A Former Restaurant Critic Goes From an Expense Account to an EBT Card


Plenty of restaurant critics and other eaters by profession like to bemoan the burden of making a living by inhaling food night after night on somebody else’s dime, but if anything can make such grunts and groans of self-pity even less pitiable, it’s this Seattle Times piece by Ed Murrieta.

Murrieta spent four years as the restaurant critic for The News Tribune of Tacoma, a post that provided him with a $1,300 monthly expense account. Murrieta left his job in 2008 to start his own food website. When the website bombed along with the economy, Murrieta was left with a monthly food budget of $200, and had to go on food stamps.

His account of this transition and subsequent experiences is a poignant and thought-provoking one, and a welcome rejoinder to superficial, fake-trend pieces that have sought to dig up the more sensational aspects of eating on government subsidies. Murrieta, whose EBT card “occupies the place in my wallet where I used to keep my expense-account credit card,” writes movingly and without any discernible self-pity about the stark discrepancy between his old culinary life and his new one:

As a professional assignment, writing about a thing such as shopping and eating on a budget is abstract. As a gut-punching, ego-bruising, bank-busting predicament, eating on the food lines is real. After six months of it, I still feel the occasional memory pang of expense-account indulgences gone by, but I don’t cry in my cabernet. … My Catholic guilt tells me I am tasting karma after a lifetime of eating entitlement. I have never experienced hunger or wanted for food. To me, dining out has been a way of life. Now, it is a luxury — a coveted breakfast or lunch with a friend who picks up the tab, or a towering plate of $4 happy-hour nachos that I’m sure to finish, down to the last black bean.

It’s a worthwhile piece, and provides plenty of food for thought.