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January 25, 2008

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Stephen Bainbridge had a number of conservative arguments against Walmart, but the blog post seems to have disappeared, but he summarized them in the Op-ed

Here's the bottom line on this topic from my point of view.

The food stamp allowance hasn't gone up in something like 10 years. I believe it is not indexed to inflation. The standard allowance works out to something like $1.50 a meal.

Nobody's living large on food stamps.

We're going to spend a sh*tload of money on an economic stimulation package. Depending on how it all falls out, that money might go to income tax rebates, an increase in food stamp allowances, and/or extensions of unemployment benefits.

If it goes to a tax rebate, it will go to people who actually, you know, pay income tax. That will be middle to upper middle class people. They might spend it, or they might pay down their plastic, or they might just throw it in the bank. It will make no significant difference in their lives.

If it goes to food stamps, every dime will get spent, and it will make life just a little bit easier for a lot of people.

McArdle's objection to spending it on food stamps seems to be that poor people are fat, so they obviously are eating enough already. I know that lots of folks think well of her, but as far as I can tell she is a moral idiot. I'm not sure how she can write drivel like than and still look at herself in the mirror.

But, that's just my opinon.

The objections in this thread to spending it on food stamps seems to be that poor folks should just pull up their socks and make some nice lentil stew. Recipes have even been provided.

I don't know a lot of poor folks right now, but I do know a few. Over the years, I've known lots. Their socks are already pulled up about as high as they can go.

It sucks to be poor. Simple things become very complicated, you are constantly at the mercy of things that are out of your control, everything from doing your laundry to going to an appointment across town takes five times longer than it does for everyone else.

Plus, you don't have a lot of money.

F*ck Megan McArdle and the horse she rode in on. Spend the money on food stamps and/or other programs that are actually going to life a little better for somebody.

What is the freaking problem?

Thanks -

The story of recent growth however has been in the cities. And when Walmart has tried to move into cities, we have seen things like the Chicago council or the entire state of California trying to ban it.

I'm a bit out of it, but if they have been moving into cities, there should be some discussion or anecdotal evidence that what you argue for is true. I realize that there are a lot of places (googling makes this clear) that are not welcoming WalMart, but has it been completely shut out of cities?

Again, the people we are talking about here aren't even able to hold a minimum wage job--the idea that if it weren't for WalMart they would have union wage $15-20/hour jobs is rather surprising.

I don't believe the WalMart discussion is about 'the people we are talking about' (i.e. people living in poverty with poor diets), I think the argument is over the people who form anchors in the community. It seems to me that the best defense against poverty would be to have neighborhoods that have a tax base and people who have a certain amount of investment in the area. This seems to be something I thought conservatives might argue for, but maybe I'm wrong.

I also don't think that we've been (at least I haven't) implicitly criticizing mom and pop grocery stores for high prices. I don't feel that the solution is to lower the prices of food across the board, it is to make sure that poorer people who have 'food insecurity' (I agree that the term is an obsfucation) are given enough funds to get them to a point where they can eat more healthily (if that is a word). Forcing down the price of food might be one way to improve nutrition among poor people, but I thought the discussion was in light of stimulating the economy, so I didn't think that was what we were talking about.

I keep a sharp look-out for Hilzoy's periodic posts on the diets of the poor in America, because I know that libertarian thinkers will show up with some tasty lentil recipes.

It's like _Sweeney Todd_ without the singing.

Russell asks upthread, "What's your beef?" Never ask that question in a crowd of libertarians, because your are liable to get an earful about the virtues of the lowly legume and the modest grain of rice.

If it's Bill (rummaging in his root cellar) you're asking, say "Where's the boullion cubes?"

Of course, these are the same people who sneak downstairs in the middle of the night feeling a might bit peckish and spray an entire can of subsidized Ready Whip directly into their mouths by the light of the open refrigerator.

If there were a can of whipped lentil paste in the fridge instead, they would roll over and go back to sleep to dream of lamb chops leaping over Orson Wells' midriff into a vat of mint jelly.

Few people know that the first thing Donald Trump said after he finally made his millions was "F-*# lentils!" Bill Gates didn't say anything after the initial offering of Microsoft stock, but he did have a team of bean detectors sweep his apartment for any remaining trace of navy beans.

Few people know too that during the filming of the scene in "Soylent Green" when Charlton Heston (looking very healthy for a guy on the futuristic Atkins diet, which included Atkins himself) runs through the streets yelling "Soylent Green is people!" the script originally called for him to yell "Soylent Green is mung beans!" but the censors sat around a table at Maxims and told the producers that would be too scary for American audiences.

Also, the scene in which Edward G. Robinson spends his final ten minutes viewing the bounty of yummy Nature was very upsetting to Robinson, who originally insisted that the character view film of giant front-loaders spilling mountains of rice into rice-cookers and dropping tons of lentils into a crock-pot the size of Yankee Stadium, because it reminded him of his college days.

No dice, said the censors, you'll make the poor hungry and incite them to rush out of their seats and into the theater lobby and eat every Zagnut in sight, and we can't have that. And, what the hell are they doing buying movie tickets, anywho?

Did you know (Carson would have addressed this question to Doc Severinson) that Marie Antoinette did not in fact say "Let them eat cake". She was overheard to say "Let them eat lentil cake" and was hauled directly to the guillotine, because the poor wanted cake and had it up their sores with yet another offer of beans.

You know, Ronald Reagan kept a jar of jelly beans on his desk for visitors, but when he had the big-bootied black women from the NAACP in to give them a tongue-lashing, he would hide that jar and replace it with a jar of lentils. He wanted no confusion between symbolism and policy.

David Stockman would scatter little packets of ketchup on the carpet and giggle when Reagan's less fortunate visitors would dive for them and exclaim, "Looky, fresh tomatoes, and right off the vine!".

You'll notice, don't you, that McDonald's and Wendy's are moving post haste and with immediate success into Asian markets. Oddly, you don't see Sherpa Ravi's Lentil Hut (would you like some yak butter, with that?)or Ho Chi's Big Pile of Rice Platter gaining much traction in the U.S. market, despite the healthful and nutritious fare offered by the latter.

And, Moscow Joe's Little Taste of the Ukraine went under in two weeks over here at the mall. And whatever happened to Paddy Quinn's Moldy Potato and Gruel Drive-In?




Well then why are so many people so resistant to allowing WalMart in large cities?

Because WalMart doesn't pay its own staff enough to shop at its own stores. No point, is there?

"Because WalMart doesn't pay its own staff enough to shop at its own stores. No point, is there?"


Huh?

Even minimum wage workers can afford to shop at WalMart stores. *Anyone* with a job can afford to shop there.

Sebastian also said: We have this perfectly good system of distributing cheap but good fresh fruit and vegetables

Secondarily to the issue of WalMart being a crap employer, there is the fact that the supermarket system is not a "perfectly good system": because of the way in which it deals with suppliers, it's primarily good for agribusiness, not for customers and not for farmers.

A better system would be for fresh fruit and vegetables to be available at an affordable price locally, and sourced as locally as possible. A farmer's market, or a fruit-and-veg co-op. One of the ways in which the UK government is encouraging people on a low income to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is to subsidise such small-scale co-ops locally to deprived areas.

Even minimum wage workers can afford to shop at WalMart stores.

And you know this because you work for minimum wage and shop at Walmart, or you know it because you regularly talk to people who earn exactly $286 a week before tax and they tell you where they shop?

(If you're on minimum wage, Sebastian, I really doubt you can afford to run a car...)

But the cruelest blow to Bentonville is a sudden decline in profits – down 26 percent in the second quarter of 06 – the first decline in 10 years. Wal-Mart blames, first, the failure of its attempted expansion into Germany, where apparently folks didn’t cotton to smiley faces and people greeters, and, second, high gas prices in the U.S.A. According to the New York Times, Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott “hinted that those [gas] costs seemed to be prompting consumers to shop less frequently.” There’s one big advantage to the little Jewish, Korean or Arab-owned shop: Usually, you can walk to it.

The profit drop suggests a deep contradiction in Wal-Mart’s seemingly altruistic goal of bringing abundance to the American working class. According to Wal-Mart defenders, those low prices hinge, not only on improvements in productivity, but on the low wages and benefits offered to Wal-Mart’s workers. In other words, you’ve got to squeeze one part of the working class – the 1.3 million Wal-Mart employees – to fill the shopping carts of the others. How much the employees are squeezed is hard to determine: Wal-Mart claims to pay an average of $9.68 an hour, which doesn’t sound all that bad. But Wal-Mart has a record of falsifying data on employee hours to conceal unpaid overtime work, so why should we believe them about anything? cite

A better system would be for fresh fruit and vegetables to be available at an affordable price locally, and sourced as locally as possible. A farmer's market, or a fruit-and-veg co-op.

When I lived in Philly, there was a public market in a downtown rail station where farmers from the nearby counties would bring their goods once or twice a week.

Boston has the Haymarket. The produce there is not all local, but it's pretty fresh and cheap.

There's also a pretty good co-op up the road a bit from me, in Gloucester MA. It's no cheaper than a regular grocery store, but it does source locally, and you can get a break by joining the co-op and volunteering time.

The food industry is set up for large scale production and distribution. That creates lots of nice efficiencies (although at the price of increased transportation cost) but it's not really that great for food or farmers.

The Amish and Mennonite communities in PA, OH, and IN in particular have done very well doing basic truck farming on small (by modern standards) plots for local or regional consumption. So, there is a precedent and a model to follow. It's becoming increasingly common here in New England, where farm plots aren't that large, and there are lots of urban centers close by.

"Buy local food" is becoming something of a chi-chi trend, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good idea.

Thanks -

You didn't think I was done yet? Kidding, that is.

If you ever want to get a libertarian's dander up (you know, dander, if simmered properly, can make a good topping with sundry uses and it stores well in the dander cellar), take them to an expensive French/Asian fusion restaurant and watch them tenderly consume the $74 braised squab with roasted figs resting on a bed of curried lentils infused with squid ink and then bring up the economical nature of the lentil diet.

They'll stop for a minute and get kind of pissy that some in our country have received a lentil subsidy while they have just paid $74 bucks for the same d23med bean. Their sense of justice has been violated.

If that doesn't get them mad, bring up cops who because they are on the public dole are known to do nothing on duty but sit on their cans and eat donuts. I've found it doesn't help to ask innocently "What about lentil donuts?"

Besides, they won't be able to reconcile those imaginary cops with the ones we see on those shows where paunchy cops chase folks down alleys and over fences and roofs for miles without breaking a sweat.

Plus, we know the overfed, overfoodstamped dopes they're chasing have just come from in front of you at the grocery check-out line where they bought milk-fed veal roasts, organic lobster and dozens of chocolate eclairs filled with whole-milk lemon cream with their stolen foodstamps.

If one or the other of either the cops or the perps had followed our advice and existed on a healthy, low-fat diet of mung bean waffles, the footchases would be much more entertaining.

I think the Food Channel could serve a useful public service by conceiving of a show entitled _Rachel Ray's 911 Wily Ways With the Mung Bean and its Cousins_.

Lentil Ice Cream, Boiled Purslain With Lentil Extract, Navy Bean Pudding served in a Sailor Hat, Mung Bean Souffle Prepared in the Vicinity of a Chicken .... the possibilities are endless.

An idea to combat full figuredness in the less fortunate: Take away their chairs and sofas and replace those with large beanbag chairs filled with an assortment of dried legumes. When they sit in them with their full weight, they won't be able to get up again to reach the fridge. After awhile, they'll realize they are sitting on dinner. But how to get to the beans? This is where hunger meets innovation in this great country of ours. They'll figure out how to fashion a bean spigot out of the PEZ dispenser, the odd gnawed lamb shank, and the little cardboard pieces from the Twinkie package they have left over in their pockets for those lean times and they'll attach it to the side of the beanbag chair to dispense one bean every ten minutes or so.

Voila, as we say in the culinary business, we've killed two birds with one stone and there is probably another pair lurking in a caper bush nearby. They lose weight, become self-sufficient, and they quit asking us for their next fudgecicle. Plus, then we can pay off the effing budget deficit because these people aren't eating us out of house and home any longer and we can send more money to demolish Iraq, where they actually appreciate lentils.

Word to the wise about the stone and the birds. Hide the stone. Then keep the birds to yourself for later. You can let a poor person lick the hand you held the birds in, but go no further because of the harm it will do to their character.

Another tip for saving money: Those birds will go much further if instead of cutting the meat off and adding it to your soup, you just dip the bird in the soup for a few moments. Use a rubber chicken when in a pinch.

Did you know that an early draft of Dickens'_Oliver Twist_ had our orphan approaching Mr Bumble and demanding "More, Suh" and Mr. Bumble advised Oliver that the gruel was made from lentils and Oliver said "Well then, never you mind. If I wanted lentils, I'd run away and find a libertarian to live with."

Finally, at my mother's house for Thanksgiving she serves a 25-pound turkey with all of the trimmings and pie. Thing is, she also has a picture of a turkey she puts out for the holiday which she made years ago out of dozens of types seeds and beans, glued to a board and shellacked.

I usually find an excuse to forego the delicious but filling meal and I sneak off and pick the petrified beans off of my mother's masterpiece and chew them diligently, like a guy on a quest to perfect his character.

No pie for this one.

I will partake of the mock trifle, which my mother calls "Jonathan Swift's Preserved Kidney and Candied Mulch Drippings"

Stiffens the backbone.


LJ I realize that there are a lot of places (googling makes this clear) that are not welcoming WalMart, but has it been completely shut out of cities?

No. A 200,000+ sq ft WM Supercenter just opened up last year at Steelyard Commons, very close to downtown Cleveland. Not walkable at all, even for people in the nearby Tremont neighborhood, but also on a circulator bus route.

Sebastian:The policy issues involved beyond just opening them aren't particularly serious in the context of actual poor people who are having trouble making ends meet.

Ah, the "nonserious" gambit. Don't buy it from the foreign policy hawks, and I don't buy it from you.

They are mostly serious for the local grocery which YOU say forces people to pay unfairly high prices, is open at inconvenient hours, and has poor selection.

Please quote back to me where I said this or retract this statement immediately.

Are you complaining that WalMart isn't everywhere yet? Because my whole 'it isn't in lots of poor neighborhoods yet' thesis kind of already noticed that.

No, it was further evidence against your "it only takes 8 hours a month to shop" horse turd upthread. For the record, there's also a Dave's Supermarket in the same strip center, which has very, very good prices and which is locally owned. Dave's Inc. operates about a dozen stores in the Greater Cleveland area. Selection and prices just as good as Wal-Mart, and better for the community because of the local ownership. Not any easier to reach, though.

But the good news for you is that if *your* store isn't very accessible, it isn't much of threat to the mom and pop stores you think are so crucial. Hooray!

Please quote back to me every word I said about mom and pop stores being crucial or retract this statement immediately.

Gary: It was distinctly easier to spend less on food when I could cook up big pots of stuff, and both freeze it and keep enough for a week at a time in the fridge. In this apt., that's not an option.

That is a really good point I think. I cook for only two, and a big freezer was my priority. Setting aside kids, shopping, being poor, all of that. Even if you are just busy, a big freezer is a huge asset. We only get to cook decent food on the occasional slow weekend. And then we make a bunch and freeze it all for convenient microwave dinners the rest of the time.


russell: F*ck Megan McArdle and the horse she rode in on. Spend the money on food stamps and/or other programs that are actually going to life a little better for somebody.

If I get a tax rebate I hereby pledge to donate the entire thing to the church that feeds the homeless in my community. (Not a religious thing – they just know how to squeeze a dollar until it cries and they do an awesome job feeding many many people on very little money.)


Thullen: I think I may have like a man crush on you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…


Jes: Because WalMart doesn't pay its own staff enough to shop at its own stores. No point, is there?

Average salary is $10 per hour. For one hour’s work the staff can buy a crap load at the place they work.

OCSteve: If I get a tax rebate I hereby pledge to donate the entire thing to the church that feeds the homeless in my community. (Not a religious thing – they just know how to squeeze a dollar until it cries and they do an awesome job feeding many many people on very little money.)

You're a mensch.

Thullen: I think I may have like a man crush on you. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

There had better not be. I have a lesbian crush on Thullen, which is kind of the same thing only even more embarrassing.

Average salary is $10 per hour. For one hour’s work the staff can buy a crap load at the place they work.

*points you at Nickled and Dimed*

When a Wal Mart moves into a neighborhood of small shop owners and various little grocery stores, I've found that while there is a great deal of suffering as folks watch their businesses go under (after all, we are told, the small businessman is the linchpin of America .... well, anyone under 4' 6" with a pushcart) and their IRAs dwindle to nothing, they usually get over it when they realize that you can buy a 50-pound sack of kidney beans for practically nothing at Wal Mart.

Sorry, kids, but I'm married to Hilzoy.

It's just my luck to have spent desperate man-hours years ago trying to pick up cute women in various venues and always end up with a lesbian Plato-devotee and/or a heterosexual male who thought I meant HE should come back to my place to escape the rising waters of global warming.

;)*

*Don't get the wrong idea, people. That ;) was meant for the pretty heterosexual girl sitting behind you.

Jes: I have a lesbian crush on Thullen, which is kind of the same thing only even more embarrassing.

Holy crap if you only knew how hard that made me laugh. I mean big belly laugh. Don’t ever go away Jes – I love you…

;)*

I've never been a big fan of those lip beard / soul patch things, John, but on you it looks good.

F*ck Megan McArdle and the horse she rode in on.

Probably too little, too late, but I'd like to apologize for this outburst. It was unnecessarily personal, and unnecessarily harsh. Also not really SFW.

Sorry folks.

Thanks -

"It was distinctly easier to spend less on food when I could cook up big pots of stuff, and both freeze it and keep enough for a week at a time in the fridge. In this apt., that's not an option."

Did you know that there are a number of rather delicious cooking styles, such as the Philippine "adobo", which do not require refrigeration? Or the French "confit"? We routinely eat food in this house that's been sitting on the stove for as much as a week... Safe if it was cooked in the right style.

Give it a try, this can not only be convenient, but we're talking some seriously good eats.

Did you know that there are a number of rather delicious cooking styles, such as the Philippine "adobo", which do not require refrigeration? Or the French "confit"? We routinely eat food in this house that's been sitting on the stove for as much as a week... Safe if it was cooked in the right style.

Confit isn't cheap unless you live somewhere with ducks and geese for free. And though I'm not familiar with adobo, it would seem to have the same key problem as confit: get it right, and it's safe (and delicious, I don't doubt, if you're not vegetarian). Get it wrong, and you - and anyone else you share your food with - may die.

There is a reason why freezing became the preferred home method of storing meat: it makes accidentally killing yourself or your loved ones with improperly stored meat much less likely.

I was just getting ready to ask John Thullen to marry me, and lo and behold I find that somehow, without my knowing it, it's already happened.

Now I can die happy. :)

Actually, Jes, comfit doesn't require waterfowl, it works just fine with chicken. You just have to add supplemental fat, because chickens are too lean to supply enough on their own. 40 clove garlic chicken comfit is to die for.

You might want to look up http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adobo>adobo, it is some seriously good food. http://www.recipezaar.com/196306>This is fairly close to my wife's recipe, though she adds a Thai chili and a sprig of rosemary, she's become quite fond of the herb. (We keep a bush in a pot, to bring in during the winter, for a fresh supply.)

I'll concede that you're right: Most food preservation techniques aside from freezing do require that you get them right to avoid spoilage. OTOH, our ancestors generally managed to avoid killing themselves before the invention of refrigeration; It's not THAT hard to get this stuff right. You just have to be able to follow a recipe.

Oh, and if you're a bit worried that you haven't quite gotten the proportions right for long term preservation, you can always just briefly bring the whole pot to a boil each morning. In the dorms at my college we used to call that "Resetting the decay timer." ;)

OTOH, our ancestors generally managed to avoid killing themselves before the invention of refrigeration;

Well, the ones that had descendants at least....

(Sorry, I think it just struck me as an inadvertantly funny comment...)

One thing that hasn't received nearly enough attention is how awful a supermarket can be when it serves a low-income area. Vegetables tend to be wilting, meat turns green, and many healthy and inexpensive options simply aren't available. The difference between the store within walking distance from my apartment and the one four miles away in the wealthier community is like night and day. Captive markets get crappy groceries.

As a student, with low income but a relatively open schedule, it's quite easy to schedule a leisurely bus trip or find a friend with a car. If I were working two jobs just to make ends meet, I'd shop at the closer store and probably buy convenience foods that I knew could be heated and served quickly because I wouldn't have the money to waste on greens that would spoil in two days.

One thing that hasn't received nearly enough attention is how awful a supermarket can be when it serves a low-income area. Vegetables tend to be wilting, meat turns green, and many healthy and inexpensive options simply aren't available. The difference between the store within walking distance from my apartment and the one four miles away in the wealthier community is like night and day. Captive markets get crappy groceries.

As a student, with low income but a relatively open schedule, it's quite easy to schedule a leisurely bus trip or find a friend with a car. If I were working two jobs just to make ends meet, I'd shop at the closer store and probably buy convenience foods that I knew could be heated and served quickly because I wouldn't have the money to waste on greens that would spoil in two days.

Truth.

I think both time constraints and availability constraints are under appreciated. That's Real World stuff that are brushed aside too often.

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