Public food aid is always a controversial topic. Critics say it’s rife with fraud and abuse, while proponents say it doesn’t do enough to help people avoid food insecurity and get back on their feet. Regardless of how one feels about public food aid, it’s important that we as a society recognize the challenges presented by poverty and hunger. With that in mind, I’ve decided to take part in the SNAP Hunger Challenge 2010, hosted by Feeding Illinois, a coalition of Illinois foodbanks that includes the Springfield-based Central Illinois Foodbank. (http://feedingillinois.org/challenge)
The federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, provides aid in the form of electronic funds for U.S. citizens and some legal immigrants. In June 2010, 41 million people received an average of $133 per person for a total cost of $5.5 billion.
- Statistics: http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/34SNAPmonthly.htm
- Eligibility: http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/applicant_recipients/eligibility.htm
For the challenge, participants are asked to live on $4.50 per day, which is about what SNAP recipients have to spend. The idea is to simulate the difficulties that come with living on such a small amount of money.
So far, my diet on the challenge has been as follows. (Costs are calculated by dividing cost per product by serving size.)
Sunday - $1.10
-Breakfast: donut - free
-Dinner: steamed peas and green beans (1 cup of each) with vegan butter (1 teaspoon) – $1.10
Monday - $3.43
-Breakfast: 1 cup orange juice - $0.33
-Lunch: 2-2/3 cups steamed green beans, 1 teaspoon vegan butter, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1 clove garlic - $1.50
-Dinner: Quinoa soup with diced tomato, red onion and red bell pepper, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast - $1.60
The biggest challenge so far has been remembering that I’m doing the challenge at all. I must admit that I cheated right after I woke up on Sunday by eating a donut that someone gave me. While it didn’t actually affect my budget, freebies aren’t really supposed to be part of our diets during the challenge. Beyond that, it’s been a real pain to plan all my meals ahead of time and calculate their cost. Yesterday, I came in under budget, but only because I skipped lunch while driving home from a camping trip.
Regular readers of our paper have already read the article from Julianne Glatz, our food writer, on how to eat healthily on such a shoestring budget. (Read it here: http://www.illinoistimes.com/Springfield/article-7755-an-exercise-in-empathy.html)
My strategy is to buy in bulk and practice portion control. As a vegetarian, I already eat a lot of fresh veggies and whole grains, so my diet isn’t going to change much. I also already buy a lot of my food in bulk when it’s on sale. The main difference is that I’m watching my serving sizes.
Check back tomorrow to read some tips from my sister Natalie, a registered dietitian. She and her husband already eat on a self-imposed budget that is pretty close to that of SNAP recipients, and she has some great ideas for getting a lot of nutrition for not much money.
Anyone who is interested in more information on SNAP or food insecurity can contact me at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!