This week, I began the SNAP Challenge. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or what we commonly call “food stamps”. THe SNAP Challenge is a program that invites people to try for one week to live on the same amount of money that people on food stamps receive for food — $4.50 per day, or $1.50 a meal.
So this past Sunday, I started the challenge by going shopping. The picture above is most of what I was able to buy. To be honest, the food in that picture actually cost $40.33. I had to go back multiple times and put things back on the shelves because I couldn’t afford what I had chosen. So I am already over budget and I haven’t even bought enough food for the week.
The shopping experience was very stressful. It took a tremendous amount of energy and concentration to try and figure out how to make my money go far enough (clearly I need more practice!). I am amazed at how mindlessly I usually shop. If I need food, I go out and get it. I never have to stop and say “do I have enough money?” . If I see something I want, I throw it in my basket. I am a careful shopper, always looking at what’s on sale and comparing prices. But if I want it, I buy it.
But Sunday was different. I felt limited, an sometimes very frustrated because I couldn’t make what I needed to match ho much money I had. My first stop was the produce department. I found a head of lettuce, a cucumber, and a great sale on grape tomatoes — buy one get one free! I was feeling very proud of myself until I realized I didn’t have enough money for salad dressing — especially not olive oil and balsamic vinegar. So the salad fixings went back on the shelf. It would be frozen veggies for me this week — only $1.15 a package this week.
I also have some health issues that I need to consider as I shop. I am gluten free and dairy free. So I head for the gluten free cereal — got a great deal on a bag of puffed rice, $2.19. It tastes a little like cardboard, but with some almond milk and raisins it’s not half bad. I actually came in under budget for breakfasts the week, which is a good thing because lunch put me way over budget. Lunch was the greatest challenge. Deli meat is expensive (and I’m not a big fan of it either). Salads had already been nixed. Tuna was expensive this week (no sales — I guess people don’t eat a lot of tuna for Thanksgiving!) So I settled on a loaf of gluten free bread, almond butter (VERY expensive!) and all fruit spread. Yep — a week of peanut butter and jelly — feel like I’m back in fourth grade. Dinner was easier. There was a “buy one get one free” on chicken legs and thighs. So it’s chicken this week, along with frozen spinach or string beans for dinner.
I made a lunch date with two parishioners for Tuesday. But had to cancel it when I realized that going out to lunch is not a reality for people living on food stamps. Another luxury I never really appreciated before. My parishioners are bringing their lunch to the Parish House and I will eat my PB&J with them there instead. Thanks, Christine and Jolly, for being good sports!
I think there are some artificial limitations in this challenge. For instance, people on food stamps get money for the month. I only had one week. I found a wonderful sale on 10 jars of spaghetti sauce for $10. That would have been a great deal had I had enough cash to buy it. People on food stamps may have been able to take advantage of that sale. But I couldn’t because of the $31.50 limit. I think the only way to get an actual experience of living on SNAP would be to do the challenge for a month instead of a week. But the first few days have been hard enough — a week is plenty for me.
I’ve thought a lot about poor people as I do this. I read a very disturbing and provocative article about what it is like to live in poverty. The SNAP Challenge can’t come close to this, but it’s a great way to raise awareness of what everyday life is really like for our neighbors in need.
Here’s the article. It’s really worth the read:
Some of you have signed on to do this with me. Please share your experiences in the comments below. Some of you are taking the shopping challenge. Those that can’t eat like this for a week are invited to go shopping with just $31.50 and try to put together a week’s worth of food for yourself. What is the experience like? Share your thoughts below.
And for those who would like to support us as we do the Challenge, here is a link to daily prayers you can say for all participating in the SNAP Challenge, and for the hungry in our midst:
More to come as the week goes on!