Green Room

Mario Batali takes ‘Food Stamp challenge’? What challenge?

posted at 5:00 pm on May 17, 2012 by

It’s admirable that Mario Batali, owner of the most expensive restaurant on the planet Earth, cares that everyone has enough to eat. To prove he cares—that he is down with the 1% (the bottom 1% that is)—Batali has carefully lowered himself down into the gutter (actually, for him I believe the gutter is “up”) with the 1 in 7 American families on Food Stamps so that he can walk a mile in their diet.

In a paean to the portly chef and his magnanimity, the Associated Press writes:

The chef, his wife and their two teenage sons are eating for a week on the equivalent of a food stamp budget in protest of potential cuts pending in Congress to the benefit program used by more than 46 million Americans.

That’s $31 per person for the week, or about $1.48 per meal each.

Goodbye restaurants, free nibbles on his talk show ‘The Chew’ and all the luxe offerings at Eataly, the high-end New York City market he co-owns. Hello, Trader Joe‘s, Jack’s Dollar Store, Gristedes and Western Beef, a low-cost supermarket chain.

What a guy! I could mention here that Batali was considerably less charitable to his own employees whose tips he helped himself to (they subsequently sued him and his partner, Joe Bastianich, and won a $3.9 million settlement),  but that would be off-topic.

The important thing here is that Batali is, in his own words, “starving.” (Relevant science question: How long does it take a beached whale to starve?) Not only is he finding it difficult to sustain his girth on a buck-and-a-half per meal, but he’s also having to make do without organic and pesticide- and hormone-free food. “The organic word,” he told AP, “slides out and saves you about 50 percent.”

Let’s not forget that he’s dragged his kids into this. So how are the poor little dears holding out? Says their dad:

They’re having more peanut butter and jelly than they’ve had in the last 10 years because bread is inexpensive and peanut butter and jelly, if you buy it at the right place at the right time, is cheap.

I love pb & j and have it for lunch most weekends, even though I earn a decent living. What’s more is we buy extra-virgin olive oil at the aforementioned Trader Joe‘s, do the bulk of our shopping at the aforementioned Gristedes, and my wife frequently brings home some amazing bargains from the aforementioned Jack’s Dollar Store. One of my favorite dishes to cook is arroz com pollo, for which I use whole chicken thighs ($1.99 a pound), a large Spanish onion, a green pepper, a cup of rice, and assorted seasonings. The dish feeds a family of four for around $5, or $1.25 apiece. I don’t do this out of dire necessity but, rather, because I enjoy eating simple, wholesome food most of the time. Anyone who sets his mind to it can do the same.

The article goes on to note that Batali is on the board(!) of Food Bank for New York City, which issued the challenge. Margarette Purvis, who heads the organization, laments:

Nearly 3 million New Yorkers have difficulty paying for the food they need. They live in every single neighborhood. We’re not trying to compare the food stamp challenge to the very real challenges people face. We’re just trying to raise awareness that it’s no longer just the homeless. It’s working families who use the food stamp program. It’s seniors. It’s a lot more children, in every single neighborhood.

I’d be happy to share other recipes with hungry New Yorkers on Food Stamps. All of the meals can be cooked for under $1.48 per person. If these families choose instead to dine at McDonald’s, as so many do, they can expect their expenditure per person to triple or quadruple. Or they can splurge on a single 12-course Collezione Grand Tasting at Batali’s restaurant, but then they will be forced to fast for the entire year following.

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But this takes effort and thought.

derecho on May 17, 2012 at 5:11 PM

Oh… poor dear. My favorite cookbook is “Cheap. Fast. Good” which features MEALS for about $5. And last time I checked, PB&J is not cheap food. The 16oz jar of PB is averaging $4 for a decent brand and 8oz jelly is about $3. Bread is running $1.75 a loaf these days.

Funny thing, you’d think a gourmet chef would be a really good spokesperson for how to use seasonings and creativity to make a pretty good meal out of very inexpensive foods.

2nd Ammendment Mother on May 17, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Goodness, I could eat for a month on about $30 if I had nothing but oatmeal for breakfast, ramen noodles for lunch, and potatoes and broccoli for dinner, with a little shredded cheese melted over.

I might come out vitamin-and-mineral-deficient, and need to add a supplement or two. Generics aren’t expensive, but call it $12-15.

The coffee budget would just about double the $30, of course. It takes about $29 worth of Starbucks beans to get me through a month.

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2012 at 5:35 PM

Goodness, I could eat for a month on about $30 if I had nothing but oatmeal for breakfast, ramen noodles for lunch, and potatoes and broccoli for dinner, with a little shredded cheese melted over.

Or, as per your other comment, you just swallow a glug of lizard spit at the beginning of the month and get by on the supplements alone.

Howard Portnoy on May 17, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Howard Portnoy on May 17, 2012 at 5:51 PM

Good point, although I am definitely waiting for the injectible variety.

J.E. Dyer on May 17, 2012 at 5:53 PM

The poor dears, only $31/week for food. This works out to roughly $120/person/month. The wife and I ran up ginormous medical bills several years ago. We went on a strict budget to pay them off quickly and set aside $180/month for food for the two of us. Absolutely no dining out. We live in a community where the food costs are about the national average. We purchased a used chest freezer at a garage sale. Stocked up on inexpensive turkey and ham at Thanksgiving and Easter. Collected coupons and purchased the items only when on sale locally. Purchased a lot of bulk products and day old bakery products. Switch form ribeye to chuck steaks and hamburger, lots of chicken purchased in bulk. We did not skimp on fresh fruits and vegetables though. We did this for almost three years, no problem never felt deprived. Now that the bills are paid off we’ve raised our budget to $250/month and feel like we live in the lap of luxury.

morbius on May 17, 2012 at 6:28 PM

how about cooking in your home, that would minimize
cost, and meet all your needs.

RonK on May 17, 2012 at 6:37 PM

Given Batali’s cooking talents, he should be able to provide tasty meals for his family on that food stamp allotment. And oh, btw, the basis of Italian cooking which Batali has preached on his cooking shows is that it’s simple and local–you know, peasanty. Certainly he can find a local farmer’s market with produce easily affordable on food stamps. Rice is relatively inexpensive and so can pasta and bread be–especially if you make your own.

stukinIL4now on May 17, 2012 at 6:46 PM

Every time I see crap like this, I get really annoyed. Rice and beans, people! You can buy a 50 lb bag of rice for about 20 bucks. A bag of beans (depending on the bean) for about the same.

This will last 2 people about 6 months (I think, depending on whether or not they are big eaters). It might be a boring diet, but it’s lowfat and better than starving, ask me how I know! Cook it with soy sauce and garlic, and it’s perfectly edible.

I am so sick of ppl whining about how they can’t live on food stamps. I’ve had to do it a couple times in my life (much to my mortification), and IT JUST ISN’T THAT HARD!!! Throw in the food pantries, and you can eat pretty well, thank you very much!

Oh, you actually have to prepare it? Well, boo freaking hoo!
Soak the stuff overnight, and it takes just minutes to cook.
And it’s a lot healthier than that GD frozen pizza and Ho-Ho’s you’d rather buy!

sage0925 on May 17, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Oh, and the bag of beans I am referring to is also a 50lb bag. Full protein complement. A vitamin supplement would be good with it, as it’s kind of lacking in B12.

sage0925 on May 17, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Oh, and did I mention that you can also buy a 20 lb box of pasta (depending on the type) for about 15 bucks???

If you can’t survive on food stamps, you’re either too picky, or too dependent on processed/pre-prepared foods.

sage0925 on May 17, 2012 at 7:30 PM

Doesn’t the FN have a few shows which feature real budget meals for families ?
But then why would the foul-mouth fat hater watch anything other than his own navel ! and try to learn anything new ?

burrata on May 17, 2012 at 7:40 PM

Hey Batali,eat a dog !

burrata on May 17, 2012 at 7:42 PM

One can make stews/soups for quite a bit less than food stamps allocates each month.

Plus, let’s not forget if you qualify for food stamps and have a child, you get WIC, and more than likely, welfare from the state and feds (SSI) as well.

Utilizing a chef’s abilities, one should be able to make things from even cheap cuts of meat like kidney, brawn, chitterlings and scrapple into meals for his family.

You know, unless his show and position is FOS…

MunDane68 on May 17, 2012 at 7:46 PM

I used to spend about that much on food…until I got married.
My wife put her foot down at eating 4 ounce hamburgers made from sale price max-packs frozen as patties every day for lunch and dinner. Eating something different for every meal gets pricy.

Count to 10 on May 17, 2012 at 8:01 PM

MunDane68 on May 17, 2012 at 7:46 PM

You’d be amazed at the rich chicken broth you can make with nothing more than chicken’s feet. When we butchered our turkeys and chickens (can’t afford to keep any atm), we always saved the feet. Makes an excellent stock for noodle soup.

Count to 10 on May 17, 2012 at 8:01 PM

Well, you don’t have to eat them as burgers. Mush them up and use them in soup/stew/spaghetti.

sage0925 on May 17, 2012 at 8:09 PM

HP please share more of your recipes. Perfect on my college food budget. Your arroz con pollo is definitely going on my list.

Even one or two more would be very much appreciated!

WeekendAtBernankes on May 17, 2012 at 8:52 PM

Gristedes has been through two of three owners in the last 30 years, but I’ve never known it to be a destination for food stamp customers.CTown or Pioneer, yes, but Gristedes is more upper east side than central Harlem.

xkaydet65 on May 17, 2012 at 8:54 PM

WeekendAtBernankes on May 17, 2012 at 8:52 PM

It would be my pleasure, WAB. Drop me a note at howard.portnoy@gmail.com, and I’ll email you back half dozen recipes.

Gristedes has been through two of three owners in the last 30 years, but I’ve never known it to be a destination for food stamp customers.CTown or Pioneer, yes, but Gristedes is more upper east side than central Harlem.

Quite true. I only mentioned it because the AP writer did in her article, seeming to intimate that it was a hardship for Batali to shop there.

Howard Portnoy on May 17, 2012 at 10:15 PM

Wife? Sons? Hmm, I always thought the pendulum swung the other way in his home

multiuseless on May 17, 2012 at 10:43 PM

No no no.

Are food stamps truly intended to comprise the entire budget of a family? Or is it intended to SUPPLEMENT a family’s budget. If one is so desperate to not have income to supplement, do they not also receive welfare and other government benefits? I agree that amount cannot reasonably sustain a family. I appreciate grabbing the low hanging fruit, but there is a more substantive critique than Batali’s girth.

Crispian on May 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM

I agree that amount cannot reasonably sustain a family. I appreciate grabbing the low hanging fruit, but there is a more substantive critique than Batali’s girth.

Crispian on May 17, 2012 at 11:37 PM

I have been looking over the last three months grocery store tabs I paid with my debit card. It averages @ $28.77/person/week. That counts the whole tab, not just food. No one in my home is starving. We have been having to cut back on our budget and have not gone out to eat in the last month, but our cupboards are full and the freezer still has TV dinners in it for when no one wants to cook. The idea that $30/person/week could not sustain a family is ridiculous!

Consider: Could you shop to feed three people for one week on $90? Hell yes! And not just rice and beans either. I’ve got hamburger, pork chops, chicken and fish in the freezer and my last grocery run (three people for two weeks) was less than a hundred bucks!

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on May 18, 2012 at 12:47 AM

Random Numbers (Brian Epps) on May 18, 2012 at 12:47 AM

I was a bit hasty. It is a slim amount but I can see how it is doable. I’m not big on the TV dinners simply because they are typically so small, but there is a good variety of inexpensive frozen food. Still, if a family does find the amount insufficient for their dietary habits and tastes, aren’t food stamps meant to be a supplemental?

What I’m objecting to is the notion that not only should the government provide safety nets for those most at need…but it must provide full coverage of needs. That is the heart of the food stamp challenge. It shouldn’t matter whether $30 is enough – though it’s great to show how it can be done.

Crispian on May 18, 2012 at 2:16 AM

I hope these ppl aren’t looking to me for more $$$. Maybe forego the nike air jordans, about w/AFDC bucks? Theres $150 right there. Transfer funds from the booze/dope fund over too.
Get a job in any resteraunt and take home food close to expiration? Soup kitchens for a family w/kids during the summer. I did it in college, and it ain’t 1/2 bad.
Bottom line most stamper buy the expensie cereals instead if the 5lbs of puffed rice. Buy bulk rice bags too.

hutch1200 on May 18, 2012 at 5:59 AM

I’d love to find more ways to eat cheap. I’m surprised no one has mentioned starting a garden.

Rancher on May 18, 2012 at 8:26 AM

Food stamps challenges start from a dishonest premise. Conservatives need to point out the lie. They ask that people eat based on average food stamp benefit. Many people don’t get the maximum food stamp benefit because the government expects them to pay for some of their own food. It is only fair to judge the food stamp program based on the maximum food stamp benefit. The government does give out a maximum benefit of $200 for one person which means they can spend more $2 a meal.The difference between over $2 and $1.48 is huge in terms of the variety of food available and the enjoyment of the diet.

Also omitted from this is people on food stamps supplement their diet by going to food banks.

thuja on May 18, 2012 at 8:43 AM

I remember when my kids were younglings and some of my friends complained how expensive diapers and formula were…didn’t have that problem, as we used cloth and I nursed. That problem was easily solved!

Bob's Kid on May 18, 2012 at 11:03 AM

When I wasn’t working, I spent a lot of time clipping coupons and meticulously planning grocery shopping trips. I was able to save a lot more than I expected without my family feeling deprived, and I have two hungry teenagers. Luckily we have never been a big junk-food family, and we love stews and soups in the winter which can be made very cheaply. We don’t have a warehouse club very close to us but I am still able to save by buying the largest quantities of staples and hitting the bargain meat bins.

I also volunteered to pick up day-old baked goods from a local grocery and take it to a food bank every other week. I got to keep whatever I wanted and this saved me a ton on bread, pastries, and cookies. Plus I was helping people who were even worse off than I was.

rockmom on May 18, 2012 at 12:12 PM

Also omitted from this is people on food stamps supplement their diet by going to food banks.

thuja on May 18, 2012 at 8:43 AM

Not only that , their kids get free breakfast, lunch and even dinner @ school, even when schools are closed, in almost every big city .
Add that to kids being fed at their ” after school centers” and ” homework centers” ,all at taxpayers expenses.
Batali is transforming into an idiot, he just wants the Mooch to notice him

burrata on May 18, 2012 at 12:47 PM

I’ve seen way too many people using their EBT card/food stamps to buy junk food and high end foods such as steak, while they’re wearing desinger/fashionable shoes and clothes to give much heed to liberals pontificating on how difficult it is to live on a meager food allowance from the government.

Logus on May 18, 2012 at 5:18 PM

I read a blog about a guy eating on $1 a day. He did it for 2 months. Could have kept going, but it got boring for him, so he went on to another challenge.

cptacek on May 19, 2012 at 1:07 AM