According to Salon‘s Jennifer Bleyer, a significant number of young hipsters are using food stamps across the country — and using them to buy things like organic vegetables, line-caught fish, and raw milk cheese.
Although the majority of the 38 million Americans on food stamps are the “working poor, the elderly, and single parents on welfare,” Bleyer says that the unemployment rate among adults aged 20 – 34 rose 100 percent in the past two years, and in the last three years, the unemployment rate among those with a bachelor’s degree (or higher) was up 179 percent.
Many of these people also qualify for food stamps based on income level due to changes made as part of the stimulus program which “relaxed the restrictions on able-bodied adults without dependents to collect food stamps.”
The difference is, these young adults are more educated about health and have preferences for good food:
Magida, a 30-year-old art school graduate, had been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession caused arts funding — and her usual gigs — to dry up. She applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.
“I’m eating better than I ever have before,” she told me. “Even with food stamps, it’s not like I’m living large, but it helps.”
Mak, 31, grew up in Westchester, graduated from the University of Chicago and toiled in publishing in New York during his 20s before moving to Baltimore last year with a meager part-time blogging job and prospects for little else. About half of his friends in Baltimore have been getting food stamps since the economy toppled, so he decided to give it a try; to his delight, he qualified for $200 a month.
“I’m sort of a foodie, and I’m not going to do the ‘living off ramen’ thing,” he said, fondly remembering a recent meal he’d prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. “I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it’s great that you can get anything.”
I think it’s great that you can get anything, too. If only more people who use food stamps were buying this kind of food. It’s easier to do when you’re single and not feeding a family, of course.
The real issue isn’t what you can or should buy, but who should be getting this kind of assistance. I’ll leave that to others to argue about. I do know that when I was in my early 20s I would have more than qualified. I had to stop going to classes a few times to get myself temporary jobs to make my rent. I ate healthily, but sparsely. At the time, unemployment in the city I lived in was about the same as it is in today’s economy.
Still, I associated food stamps with the very poor, and those who were truly unable to find work to support themselves. According to Breyer, there is less embarrassment about getting stamps now, but the stigma lingers:
Josh Ankerberg, a 26-year-old who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., started getting food stamps a year ago as an AmeriCorps volunteer, a group that has long had special dispensation to qualify for them, and he has continued using them while he job hunts. He uses his $200 in monthly benefits at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and a local farmer’s market to maintain his self-described healthy flexitarian diet, and notes that two of his roommates — a graduate student in poetry and an underemployed cook, both in their 20s — also started getting food stamps in the past two months, as have other friends and acquaintances.
Still, Ankerberg said, “There’s a sort of uneasiness about it. A few friends that are artists in Williamsburg are like, ‘Don’t say we’re on food stamps too loudly. Just keep it between you and me.'”