Think of it as the effect of a grinding recession crossed with the epicurean tastes of young people as obsessed with food as previous generations were with music and sex. Faced with lingering unemployment, 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees and foodie standards are shaking off old taboos about who should get government assistance and discovering that government benefits can indeed be used for just about anything edible, including wild-caught fish, organic asparagus and triple-crème cheese.
Food policy experts and human resource administrators are quick to point out that the overwhelming majority of the record 38 million Americans now using food stamps are their traditional recipients: the working poor, the elderly and single parents on welfare.
But they also note that recent changes made to the program as part of last year’s stimulus package, which relaxed the restrictions on able-bodied adults without dependents to collect food stamps, have made some young singles around the country eligible for the first time.
“There are many 20-somethings from educated families who go through a period of unemployment and live very frugally, maybe even technically in poverty, who now qualify,” said Parke Wilde, a food economist at Tufts University who has written extensively about food stamp usage and policy.