Month: February 2018

Actual Data – On What Is SNAP Money Spent?

Turns out there is actual data (not complete, as it does not account for non-SNAP cash purchases … but how many people pay cash at the grocery store?) regarding what groceries people buy with SNAP and what groceries they buy otherwise. Here.

And I get the compassionate argument that I shouldn’t dictate what someone can and cannot purchase just because they happen to have fallen on hard times. That’s a bit like saying you cannot be irked when a friend asks to borrow a couple hundred bucks to make rent and you then encounter the same friend buying a new couture handbag / stereo system / whatever floats their boat. You can! And probably are. Because it’s one thing to blow your own money on whatever you want, it’s quite another to tell me you need help at the same time. So, yeah, I want food bought with SNAP funds to be better than that on which an average American spends their grocery money.

And … kind of surprising … it might be. Either way, #1 is meat/poultry/seafood (not a vegan’s view of healthy, but not guaranteed to be junk food). SNAP folks? #2 is veggies, 3 is cheese, 4 is fruits. Crap starts to show up as #5 (soda and stuff) and 6 (desserts). Frozen prepared foods, 8, are generally unhealthy. For the non-SNAP baskets: soda is #4, frozen prepared foods #4, and prepared desserts #5. Welfare queen stereotype aside, it turns out SNAP recipients do allocate more of their funds to non-junk categories than average American shoppers.

But there’s better and there’s well.  I don’t think it’s right for two billion dollars in tax money to go toward SNAP purchases of sweetened beverages. And another two billion for prepared desserts. That’s eight BILLION dollars in one YEAR toward obvious junk if we concede people believe bottled water, fruit juices, and coffee/tea are essentials. Up to 9.7 billion if those are included as well.

SNAP recipient purchases:

Rank Category $ in millions % of expenditures
1 Meat, Poultry and Seafood $5,016.30 15.92%
2 Vegetables $2,873.90 9.12%
3 High Fat Dairy/Cheese $2,483.20 7.88%
4 Fruits $2,271.20 7.21%
5 Sweetened Beverages $2,238.80 7.10%
6 Prepared Desserts $2,021.20 6.41%
7 Bread and Crackers $1,978.20 6.28%
8 Frozen Prepared Foods $1,592.30 5.05%
9 Milk $1,211.00 3.84%
10 Salty Snacks $969.70 3.08%


Non-SNAP purchases – Top 10:

Rank Category $ in millions % of expenditures
1 Meat, Poultry and Seafood $1,262.90 19.19%
2 Sweetened Beverages $608.70 9.25%
3 Vegetables $473.40 7.19%
4 Frozen Prepared Foods $455.20 6.92%
5 Prepared Desserts $453.80 6.90%
6 High Fat Dairy/Cheese $427.80 6.50%
7 Bread and Crackers $354.90 5.39%
8 Fruits $308.20 4.68%
9 Milk $232.70 3.54%
10 Salty Snacks $225.60 3.43%


Breaking into the data farther, either group’s #1 fruit expenditure? Orange juice. Sigh! #1 vegetable expenditure? Potatoes.

Cherry Jam

Super simple no-added-sugar jam, cherry today. Take a bunch of frozen cherries and toss ’em into a blender. Add enough water that they purée. Add about a tablespoon of tapioca powder for 2 cups of fruit/water mixture. Transfer to saucepan and simmer until it starts to thicken a bit. Cool and pour into glass container. Add lid & refrigerate overnight. Voila, jam without heaps of sugar.

I used it to make cutout heart not-peanut-butter and not-jelly sandwiches for Anya’s preschool Valentine’s Day party “healthy snack”. We cut 48 large hearts (using a cookie cutter) from bread, then used a smaller heart-shaped cookie cutter to create an opening in the centre of 24 of the hearts. Take a big heart, smear on a little sunflower butter (or some nut butter if you’re making them for home), dollop on some jam and spread it out, then align a cut heart on top.

Anya took the little heart cutouts and made “jam sandwiches” (two hearts with a little of the jam in the middle) and “jam pies” (one heart with jam on top).

Washington’s Meal Delivery

Not a particularly novel idea to source basic staples in bulk for gov’d nutritional benefits – although ‘government cheese’ was as much about propping up dairy industry prices as providing sustenance. It would be an interesting way to deal with food deserts if people were allowed to opt into the service because it suited their needs.

The reality of selecting “basic staples”: anything you pick is going to make someone irate. Remember Palin attacking Michelle Obama for saying she tells her kids dessert isn’t a right & planting a vegetable garden? Until 2010, I didn’t realize that saying eating dessert at every lunch and dinner wasn’t ideal or that eating some fresh vegetables was contentious. I know now. Sure, the whole thing was a political stunt; but anyone want to proclaim society has gotten more reasonable in the intervening near-a-decade?

The biggest problem I have with this “money saving” proposal is that I don’t see it saving any money. It’s not like everyone can get the same box. Delivering fresh vegetables and meats presupposes I have a refrigerator/freezer and am dropping cash on the electricity to run it. I imagine we’re talking about shelf-stable foods (otherwise shipping in the Winter becomes a huge challenge – I did a free meal-delivery trial. In the MidWest. In Winter. Got a box full of frozen-solid ‘fresh’ food.).

There will need to be some mechanism for excluding items based on medical necessity (and a simple online account may not be viable). There’s an uproar if 95% of people claim to be severely allergic to lima beans and spinach, or excluding a food takes a medical approval (which requires a trip to the doctor, which it itself a PITA). And like disability or injury law – there’ll be doctors who sign off on all sorts of dodgy stuff. Or at least the perception thereof.

Even with some mechanism to avoid dropping peanut butter and tinned tuna into houses with allergies, I’m vegetarian. Or Kosher Jewish (religious discrimination!). Or whatever other deeply held dietary beliefs someone may have.

Now they’re delivering vegan boxes (against the huge objection of meat industry groups) that comply with Halal, Kosher, etc restrictions or there are a dozen different boxes and there’s a database indicating who gets what. Either way, some percentage of the boxes still need to be one-off packed to avoid non-common allergens (or comply with the religious belief of the dude who founds the Church of the Carnivore and cannot eat that vegan junk).

And that’s just the packing challenges. Just sourcing and delivering this food every (week, month?) is a whole other logistical nightmare. Do they source locally or take money from the local economy and source the food from single suppliers?  And if they’re sourcing locally, can the gov’t really do so more efficiently than, say, the local supermarket chain?

The idea inevitably includes industry “lobbying” to have products included in the box. If Oprah cannot not like beef without getting sued, and the FDA food pyramid/plate/<geometric shape of the year> cannot be built without industry uproar … I doubt the box will fair any better. Plus the potential for free advertising. There are people at my daughter’s preschool who send rice krispy treats as a ‘healthy snack’ because, yeah, no idea. But would the government throw in crisps, candy, heavily processed anything … if the company offered it for free occasionally? And would people believe everything they get in their box to be healthy … because it’s coming in the gov’t healthy-food-for-your-family box?

Drum Major Instinct

Somehow Dodge has confused the following text to mean “buy a new big truck”. One with a base price of like 26,000USD. Or this is just the logical conclusion of the post-truth alternative fact world … we can call back to some historical figure with a message that is basically the antithesis of that for which the person stood.

“Now the presence of the drum major instinct is why so many people are “joiners.” You know, there are some people who just join everything. And it’s really a quest for attention and recognition and importance. And they get names that give them that impression. So you get your groups, and they become the “Grand Patron,” and the little fellow who is henpecked at home needs a chance to be the “Most Worthy of the Most Worthy” of something. It is the drum major impulse and longing that runs the gamut of human life. And so we see it everywhere, this quest for recognition. And we join things, overjoin really, that we think that we will find that recognition in.

Now the presence of this instinct explains why we are so often taken by advertisers. You know, those gentlemen of massive verbal persuasion. And they have a way of saying things to you that kind of gets you into buying. In order to be a man of distinction, you must drink this whiskey. In order to make your neighbors envious, you must drive this type of car. (Make it plain) In order to be lovely to love you must wear this kind of lipstick or this kind of perfume. And you know, before you know it, you’re just buying that stuff. (Yes) That’s the way the advertisers do it.”

Pepperoni Pizza

Anya wants to eat pepperoni pizza, but without the meat. I’ve seen a few vegan pepperoni products for sale, but they all look quite unappetizing, they include all sorts of crazy ingredients, and they’re super expensive. So I set out to find a veggie pepperoni recipe online. Took a lot of searching, but I found a recipe that looked promising. I made it with half the lowest amount of red pepper flakes. It was so hot, the stuff was inedible. Great taste, but a total waste. Also, the recipe didn’t indicate what type of extra-firm tofu to use. I happened to have some of the not silken sort, so I used that. So we had an oddly textured burning hot pepperoni (and I had to add a good bit of liquid to form anything even approaching a paste). I’ve been wanting to make it again without the pepper flakes and try silk tofu instead.

I tried it again tonight, modifying the recipe

  • 10 ounces extra-firm silken tofu
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp Tellicherry peppercorn
  • 2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds, split into two 1/2 teaspoon portions
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 star anise seeds

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a stone mortar, crush the garlic cloves. Add the sea salt, peppercorns, mustard seeds, one half teaspoon of fennel seeds, and anise seeds. Grind to form a powder. Add sugar and smoked paprika, and blend together.

In a food processor, blend the tofu until it is creamy. Add the spice mixture, one tablespoon at a time, and blend until combined. Once it has enough flavour for you, store the remaining spice mixture (I used about half of the spice blend).

Spread the tofu on a lined baking sheet. You can spread separate little sections, cut it like the linked recipe, or just make one big chunk that you break up before using. Either way, bake for 10-15 minutes. Mmmmm! This tastes good, the texture is great … we made vegetarian pepperoni!!!