My SNAP Challenge: Day 1

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I managed to survive Day One of my SNAP Challenge and I feel both physically and mentally drained. I spent the better part of the day mulling over my shopping experience from the night before playing the game of shoulda-coulda-woulda. You know, like I shoulda maybe got bread instead of corn tortillas. I coulda got some eggs instead of a full gallon of milk. I woulda done so much better with a little more planning. I spent a significant amount of time warring with myself. Suddenly, all of my grocery items were extremely important and rationing was critical. I counted my bananas. I had 10. Ok, good…I can easily have one per day with an extra one for a snack on select days. I had 8 single packets of outmeal. Again, I had enough for each breakfast. These are things I never really had to think about before. If I ran out of stuff, I simply just went to the store and bought more like money was no object. I lived in the parable of loaves and fishes. Today was very decidedly a wake up call.

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Today’s breakfast was a familiar one for me: oatmeal and a banana. Sorely missing was bread for toast, which made me realize that I didn’t buy (and could not afford) certain staples like butter or margarine, flour, sugar, or condiments of any kind. To get those I would have easily needed a weekly budget in excess of $50 instead of the $30 that I let myself spend. Yes, things like that can be used for a longer period than a week, but you gotta start somewhere. In some ways, this challenge is alot like getting your first apartment – there are so many things that you took for granted and had to buy up front like a broom, cutlery, soap, towels, sheets and at least beginner furniture. What you think is a small thing can get really big, really fast.

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Then, came that jaw-dropping moment. My morning ritual coffee from my favorite watering hole could not happen. No budget, no coffee. Just like that. It’s funny how you get into these routines that become your normal. Truth is, at $2.43/day for a large coffee means that I was spending about $17/week, $68/month and over $800/year. I once bought a whole car for $800, but that’s a story for a different day. Anyway, this was the first day in a long time that I didn’t buy a coffee in the morning. I road raged my fuss-budget self over to the office sans caffeine. Oh boy….this was gonna be interesting.

My little pity party only lasted a little while, though, when I suddenly realized that my experience in this challenge is different for someone like me versus someone who isn’t established  or is forced to start over in life. I have a limited basket of food, but I have consistent and reliable shelter, I have running water. I actually have a kitchen with a stove and tools. I have plates. I have a freezer and storage space. Some folks relying on SNAP benefits don’t have these. Now the challenges get exponentially more difficult. We can look down the barrel of our noses at people who need SNAP, but until we can see and understand someone’s circumstances – their story – we fall short of understanding the larger picture.  I felt really humble today.

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When I left the house this morning, I found a small plastic bag of items on my doorknob with a note that read: “Good luck in your SNAP Challenge! Read your Day 0 post last night and saw that you didn’t buy eggs. We had too many and wanted to give you these. Also, here’s a box of crackers that my husband doesn’t really like. We are really pulling for you!” There was no name written on the note. I got a little emotional in that moment. I’ve always been in a position to help someone else. It was very surreal to be on the other end of that predicament. There are still very good and caring people in the world. I am eternally grateful.

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I was hungry again by 11:00 a.m., and fiendishly dug into an unappealing can of baked beans before noon. Despite its simplicity, eating the beans still felt like a reward. My strategy for the week was to eat my ingredients individually, rather than combining foods and risking over-consumption early on, a strategy I am considering amending. An interesting psychological observation: While I normally eat at my desk near a group of coworkers, I felt embarrassed about my pathetic-looking lunch (and eating before noon) and took my Tupperware to the stairwell to eat in solitude.

I made up for the stairwell lunch with a surprisingly tasty, and somewhat balanced, dinner. I discovered my new favorite vegetable tonight: sweet potatoes! They’re charmingly simple, full of flavor, and satisfyingly hearty.

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Not pictured: the spoonfuls of peanut butter I shoved into my mouth upon arriving home and the corn tortilla I ate plain. In my ravenous state, I didn’t think to combine the two.

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I’m a serial snacker and often eat multiple mini-meals throughout the day. One of the most challenging parts of this week will be not having the freedom to snack when I please. Since I will not be scrambling too many eggs without butter or oil, I decided to make a batch of hard-boiled eggs, which will come in handy when I get the urge to snack.

I struggled more than usual at my standing desk today. My adrenaline and excitement over starting the challenge helped alleviate caffeine headaches or hunger pains, and even carried me through the dullest of lunches, but my body felt disrupted. I feel incredibly constrained with my limited food options, and each meal felt utilitarian. I predict that the joy of eating will quickly vanish, and it will become like homework — a task to complete or something to check off of a list.

Day Two is a new day. Let’s see what happens and what I learn. Still glad I am doing this.

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