Well, tomorrow is October 1st and that means Day One of my SNAP Challenge. I announced that I was taking this challenge in an earlier post. I decided to do this to raise awareness about hunger and food insecurity in the community. The SNAP Challenge gives participants a view of what life can be like for thousands of low-income citizens. Most participants take the Challenge for one week, living on the average daily food stamp benefit (about $4 per person/per day).
Since this challenge is an extreme version of the realities that low-income families face (the SNAP program is meant to be supplemental), I know that this week will not authentically replicate food insecurity. I do hope that it will help me better understand the day-to-day struggles that millions of people living off SNAP benefits face.
Tonight, I made my trip to the grocery store to buy the items that I will limit myself to for the next seven days. I have to tell you – this task was MUCH harder to complete than I anticipated. I completely underestimated the value of making a list, planning meals by day, and oh yeah, the importance of not going to the grocery store hungry. When you’re hungry, EVERYTHING seems like an essential staple. Not good. So, what usually takes me about 30 minutes to complete when not SNAP Challenging, took me about 90 minutes. I put things into my basket, I took things out of my basket, I swapped items mid-task…. I was one hot mess. See, the SNAP Challenge isn’t only about a limited budget. It’s also an exercise in balancing food groups, getting the best nutrition mix possible and making hard choices (more on this later).
Now, those that know me pretty well know that I’m a “foodie”. I like everything about food – the history, the science, and the culture of everything having to do with food. I have my own Facebook food page with almost 5000 fans from around the globe that celebrates the Franco-American style of cuisine that I was raised on as a young boy called “Les Repas de Mon Enfance: Growing Up Franco-American”. I know my way around a kitchen and the value of a well-stocked pantry, but this challenge puts me in a completely different realm whereby my limited budget limits my menu choices and staples in a big way.
Next, I’ll share my grocery list with you but have to make a couple of important statements first:
(1) Eating healthy is by no means inexpensive. It is extremely difficult to nearly impossible to buy enough fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy and proteins on a $4.20/day budget. Some of these types of items cost that much or more for a single item. So, unless you want your day’s food intake to be only a pound of ground beef or a gallon of milk by itself, you have to really do your homework before you go shopping to make wise decisions and make a list. If you don’t do that, you are really just rolling the dice and taking your chances in the aisles.
(2) Some of the cheapest items in your local grocery stores are really the worst things you can ingest. Things like ramen noodles, processed meals, and novelty items are filled with empty calories, high fat content, high sodium and ingredients that you can barely pronounce. God only knows what these things do to your body, so buyer beware.
My shopping list for the next seven days consisted of:
1 bag of dried lentils for … $1.39
1 box of dried ziti pasta for … $1.00
1 can of garbanzo beans … $1.19
1 can of baked beans … $1.05
1 can of vegetable beef soup… $ 0.99
1 jar of peanut butter… $ 2.39
1 package of corn tortillas … $1.69
1 gallon of skim milk … $3.14
1 box (8 packets) of oatmeal … $1.59
3 lbs of bananas … $1.50
1 bag of spinach … $2.79
1 sweet onion … $1.00
3 sweet potatoes … $ 2.40
1 container of salt … $1.49
1 lb of ground beef … $4.19
SUBTOTAL … $27.80
PLUS 5.5 percent tax
GRAND TOTAL … $ 29.33
This is a seven day challenge which limited me to $4.20/day or $1.40/meal
As you can see, you don’t get to buy all that much for under $30 a week. It’s not impossible, but it’s damn hard. This is my best estimate of what I will need for the next week. I will be writing about my experiences daily while sharing my observations and maybe a few epiphanies. I will tell you that just prepping for this has taught me a great deal about the challenges of feeding yourself on a limited income and I am beginning to get a window on what food insecurity looks like. I won’t lie. It feels a little daunting but I decided to do this for a reason and if we expect people to survive on a limited food budget, then we really can’t judge the level of ease or difficulty unless we can eat from their baskets.
This is going to be a very interesting seven days..