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