SNAP Challenge: Finishing Strong

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.

As I near the end of my SNAP Challenge week, I can say this: Eating on a $4/day budget was much harder than I anticipated. I was conscious all week of being hungry. I was low on energy. I was a little cranky. The following actually happened: After I was given a mini-Snickers for attending the company’s fall flu shot clinic, I had the impulse to go back for a second shot.

SNAP Challenge ParticipantIt’s possible to eat healthily on $4/day, but by no means is it easy. I applied my existing basic knowledge of nutrition and my spare time to the SNAP Challenge, and I did OK on the healthfulness front. For instance, I knew how to create a complete protein by combining brown rice with beans, which became the backbone of my diet this week. (Moving forward, I’d probably end up with more canned fish and meats to cover my protein.) But generally, I found that lower quality foods are cheaper. Before I miraculously found my $3 tub of organic plain yogurt, I shopped around in that section. Buying the same quantity of yogurt with artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors would have saved me a dollar or more. Unfortunately, making that choice for breakfast also would have robbed me of nutrients, lowered the protein content (which I was counting on), and sent me toward a sugar crash.

By the same token, it’s possible not to experience active hunger throughout the day on this budget, but only with diligent planning and no mistakes. The two days I forgot my banana (meant to be an afternoon snack), I spent a lot of the afternoon conscious of my empty stomach. I didn’t have the energy to get my usual after-work exercise. I also ended up missing my only serving of fruit all day (and considering the zucchini and peppers in my rice and beans were the only vegetables I was eating otherwise, that was a big deal). The SNAP budget asks a lot of its users – the irony being that SNAP’s participants are likely those who would benefit from one less thing to worry about.

What a difference some cheese makes. I never thought I’d get so much enjoyment from one 8-ounce block of 2% Colby Jack. I put it on tacos, tuna melts, rice and beans… I stopped short of putting it on steel cut oats, but given another week I might have gone there. That slightly rubbery store-brand cheese was really the only food item I looked forward to and savored this week. The SNAP Challenge experiment reinforced for me how much enjoyment in life comes from thinking about, preparing, sharing, eating, and appreciating food. I’ll be more conscious and thankful in the future that I have enough – and have the Food Bankluxury of buying more, just for fun.

So what will I do with my remaining $1.39? In the spirit of the Challenge, I’m rolling it into a donation to my local food bank (see right), in the hope that someone experiencing hunger uses it to get some happiness-giving cheese, healthy vegetables, or just a little more peace of mind.

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