SNAP Experience 2011 – Archived Posts

The ACAA Arizona SNAP Experience 2011 drew in 50 participants from across Arizona as well as participants from Kansas and Washington D.C. and as far away as Thailand. We asked our SNAP Experience participants to blog about their week on a SNAP budget and share their reflections with us. This is a complete archive of those blog reflections. Thank you to all who participated and shared!

See more of the 2011 SNAP Experience Archives here, here and here.

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In Your Words: Terri

Participant: Terri

Some thoughts on the SNAP Experience:

  • Forced me to budget on groceries when I usually am a “spontaneous”
    shopper
  • Am not eating out for lunch as I usually do
  • Shopped with coupons for the first time!!!
  • Having to watch out for appropriate low cost items that fit my
    diabetic diet- this is hard!!!!
  • Bought a roasted chicken which gave me four good protein meals
    cutting it up
  • A dozen eggs on sale for 99 cents go a long way for protein source
  • Cheap processed/ canned foods are not good choices for diabetics
    & are given out a lot in community food bank boxes
  • Drinking a lot more water rather than coffee or soda which is good
    for my health
  • I actually feel my SNAP experience has made me more health oriented
    because I am concentrating on what I am buying & eating (Look for specials
    on fresh fruits & veggies)

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In Your Words: Day 2

Participant: Tamera

Starting Day 2 of “the experience” I found my car driving to the local Starbucks, until its driver realized this wasn’t a budgeted item and I would have to forgo this luxury! Little
things that we take for granted!! We have opted to go the fresh fruit, veggies and salad route and are finding tasty ways to put our recipes together. By “we,” this is a family affair – 1 husband, 1 wife and 1 15-year old. It is scary to think that we will not be able to make it through the week with the foods we have purchased and am anxious for the
Wednesday food section to come out for additional sales. Luckily, I have many community activities this week that will feed me without touching my budget, while I can use the rest of that days foods to feed my daughter and bring home leftovers… I usually don’t eat at these activities, but the thought that extra foods will be available has eased my mind. This makes me realize how important it is to provide nutritious food options at all of our gatherings!

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In Your Words: First Day of the SNAP Experience

Participant: Jenny

Having my husband work for the Association of Arizona Food Banks can really open your eyes and heart to some of the experiences that many families endure during these tough times. I am very lucky that I have many choices when it comes to food without blinking an eye, but many people don’t.

There are many who need SNAP benefits (most commonly known as food stamps), because they wouldn’t have the funds to be able to eat. The month of September is Hunger Action month and today was the start of the ACAA’s SNAP Experience (Sept 12th – 18th) where many of us would challenge ourselves to see if we could survive on a budget of $29.00 for a week’s worth of food ($41.00 if you opt in for a $12.00 budget for food not approved by SNAP).

I have decided to see if I can do this and since one of the requirements of the SNAP Experience is to record food, I’m already halfway there since I do that already for my diet.

Here was my daily food along with it’s caloric value and cost for that portion.

Breakfast: — Calories: — Cost:
Coffee with Soy Milk — 35 — .40
1/3 cup Slim Rite (Slim Fast cost more) — 60 — .30

Lunch:
Bagel w/ 1 serving of Cream Cheese –380 — .75
1 can of Slim Rite — 170 — .80
Coffee with Soy Milk — 35 –.40

Dinner: (Using $12 budget at Hula’s Modern Tiki)
Pork Taco — 400 — $3.28 including tax
House Salad w/a side of 1 tbs of dressing — 225 — $4.37 including tax
Plus a $2.00 tip

Total water intake 1/2 a jug — .39

Total: — 1305 calories — $12.69
Total without eating out: — $3.04

I had to go out to eat because my husband’s organization (Association of Arizona Food Banks) benefits this month at Hula’s Modern Tiki where every Monday for September Hula’s is donating 10% of their gross profits to AAFB. I went during Happy Hour and got the specials to stay within the $12.00 budget we are allotted for food not approved by SNAP.

The eye opening thing about today is that I am on a diet, some people don’t have the
choice of eating less. I knew that Slim Rite would curb my appetite since I’ve been on diets before, but this is the first time I ever thought about the cost of food. Does being on a diet mean eating less and spending less? We will see as the week progresses, because knowing me I get sick of eating the same foods. Will I be able to vary my food choices and stay within the budget is the question.

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In Your Words: Mary

Participant: Mary

As a middle class, food lover whose desk is 10 feet from a food pantry, the SNAP experience was a challenge !

I got off to a good start the Saturday before I started with a coupon for free eggs and discounts for lettuce, turkey meat, spinach and yogurt (2). Even so, I went over my budget of $29 by using supplemental funds (cash) to purchase pet food and going out for lunch once ($10).

I prepared scrambled/fried eggs and egg salad, pasta with eggs, tuna, canned beets, spinach and turkey meatballs. I did use condiments and a few items I had in the fridge – milk, cheese, ice cream and juice. I missed fresh fruit and veggies the most.

Since I come face to face with many households who use our food box services, this has provided a perspective on how careful shopping, cooking, couponing, and avoiding expensive treats are essential to keeping food costs down. It must be an even greater challenge for families with children (cereal, juice, jelly, lunchmeat etc.) and those with special diets. I’m grateful that the state has opened the doors to the SNAP program with funding for staffing and programs in the community.

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Lunch at the ACAA Office: Day 1

Curious what the ACAA staff is eating during the first days of the Arizona SNAP Experience?

Whole wheat pasta with pesto and squash, carrots, apple.

Mini whole grain pita with egg, bell pepper, and zucchini. Raspberries on the side.

Grapes, vanilla yogurt, apple with peanut butter.

Baby green salad with tomato, grilled chicken, and dressing.

Whole grain pita, peanut butter, and banana slices.

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In Your Words: Pantry Staple Biscuits

Participant: Katie

As soon as I left the grocery store earlier this week with the food I planned to eat as part of the Experience, I knew I was missing something: bread. I am a not-quite-vegetarian, so skimping on meat in favor of other proteins (egg, peanut butter, beans, yogurt) was a no-brainer for me. In my haste to fill up my cart with the makings of vegetarian soup and plenty of produce, however, I overlooked the bread aisle. It was a tactical move, really, since the bread I wanted to buy was going to use up just about 10% of my budget ($2.89 before tax), but I figured I’d check out and have a few dollars left over that I could use later in the week to grab some grains.

I figured wrong. By the time all was said and done, I’d spent over my budget, having to dip into my discretionary money to pay $30.48 for the week’s groceries. I shrugged and figured I’d make do since I limit my carbs normally. And then the first day of the Experience came and went and I realized something: I needed some more carbs in my diet.

My money, however, was more than gone.

Then I remembered, the Experience allows participants to use pantry staples during the week witout having to deduct their costs from the alloted budget. I looked through my pantry and cupboards and discovered I had nearly everything I needed to make biscuits: flour, shortening, baking powder, and salt. The only thing missing was the milk, and unfortunately I’d chosen not to purchase any milk for the week. A quick call to my mom assured me that replacing the milk with water would not work, and then my eyes fell on one of my ‘splurges’ of the week: the $2.99 carton of Vanilla Soy Milk. Turns out, you can use soy in place of cow’s milk in baking, so that is what I did. And while I would definitely recommend not using vanilla flavored soy in biscuits, I would recommend this fast, easy recipe using pantry staples if you’re facing a week without enough carbs as well.

Pantry-Staple Biscuits:

2 cups flour (wheat flour would score more MyPlate points, but we didn’t have it handy)

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons baking powder (not baking soda!)

4 tablespoons shortening (can be replaced with olive oil if that’s what you have on hand or prefer)

1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Lay out some parchment paper or aluminum foil and flour it well. Knead the dough for a few minutes to be sure it’s not lumpy. Roll out and cut with round cookie cutters or break into ball (about the size of a golf ball) and place in greased glass cooking dish. Bake until they start to look golden on top.

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SNAP Experience 2011 – Archived Posts

The ACAA Arizona SNAP Experience 2011 drew in 50 participants from across Arizona as well as participants from Kansas and Washington D.C. and as far away as Thailand. We asked our SNAP Experience participants to blog about their week on a SNAP budget and share their reflections with us. This is a complete archive of those blog reflections. Thank you to all who participated and shared!

See more of the 2011 SNAP Experience Archives here, here and here.

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In Your Words: The Grocery Store is a Battlefield

Participant: Kelly

“The Grocery Store is a Battlefield” – a la Pat Benetar

It would appear that there is a food revolution going on in America. High fructose corn syrup is clinging on for dear life to all of the uses it found for itself over the last 40 years, local legislatures are increasingly requiring consumers to be made aware of the nutritional information of the foods served and eaten in restaurants, there is a strong movement attempting to make school lunches healthier, and Michael Pollan believers can be found at any local Whole Foods (or as a friend calls it – Whole Paycheck) shopping the perimeter of the store and for a pretty penny easily avoiding foods with a
long list of unrecognizable ingredients. All of this is great – right? But I’m not yet
convinced that all of this greatness is going to tackle the issues we need it to – obesity, diabetes, lower quality and longevity of life issues, healthcare costs, etc… Here’s why: EATING HEALTHY IS EXPENSIVE, REALLY EXPENSIVE.

I found this out first hand when my office decided to participate in the SNAP Experience (a week where participants budget their food costs to reflect the average Food Stamp allotment for their household size– in my case $29). We are doing this while also attempting to follow the USDA’s new version of the Food Pyramid – My Plate. This new guide places the primary emphasis on fruits and vegetables (should make up half of your plate), then grains (mostly whole), and finally protein (do your best to make it lean).
Armed with these parameters and seven days worth of meals to make, I hit the regular ol’ grocery store. My first stop was the produce section – which quickly became a minefield – the more nutritious a fruit or vegetable, the more expensive. Blueberries and broccoli may be the world’s super foods but they are certainly not a wallet’s best friend. Iceberg lettuce, cheap with low nutritional value. Spinach, significantly less cheap with high nutritional value. You get the idea. Next stop was the meat/fish counter. For many people, being healthy when it comes to eating meat has become synonymous with eating organic – don’t even think about it unless you are also thinking about getting a second job. Wild fish, also wildly healthy, your second job should probably be on Wall Street (same goes for milk and eggs, cows that aren’t given hormones and happy chickens are going to cost you significantly more). My final stop on the journey was the dry goods section where I encountered the counterintuitive concept that the less you refine something the more you pay for it. Whole wheat pasta, steel cut oats, whole wheat pitas or 9 grain bread are all pricier than their less healthy counterparts. Checkout complete, and in under $29, I took my supplies home and will be attempting to eat a proper My Plate meal every day. There is a strong possibility though that towards the end of the week there will be some hunger pains.

New Census figures came out (this week, actually) showing that 1 in 6 Americans is now living below the poverty line. And we already know from a large body of research that people who experience poverty are more highly represented in obesity and
diabetes figures. So if I may draw a very unscientific conclusion here – perhaps that’s because EATING HEALTHY IS EXPENSIVE, REALLY EXPENSIVE. If faced with the choice between buying iceberg lettuce and having more money in your budget to pay your utility bill or fill up your gas tank to get to work vs buying spinach but not having that extra money – what would you do? I’m thinking that we probably won’t be able to tackle the aforementioned issues until people don’t have to make these kinds of choices when they enter the front lines of this battlefield – the grocery store.

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In Your Words: Grocery Shopping

Participant: Sarah

Grocery shopping is usually something I do without too much thought. I know what fruits and veggies I like. As a vegetarian I try to keep a good stock of dried beans, eggs, tofu, and nuts on hand. I usually go for whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread. I know where everything is and what brands I prefer, and rarely do more than glance at the price tags.

But knowing I had only $29 for seven days made shopping much more complicated. I usually try to get most of my produce at local farmers markets, but assumed that the prices would be too high for my SNAP Experience budget. In the grocery store I found myself looking not just at the price, but the smaller “price per ounce” to find the cheapest option. In the produce section I steered clear of organics entirely and decided I couldn’t afford salad greens and chose starchier, more filling vegetables like carrots and frozen peas instead. I used the produce scale for what was probably the first time, and kept track of my total expenses using a calculator as I went. I found myself weighing selections I usually make thoughtlessly:

Could I afford cage-free eggs?

Would soy milk be too expensive?

Is natural peanut butter really worth the price difference?

And when I got home I realized I had completely left out carbs, other than oatmeal for breakfast. Thank goodness I had a little of my budget left over!

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In Your Words: Marie

Participant: Marie

Putting SNAP on the Map: When it comes to eating, place matters.
It’s no secret that where you live affects how you live—everything from the length of your morning commute, to the quality of your neighborhood park, to whether your child’s teacher writes with broken chalk or SMART Board™ technology.

And the same is true for food. You likely know from shopping and eating and penny pinching, that where you live affects how much your groceries cost. As a Texas-native recently transplanted to D.C., I have endured the wide-eyed, light-walleted symptoms of supermarket sticker shock. The same items—bread, milk, eggs, and other staples—I enjoyed in my home state cost far more in D.C. stores. Though the mechanisms that drive such food price variation across regions, states, and neighborhoods are many and entangled, the effects on consumer buying power are substantial: the more food costs, the less you can afford.

When I decided to participate in the Arizona SNAP Experience from afar, my Texas-to-D.C. sticker shock got me thinking: How does food price variation affect buying power for people who rely on SNAP to cover their grocery bills? The answer was not difficult to uncover. The USDA publishes a table on the average per capita SNAP benefit for every state, and Feeding America, the nation’s largest emergency food provider, recently released Map the Meal Gap, an interactive map with food insecurity and food price data for a variety of useful geographies.

Using two simple formulas, I used the data sets to calculate the average weekly SNAP benefit per capita in each state in the U.S. and the average cost of food for an individual for one week in each state, assuming s/he consumes three meals per day. By dividing the average SNAP benefit for a week by the average cost of food for a week and multiplying the quotient by 100, I found the percent of average food costs covered by SNAP for each state in the nation.

And I couldn’t believe what I found. First, SNAP covers far less of an average shopper’s food budget than I was expecting. For example, SNAP covers just 44% of the average weekly food cost for a shopper in D.C. Although the USDA admits that SNAP is “supplemental” and therefore not meant to cover an individual’s entire food budget, 44% is simply insufficient, especially since many families cannot afford to spend money out-of-pocket. Second, I was surprised to find that there is incredibly high variation across states. In the best case, SNAP would cover 68% of your food (Ohio); in the worst case, just 44% (Vermont and D.C.). The national average is 58%. In Arizona, the number is 59%.

The biggest problem resulting from such variation is obvious: if your food costs are high and your state’s SNAP benefit does not rise to meet them, you must leave some items on the shelf or reach deep in your pockets to pay for food not covered by your benefit. This is a problem for low-income people, who are often stretching their budgets to cover things like rent/mortgage, child care, health care, and utilities. I would hypothesize (though I haven’t formally researched these claims) that other phenomena may be related to geographic variation in what SNAP buys you, such as the following:

• Geographic variation in which foods (type and quality) families choose to purchase with their SNAP benefits.
• Geographic variation in food insecurity rates. (SNAP provides a different level of in-kind benefit to families depending on where they live!)
• Geographic variation in health outcomes associated with food insecurity and/or consumption of unhealthy foods.
• Geographic variation in SNAP participation rates. (One might ask him/herself: Why participate if SNAP only covers a small portion of my bill?)

These questions require formal analysis, but it’s easy to see how a failure in the SNAP “system” to account for geographic variation in food prices could result in important differences in health and other measures of well-being based solely (and unjustly) on where people have chosen to lay down roots.

Of course, food price variation is local. Examining food prices in your state is better than looking at food prices nationally, but using more localized estimates is even better. For example, within New York State, the average cost per meal in New York County (Manhattan) is $3.72, whereas the average cost per meal in Chautauqua County (rural NY county near the PA border) is $2.27.

Use the three simple steps below to calculate what percent of an average food budget in YOUR county or congressional district is covered by SNAP. Compute the number for your community, reflect on your week participating in the SNAP Experience (or the blog posts describing the experience), and write your state and federal politicians about it! I would bet your whole food budget and mine that your elected officials don’t know just how little SNAP is doing for your most vulnerable neighbors.

Easy as 1, 2, 3: Calculate “Real” SNAP Benefits on Your Own

1. Visit Feeding America’s Map the Meal Gap site. Locate your state, and click to make it larger. You can find your county or congressional district of interest and trace your cursor over the area until it changes color (to orange). Note the average cost per meal in the right hand corner of the data that appears. Multiply the average cost per meal x 21. This is the average cost of food for a week in the geographic area you’ve chosen.

2. View the USDA chart of average SNAP benefits per person for FY 2010. Find your state’s average monthly SNAP benefit per person and insert it into the following formula: Monthly benefit x 12 / 365 x 7. This is the average SNAP benefit per person for one week in your state.

3. Divide findings from STEP 2 by findings from STEP 1. Multiply the result by 100 to get the percent of an average weekly food budget covered by SNAP benefits in the geographic area you’ve chosen.

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In Your Words: Recipe for Peanut Sauce

Participant: Sarah

If you are doing the Experience with a jar of peanut butter and looking for some new ways to use it, try this rough recipe for Peanut Sauce (based on the recipe for Indonesian Gado Gado in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook). Thanks to ACAA Hunger Fellow Sarah for sharing!

1 cup onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 Tbsp butter

1 cup peanut butter

3 cups water

Juice of 1 lemon

Soy sauce

Apple cider vinegar

Ginger Salt

Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter until the onions start to get translucent. Add peanut butter, water, and lemon juice, and reduce burner to low heat. Add soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, ginger and salt to taste. Continue to cook on low heat for about 30 minutes.

Sarah serves this over a mix of veggies and fruits.

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Lunch at the ACAA Office: Day 2

Lunches eaten by our staff on Day 2. Notice a few things missing? Here’s hoping we added some more variety to our breakfasts and dinners to meet the MyPlate requirements!

Sweet potato, apple, celery, and carrot in a homemade peanut sauce (look for the recipe coming soon!).

Homemade biscuits, apple, and peanut butter.

Whole grain pita, peanut butter, and banana slices.

Banana, apple, peanut butter.

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In Your Words: Never Experienced Hunger

Participant: Brian S.

I was raised in an upper middle class family and never worried about a meal. As an adult I always had the food supports I needed to be healthy and nutritionally fulfilled.

In starting the SNAP Experience (creating a week of meals with $29 to spend) I became acutely aware of all the supports a middle class or above person has to be food secure. Supports that make it cheap for me to have nutritional meals. For example: I get a newspaper so I have access to money saving coupons; I have a computer to search for the best deals; I have a Costco Membership which allows me to buy food very cheaply as compared to individual item purchases.

Individuals who are eligible for SNAP cannot afford a newspaper subscription, cannot afford an annual membership (worth 2 weeks of SNAP support, can you imagine) to buy
high quality bulk food etc. Instead they are making daily choices, weekly choices about what bills to pay, childcare, utilities, rent, transportation costs etc.

Other food supports come from my employer and job, i.e., free coffee daily, filtered
cold water, free snacks or meals at monthly all staff meetings, or conferences where my meals are covered in the course of my work. These are not necessarily available to those individuals in low wage jobs.

Another observation that I am aware of after being on my second day of the SNAP Experience is my energy level swings as I am eating more carbohydrates and less protein (too expensive on a SNAP budget). Yesterday I spent $1.99 for a bunch of celery and $1.69 for a head of lettuce so I had more roughage in my diet, those two items alone represented 12.6% of my weekly budget.

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In Your Words: SNAP Stretching

Participant: Jenny

For Day 2 of the SNAP Experience, I calculated my cost for the day’s meal and I
was surprised that even the little snacks can add up. I tried to stretch my grocery supply as much as I could today, which included spreading out my meals with longer gaps in between and drinking a lot of water.

When I was going grocery shopping I avoided buying flavored drinks or vitamin water, which I like to have on hand for a quick pick me up if I don’t want coffee. Right now, I have to admit I have a little bit of a headache. I know it’s not from not drinking
enough water, but my work schedule.

I’ve been staying up late sewing for the last few nights I’ve been going to bed at 2 or 3am. Normally, I would have a midnight snack to stay awake for a few hours and last night being the first day of the SNAP Experience I did without it and stayed up until 3am and woke up at 8:30am this morning.

Not having just a little energy pick me up last night may have affected how I feel today. I also try to eat at least 1200 calories a day, because if I go below that the next day I get super hungry. I would have had a package of microwavable rice with my chicken dinner, but it cost $1.79 and opted not to have it to stay on track for the whole week.

Here is what I ate, I was surprised for eating all my meals at home I thought it would be cheaper than this.

Breakfast: — Calories: — Cost:
Coffee with Soy Milk — 35 — .40
1 can of Slim Rite — 170 — .80

Lunch:
1 & 1/2 servings of imitation crab meat ($1.99 a pack)2/3 serving of Cream Cheese –210 — .79
Coffee with Soy Milk — 35 .40

Snack:
String cheese — 80 — .49

Dinner:
Chicken with onions — 175 — $2.04
Broccoli — 20 — .13
1 Egg –70–.13

Snack:
Granola bar–170–.34

Total water intake
3/4 of a jug — .59

Total Calories: 1025
Total Cost: $6.11

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In Your Words: A Family of 3

Participant: Brandon

This week, instead of being just an individual participating in the SNAP experience, I decided it was important to involve my 5 year old daughter and my husband, too. My husband is always really supportive and aware of what I do as the coordinator of a food pantry. He is halfway to his bachelors’ in family and human development, so he has an interest in social services, too. Our daughter, on the other hand, is a typical 5 year old
who has no concept of money or how we get our food. She whines when we elected
to grill hamburgers or make pizza from scratch as opposed to buying it (or borrowing it, as she calls it). I wanted her to learn an early lesson that food isn’t always there for every kid. In fact, I was one of those kids when I was her age. I subsisted on a diet of ramen noodles, spaghetti, burritos and bologna sandwich, because my family was “too proud” to apply for food stamps, even though we needed them. With a household of 3,
we had $77 for the week to work from.

I knew this experience was going to be difficult for me because of my aforementioned issues with food security as a child and my background in nutrition, I can always justify food purchases and keep the pantry, refrigerator and deep freezer stocked with food at all times. In preparation, I let my supplies languish a little so that I wouldn’t be tempted to “cheat.”

I did the majority of my weekly shopping at Fresh and Easy, because I LOVE their $.98 produce packs and they also have a section of meat and produce that is 50% off because it needs to be eaten or frozen that day. I got 2 lbs of onions, 2 lbs of oranges, a bunch of cilantro, 2 lbs of carrots, 1 lb of celery, 2 green peppers, 5 lbs of potatoes, 1 lb of broccoli, 1 lb of roma tomatoes and some iceberg lettuce for under $12. Now, if I weren’t shopping on a budget, it would’ve been romaine instead of iceberg and cucumbers instead of celery, but still, not bad. I, later, picked up a lb of bananas, a lb of mushrooms and 3 lbs of grapes at Walmart for less than $4 by price matching.

I spent Sunday soaking and boiling beans and prepping for the week, which is way more than I usually do, but it’s been challenging to figure out how to make everything work for $1.22 per person per meal. Thus far, I’ve been really frugal, I’ve only spent $55 of my $77, because I can possibly foresee a day when I get out of work late and I’m just not in the mood to cook or something comes up at school that’s an emergency.

Day 1 is down and yesterday, we all had cereal with milk and a piece of fruit for breakfast, pb&j w/ carrots and grapes, and homemade chili w/mushrooms substituted for half the beef, 1 T. of cheese and a soft taco sized tortilla for dinner. In addition to a serving of mushrooms, the chili also contained a serving of green pepper and tomatoes. My daughter loves chili, so day 1 was easy for her. She finished 3 bowls worth, and she still only weighs 35 lbs- I don’t know where she puts it all! My chili recipe was only $.65 a serving (the recipe serves 9) excluding the tortilla, cheese, and spices used.

My menu for the week is a little more complex than I normally would prepare, but it is also devoid of fish. During a typical week, my family consumes fish or shellfish twice a week. Because I still have budget room, we may make tuna sandwiches for lunch sometime this weekend, but it’s different from the sockeye salmon or shrimp scampi we have normally.

SNAP Experience 2011 – Archived Posts

The ACAA Arizona SNAP Experience 2011 drew in 50 participants from across Arizona as well as participants from Kansas and as far away as Thailand. We asked our SNAP Experience participants to blog about their week on a SNAP budget and share their reflections with us. This is a complete archive of those blog reflections. Thank you to all who participated and shared!

See more of the 2011 SNAP Experience Archives here, here and here.

*****************************************************************************************************

In Your Words: Stretching the Food Dollar

Participant: Lora

Starting last Thursday, I began to think more than usual about what I was going to buy/eat with $29.00 that would fill me up, be healthy, and have enough food for seven days.

My routine on Saturday mornings is to pull out the cookbooks to plan my menu for the week.  This Saturday, instead of pulling out the cookbooks I went to the computer and Googled vegan recipes for less than $4.00 a day (my life style diet is vegan.) I also researched different grocery ads, and found that Sprouts had some great deals.  While I was online, I realized how fortunate I am to have a home computer to plan my weekly menu.

It took longer than usual to do the food shopping.  I wrote down the price of everything that went into the cart and added up the prices to make sure I was staying within my budget.  This was quite a change from my regular routine which is:  if I want it, I buy it. Another change:  I found myself weighing a lot of the items before putting then in the cart.  During my shopping trip, it occurred to me how fortunate I am to have transportation.  I cannot imagine shopping this way with children and getting on a bus.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have no transportation or may not have access to a full service grocery store.

My lunches so far have been leftovers from the night before: Chickpea Curry with brown rice and zucchini and Kale and White Bean Stew (below right).  Breakfast has been oatmeal, a banana, two strawberries, and two tablespoons of blueberries.

One thing I have learned already from the SNAP Experience is the amount of time and planning it takes to stretch the food dollar. I have missed having my usual BIG Salad with LOTS and LOTS of veggies, daily handful of nuts, and more to drink than just water. It is difficult to not walk to the refrigerator anytime I want and grab a snack. The photo above shows the all groceries I purchased for $28.54. I have 46-cents to splurge!

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In Your Words: I Miss Variety

Participant: Sarah

As a former SNAP recipient myself, I thought the SNAP Experience would be no problem.  I already knew a thing or two about planning my meals, cooking from scratch and stretching my cupboard towards the end of the month as my SNAP allotment dwindled.

But my own real-life SNAP experience was different.  I received the maximum monthly allotment of benefits, $200 per month for a single-person household, which translated into a more comfortable $45 per week.  Since more than ½ my monthly income went towards rent and utilities, it was a relief not to have to worry about being able to afford food.

However, my SNAP experience was the exception rather than the rule.  Arizona households receive an average of $126.61 per person per month.  Benefits calculations assume that these families can afford to make up the $73.39 difference and afford a healthy diet from other sources of income.   But many families faced with high utility costs, unemployment, medical bills, transportation costs, and large rent or mortgage payments try to stretch their SNAP money to cover all their food needs.

So how is life different on a more typical SNAP budget?  I still prioritized buying vegetables, but with limited funds I skipped the salad and cooking greens in favor of cheaper, more filling produce like carrots, cabbage and sweet potatoes.  The only fruit I could afford was a bag of apples.  All those veggies left no room for grains in my budget other than the oatmeal I eat for breakfast and a few cheap corn tortillas.  The lack of carbs means I get hungry often, and I’ve stopped exercising this week to save energy.

And…I miss variety.  This is Day Six of my SNAP Experience, and I’ve had the same meal (peanut sauce over veggies) 7  times.

A typical day has looked like this:

Breakfast:  ½ cup raw oatmeal, one apple, 1 cup soymilk, 1 mug (2 cups) of coffee = $1.16

Lunch: Peanut sauce over 1 and ½ sticks of celery, ½ a boiled sweet potato, ½ an apple, and 2 carrots = $1.31

Dinner Peanut sauce over 1 and ½ sticks of celery, ½ a boiled sweet potato, ½ an apple, and 2 carrots = $1.31

Total: $3.78

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In Your Words: Day 1 On the Road

Participant: Sandra

My Arizona SNAP Experience – Day 1

The Arizona Community Action Association (ACAA) has invited the community to participate in the 2011 Arizona SNAP Experience as part of Arizona Hunger Action Week (September 12 – 18). (Take the Arizona SNAP Experience ). In a nutshell, participants are living on a $29 budget,
which equals the average amount of SNAP (former food stamps) benefits received per week, for 7 consecutive days.  But the experience does not stop there; participants will also attempt to eat according to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov  (this has replaced the food pyramid we are familiar with).

There is an additional $12 optional budget for purchases that do not qualify under SNAP. Not thinking this through very well, I foolishly opted out of the additional $12 budget, which forced me to “build in” a cheat from Day 1.

Being out of town for an extended weekend, Day 1 for me was on Tuesday, September 13. Based out of Phoenix, I visit our Flagstaff facility every six weeks or so and today was the day. I also had signed up for a free workshop on navigating census.gov, which was held at the Coconino College.  I got up bright and early, had my milk and oatmeal (which is actually a normal breakfast for me) and started heading up the hill. As I am driving, I finally had time to think about what food to buy and where and how to plan my meals. From there my thoughts wondered to the lunch plans I had, realizing the plans would not work well under this experience. I had opted out of the $12 cash fund, restaurants do not take SNAP benefits, and even if they did, I would be spending a big chunk of my budget and would go hungry the rest of the week. Trying to find a sensible solution that would allow me to network and meet up with friends and family this week, I build in a cheat: I can go to restaurants but I can only have Ice Tea, no food, no milk shake, only Ice Tea. Once in Flagstaff, I went to my seminar, which let out at noon, and lunch was scheduled for 12:30 at Pita Jungle. By now I was getting hungry but there was no time to drive to one of the grocery stores in town. Next to Pita Jungle is a locally grown, organic food market called New Frontier Natural Market. I decided to go to the market to get me something small to hold me over. Standing in the entrance I looked for a sign that would tell me that the store accepts SNAP benefits, the SNAP logo etc. Not seeing anything to that effect, I went to the information counter and asked. It seemed less embarrassing than asking at the register and having to leave the food behind if the store did not have a FNS authorization to accept food stamps in place. The young woman let me know that food stamps are accepted but not for certain items that are considered supplements and not for any of the ready to eat, hot foods. Wondering if she wondered why I was on food stamps, I thanked her and looked around the store.  It didn’t take long for me to decide to tough it out without buying something to eat, cheaper than a restaurant; the price was still out of my league. So I set through lunch with my Ice Tea watching Lizzie eat Tzatziki and Pita Bread. In her defense, she offered to skip lunch but I insisted – it was definitely part of the experience!

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In Your Words: My Experience So Far

Participant: Liz

Day One:

–  I’m a bit worried. ½ the groceries I planned to get for the week are either too expensive for this $29 budget or not available. I’m not sure how to readjust everything. It’s going to mean another trip to the store later this week. This requires a lot of planning!

–  I was planning to grab a banana for breakfast. Unfortunately, they aren’t ripe yet. No time to grab cereal, so it’s off to work with no breakfast.

–  I planned on drinking water at work today. The water cooler is almost empty so I was only able to get ½ a glass. It’s so inconvenient not to be able to just run down to Circle K for a bottle of water!

Day Two:

–  The bananas are mostly ripe! I also grabbed some cereal to munch on if I get hungry at work. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.

–  Darn! A friend asked me to dinner. I’m not sure if he was planning to pay, or if he was just planning on joining me, as he thought I was going to grab some food anyway. I only have $14 left for the week, so I declined.

Day Three:

–  Somehow, I misplaced the bread I took to work yesterday. I had to buy another loaf. I could not afford to lose that dollar!

–  I bought $2 worth of fresh vegetables for spaghetti tonight. I hate to cook, but this will last me for 3 or 4 meals. I hate eating the same things over and over again!

Day Four:

–   I forgot my lunch today. I must decide whether to go home for lunch or if I should grab something cheap at Taco Bell. Not healthy, but closer to work. Hmmm.

–   I’m starting to worry that I’m going to fail this challenge!

I never suspected how hard this would be. I hate having to plan out every single meal. I also eat on the run a lot so I tried getting things that don’t take a lot of work- like spaghetti, roticerie chicken, and cereal. Unfortunately, I still have to grab my food in the morning before work instead of eating out, which is a habit that is difficult to adjust to. Also, I have decided that spices, cooking oil, and condiments make the best gifts ever for people who rely on SNAP. I would never stand a chance if I had to include them in my $29 budget!

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In Your Words: SNAPing in Scottsdale

Participant: Jenny

Yesterday was day 4 of the SNAP Experience and I’m doing better than I thought. Although, for the first time ever I’ve had to brown bag it to my Scottsdale appointments. I had 5 appointments in Scottsdale with about a 2 hour break in between where I usually would have went to a sushi place or went to my friends restaurant LimeLight Dipping Bar and Grill. But I brought my Slim Rite nutritious shake and a half imitation crab meat sandwich with a serving of cream cheese. I don’t know if you can really call it a sandwich, because it was on one slice of white bread I got on sale and quite frankly it’s stale (which I realized why it was on sale). For dinner I had a little over $2.00 left to spend for my $12.00 supplement for the week and I used it to buy 2 99 cents Jr. cheeseburgers at Wendy’s.

At this point I was starving and when my husband kept asking me what I want, all I said was food. I didn’t care what I wanted, whether it was healthy or not I just wanted something to help my stomach not feel the way it was feeling. Not to mention that when I was driving, my eyes were a little more sensitive to light and I was feeling light headed. I was focused enough to make it through, but it’s not a feeling I want to really feel behind the wheel.

At the end of day 3 when I was sewing at 2am, it really hit hard about hunger and my mom’s own hunger story about my grandfather trying to feed 9 children. My mother always told me that in the Philippines, my grandfather use to sell fish everyday. He would buy 50 pisos worth, save two for the family’s dinner and sell the rest just to break even. When my stomach was growling and cramping while I was sewing, I was reminded of that story and wondered how anyone could feed 11 people with fish and rice and not be satisfied.

My mom also told me a somewhat funny story about a bag of peanuts, which I also thought of when my tummy was cramping. My mom had saved enough money for a bag of peanuts and the bully at school stole them. She was so upset, because that was the only thing she was going to have for lunch that she confronted the bully, but she got in trouble for yelling at him. As long as I can remember, I use to think that was funny. Fighting over a bag of peanuts and risking a beating for a bully for it too. And although, I don’t fully understand, the story is less funny when I think about the daily worries my grandfather endured to be able to feed his family.

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In Your Words: Day 3

Participant: Brandon

Today’s lunch is last night’s leftovers, plus some grapes.  I estimated the meal to be about $1.14.  My daughter made the comment this morning: “We are eating a lot of beans this week” and my husband explained that beans were an inexpensive and healthy way for us to get our protein for the week.  My husband and daughter were pretty excited about the tostadas because it was actually something I’d never made for us before.  I didn’t spend precious dollars on hard shells, I took the corn tortillas I got for $.98/dozen at Fresh and Easy and brushed each side with canola oil and threw them in a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.  I used the other half of the meat/mushroom combination from the chili and made taco seasoning out of spices I had in my cabinet and will do the same for fajitas later in the week (see the recipe below).

I’m reading in other blog entries about headaches, and I’m glad that I am not experiencing those- however, I’m not a caffeine or soda drinker, so “scaling” back to water wasn’t a sacrifice for me or my daughter.  My husband, on the other hand, is having those headaches.  The biggest issue I’m having is my caloric intake.  I track mine daily on Sparkpeople.com and through the sparkpeople app on my phone.  I’m projected to eat only 1,029 calories today and 25 grams of fat.

Fajita/Taco Seasoning:

1 T. Chili Powder

1 t. ground cumin, rounded

1 t. black pepper

½ t. dried oregano

½ t. paprika

½ t. garlic powder

1 t. onion powder

¼ t. red or cayenne pepper (I leave this out because it’s too spicy for my 5 year old)

1 T. cornstarch

Mix all together in a bowl.

Brown meat in skillet.

Add ½ c water and seasoning mix, stir to combine and bring to a boil.

SNAP Experience 2011 – Archived Posts

The ACAA Arizona SNAP Experience 2011 drew in 50 participants from across Arizona as well as participants from Kansas and as far away as Thailand. We asked our SNAP Experience participants to blog about their week on a SNAP budget and share their reflections with us. This is a complete archive of those blog reflections. Thank you to all who participated and shared!

See more of the 2011 SNAP Experience Archives here, here and here.

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In Your Words: Thinking About Food

Participant: Sandra

Day 3 – Got organized; got my plan; wasn’t really hungry yesterday; just need to stick to it; this can’t be too hard, right? Right!!

Day 4 – Frankly, this experience is getting a little annoying. I am obsessing over food. While I appreciate a good, well crafted meal, I am not much of a menu planner or somebody who cooks elaborate meal in my daily life. Food is something that happens on the side. Eating is something you do: because you are hungry, you feel like it, it is a certain time a day or you are out with family, friends, or acquaintances. Depending on the day, you eat what you are craving, what is on the menu, or what is easy and fast, but you don’t portion it and you don’t space it to make sure it last through the day, and you certainly don’t worry if the food is going to be enough to get you through the weekend and Day 7.

Knowing that I can’t eat what I want when I want, has me thinking about food a good portion of the day. I am thinking I am hungry, when I really shouldn’t be, based on what and when I ate last. The snacking on grapes and wheat crackers are building the bridge for me but I think this is one of the physiological reasons for the increased obesity amongst poor people.

We had a reach discussion around this experience in the DES Hunger Advisory Council Meeting today and there were several comments from other members that stuck with me: – I attend community meetings on a regular basis and usually never eat at these events but I did this week because it gave me access to additional food – having experienced this, it is important to offer healthy food (not cookies and doughnuts) during these meetings.

– Although I thought I never would have to, I had to go on SNAP and I remember it well; I do not need to go back to that place through this experience.

– I grew up very poor and I feel resentment towards the restrictions this experience imposes on me.

Day 5 (Saturday) – A lot of inner struggle throughout the day: why am I doing this? Ok, I get the message, learned the lessons, do I really need to keep this up through Day 7?

And finally the self-talk of: the poor person doesn’t have a choice and you made a commitment, so quit your whining.

Out with friends that evening (who are having pizza and their preferred beverage, while I am sipping on Ice Tea); I have a chance to share my experience, why I am doing it, and how it made me feel. When asked why my friends can’t take me out, I made up the scenario that I just moved to town because the job market, while bad, was still a lot better than in my home town, and I had no friends or family. And then there was a lot of friendly teasing over getting my hair done (which I did) while on food stamps.

Day 6 – Other than the fact that I would have purchased food very differently if I had $124 for 30 days verses $29 for seven days, I keep thinking that the experience of the person that has a paycheck, is not on SNAP, and has a very limited amount left for food between paychecks, must be very similar.  Whether you are on food stamps or on an extremely tight food budget, you have to ration your food and there is no money for eating out short of the $1 menu at some fast food restaurants.

Day 7 – While looking forward to going back to my “normal life” tomorrow, I am glad I
joined in this experience. The lessons learned, the exchange with others who signed up, and the conversations with different members of my community will stay with me for a long time.

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In Your Words: The SNAP Recap

Participant: Jenny

By day 5 of the SNAP experience, my husband was getting worried for me.  I was cranky, I was running on 4 hours of sleep at night and my stomach was cramping. I did really well on Friday during the day, but by night my body was craving something more substantial.  I broke down and ate a microwave dinner that cost about $4.00, a granola bar, and pre-birthday cookie.

The days totals amounted to $8.19 and my 5 day total was at $24.78 and going out to eat total was $11.82.  A total of $36.60.  I say not bad for the first time ever doing this, I think if my birthday didn’t land on day 6 of the challenge I think I could have mentally prepared myself better for it.

One thing for sure, I appreciate the SNAP program even more.  I always thought at least people get benefits, because in the Philippines you would have to make do without any help or at least that’s how it was when my parents were growing up there.  But budgeting for that little amount makes me realize that $29.00 a week is still  not enough to get by.

I also realize how healthy food is more expensive  and can see why people can gain weight on a $29.00 a week grocery budget, because despite not having enough to eat, people cannot eat a well balanced  healthy meal.  The cheapest thing I bought during the week was a box of stuffing that had 10 servings.  After eating just 2 servings, I looked at the box and realized there was nothing nutritious about it and it was loaded with sodium and carbs.  Sure it filled me up for the short term, but I think it made me hungrier and thirstier to try to drown out all the salt I just inhaled.

This was a completely eye opening experience and one I think I will do at a later time to complete the whole 7 days to remind myself of how lucky I truly am to be able to eat healthy.

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In Your Words: 5 Lessons

Participant: Jessica

Within the first few days of my internship at ACAA I learned that our office would be facilitating and participating in the Arizona SNAP Experience: a week where participant attempt to shop, cook, and eat following a food stamp budget. To add to the experience, we would attempt to do all of this while following MyPlate, the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. Nearly a week removed from my SNAP experience, there are certainly a number of lessons learned that have not only helped me to better understand the reality of relying on nutrition assistance, but also my own role as a social worker dedicated to alleviating and preventing poverty.

Lesson #1: When you are on a limited budget, the grocery store is an incredibly stressful environment.

My typical shopping trip involves me meandering through the aisles, clutching a sale ad, picking up some staples and making a mental meal plan for the week as I come across items that seem particularly appealing. I knew when I walked in the store to purchase the food for my SNAP meals that it was going to be a completely different experience. With a precise shopping list and calculator in hand, I knew exactly where I needed to go to get the items I needed for the week. There was no point wandering through aisles that contained items I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford. As my total rose, so did my stress level. Would I have to leave things out? Do I sacrifice – fresh veggies, healthy proteins? At the check-out stand I watched the screen carefully to ensure that every item was ringing up at the appropriate price, and actually kept some items off of the belt until I was sure that I had enough money for them. Although I did feel a sense of relief when I came out 50 cents under-budget, my attentions were then turned to whether or not the food I had purchased would actually last a week.

Lesson #2: Making healthy, thoughtful meals on a budget takes a significant amount time and energy.

Something that really struck me was how much time I was spending on meal planning, shopping and cooking. I spent a few hours the day before the experience started researching weekly sales at local grocery stores, searching for meal ideas, and planning out an elaborate grocery list. Furthermore, because I was attempting to integrate MyPlate principles into my meal plan – quick, easy meals were not necessarily the best option. I found myself putting a lot more time than usual into preparing meals throughout the week. After this experience, I can certainly understand how a busy family might find it difficult to find the time to plan and prepare healthy, complete meals. Particularly for struggling families and individuals, extra time may be a luxury that they do not have.

Lesson #3: Healthy food is not always accessible.

I think it is important for me to address the privilege that I experienced while participating in this experience. In the planning stages, I scoured the internet for the best sales and recipe ideas that might make my experience a little easier. Certainly this is not a tactic that every impoverished Arizonan can employ. When you have no disposable income, even picking up a newspaper to look through ads may be out of the question. I also had the opportunity to use my vehicle to drive out of my neighborhood to a store of my choosing. If I relied on public transportation, I likely would have settled for the limited options that are closer to me.

Lesson #4: Food is social.

At least three times throughout the week, I declined offers from friends to go out to eat. As a young woman in an urban area, enjoying food and drinks with friends is a typical social event. In fact, when I think about food in general, it is deeply social.  Meals are usually shared, we give and receive food, friendships and relationships are developed and nurtured at the dinner table. Some of the best work conversations happen in the break room. Growing up, no visitor to my home would leave with an empty-stomach, or empty-handed for that matter. For me, cooking, baking and sharing meals are all expressions of love, fondness, and security. Although I willingly gave up these opportunities for the SNAP experience, I know that it would have a profound effect on my social experience if I was unable to participate in these communal rituals.

Lesson #5: Immersion is a key component of experiencing solidarity.

I am a firm believer that expressing solidarity is a vital part of what we do as social workers and human service professionals. More than being empathic or compassionate, solidarity indicates that we are committed to the common good because we are all connected and the misfortune of one affects the well-being of us all. Through immersion, we are able to “walk a mile” in another’s shoes and develop that deeper sense of understanding. Although the SNAP experience could never show me what it is truly like to struggle with financial instability and food insecurity, the immersion has helped me to more fully express my commitment to alleviating and preventing this social problem. In solidarity, we can make the leap from providing charity to fighting for justice.

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In Your Words: kitchenMage

Staff Note: Every time we plan a SNAP Experience (or Food Stamp Challenge, as we called it last year), the ACAA staff has lively discussions about the nature of SNAP, who participates in the program, and how we can best create a week that gives participants the most realistic picture possible of the experience of using SNAP. There is no perfect Challenge or Experience. No single week could ever perfectly emulate what it’s like for the roughly 46 MILLION people in the U.S. who rely on SNAP to help them purchase food. For 7 days, our participants work through hunger pains, fatigue, skipped snacks and meals, and tough choices at the grocery store. On Day 8, many (if not all) of us can look back on the experience with relief, proud to have taken part and perhaps even succeeded, but relieved to ‘go back to normal’.

For over 1.1 million people in Arizona, there is no date circled on the calendar where they can ‘go back to normal’. There is no finish line to cross. Part of the reason we changed the name of this week from ‘Challenge’ to ‘Experience’ was because we realized that the prevailing thought when people signed up for a ‘Challenge’ was that they had to ‘win’. We hope that participants this year embraced the week as an ‘Experience’, and instead of trying to beat the odds they truly tried to immerse themselves.

But the reality is this: For most of us, when the last day is over, there is a sense of completion. Of relief. Of celebration, even. But when our week ends, families on SNAP are still balancing tight budgets and deciding whether to buy more food or pay their utility bill. For so many Americans right now, there is too much month at the end of the money. It is our hope that SNAP Experience participants are truly taking some time during this week to reflect on the experience as a whole. We hope you are thinking about the choices you made this week, and how it would feel to be faced with these kinds of choices every week. We hope you are taking time to talk about the Experience with others, and to really reflect on how you feel, physically and emotionally, as the week goes on. And although we know the SNAP Experience is not perfect and can never fully depict what life is like for people on SNAP, we hope you feel proud of helping us raise awareness and that you learned something by participating.

ACAA would like to thank Beth, who authors the blog kitchenMage, for allowing us to share a link to her post about Food Stamp Challenges. We hope you’ll click through the link below to read her entire post.

“Once upon a time I was a poor single mother and I got food stamps. Not those SNAPpy little credit card things you get now, but colorful play money scrip they used back in the dark ages. It was like shopping with Monopoly money.

This is what I remember about being on food stamps:”

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In Your Words: Day 2 I Got Organized

Participant: Sandra

After going hungry for a good portion of Day 1 (due of lack of planning) I got organized really quickly. I looked at the current ads, which come to my house for free, and considered the usual price for many of my regular purchases, like milk or pasta. Below is a list of purchases. It is to my advantage that I rarely have a sweet tooth and seldom drink soda but I am a confessed carboholic. To keep the cost down for this one week experience, I purchased very differently than I would if I had SNAP benefits for a whole month. Instead of buying the family pack of chicken, portioning it out, and freezing the portions for week 2, 3, and 4, I bought one pound of chicken and marinated, since I couldn’t afford the spices. I also bought ½ a dozen eggs, knowing that I would not eat a dozen eggs in a week and saving a few pennies, fully realizing that I am paying more per egg. The same holds true for the ¼ pound of cheese and salami, which I would have bought cheaper per once and in larger portions if purchasing for the whole month.

This got me thinking about the working person on a tight budget and not receiving
SNAP benefits. It is probably safe to assume that this person is forced to make similar, less economic choices, to make it to the next paycheck with the little money that is left after paying the bills. In regards to the ChooseMyPlate guidelines, you will notice a shortage on dairy and green vegetable, an overage on protein and fat, but a fairly adequate amount of fruit and whole grain. So, the menu reads as follows:

The main entrées are:

Pasta, Ground Beef, and Spaghetti Sauce  – 2 days

Chicken and Rice Wrap – 2 days

Chicken, Rice, and Sauce – 2 days

Ground Beef Tacos – 1 day

Sides are:

Cucumber and Tomatoes – 4 days

Snacks are:

Wheat Crackers – 7 days

Bananas – 5 days

Apples – 4 days

Grapes – 5 days

Carrots – 5 days

Lunch is (boring!!!):

2 Slices of Bread, 1 Slice of Cheese, 3 Slices of Salami – 5 days (with a later and bigger breakfast and earlier dinner on the weekend, l will not need lunch for Saturday and Sunday)

Breakfast:

Oat Meal and Milk – 5 days

3 Eggs, 2 Slices of Bread, and Milk – 2 days

My Arizona SNAP Experience Grocery List
Type Amount Note  Cost
Chicken Marinated 1lb $    2.75
Ground Beef 1lb  $   2.69
Spaghetti Sauce 24 oz  $   0.75
Pasta 12 oz  $   0.89
Rice 1lb  $   0.75
Tortilla 8 ea  $   1.00
Apple 4 ea  $   1.21
Banana 5 ea  $   1.06
Wheat Crackers 8 slvs 2 boxes  $   3.00
Grapes 2lbs  $   1.68
9 Grain Bread 1 loaf  $   1.99
Carrots 1lb  $   0.68
Roman Tomatoes 1lb  $   0.88
Eggs 1/2 dz  $   0.98
Cucumbers 2 ea  $   0.69
Cheese 1/4 lb slices size 2  $   1.55
Salami 1/4 lb slices size 1  $   1.36
Milk 1 gal  $   1.57
Ice Tea Bags 24 bags one box  $   1.54
Oat Meal 18 oz 100% whole grain  $   1.58
Total Cost  $ 28.60
Total Allowance  $ 29.00
Remaining  $ (.40)

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In Your Words: 7 Days, $29, 21 Meals

Participant: Amy

I am an experiential learner. I like to see, touch, witness, feel I am part of, let my brain process emotionally and biologically. So when I decided to participate in the SNAP experience this year, I knew I would learn more than how to eat on $29 and that it would affect me on several layers (like lasagna; I’m still hungry).

SNAP is Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. SNAP is not meant to be a person or family’s sole source of food; it is usually combined with food purchased by income and food received through emergency sources, such as food banks or pantries. For the SNAP Experience though the request is that a person live on only the SNAP amount. In Arizona the average single person SNAP benefit in July was $29, so that is what was used in the Experience.

One week ago I went to my local Fry’s Food Store where I have a free VIP card. I found great deals on tofu and frozen vegetables. As a vegetarian I constantly strive to find high protein foods. As a person with no thyroid on synthetic replacement medication and as a person with Metabolic Syndrome (insulin resistance), I also seek to balance carbs and protein while minimizing cholesterol, all while ‘grazing’ throughout the day. It’s always fun times for me at the grocery store…

Grocery shopping is one of the things I like to do LEAST. It was very clear last Sunday that I have a routine of buying the same items all the time. I can walk down only the aisles that I need to and be done in a short amount of time. Some items I buy monthly or so at Sam’s Club.

I avoided Sam’s Club last week, as I am guessing that a low-income or no income person on SNAP is not paying an annual fee to shop there to pay a lot of money on bulk items that may save money but really make a dent in a limited weekly budget. I also only went to one store rather than comparison shop.

I couldn’t afford the brown, cage-free eggs that I usually buy. Or the Egg Beaters that are so convenient. I skipped the high protein, high fiber Kashi Go Lean cereal that I love. There were no frozen prepared meals, Amy’s Kitchen brand, or veggie burgers. I realized the level of convenience that I make purchase decisions by and that I never have a meal plan when I go to the store. I usually just shop; buy some food, and hope that it covers meals for at least week. Sometimes what I buy one week can actually last for two. I also didn’t buy much variety,  as I tried to buy in quantity to stretch something over multiple meals, for example pinto beans and other vegetables. It didn’t help that I burned the pinto beans the morning of Day 1… so much for simmering while I took a shower and got ready for work.

I skipped free meals at work functions. I talked to people about why I was passing on the best looking french toast that I have ever seen.

My stomach growled, a lot. And I thought about food a lot more. As I got hungry I thought about how much of the veggies and tofu should I eat for dinner? If I ate too much, what would I have the next night? And I thought about restaurant food… one morning I woke up craving a burrito from Chuy’s. The next it was the bread from Logan’s. Beliore – pizza, pasta, canoli another afternoon. Valle Luna spinach enchiladas were thought of nightly as I drove by on my way home.  Mostly I missed stopping to buy iced coffees whenever I was out of the office. I started making double the amount of espresso in the morning at home, in order to carry coffee with me throughout the day.

I was tired earlier in the day than usual. I lost a lot of concentration by 5 pm and had to go home and cook something to eat. My mood was low and my work productivity probably was too.

And then on Friday I thought about the medication I receive every six weeks via infusion. It costs more than $4,000 before insurance coverage. As I  sat through my appointment I realized that if I were on SNAP, then it would basically mean that I wasn’t working. Because without the medication I wouldn’t be able to work 40+ hours per week. I would be in pain.

I’m in a life-sustaining circle of employment – health insurance – medication – health – employment – money to eat – health – money for mortgage – employment – health insurance ——–

Should my circle be broken, then I would be on SNAP. And yes, I could eat 3 meals a day for 7 days… but they wouldn’t be meals that would improve my health, so that I could work, so that I could access health insurance, so that I could be healthy, and so that I wouldn’t be hungry. I end day 7 feeling grateful. I have a job that affords me many opportunities for free meals and snacks; co-workers who like to share. This upcoming week alone I have three days when lunch will be provided. I can drink free coffee in the office. I have a boyfriend and his family that are wildly generous; we can go out to eat; we can have a pot luck and eat for weeks off the quantity of food available. I even confirmed yesterday that they would keep me if I was unemployed!

So while my stomach is not as full as it normally would be, my heart is full with compassion, and my soul is full with grace.

Peace and nourishment to you and yours.

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In Your Words: 6 Days and Weary

Participant: Brian S.

6 Days and Weary

After being on my allocated SNAP food allotment worth $29 I am weary and hungry. I am a fairly solid and big guy and not at all used to such a low protein and calorie sparse (compared to my regular nutritional habits) diet.

Here are my observations and learnings about the affect of hunger on me. You may remember my prior blog where I admitted I hadn’t really ever experienced hunger before, that has changed.

I learned by the 3rd day on the ‘SNAP Diet’ that if I spaced my smaller meals out over 4-5 meal times I wouldn’t  have such strong hunger feelings. I had feelings of being hungry but they weren’t as strong. I adapted. Then I thought about the ability I have to do that… minimum wage workers (those on SNAP) by and large cannot do that… they get one lunch break and cannot spread out their meals in the way that I can to stem my hunger and energy swings.

I learned that by the 5th day that I had a craving for a hamburger and salmon that was very powerful. In fact when starting this experience I knew I would be out of town in Portland at a conference on the 4th and 5th day so I planned to bring my meals to the conference and refused the breakfasts and lunches catered to me. I ate my oatmeal for breakfast in my room and for lunch I had celery and carrots, a hardboiled egg and a peanut butter breakfast bar, and I spaced the apples I had brought throughout the day. I ate canned tuna for dinner. People at the conference were curious about my diet so I talked about Hunger Awareness Week.

Because I knew I was going to the conference I had only used $22 of the $29 dollars and saved the $7 in case I hit a bump at the out of town conference. I spent a little less than $3.50 Friday morning purchasing a one egg scramble and 2 slices of bacon with bread for breakfast at a diner. I saved the bread for lunch but that bacon and egg was sure good.

By dinner time, after the conference was over, a colleague and I set out to get me something for $3.50 using up my balance of reserved money before heading home the next day this was going to be a real treat….

In Portland where the conference was there is a place in the downtown district that has food vendors in little trailers like you see at fairs. We found one that had a Vietnamese pork and vegetable spring roll for $3.50. When the food vendor gave me the plate I was saw that there were 3 pork and vegetable spring rolls I was elated and so excited that there were 3 and not 1 that I grabbed them and started to swiftly (almost running) walk away to woof them down… the vendor was yelling back at me through her window in protest because I forgot to pay her… A sign that I was really hungry… I was half way down the block. I did return and pay her and reflected then on how hungry I truly was… this was no longer an experiment it was no longer a mental exercise for sensitization… it was hunger…

I crave a good salad with a good piece of salmon on it. Being in Portland and around all that fresh seafood was a pity for me and clearly it is far worse for those on SNAP as it isn’t affordable…

My last observation, the smell of food is even more powerful when you are hungry! This morning I had my oatmeal early before going to the airport and as I walked through the concourse to get to my gate I walked by a coffee vendor and a cinnabon vendor… I was at least 25 feet away and those smells were so powerful to my senses it brought back my hunger pangs really fast… I couldn’t do anything about it… so I continued thinking about that coffee and those cinnamon buns with icing…