman Apartment June 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

I never notice what other people have in their carts. When I’m waiting behind someone, I’m too busy reading all the trashy magazines to notice what’s going on in front of me. When I’m at the cashier, I’m always too aware that the rest of the line HATES me for A: using eleventy coupons that take forever to process and B: writing a check to notice what the people behind me are doing, other than rolling their eyes.


ConsciouslyFrugal June 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm

“Of course, the issues of weight and healthy eating are not one and the same. One does not denote the other.”

Thank you for this. It’s such an obvious thing that escapes so many folks, even the intelligent and enlightened among us!

I really don’t care about what’s in someone’s cart. People are entitled to exist exactly as they are, in whatever fashion they see fit. Sure, I’d like people to change their consumer ways, but to assume that what I see of a person in any given moment represents the totality of their decisions is absurd.

Having said that, I recently found myself irritated that KFC was accepting EBT cards. And then I had to stop myself. If I want fast food, I can get it. Why would I deny a person who is on food stamps the same? Are they somehow less deserving of the opportunity for choice?

No one makes “good” (whatever that means) food choices all the time. Well, perhaps highly restrictive eaters who have serious issues, but for the most part, we’re all just human. One of my greatest irritations with the “locavore” movement is its judgment and pretense. Thankfully, the HI Women’s Journal is letting me rant about it in an upcoming article! 😛


Hiptobeme June 10, 2010 at 9:44 pm

If you had peered in my cart today you all would have been horrified. My hubs is coming home fore the weekend so I bought a bunch of “treats” like bacon and frozen hashbrowns. Still cheaper than eating at restaurants.


CC June 11, 2010 at 3:05 am

In my cart yesterday, beer, dog food and canning jars. If people are interesting in what I’m buying then they always see a weird mix of stuff. I don’t shop for meals, I shop for items I need/out of. I also don’t worry about what others are buying.

The biggest thing that bothers me when shopping is the rude people in line with me. You know the clerk is doing their best yet people want to moan and complain about how long its taking, which works others up. I always think of it as a time to practice my patience, its good for me. Its not that I like to wait but if I’m in that big of a hurry I don’t stop to shop. Sometimes the thrift store is the worst place. You see people taking their time looking around but the minute they get in line the rush is on.

Well I suppose this is where I’m judging. I don’t care what you buy just try to be nice while doing it.


Penniless Parenting June 13, 2010 at 10:33 pm

I do judge when I see what other people are buying. Usually my (unspoken) criticism is saved for friends and family than strangers I see in the store. Friends and family who complain to me that they have no money for necessities, to pay the rent or mortgage, etc… and then I see them being so wasteful with their money, like going out to restaurants, going on vacations to the bahamas, buying their kids 50 dollar playmobil sets. I judge them, because who are they to complain about having no money when they are being so wasteful?
Then again, I’m sure people judge me.
That’s life.


Auntie Karen June 18, 2011 at 11:25 am

You have certainly hit a hot button with this one, Katie. I’d like to add a slightly different perspective. When I was in the classroom and taking my students to help in Food Bank, I became aware that, although many families would have preferred to have stocked up on healthy choices (NOT the brand name), they were also often dealing with living conditions in which they did not have the kitchen facilities to refrigerate, prepare, or cook items that were healthier. Instant oatmeal made with hot water out of a tap filled a hungry child’s tummy when cooking whole grain oatmeal from a bulk bin might not be an option. A painful lesson for my students and a sad reminder that we cannot judge until all the evidence is in. The best we can do with the “Food Stamp Challenge” is shop wisely and healthily, and donate what we save without judging how it will be used. Thanks for helping me remember that.


Auntie Karen June 18, 2011 at 11:30 am

Good Heaven’s! I KNOW your name is KATY–not katie. I am sooo embarrassed. Forgive me.


Kris June 18, 2011 at 11:47 am
Sara Wolk June 18, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I definitely can make a lot of judgements about food, and as I’ve gotten older and even become an organic veggie farmer it’s only gotten worse. Lots of food choices are about preference or health, sweet vs salty, protien vs carbs… but there really are a lot of food choices that are about right and wrong, so its easy for me, having visited a factory dairy farm to look at someones purchase and shudder. It also turns out that I’m on food stamps (yes, growing organic produce to sell is a labor of love for most of us). So how can I be so judgmental without being mean? Because it isn’t ordinary peoples fault that factory farming and super processed foods dominate the market. This stuff is massively subsidized by the government and the system that created it. They spend billions to encourage people to eat that stuff, its no accident that most food and most people aren’t healthy. (Don’t tell Michelle Obama.) That’s why I can look at someones shopping cart and not judge the shopper. I am able to mostly eat organic and all natural on my food stamps, even without help from my garden, but that’s taken years of focusing on food, learning to cook, making sacrifices and learning how to make quick simple foods from scratch. That’s a long process for most of us and it’s important to be supportive of anyone trying to head in the right direction. It should be a lot simpler than it is, but at the best of times good food is an art.


Michele June 19, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Food Stamp recipients are mooching off the government? Some recipients have been working and paying taxes into the system for years and have every right to use a program that they qualify for.


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