Stu Bykofsky: Bob Brady sees that hunger is no game

U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (left) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter try to shop for less than $35, the weekly limit of food-stamp purchases. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (left) and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter try to shop for less than $35, the weekly limit of food-stamp purchases. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 27, 2012

IT WOULD HAVE been an expense-account report to make my editors and the new millionaire owners (how you doing, guys?) very happy.

I wanted to take U.S. Rep. Bob Brady out to dinner Wednesday night after his return from Washington, and it wouldn't cost a cent for him. Brady would not eat because he's on the weeklong Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge, organized by the Coalition Against Hunger and the Jewish Federation. The gimmick: Enlist celebrities to help illustrate how hard it is for the poor (including children, elders, the disabled) to eat on $35 a week, the average food-stamp benefit.

One in three Philadelphians receives food stamps. Brady's district is one of the nation's poorest, with wealth in Society Hill swamped by poverty in North Philadelphia and "especially Chester," Brady says.

Celebrities became food-stampers to draw attention to Gov. Corbett's misguided plan to start means-testing food-stamp recipients on May 1.

I suppose Brady could have eaten with me because he wouldn't be using any of his precious $5 daily, but that would have been cheating. My bill would have been paid by me, and when I say "me," I mean the Daily News, and by that I mean whoever owns us this week.

I was thinking of interviewing Brady at the Palm, where the cheapest things on the menu are side dishes priced at $7.90. I imagined eating while he drooled on my notepad.

That plan tanked when a meeting of the Armed Services Committee ran very late because "the Republicans talk too much," Brady told me in a late-night phone call from D.C.

He says he has stuck to the stamps. After spending $35 at a West Philadelphia Shop-Rite on groceries, he was good to go. Here's what he ate this week:

Monday: a peanut-butter-and- jelly sandwich for lunch, chicken and carrots for dinner.

Tuesday: bran cereal for breakfast, salad for lunch and pasta for dinner.

Wednesday: three scrambled eggs for breakfast, a peanut-butter sandwich for lunch and rice with carrots for dinner.

Thursday: cereal for breakfast, tuna sandwich for lunch and chicken for dinner.

Friday: three eggs (sunny-side up) for breakfast, salad for lunch, and pasta and salad for dinner.

"How hungry are you?" I asked.

"I'm always hungry, but I'm not that hungry," says Brady, adding that the carb-heavy food is neither slimming nor nutritious. His hardest period was Election Day, because his ward headquarters was swimming in food - pepper and eggs, sausage, bagels. He swears he laid off.

The worst part about the enforced diet is "the redundancy, repeating the same food" day in and day out, he says.

His district has a poverty rate of 26.9 percent. "I didn't make it poor, it was poor when I ran in 1998," Brady says in response to a question about how effective he's been.

"Right now, it's the economy, trying to get jobs," Brady says, pointing to some achievements in bringing home the bacon, curtailed now "with the end of earmarks."

Is it cruel for me to mention bacon to a guy eating brown rice?

Brady says that he wants to repeat the challenge next week because he'll have leftover pasta and rice, and will use an additional $35 to buy ground beef or sausage to add variety to the menu. Maybe even some fruit and tomatoes.

"You're eating to stay alive, not to enjoy it," Brady says. "Poor people have to do it all the time."

Call that food for thought.


Email stubyko@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5977. Join Stu on Facebook. For recent columns: www.philly.com/Byko.

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