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Volume 72, Issue 139, Friday, April 27, 2007

Opinion

Food stamp endeavor more than a stunt

Austin Havican
Opinion Columnist

The thought of Gov. Rick Perry eating only $21 worth of food for one week is almost impossible to imagine, but it's exactly what the Governor of Oregon, Ted Kulongoski, and his wife, Mary Oberst are doing to experience firsthand what life is like when one is dependent on government aid to survive.

An allotted $21 for an average American adult isn't much, and reporters found Kulongoski and his wife clipping coupons, looking for deals with store-brand products and putting their favorite items back on the shelves. At the end of a shopping trip, Kulongoski came away with some bananas, two zucchini, a gallon of milk, soup, granola, bread, peanut butter, pre-sliced American cheese, jelly and a whole chicken -- for 21 meals that feed only one person.

The whole challenge is an effort to draw attention to Oregon's -- and the rest of the nation's -- widespread poverty problem and our insufficient means of dealing with it. 

Since his election in 2002, Kulongoski has made considerable gains in his mission to make reducing hunger and poverty a top priority. At the turn of the century, Oregon had one of the United States' highest hunger rates, but since Kulongoski announced his intentions, Oregon is now ranked somewhere in the middle.

Although it's sort of a strange approach to ask a politician to temporarily curtail his or her lifestyle to meet that of a working single mother with three children (one of whom actually accompanied Kulongoski on his shopping trip), it's a method that seems to make sense on a fundamental level. 

The United States is founded on the ideal that anyone can aspire to represent his or her neighborhood or state and that politicians are supposed to essentially embody the common, working American citizen. Unfortunately, this ideal is often forgotten and politicians end up being from an elite class of Ivy League graduates who become disconnected from their constituencies.

This food stamp experience may seem shallow to dissenters and ironic to the people who point out the fact that Kulongoski's security guards followed him around the store and helped him shop, but at the very least it's a step in the right direction toward understanding and empathizing with the less fortunate of the U.S. population. However vicarious it may seem, Kulongoski and Oberst are still taking the time to relate to the lifestyles of the people they are supposed to be working for.

Aside from the initial publicity and encouragement behind this challenge, there is the astonishing realization that millions of poor American citizens are actually required to stretch their food budgets -- the equivalent of the cost of a DVD -- over the span of a week. Money that most college students spend on a bathing suit (on sale, of course) is expected to maintain one adult human, not including his or her dependent children or pets, for three meals a day, seven days a week.

However liberal or conservative a person may be, and however against social programs that give money to the poor and disabled one would consider him or herself, $21 for one person is simply not enough.

We hear stories of people in third-world nations surviving on a few dollars a month, but the cost of living in the United States and the cost of food and essential toiletries and medicines is far too high for anyone to be expected to live a life of "liberty" in the "pursuit of happiness" under such constraints.

It's worth thinking about the billions of dollars spent to send soldiers to Iraq to kill or be killed versus those in front of us with empty stomachs -- people who would benefit from even a small increase in their weekly allowances.

Could you survive on $1 per meal?

Havican, an English senior, 
can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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