Shopping for food just got more complicated. For someone accustomed to walking the aisles, giving more heed to nutrition labels than prices, shopping for food on a food stamp budget is much more challenging.
The difference began with my shopping list. I usually have one but seldom stick to it, going to the store for four or five items and coming home with four or five bags full. It was immediately clear that on a $347 dollar per month food stamp budget, that wasn’t happening.
Shopping ideas on the Cent$ible Nutrition website offer admonitions causing me to give attention to both, nutrition labels and price. CNP encourages experimentation with generic and store brands rather than assuming the nationally known brands taste best. One trip to the grocery store this morning and I learned first hand there’s big difference in prices. We’ll see whether there is as significant a difference in taste.
Now this liberal must confess. Confession is, of course, good for the soul and a major element of the Lenten experience. “Father, I have sinned. I have shopped at Wal-Mart!”
Please, before my liberal friends judge me too harshly, I tried to avoid it. I first went to the grocery store where we usually shop, conducting a price test using 10 of the items on the CNP shopping list. I checked the prices of whole wheat bread, eggs, 1% milk, carrots, blueberries, cheeses, lunchmeats, and oranges.
I didn’t buy those things. I just wanted to compare the prices. However, I did buy a package of sausage that had a special price tag leading me to believe that I wouldn’t be able to get it for less at Wal-Mart.
I was wrong. I spent a little more than two-dollars more on the sausage than I would have if I’d waited until I got to the “evil empire.” And as I walked around Wal-Mart and compared prices on the other items, I was amazed at the differences. In some instances, the price difference approached 50%. In all cases, Wal-Mart was a GOOD DEAL LOWER!
Years ago, I boycotted Coors beer because of how they treated their employees and busted union organizing efforts. I refused to buy Levis for the same reason. Supporting the rights of workers to organize is in my DNA, passed along by my Teamster dad. So it was a tough compromise to spend my money with a company renowned for its anti-union tactics, a company that a few years ago paid 12 million dollars to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit.
It didn’t make it an easier when I learned that, according to OpenSecrets.org, Wal-Mart PAC’s donated $725,000 to the Republican Governors’ Association in 2012. Individuals connected to Wal-Mart also donated $66,281 to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. In the same year, Wal-Mart gave to John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and Ted Cruz.
But then, Wal-Mart also makes political contributions to Democrats. According to OpenSecrets.org, Wal-Mart PAC’s also donated $400,000 to the Democratic Governors’ Association in 2012. Individuals connected to Wal-Mart donated $57,711 to Obama.
While the political contributions offset, Wal-Mart’s reputation for paying low wages and treating employees unfairly, including members of my own family, remains troubling. But…I reminded myself that I’m trying to imagine the choices I would have to make if I had to feed my family on $347 per month. The truth is that Wal-Mart saves low-income families hundreds of dollars on their grocery budgets.
So I found myself shopping at Wal-Mart.
I faced another moral dilemma in grocery shopping. Eggs were on the list. I always buy cage free eggs. I find the way in which most chickens are raised to be morally repulsive. But…do you know the difference between the cost of a regular dozen eggs and the cost of cage free eggs?
In the end, I used nearly a third of my monthly budget today. I bought groceries that will require a great deal more effort to turn into meals than I am used. I have a lot to learn!