Barely out of the first day, Jordan and I encounter a problem: I’ve come down with a massive sore throat. Advil obviously doesn’t count as food, but what about cough drops, vitamins, or my own personal home remedy, a shot of straight vodka*?
While cough drops and vitamins are definitely exceptions, an argument can be made in favor of vodka as well: Since you can’t buy alcohol with SNAP benefits anyway, it belongs to the same category as medicines and supplements; that is, things that SNAP doesn’t cover. Theoretically you could have a beer or a glass of wine every night, you just couldn’t make a cocktail with mixers. But we have chosen to take a no-alcohol path to add to the realism.
This highlights a weakness in the simulation: You’re limiting spending in the area where a low-income family would actually have the most economic freedom. The family can count on receiving $28 per person per week for food, but might not have any regular income outside of that. They can judge whether or not they’ve been spending too much on food and can make decisions like “I’ve got $5 left over, so I can afford a carton of ice cream.” Non-food expenses come out of a much more volatile source of income.
My failure to buy any illness-friendly foods is illustrative. If I’d known I was going to get sick, I probably would have picked a different week (even greater pragmatism would have picked a week once Jordan and I are both out of a job and packing lunches for work will no longer be necessary). As it was, I worked on the assumption that I wouldn’t get sick and now I don’t have the money to go get anything else. Low-income people often have to make choices like this, working on the assumption that a crisis won’t occur and knowing that they won’t be able to afford to deal with it if it does, and the consequences can be far worse than a cold with no chicken soup.
In the end, we decided to allow the shot of vodka, on the grounds that a) vodka isn’t food, and b) my throat really hurt. It helped a little.
*The idea is that, if you do a shot right when you first develop a sore throat, you’ll kill all the bacteria or viruses before they have a chance to spread. It has to be a straight shot or a white Russian, though: if you mix it with anything sugary, you’re feeding the germs and negating the effect.
I fully accept that the purported health benefit is probably illusory, but let me tell you: it numbs up your throat like nobody’s business.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.