You might have felt like you had wandered back into the '60s last night if you happened to meander past Room 2261 of the Rayburn House Office Building, where several hundred people gathered for a reception sponsored by the National Anti-Hunger Coalition. They were there to protest administration budget cuts aimed at food programs and to honor Rep. Shirley Chisholm (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Carl Perkins (D-Ky.), both of whom have fought hard for foodstamp and school-lunch legislation.
You might have been very smug and coy about this. You might have wondered how much interaction was actually going on between the welfare recipients in Woolworth's polyester, liberals in cosmetic work boots and Main Line Philly girls in silk blouses and gold chains who conjured up the blithe spirit of Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall." There were a lot of buttons: green rectangle from the American School Food Service Association; round white with red border -- "Speak Up Children"; yellow rectangle -- "Don't Slice Bread Out of the Budget"; black and white square -- "Stop Child Killing in Atlanta"; white circle with blue letters -- "Reagan Is Not MY President"; green circle with white type -- "Robin Hood Was Right."
If you had been a wise guy, you would have noted that these people were drinking Cokes and Almaden California Mountain White Chablis and eating fat pretzels and greasy potato chips. And maybe you would have said, Oh no, more rhetoric , when Chisholm declared a blazing revival style things like "we must not permit ourselves to die" and "we have come too far to turn back" and -- you would have admitted, a well turned phrase -- "we're not going to let them slide through the silence of the night." p
Then you might have met Barbara Cochran, 48, from Bethany, Okla., a state where 119,000 individuals receive direct food stamps from the government and another 115,000, including Mrs. Cochran and her husband and four girls (8, 9, 16, and 18) receive food stamps. Mrs. Cochran can no longer work because of a broken back. She used to make $5.98 an hour as a machine operator in a butter factory. Her husband used to make $6 an hour as an industrial painter. He has emphysema, and is recovering from a tumor operation. The Cochran family receives $465 a month in support. That leaves $43, after rent and utilities, to feed the family: 57 cents per meal per child, according to Mrs. Cochran's calculations.
"My grandma taught me to farm cook," Mrs. Cochran said. "I make a lot of soups. We eat a lot of carbohydrates. That's why welfare people are fat. Sometimes I just eat popcorn to fill myself up so the children can eat something better. I buy them orange juice once a week. The last 10 days of the month are very hard."
Maybe you would have walked away a little less smug and a little less coy.