What Does Hunger Look Like? Restaurant Critic Goes From Expense Account to Food Stamps

7 years ago

In this economy, the fact that someone is using food stamps to make sure they have enough food to feed themselves and their family is, sadly, no longer news. But when the person on food stamps is a former restaurant critic, that's a totally different story.

Ed Murrieta, former food critic at the Tacoma News Tribune, used to have a $1,300-per-month expense account for dining out... on top of his newspaper salary. But in 2008, he chose to leave his job to pursue an entrepreneurial alternative, wound up without a job and eating on $200 in food stamps per month.

"As a professional assignment, writing about a thing such as shopping and eating on a budget is abstract. As a gut-punching, ego-bruising, bank-busting predicament, eating on the food lines is real. After six months of it, I still feel the occasional memory pang of expense-account indulgences gone by, but I don't cry in my cabernet."

"It's a worthwhile piece, and provides plenty of food for thought," writes Rebecca Marx of the Village Voice blogs.

Kim Burgess of Behind the Byline calls Murrieta's story a "poignant example of the industry’s struggle for survival."

But Lauren Kelly of the Poverty In America blog on Change.org points out that though Murrieta is most certainly dealing with hardship, his experience is hardly the average.

"The interesting part is that, far from being a woe-is-me tale, his article actually makes living off food stamps sound ... not that bad," Kelly writes. "Of course, the reality of living on food stamps is not so easy for everyone. For many families, there are epic delays, bureaucratic red tape, social stigmas, food deserts and worse to contend with. That doesn't make Murrieta's struggles any less valid or give him any less right to receive government aid to feed himself. Food stamps are meant to support people who need help — whether they're students, Whole Foods shoppers or unemployed restaurant critics. But I do worry a bit about splashy news stories that can come off as romanticizing life on food stamps. All the kudos in the world to Murrieta for being able to maintain a decent diet on food stamps, but the Seattle Times should think about following up with a piece about a family living a few miles away who may not be so lucky."

Murrieta's experience made at least one blogger grateful for what she has.

"Thanksgiving is not just for November," wrote Karoline of Sweet Karoline after reading about Murrieta's situation. "Take a moment each day to remember the little things that make life worth living."

Kimberly Morales of Poor Girl Eats Well is a blogger who not only remembers gratitude, but has turned her experiences into blog posts that demonstrate how she manages her cash-strapped life without resorting to unhealthy food options.

There are a lot of "cheap eats" and "budget food" websites out there and most of them have something interesting to offer. Poor Girl Eats Well is quite different from other blogs in that I try to make most of my meals as healthy as possible, with a sinful treat thrown in here & there for good measure. I'm not the type who is satisfied eating cheaply the "easy" way, which is usually through fast food or fat and salt-laden, pre-packaged meals. Though I don't avoid fast food entirely, I have never liked the idea of having to subsist off the 99-cent menu, especially considering that most of the menu items would be really unhealthy for me to eat on a regular basis. I also do not believe that it is "too expensive" to eat healthy food and try to show that in most of my recipes.

Check out some of Kimberly's healthful and quick recipes like Quinoa with Mushrooms, Tomatoes & Scallions and Garlic-Black Pepper Shrimp & Avocado Salad.

What are your sure-fire techniques to stretch your grocery budget? Share your tips and ideas in the comments below.

Genie blogs about gardening and food at The Inadvertent Gardener, and tells very short tales at 100 Proof Stories. She also tells stories with photos at 5x52.

Photo Credit:
Photo by luvsickmedia, shared under an Attribution 2.0 Generic Creative Commons License.


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