The 21st Show

The Best Of The Midwest; New SNAP Benefits Program

Sunset over Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Ill.

Sunset over Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, Ill. moon shot/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

What does it mean to be Midwestern, and what makes this state and this region so special? We talk to some of our favorite Midwesterners about all things Illinois and the Midwest including the food, the history, the culture and the landscape around us. Plus, Gov. Pritzker recently signed a bill which creates a Restaurant Meals Program for SNAP recipients. We learn why its proponents think it can help fix the issue of food deserts and make people healthier.

On Niala's last day hosting The 21st, we thought we’d spend the rest of this hour talking about what makes the Midwest and Illinois great. We also asked some of our friends and frequent contributors to leave us a voicemail about what they like best about Illinois.

We recieved voicemails from WGLT's Ryan Denahm, Harvest Public Media's Madelyn Beck, WGN radio host Justin Kaufman and Senator Dick Durbin.

But before we can gush about the Midwest, we thought we would take a stab at defining what it means to be Midwestern. What comes to mind for you when you think of the region we live in? Maybe cornfields, ranch dressing or potholes.

But despite being referred to as the “heartland” of the U.S., the Midwest can be overlooked and misunderstood by those who haven’t experienced life here.

To talk with us about Midwest culture and what makes this region so special, we had Mike Draper on the line with us from Des Moines, Iowa. He founded a clothing company called RAYGUN, which specializes in humorous t-shirts about this Midwest region. The store has five locations, including one that recently opened in Chicago.

He is also the author of “The Midwest: God's Gift to Planet Earth: An Illustrated Guide to the History and Culture of the Galaxy's Most Important Region.”

We also brought back some of our favorite Midwesterners starting with Niki Davis. She writes The Taste column for The Southern newspaper and has her own website called Rooted in Food. She also teaches Hospitality and Tourism Administration at Southern Illinois University.

Alan Lowe is the Executive Director of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. David Leake also joined us. He recently retired after three decades at the William M. Staerkel Planetarium and from his work as a professor of astronomy and physics at Parkland College.

Read Niala's farewell speech here!


About 1.8 million low-income people in Illinois receive help buying groceries for themselves or their families using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. Up until recently, you could only use those benefits to buy food to take home and cook yourself.

That rule changed last week though when Governor Pritzker officially signed a bill into law that would create a SNAP Restaurant Meals Program in Illinois. It allows restaurants and other places to opt into the program and offer prepared meals to SNAP recipients who have a disability, are homeless or elderly. 

Nolan Downey is an attorney at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, one of several organizations that advocated for this legislation in the state. WBEZ journalist Natalie Moore covers food injustice issues. Jenna Donald is the outreach coordinator at Green Top, a co-op grocery store. 

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