The ACAA 2012 SNAP Challenge was created by ACAA and participants were drawn primarily from ACAA staff and our Board of Directors. This is an archive of posts from the 2010 Challenge.
If you are interested in viewing our 2010 SNAP Challenge blog, please visit http://acaachallenge.wordpress.com/
In preparation for this week, I spent $12.00 at the dollar store for packaged and canned items. I then spent $18.78 at Frys. I bought some fresh veggies. There was a bin of packaged bruised/a little wrinkled veggies. My package had two onions, 2 green bell peppers and a small bruised zucchini.
My son lives with me and I explained the challenge to him. I then threatened him with dire harm if he touched any of MY FOOD. He promised not to, but I am watchinghim!
Usually dinner is already cooking by the time I get home and we have dinner together. The challenge week changes this. Because I leave home early and get back late, I knew I had to prepare items in advance or I would end up having dinner at 9:00. This challenge reminds me of how my mother would plan to ensure food for the entire week for our family of 13. We never went hungry. Looking back I know it was a difficult task!
When I got home, I sliced up the veggies and put them into separate portions. I parbroiled about half, packaged and put in freezer. I put the pinto beans on the stove to cook. After the beans cooled, I took half and made refried beans. The other half I left “en bola” (whole). I also cooked some rice. I separated all and put in containers for separate portions.
Monday: I had my regular breakfast – a toast slice w/cream cheese and a cup of coffee. I had it black since I wasn’t sure if creamora qualifies as a spice or condiment. For lunch, I had a tunafish sandwich, applesauce and water. For dinner, I had oriental snack ramen to which I added some fresh veggies.
Tuesday: My regular breakfast. Did I mention that I have breakfast while driving to work? Anyway, too much going on at work, got busy and forgot to eat my lunch. Fortunately, I had put it in the breakroom refrigerator so it survived. So I took it home and had it for dinner. I had a tunafish sandwich, applesauce, and hot tea.
Wednesday: My regular breakfast. For lunch I had a sliced veggie with cream cheese (spread really thin) sandwich and hot tea. For dinner I had a bowl of pinto beans “en bola” mixed with some white rice and a little diced onion. I had iced tea. My son is concerned that I am not eating a balanced meal and tempts me with his dinner – Steak and potato grilled outside and broccoli smothered in cheese. However, I am strong in my resolve, do not succumb to temptation, and accidently spill my iced tea which made him spill his broccoli when he jumped up. Oh well…. These things happen.
Thursday: My regular breakfast. I forgot my lunch and went to Subway. I will repent by reducing my food stash by equal $$ value. And I was doing so well and feeling really full of myself. Oh well… These things happen. What will I have for dinner???
This Challenge Has Been Quite an Experience!
I was on vacation for Sunday & Monday & really had to stretch the budget for the rest of this week!!! My Mom lives with me & she cooked some budget casseroles to use this week which helped. Also, I am a diabetic and have to be careful with processed foods which is harder on a limited budget. Wow, don’t know how our clients manage…..
I’ve Been Lucky This Week
*ACAA recommends declining free food during the SNAP Challenge
Having completed the Challenge, I can say with no hesitation that $21 is an absolutely insufficient amount of money for a weekly food budget. I sometimes felt hungry, but, contrary to what I was expecting, physical hunger is not what bothered me most during the week. It was (1) social exclusion and (2) the inflexibility of my budget, which caused a small but nagging stress. Thankfully, our office is very friendly toward those who choose to brown bag it for lunch (I have worked in places that were not), but outside of work I missed out on going to the farmers market (where I couldn’t as easily compare prices and budget for other items simultaneously), eating at In & Out Burger, and sampling the yummy baked goods at Tammie Coe. And while this sound like insignificant whining (and really, it is, in the grand scheme), I can’t help but feel like I missed out on important social interactions this week. After all, sitting around a table together, eating from a common platter is the way that people come to understand and appreciate one another. One week on the Food Stamp Challenge did not threaten my friendships, but I wonder about the effects if I lived on food stamps for nine months. And perhaps even more significantly, it was hard for me to know that I could not simply open my refrigerator and graze when I was hungry. There was no extra apple or granola bar or handful of snap peas to eat as a snack. I was prohibited by my food stamp budget from eating between meals, enjoying any beverage other than water and my breakfast-time juice, and from taking “seconds” after my first helping of a meal. This was a huge psychological shift for me. The food stamp budget forced me “trim the fat” from my shopping list such that I had no options outside the strict menu I’d planned for myself. It’s hard to convey that type of stress in words; but, put simply, I had no wiggle room. That lack of wiggle room is what I’m taking away from this experience. Low-income people, who are trying to stretch a too-small budget across rent, utilities, child care, gasoline, car payments, car insurance, health insurance, and other bills are left to rely on a federal program that just barely covers what a person needs to eat in a week to be healthy. I would argue that it does not begin to cover what a person might want to eat in a week. The food preferences and physiological needs of food stamp users are not yet being met by SNAP.
Difficult Week for Food Shopping
I realized that I go out to eat too much and that it is very expensive. The shopping became a bargain challenge for me – I waited for the Wednesday shopping ads in the newspaper and found some great deals at Bashas – whole chickens for 69 cents per lb and apples for 49 cents. Couponing is something I normally do, so this was easy to go through all my coupons to find the best deals. I found that this took more time out of my week to plan and realized how difficult this would be for a single mom with a couple of children. The newspaper also had some great inexpensive recipes for ground beef this week, so the chicken and beef were my only proteins. I tried to balance my diet, but this was difficult as well with only $30. I was especially disappointed when a meal was not satisfying for me, knowing I had no more to spend on something else. The amount provided would be especially difficult to feed an infant, especially if he/she were drinking formula. One positive note was that I cooked more at home and I think the entire family enjoyed that aspect of it.
This exercise has been very enlightening and helpful to me. What I have learned is that I must stop spending money on prepared food, and go back to doing it myself as I did when my family was growing up. . .although It’s not so easy for a one person household. One of these days, I’ll retire and I’ll really have to watch my budget and I feel better prepared.
However, the Oct. 18 week was a particularly bad one for this particular experiment. It fact, it was a disaster. During the Food Stamp Challenge week, I had no fewer than 10 meals at events that I didn’t pay for (at least directly) – AzRISE breakfast, AdFed lunch, fundraising dinner (10/19); AZPublic Media breakfast meeting (10/20); EEF Luncheon, GTL dinner (10-21); ATC pre-show dinner (10/22); Homecoming lunch and dinner events (10/23); and journalism grad lunch (10/24).
That said, my plan is to carry on for another 3 days, especially since I have a medium pot of beans, about 3 servings of chicken and vegetable soup, ½ hunk of what my mother called “rat” cheese, ½ loaf of bread and about ¼ chicken left from my grocery shopping. I’ll have to boil the beans and soup tonight and Tuesday, to make sure they don’t go sour, but this is plenty of food for 3 days. I also have a shmushy banana and a few strawberries (good for smoothie tomorrow morning), some granola, about 1/3 box crackers and peanut butter (I got the small one, but it’s lot’s more expansive than the larger ones, which I couldn’t afford last week. Having spent my money as I did for the week doesn’t allow for as much variety as I’m accustomed to, but it won’t be awful. Tasty stuff will be gone tomorrow and although beans and soup are nourishing, they’re not very exciting, which is the challenge I found: inexpensive foods (beans, rice in bulk, for example) make a huge amount but the other things (fresh veggies, berries and bananas) only last a few days.
What I found most difficult was the planning, calculating part of the exercise. Specifically, trying to figure out how I would deal with special diet issues in my household due to my husband’s medical needs. Not grabbing the extras was not as hard as I thought it would be. I held to not spending more that $60 for two people and went over by $12 due to eating lunch out one day. What I discovered is that I waste a lot of food. My husband took lunch to work all five days and I took my lunch to work three days. Two dinners were left over smorgasbord. I was upset that I could not go the vending machine for candy but that was good thing in the end. We ate more fruit and still not enough vegetables, fresh vegetables are pricey! I actually began prepping for this by bringing lunch to work the previous week and realized that my homemade sandwiches are better than take out. With the exception of pizza Friday night and the two lunches I stayed away from eating out or fast food. Obviously, this was an exercise meant to make us see the challenges faced by folks surviving on food stamps. It reminded me of that but it also showed me how I can control my own bad habits. In addition, I shared my participation with my adult children who do not live at home and we had a good discussion about challenges faced by people living on a limited income.