The governor's stamps of disapproval

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski went a week eating on $3 a day, and all he got was a ration of ...
Oh, give the guy a break. While you're at it, give him a big steak dinner. When Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski announced last month that he'd spend Hunger Awareness Week eating within the skimpy $3-a-day budget afforded by food stamps, you'd think he'd get cheered for drawing attention to the shameful problem of keeping poor people fed in this nation of super-sized portions. As the networks, wire services, and big national newspapers flocked to cover the Oregon First Couple's shopping and menu planning, things looked promising. Then the criticism started. Some local nutritionists, reported the Oregonian, were unhappy with the Guv's mac-and-cheese. A bad example, they said. Never mind that the cheapest, easiest foods tend to look a lot like mac-and-cheese – and worse. Other observers wondered if the whole thing was a political stunt. This from a securely seated governor who goes weeks without showing up on the TV news? This guy could probably eat his mac and cheese naked in Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square and go unrecognized by half the passersby. (Unless he threw the food container in the wrong recycle bin. Then he'd get noticed.) What's important is the discussion sparked by this so-called food-stamp challenge – a first, by the way, for a governor. Lots of other Oregonians quietly took the challenge, too, intrigued when they heard Kulongoski was joining religious leaders, activists, and others in bringing attention to the paltry purse of a food-stamp recipient. A grocery-store clerk at a Tigard, Ore., Fred Meyer store said that during the week several regulars, retirees, and working folks alike talked openly about their own struggles with staying within budget, both this contrived one and their real-life ones. Some came through the check-outs armed with more than their usual number of clipped coupons, saying they were curious if they could stay within $3 a day that way. (Answer: Nope.) A Portland rabbi and his wife took up the challenge; he wrote about the experience in a weekly online newsletter to hundreds of congregants. He noted the difficulty in making the budget cover store-bought challah bread and wine, two ritual staples of a weekly Sabbath dinner. His son, a law student on the East Coast, followed their progress and wrote home reminding them that they should factor in the cost of gas used to get to the big-box discount grocery store they used to stretch the pennies. A gourmet cook who delights in setting an inviting table for family and friends, several of whom live on special diets for health reasons, took the challenge and wrote to friends saying she wished that any journalist covering the governor's experiment would point out the impossibility of meeting a diabetic's diet needs on $3 a day. Good stunt, Gov. K. Tell your critics to quit nitpicking and start mailing a box of mac and cheese C.O.D. to each representative in D.C. – every day until no kid has to go to bed hungry.

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett writes and edits for Crosscut. You can e-mail her at kimberly.marlowe.hartnett@crosscut.com. She also blogs at Type Like The Wind.


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