TEXAS, June 20, 2013 ― Several Democratic politicians recently participated in the SNAP Challenge, a publicity effort that challenges people to eat on the average Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allotment — more commonly known as food stamps — of $31.50 a week per person. Whatever impact the SNAP Challenge has on the policy debate about the funding of the program, it certainly proved that some of the elected officials in charge of producing a budget for the entire nation cannot handle a simple grocery plan.
In addition to making poor budgeting decisions, like the $1.08 spent on a single boiled egg, they made abysmal nutritional choices, such as lunching on half a loaf of white bread. Whether the politicians who engaged in this challenge were deliberately obtuse or are honestly incompetent, neither alternative should give citizens any comfort. The economy is a serious issue for Americans, and this challenge demonstrates that our elected representatives are incapable of living as the average American does: budgeting and working to provide nutritious meals for our families.
The resulting photos and reports were cringe inducing for one overlooked and oft maligned group: the home economist. The SNAP Challenge demonstrates that the concept of managing a household is not one valued by our institutions. Fewer and fewer schools teach Home Economics, and households with one parent who stays home are vastly outnumbered by households where both parents work. This culture shift means that much of the necessary knowledge to successfully manage a household isn’t being widely learned.
Americans have always valued productivity, and the switch from production to consumption may be behind some of the declining interest in home economics. But homemakers have adapted to the cultural switch from a manufacturing economy to an information economy as well as any other industry. Because of advances in technology and changes in the way we live, the focus of home economics is no longer on the housewife who makes and mends clothes, grows a garden, or keeps hens for eggs. Most families no longer produce goods in their homes, but rather purchase them, so the skills most home economists focus on are related to smart budgeting and wise use of purchased resources.
A simple web search of “frugal homemaking” demonstrates that there is a an entire community devoted to the art. Moreover, a cottage industry has sprung up where mostly women capitalize on their skill and insight. For example, the politicians might benefit from Erin Chase and her Five Dollar Dinners. That’s five dollars to feed a family of four, so they’d be provided a couple of extra lunches and a dinner as well.
In keeping with our information economy, many women like Chase have taken their knowledge and parleyed that into businesses to help families save money and eat well. The Grocery Game, The Coupon Mom, and Money Saving Mom are a few of these entrepreneurs. Others have used their skills to help households be more efficient or save time. Stephanie O’Dea turned a New Year’s resolution to use her slow cooker everyday for a year into a money-making blog and series of books.
It is true that the frugal lifestyle these women represent goes against the grain of our on-demand, low effort culture. This lifestyle requires planning, work, and delayed gratification. Rather than spending 10 times the cost for a prepared boiled egg, it requires taking 30 minutes to boil a dozen eggs and brown-bagging meals. Instead of an evening of relaxing on the couch in front of the television, it may mean clipping coupons and making meal plans. But it also demonstrates priorities and values: Our families are worth the extra effort.
These women have built businesses based on their knowledge and ingenuity with which they help countless other families in the daily efforts to provide for their households. We can only wish our lawmakers showed the same intelligence and work ethic in their day jobs.
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