Taking The SNAP Challenge, Day 1

Can two people eat for five days for less than $50?

SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. The SNAP Challenge is a nationwide program during October, “Hunger Awareness Month,” that encourages participants to experience what life is like for low-income Americans, some of whom must live on the newly reduced subsidy of $5 or less per day per person.

That was the challenge Rabbi David Ingber of Romemu, the Upper West Side congregation I belong to, made to his congregants last week. “Take the SNAP Challenge,” he urged us, snapping his fingers. “See what it’s like to survive for a day on less than the cost of a Starbucks Latte.” A number of New York churches and synagogues are participating.

I signed up.

For more than a year, I’ve been entertaining the fantasy of competing on “Chopped.” The SNAP Challenge is an opportunity to do something similar, but with more redeeming social value. The rules are reversed, however. Instead of, “You can use our pantry and fridge,” the rule is, “The “pantry and fridge are empty.” You have to start from scratch.

Is it even fair for me to “compete” at all? As a person who works at home, with a well-equipped kitchen, I don’t have the same challenges as, say, a single mom who rides the subway to a low-paying job and has to grab lunch on the go. But my personal challenge is to prove — like my mom did at our house every day of the year — that for a very few dollars you can make and eat varied, delicious, healthy food with high-quality proteins and fresh vegetables and fruit. No steady diet of rice and beans. No PB&J sandwiches on wonder bread. But there also will be no convenience or snack foods, no deli items, no ice cream or frosted Halloween cupcakes. No second helpings. And no eating out.

Groceries

I did my shopping at the Stop&Shop in Greenburgh, New York, concentrating on house brands and sale items. I bring home everything pictured above for $46.55. Items include a pound of the least expensive ground beef, a package of four Purdue chicken thighs, two cans of chunk light tuna on sale for 89 cents each, a package of three romaine hearts for $2, a $1 loaf of French bread, a 12-ounce can of ground coffee for $2, cans of tomatoes, garbanzos and pears for $1 each, a box of generic rice crispies for $2, an 8-ounce bottle of extra-virgin olive oil for $2.50. Carrots and celery and grape tomatoes for snacks and to be used in several recipes. Because I’m, alas, lactose-intolerant, I also buy regular-price Lactaid cottage cheese for $3.79 and a half-gallon of Nature’s Promise organic soy milk for $2.09.

Here’s what I make and eat:

TunaSalad

Day 1 Lunch: tuna salad with carrots and celery on French bread with fresh veggies.

ChickenSoup

Day 1 Dinner: A quick Mexican-style chicken soup with zucchini, carrots, noodles and lime. Sliced fresh orange for dessert.

I realize I have to cheat a tiny bit: from my own pantry and fridge I use salt, pepper, oregano, a spoonful of mayo in the tuna, and that small handful of noodles (forgot to buy them). Is starting totally from scratch really fair, I wonder; if this were an actual situation you’d buy staples like rice in bulk and have cooking oil, sugar, and other necessities in the house.

And in the interest of full disclosure, my vegetarian husband doesn’t eat chicken, meat or fish. But I make enough of everything for two.

Will my $46.55 take us through Thursday breakfast? Stay tuned…

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About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint, Salon.com, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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5 Responses to Taking The SNAP Challenge, Day 1

  1. J says:

    People on SNAP in my area do very well. They can afford to eat much better that we can on our “median” income. I get very frustrated when “I hear feed the poor! Feed the poor!” when they are getting meat and I’m getting beans. We need to help feed the poor, but maybe no so well. Those of us on middle incomes have to struggle to make ends meet.

    • Thank you for your response. I’m sorry you are struggling to make ends meet. One purpose of my posts is to demonstrate how with a little planning you can eat healthy food on a very limited budget. Where do you live — where the poor are getting meat and you are getting beans? How does that work?

      • J says:

        I agree, one can eat healthy on SNAP. I also understand that each state is different concerning their aid. We live in the mid-Atlantic region. As for our family we need to eat eggs, beans, vegetarian (which is still healthy) 3 nights a week. We do not have to forgo meat completely.

        Things are like this because we are middle income, $50,000 to be exact. We have the responsibility of children, a mortgage, medical expenses, and commuting expenses. One has to commute from our area to get that type of salary for a blue collar job. We live very modestly, but when unexpected expenses arise, it’s more beans & rice.

        A friend of mine is a single mom, underemployed, 3 children, little or no child support. She is trying to better herself with online college. She needs aid and she should get it. But how much and for how long? That’s the hard question. She gets food stamps and she has far more food freedom than I do. I know, because we shop together and I share some of my freezer space with her.

        I just hope that people that cry for the plight of the “hungry” take time to investigate the food assistance programs. A quick search of online blogs will have you seeing folks eating well and even stocking their pantries with the excess. But as I mentioned before, states are different in their benefits and people are different in their expenses, so this is not meant to be a sweeping statement.

        Don’t misunderstand me, I believe we need to help the poor. But what about the plight of the middle class? I was thinking this morning about how between the Republicans & Democrats, one must be either rich or poor to survive in the US economy. We need a third political party… the Republocrats… maybe then those of us in the middle will be adequately represented.

  2. chefcatreana says:

    I was so inspired to take this challenge after reading your review a few weeks ago that i am planning to take the challenge also…

    I wanted to tell you that i an a single mom who does not qualify for snap either so my family has learned to leave on exactly this budget.

    I think the American familes are Extreamly over fed and should be conditioned to eat on less.

    Economical i feel that if we adjusted ourselves it would lower the demand for over processed foods. Which would in turn lower the price of food.

    American families are getting smaller yet the amount of food stamp benefits per family member continues to increase.

    Sorry for the rant… But thanks for the post

  3. chefcatreana says:

    Reblogged this on Chef Catreana and commented:
    I was so inspired to take this challenge after reading this review a few weeks ago… that i am planning to take the challenge also…

    I am a single mom who does not qualify for snap either so my family has learned to leave on exactly this budget.

    I think the American familes are Extreamly over fed and should be conditioned to eat on less.

    Economical i feel that if we adjusted ourselves it would lower the demand for over processed foods. Which would in turn lower the price of food.

    American families are getting smaller yet the amount of food stamp benefits per family member continues to increase.

    Sorry for the rant…

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