It is not uncommon in some of the wrong kinds of bars to be approached by unsavoury hoods with trenchcoats full of, uh, savoury goods. "Psst. Buddy! Wanna buy some..." (you try to fill it in for him - Car stereo? Rock? Little Boys?) "... cheese?"

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and realise that yes - you were just offered some cheese by the kind of man you'd cross the street to avoid encountering. Maybe some Gorgonzola or some nice Jarlsberg... but waitasec, this guy can't even afford to launder his clothes from the smell of things... or maybe that's the Limburger? - so how did he get his hands on these fine exotic cheeses?

Often social assistance - welfare - will issue food stamps to households who are having a harder time paying the rent than filling the bellies. The strategy here is to get what expensive or specialty foods they can with the stamps and then to try to pawn them off for the best price, liquidating their stamp-assets for money to be spent on things like clothes, cheaper food (1 Bavarian sausage = a flat of Kraft dinner, baby!) and, uh, booze, smokes, whatever else is needed.

In short, food stamps aren't generally redeemable for currency - though they are redeemable for cheese, which is redeemable for cashola. This underground economy isn't quite the use of cheese as currency (hey, can you break a Feta? I'm two Camemberts short!) but is the closest regular phenomenon to it in that industrialised world we all know and love.

No intent to malign lower-income families here or elsewhere is intended in this write-up and I respect and stand by their ability to redeem their stamps and coupons however they see fit.