My Week on a Food Stamp Diet
Yesterday was the final day of the social justice protest known to anti-hunger advocates as the Food Stamp Challenge, and I have to admit that I am relieved.
As the CEO of Bread for the City, a DC nonprofit that has been fighting hunger since 1976, I felt obligated to join my fellow advocates who agreed to a week-long diet, consisting of foods purchased with a total of $30. You see, $30 is the average weekly allotment food stamp recipients receive through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); a program, for which the Federal government is threatening to cut between $4 million and $16 million from its budget. This all in the face of the fact that the food stamp program infuses over $2 million per year into the DC economy, not to mention its economic impact for the remaining 50 states. So I and advocates from across the country have spent the last seven days challenging ourselves to walk in the shoes of those for whom we advocate to bring attention to the fact that SNAP is foolishly on the chopping block.
And as I stated in my initial sentence, I’m relieved that the challenge has come to an end. After only 7days, I am not only hungry; I’m quite humbled by the difficulty I had this week stretching my $30 worth of groceries.
I actually purchased $29.92 worth of groceries. This got me 3 cans of tuna, 1 small bag of frozen corn, 1 small bag of frozen broccoli, 3 cans of tuna, 1 bag of white bread, 1 small bag of navy beans, 1 large can of baked beans,1 16 oz. jar of peanut butter, 1 bottle of apple juice, 1 bag of green apples, 1 box of grits, 1 box of oatmeal, 1 dozen eggs, 1 small plastic bottle of mustard, 1 raw baking potato, 1 raw sweet potato and 4 bananas. When I arrived at the grocery store checkout line, my cashier told me I had to put something back if all I had was $30 to spend. I put 4 items back: crackers, beef chunk, milk and cereal.
Now let me confess, I am a very hearty eater. So it’s in that context that I report that after only 3 and half days, I had eaten two of my three cans of tuna, all of my apples, 6 of my eggs, all four bananas and nearly all of the baked beans. I had also eaten one serving of grits and one of oatmeal. By Monday, October 15th, with three meals left to negotiate, I found myself left with a jar of peanut butter, dry grits and oatmeal, frozen corn and the remains of a pot of navy beans I cooked for Sunday dinner. Somehow, all of my white bread – which I don’t normally even eat – is gone. And I have no meats. In fact, I have no food source at all that might be considered a main course.
Hind sight is 20-20 so I’m sure if I started the experiment over, I would purchase different items, and definitely ration them differently. But it’s plain to see that for a person living on a $30 food allowance per week, there is little margin for error.
At the beginning of my week, I was bothered by the fact that I couldn’t afford any of my favorite foods. And I’m not talking steak or even chicken. I was unable able to buy any cereal, milk, raisin bread, and certainly not any desserts. And by the week’s end I was perpetually anxious simply about the general lack of food I had.
Ironically, one revelation I had during my week of the challenge was that virtually every day, there was at least one free meal that I turned down to remain true to the Food Stamp Challenge: breakfast and lunch at the DCPCA Annual meeting, lunch with a donor, and dinner and lunch at two events sponsored by my own agency. These were meals that I would ordinarily have been afforded simply during the course of my week as one of the nutritional “haves” in our society.
So as sit at my desk writing and eating the last of my oatmeal lunch, I pledge to continue my work at Bread for the City fighting for food justice. And I pledge to call the Senate and the House to urge them to fight against cuts to the SNAP program, so that food stamp recipients can at least afford some oatmeal to feed their families.
I hope you’ll pledge your support to Bread for the City’s work and will call your representative requesting no food stamp cuts.