Yesterday, I spoke with Bob Brady in the middle of a busy Primary Day. Actually, he said it was “slow as hell.” The larger-than-life eight-term Congressman from Pennsylvania telephoned me from the 34th Ward in West Philly to talk about his participation in the Hunger Coalition’s seven-day Food Stamp Challenge, in which he and other politicians have been asked to eat (and drink) on $5/day, the average food stamp benefit in the Philadelphia region. The Challenge kicked off on Monday, and by Tuesday he was already sounding pretty grumpy.
Why are you doing this?
Because I think it’s a good idea.
Can you elaborate?
Because it will bring some awareness to the issue of hunger and some visibility to the people who are trying to cut the benefits down.
And how is it going so far?
Do you think you can possibly make it until Sunday?
I’m trying to stretch it. I do know one thing. I’m not eating the right things. I didn’t even have enough money to buy fruit.
What food are you missing most right now?
Well you could definitely score a couple of slices of Lorenzo’s for $5, right?
Yeah, but you can’t eat pizza breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can’t live on pizza. I mean, I wouldn’t mind a cheesesteak or hoagie from time to time.
Did you give up pizza for Lent?
No. Lima beans. I haven’t broken Lent in 60 years, and so that’s why I gave up lima beans.
When this is all over, where will you have a celebratory supper?
I don’t think it’s celebratory time. It’s a sad time that people have to go through this. We have all these other countries that we give food to—and we should—but we can’t provide food for our own people. And now the state wants to do an asset test. Anybody with $5,500 in savings shouldn’t be eligible for food stamps, they’re saying. What if your car breaks down, your transmission blows? People work all our lives to save some money. It’s not like there are people who aren’t eligible who are getting food stamps. There aren’t people taking advantage, there aren’t people in it who don’t deserve it. Think about the children. What are they going to eat? Just rice and noodles? I bought no dessert. Give a kid a piece of cake! It’s not an abused program.
Do you really believe that there aren’t people out there abusing it?
It’s a great program, the least abused of any in the state. Statistics show that. And now they’re picking on it, at this particularly difficult time in this economy. They want to cut the funding even more than it’s already been cut. The Feds already cut it $14 billion! And they want to cut it some more?
Your district is said to be the fourth hungriest in the country …
Not no more. We’re taking issue with that report, for sure. One of the neediest areas in my district is the city of Chester. We’re opening a supermarket there, a hybrid. Half of it is a PhilaBundance giveaway. And the other half is low cost foods, fruits and vegetables. We just did the groundbreaking a month ago. But we don’t believe that so-called study is accurate. We’ve talked to them, and they can’t show us any proof that those numbers are right. But also, keep in mind that it is a poor district. It was forever. I didn’t make it that way. I didn’t make it poor. But we are trying to do things that are helpful.
If we make fresh fruits and vegetables more easily available to the average kid on the El who is scarfing down barbecue chips and sodas after school, do you think they’re going to start eating apples and carrot sticks?
I think that they need to have the opportunity to buy them. Right now, they don’t have that opportunity. You’ve got to give them the opportunity to afford them. You can at least get their parents interested and make it possible for them to have fresh fruits and vegetables at home. But you’re not going to stop a kid from grabbing a bag of chips on the way to school.
Well, I for one never did that.
Well, I certainly did. I didn’t know any kid that didn’t.
I guess I’m just weird.
You said that. Not me.