The Rich Man, The Mormon Mom And The Dice Rolls Of Life

This is not a political blog. Sometimes my political leanings (which can be summed up as, “leave people more or less alone and don’t be a raging asshole,”) probably poke up, like so many unnoticed weeds in the raised bed of my life. But I try not to focus on politics here, or in my life. Instead, I like to focus on shit that actually matters, like growing broccoli!

This is also not a religious blog. The reason for that is simple: I am not a religious person. In fact, my feelings about religion are very similar to my feelings about politics.

But this blog does sometimes touch on community, and food security, and self-sufficiency, and what that all means. And so, Gentle Reader, I now beg your leave to indulge into a foray into politics and religion as I write my way down the road of community and food-security.

You see, I’ve been unable to mentally let go of this virtual conversation about food stamps I engaged in at the beginning of the week. A man I know – a smart man, and a very wealthy man – linked to a Wall Street Journal article that reported 70% of Food Stamp recipients had no earned income for the year.

Image from New York Times

Here’s what the article says (I’ve included excerpts here, but you can read it in its entirety by following the link above):

Some 20% of households [that received food stamps] had no cash income of any kind last year, up from 15% in 2007, the year the recession began, and up from 7% in 1990.

That’s partly because most household heads who were receiving food stamps were also out of work. Just 21.8% of them had jobs in 2010, while 19.8% were jobless and looking for work.

On average, food stamp households brought home $731 per month in gross income. Their food assistance averaged $287 a month.

The poster of this article, and a few other folks on his thread, concluded from the article that food stamps were too generous, and if they were made less so more people would have to work, which would be better for American society.

The poster further argued that since many jobs, such as those in agriculture and meat processing, are performed by illegal immigrants, poor Americans do have options for work but choose not to work because the government benefits granted to the poor allow them such discernment in what work they will and won’t do. The benefits, he concluded, are too rich.

In comparison, I think about my high school friend Anji, who was kind enough to write the piece on food storage for beginners earlier this month (it’s a great article, but posted just as Facebook exploded with a new interface, so if you haven’t read and commented you should go back and take a look).

Anji is Mormon. As many of her faith do, she takes her food storage seriously. She wrote this on her blog post: “I feel strongly that I should share with my neighbors in times of need, so I try to store enough to share as well.”

I look at these two different takes on food security and I can’t help but compare them. In the first, a very wealthy man is decrying the government assistance that allows the poor to “get away with” not working. In the second, a mother is doing what she can to ensure that she and her community will be solvent should hardship strike. Her word is share.

The spirit of community provisioning behind Anji’s comment is clear: she is preparing for the unexpected. She is preparing for random bad luck.

Now my household is a fortunate household. We are food secure, not in danger of losing our home, and have enough savings to see us through foreseeable set-backs. We come to this good fortune through hard work, good decision making and – this part is important – a really healthy dose of luck.

But because we have benefited from fortunate dice rolls our household focuses on gratitude, knowing as we do that fortune can be a fickle bitch, despite all our best plans and preparations.

And it is here that I think Anji has the advantage: her perspective is not them-against-me. It is not class-warfare and it is not trite soundbites. Anji’s sharing philosophy within her community allows for a world where bad things happen to good people. Her perspective allows that disasters can flood the grand houses as well as the the modest ones, and does not differentiate between hungry stomachs that have eaten caviar and hungry stomachs that never will.

A man who is positive he will never again need the simple kindness of his fellow man is either very rich or very poor. It’s not for me to say which.


  1. says

    I'm glad you posted this. I too try to avoid religion/politics, but I think this fits well into yours (and my) blog. I think the key is to be resilient, strong communities. When you are getting your assistance from your neighbor instead of the government, there are so many opportunities to help in real lasting ways. "Teach a man to fish" and all that…

  2. says

    Not a Mormon but I totally get with the plan of preparedness. Have for years, inherited from my grandmother and mother. I loved looking in my grandmother's basement in the jar room…wall to wall, floor to ceiling home canned goods coming from her backyard garden and farm relatives gardens. My mother as a full time working mother kept a fully stocked pantry and spent Saturday cooking and freezing and getting food ready for the week. This was back in the 60's. She is now 82 and still calls me to tell me she just made a lasagna and a pot roast and chili and to come and get some. She packages the rest up for her freezer into single serve meals.

    We also stock up on the non food stuff too, and I have a mental list of who I need to bring into my home should a disaster occur…a list of those I know who don't have the resources to be prepared to any extent. Those who may try to save up but need to break into those same stores everytime the paycheck runs out. We are fortunate, like you, and things are easier for my generation due to the hard work of our grandparents on both sides who were immigrants and managed to send our parents to college and our parents who furthered their education beyond college.

    Our church used to have a food pantry, but all the church pantries in town recently combined into one large community pantry to be more efficient and be able to carry wider variety of foods than just canned. We still keep a food pantry though for church members to use as needed because you never know who needs extra help.

  3. Katrina says

    I was raised Mormon, but I haven't been active since I became an adult many, many years ago. Anji's attitude isn't unique for Mormons; when I went to church I remember being taught two things about food storage. First, if someone comes to our house looking for food and is desperate, it's possible they may physically hurt us to get it. When we know we have enough to share we wont be tempted not to share and hopefully no one will get hurt. Second, if we are willing to use deadly force to protect our food storage and actually kill someone before we'd be willing to feed them, then we are basically committing murder. A lot of Mormons I know joke about trying to have enough food storage too feed their entire town should the need arrive. It's basically the "Do as you'd want to be treated" attitude.

  4. lisa says

    In 2006-ish, when the economy was rolling like a downhill boulder, there was a certain segment saying that undocumented workers were stealing jobs from good Americans. Now the economy is more like a stagnant pond and the refrain (curiously enough, by the same segment) is “jobs are out there, just get off your ass and don’t be so selective”.

    We all know people that scam the system, that are living pretty content on the 24 months of unemployment and not trying to find a job other than a winning scratch ticket, people that manage to get DSHS to pay for all their kids and people that bought a house only to walk away from the mortgage while the rest of us ate grilled cheese and kept paying ours. For every one of those there is a dozen that stumbled and are simply trying to get back up and moving again. Those people are the reason we have a social net.

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