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/
My Challenge Began A Little Differently Than I Planned…
For the past couple of weeks I have had some anxiety about shopping on $31 for the week and not being able to eat out for any of my meals. Throughout the week before the Challenge while reporting my baseline measures I realized just how much I rely on grabbing a quick meal or snack between classes, my internship, and work schedule. I also realized that by doing so I was spending large amounts of money on meals that I could have made at home for at least half of the price.
The difference to my Challenge began when I came down with a flu bug early Sunday morning. I quickly began worrying about being able to fit some 7UP into my budget to hopefully settle my stomach. Instead of doing my grocery shopping for the week on Sunday evening as planned I was only able to buy some 7UP and a can of soup for Monday. I hoped that I would feel well enough Monday to shop for the rest of the week.
Monday evening came and I began feeling well enough to make my trip to the grocery store. I left with my list, pen, and my reusable grocery bags (which would give me a small discount at the register). I had only made it to the produce section and I realized that I began bagging vegetables and then putting them back onto the shelf. I did this with a few items because I remembered that the last time I had purchased them I didn’t eat all of what I had gotten before I had to throw it away and I didn’t want to waste anything on my tight budget. As I continued to move through the store I continued to stand in front of sections of food and do the same thing that I had done with the produce, I wanted to make sure that I would be able to use and more importantly afford everything that I was putting into my cart. Even though I had gone with a list I began to deviate a bit because I was trying to be as practical about my meal planning as possible.
Overall my trip took a little longer than I had planned. I left with apples, bananas, tomatoes, a green pepper, a cucumber, bread, peanut butter, jelly, 2 cans of tuna, turkey, eggs, pretzels, and some cookies. My total was $25.32 including what I had spent on soup and soda the day before. I specifically tried to leave a little extra in case I ran out of food or I felt like “splurging” over the weekend because I know that will be the hardest part. This shopping experience definitely gave me a valuable experience and I know that in the future I will be more critical when evaluating what I will spend as well as what I will use.
I think I did rather well on my shopping trip yesterday. I planned carefully around the food ads, and bought sale items in the fresh fruit and vegetable section mostly. I only spent around $8 because I have a very well stocked pantry and plan to “buy” my groceries from there as needed. I gathered current prices for things like eggs, canned tomatoes, etc. and will deduct that amount from my $30 budget as I shop from my pantry. So far I have identified another $6 worth of existing groceries to add to this weeks allotment.
I’m pretty dedicated to eating healthy, even on a tight budget. I have always tried to eat foods closest to their source (un-processed, packaged, ect.). I made calabasitas last night for lunch today. Squash, onions, corn, tomatoes and garlic with a sprinkle of cheese. It’s one of my favorite foods. The challenge here will be having enough variety. I don’t eat large volumes of food, so boredom will be more of a challenge than hunger.
Forgot a couple important things: I have two “eating” events tomorrow. One I prepaid a long time ago, the other is a long meeting with few other lunch options. That’s ok. Neither is very expensive, and I will have enough to pay for those by following “pathway 2”. I don’t enjoy being restricted this way, but if this is the only discomfort I feel, it should be an ok week.
Hello – just a few comments on the $30 per person per week food stamp challenge. My spouse and I were going to try to live on the $30 per person per week, but immediately ran into problems.
I usually buy food in somewhat large amounts (for example, to make soup for several days). The bill at the grocery store was $70 on the first day we attempted the challenge, and further trips were necessary.
Next, we make our own bread using whole grains (a savings). But it requires a grain mill; the one we have cost $500. The same with the cereal we make at home using an oat flaker (cost $100). Both appliances produce fresh flour/grains for eating. So the resulting homemade bread and oatmeal can only be accomplished with suitable home appliances.
We eat lots of vegetables from the garden – free! Except for the thousand dollars worth of sprinkler systems, cold frames, water, seeds, etc. etc.
Our food budget is relatively frugal, and we seldom eat out. But yet, we couldn’t meet the challenge unless we planned and purchased food for only a day or two at a time.
I made it to work without lunch today. On my way back from a meeting with a colleague I asked if we could stop by Safeway so I could get something to eat. Safeway had a sandwich deal, two for $1.99 each. I asked my colleague if she would buy a sandwich so I could get one for just $1.99. She agreed to do this and so I saved $1.50 on my sandwich. I need to plan better tomorrow for lunch.
So this is day two of the food stamp challenge. I started this challenge thinking I would be one of those individuals committed to making it through the week on $30. Now at day two I know I will be struggling to make it through on $42. I also think I will be fasting Saturday and Sunday or going to the soup kitchen.
To Diet Coke or not to Diet Coke?
There are a few things in this world that I don’t ever really want to live without and Diet Coke is one of them. I could figure out how to if necessary – I’ve done it before – and at some point will probably do it again. I know the stuff isn’t good for me but I like it. I buy hormone free milk, and grass fed beef, and wild fish, and I do Bikram yoga, and I have an existential crisis every time I’m in the cleaning product isle of Target (not Walmart – although this is probably a lesser of 2 evils situation) about the global ramifications of my purchasing decisions. The thoughts of mercury levels, and animal cruelty, and greenwashing, and supporting countries with my purchases that blatantly disregard human rights can frankly, be exhausting. And I’ve been exhausted by this desire to be a “conscious consumer” for some time now but as I was standing in the grocery store isle trying to stay under my $30 budget deciding whether I could afford a 12 pack of Diet Coke (which sometimes feels like the only thing I like that I very guiltily have left)*, I broke.
When did and why is this burden solely the responsibility of me – the consumer? When in our history did companies stop bearing any responsibility for what they marketed, sold, and stocked our shelves with? When did our country start to value the making of a profit over all else? People’s health? The environment’s health? Human dignity and rights? And when did the supply and demand excuse become more acceptable than doing the right thing?
Recently New York City has batted around the idea of banning the purchase of soda and sugared drinks with Food Stamp dollars. In my opinion, this is an unfair demonization of the end user instead of the manufacturer. The balance of responsibility is not equally weighted. As a society we demonize both the tobacco companies and the tobacco users. Why are we not applying that same logic to our food? This is not an issue about “poor people” drinking soda, but rather about ALL people drinking soda. And yes there has to be to be certain level of personal responsibility. And yes if we all stopped buying Diet Coke there would be no need to sell it. But I’m sick of carrying the sole responsibility of doing the right thing. The CEO of Coca Cola is a person too – why is he granted the ability to look at things from a business perspective (not a human one) because he runs a company? But I as a consumer feel guilty about taking that same luxury. Believe me the toxic dishwashing soap is a lot cheaper than the Seventh Generation stuff.
And so, I ask you in the end, to think about which is worse — the exhausted single mom working 2 jobs in order to provide for her family that allows her kids to drink soda with Food Stamp money or the company that knowingly produces a product that has been deemed unhealthy, then markets that product to young children, gets it through FDA approval, and makes an enormous profit off of it? Today’s children are the first generation to have a shorter lifespan than their parents – I think that should be EVERYONE’S problem.
*If you don’t feel guilty about drinking Diet Coke or any Coca Cola product, watch The Corporation.
Shopping and Preparing
I shopped Saturday, and it’s not that bad. My shopping bill was $33.61 but I think it’s Ok since I bought some things that will last more than a week, and a bottle of wine for a party Sunday (subtract $6.99). That also includes a pre-roasted chicken and a bottle of beer which I couldn’t do on food stamps. I know I’ll have to go back for fresh fruit, but I’ll have enough $$ to do that. I bought a slab of ham (the cheapest there) for $2.69 which is plenty to flavor my beans, to make one meal with rice and to make a sandwich for another meal. I made a huge amount of cole slaw – stretched with a pack of top ramen noodles which makes it crunchy the first day. This will last a few days.
I did prepare some food over the weekend, which I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but it’s really necessary. And it’s good training for when I retire. I haven’t cooked a pot of beans in years, but I love them so this is good. I made soup stock with the chicken bones, skin, etc. which I drained in the colander leaving a tasty start. I added some rice, a pkg of frozen veggies and a few chicken pieces. But it will get better as the week goes on with flavors blending and with the addition of my leftovers daily. This was what we did in our household as I was growing up in the 40s. You have to reboil occasionally to keep it from getting sour which also helps it thicken. A little beer added to the soup mid-week is good – it doesn’t taste like beer, but it’s great (and you can drink the rest of the bottle of beer). PS It’s not easy to buy one bottle of beer at the grocery store.
*Wine and beer are not allowed to be purchased on SNAP. Pre-roasted chicken may be an option at approved retail locations for seniors 60+, persons who are homeless, and persons who are disabled.
Beginning the Challenge
Food for one person, $21
Food for one person, $30.
Monday was my first day eating from my Nutrition Assistance allotment. In general, my breakfast and lunch were similar to what I would normally eat, but with less quantity and less variety. For breakfast, I made scrambled eggs, but realized I didn’t have milk to mix in, so I had to use a splash of water instead. Two eggs were all I allotted myself, and I didn’t have any fruit, bread, veggies, cheese, or yogurt to accompany it. I also missed my morning cup of coffee.
By 11 a.m. I was feeling very hungry, so I joined my co-workers for lunch. We all commiserated about feeling hungry and wishing we had something more ‘exciting’ or ‘tasty’ to eat. We joked because we can – this isn’t day-to-day life for us – and because it helped us better handle the way some of us were feeling by lunchtime. How were we feeling? Hungry. Dizzy. Overwhelmed. Sad. Grateful. Extremely, intensely grateful.
The afternoon was difficult and I really wanted a snack. By the time I left work for the day, I was more than ready for dinner. As I drove home I considered what I would eat, and decided on pasta and broccoli, and then I realized I needed milk to make the pasta. So, using my discretionary money, I stopped at a convenience store for a small single-serving milk that cost me $0.99, and I grabbed some instant cappuccino to get me through the week for $3.99. As I ate my dinner, I found myself thinking how a slice of garlic bread would be perfect with it (but I hadn’t bought bread, butter, or garlic) or how it would be really filling with some chicken mixed in (but chicken wasn’t on the menu). Overall, my goal when shopping had been to pick foods I like to eat and which were healthy and I think I did that. The problem is, those foods aren’t leaving me feeling full or satisfied. After dinner, I was craving something sweet so I made a very mild cup of cappuccino to take off the edge, and went to bed.