Once upon a time in a land very close and near there lived an average couple. The couple fell on hard times and had no choice but to ask for assistance. The government gave them a small amount of money to help to meet their needs, and some food stamps so they could buy groceries.

The couple had been on a strict $200 per month budget for food, which while not excessive, was not stingy either. When they received their first monthly food stamp allowance it was in the sum of $396. They were thrilled.

Little changed in their grocery buying habits the first month, they still only spent about $200 dollars for their food. At the beginning of the next month they received an additional $396 dollars. Both of them were pleasantly surprised when they realized they now had a balance of almost 600 dollars!

The couple started to upgrade: buying more steaks and fish instead of hamburger. But that didn't make a dent in their newfound food allowance. Soon they completely gave up on coupon clipping and stopped making any effort to buy things on sale. Why bother? Time went by, and still their balance continued to grow. Food that wasn’t consumed quickly enough was tossed and replaced. And if they bought something they didn’t care for once they opened it, they simply discarded it.

The husband discovered sushi and really started getting into it. Soon he learned that the sushi in the cold case at the store they had always shopped at wasn’t nearly as delicious as the “good stuff” sold at the posh market down the street. In all the years before they’d never even been in that store. And behold! Here there were salads and sandwiches already prepared. And all these prepared foods could be paid for with their food stamps, so long as they weren’t cooked. The husband had his sushi, but the wife was smitten with the uncooked, ready-made, gourmet pizzas. The pizzas saved her time and money! Both agreed that the selection of foods in the upscale market was head and shoulders better than their “old” grocery store.

The couple was proud of the fact they now went out to eat a lot less often, after all the food at the gourmet store was free, and just as good as expensive restaurants. Everything was fair game now; halibut, king crab legs, and jumbo shrimp! Prime steaks and lobster tails! All of this was unthinkable before. Prepared kabobs, cordon bleu and gourmet cheese were just a few of the new delicacies they sampled. They switched to organic products and grass fed beef.  They even began to BBQ and entertain more. Despite eating like a king and queen, the unused portion of their monthly government provided stipend rolled over and their balance continued to grow...

They decided to take a summer trip and see family along the way. They asked their hosts if they could prepare dinner one night. It was the most lavish dinner the family had ever eaten. In fact everyone was a little embarrassed about it. Before they left, the couple went shopping and bought a fridge full of choice food as a “thank you” to their relatives.

Life had definitely improved for the couple, at least how they ate. In some other ways, things were worse than ever, because frankly, their health had started to deteriorate. Obesity had set in and brought with it a host of health concerns neither of them had ever had before. Medical care under their new health plan was awfully hard to come by. They were no longer approved to see their personal doctor. So they found themselves waiting in long lines to see doctors who didn’t seem very competent or caring, a shame considering medical care was more important than ever to them now. But at least they ate well – and often.

This is the end of our modern day fairy tale. But if you notice food prices climbing, and the quality of inexpensive foods deteriorating, and people getting a bit heavier all around you, you might want to take notice of this fact:

The cost to provide food stamps has increased in recent years as more people join the program, which according to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report released Thursday, will continue to expand through at least 2014. The report also reveals that from 2007-2011 spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the SNAP program, informally known as the food stamp program) increased 135 percent to reach a cost of $78 billion last year alone.

According to CBO, in the four year period highlighted, the number of Americans on food stamps increased by 70 percent — “Nearly 45 million recipients, one out of every seven U.S. residents, received SNAP benefits in an average month in fiscal year 2011."

Which just goes to prove -- not all stories are fairy tales.

Paul Nathan