EDITOR’S NOTE: This SNAP Challenge employee blog series is intended to raise hunger awareness and highlight the Houston Food Bank’s recent strides in sustainability. Recently, the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club® donated $100,000 to the Food Bank to build a solar array on the roof – a renewable energy installation that will help the Food Bank save about as much as the cost of 23,000 meals a year on its energy bill.
Today, for the first time ever, I used a calculator at the supermarket. Bread: $1.48. Cheese: $2.77. I was desperate not to go over the $28 I had allotted for a whole week of meals.
This is the SNAP Challenge – a Hunger Action Month initiative of the Houston Food Bank that challenges those who don’t rely on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) to try eating on the average SNAP budget for an individual. That is, $4/day, $28/week. Forty-nine million Americans live in food insecure households, many of them children. In 2012, 15 percent of households were food insecure.
So let’s say this up front: I have many advantages. I am not responsible for any children, I’m full-time employed, I have a car and a smart phone, and I speak English as my first language. I’m white, I went to college, I have no physical disabilities, and I have a reliable roof over my head every night. In no way is my arguably self-conscious attempt to eat on $4/day meant to reduce poverty to a cynical game or a set of “fun” recipes, or to truly walk in the shoes of anyone experiencing hunger. For me, the SNAP Challenge has a straightforward goal: to help me understand what it’s like to have only $4/day to spend on food.
So here’s my plan: Plan everything. I shopped for food and diligently prepared a whole week of breakfasts and lunches on Sunday night. I won’t eat out, not once. I’ve got steel cut oats or yogurt as breakfast options. I made a big batch of rice and black beans with vegetables that I intend to eat for lunch most days. For dinner (or alternative lunch options, if I decide to have rice and beans for dinner), I’ll have egg and cheese or bean and cheese tacos, or egg salad or tuna salad sandwiches. It’ll be a mostly vegetarian week. It’s a busy and intense time at work, so I focused on foods for daytime that’ll give me a lot of energy and stick to my ribs. At night, well… we’ll see how it goes.
Here’s what I was able to buy (see right).
Lessons learned so far:
- I was perhaps disproportionately elated to find I could afford a 32-ounce tub of plain yogurt – and it’s organic!
- I may need to drink less coffee than usual because I wasn’t willing to downgrade my usual coffee quality too much.
- I was really glad when it turned out my calculator-reliance panned out and I didn’t have to ask the cashier to void anything, which I would have found embarrassing.
Below is my receipt: I’ve got a little more than a dollar left for the week. Wish me luck!