Two days to go and I’m out of fresh vegetables and fruit.
Day 4 Breakfast: Store-brand rice crispies with soy milk. Canned pears.
Day 4 Lunch: Scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, whole-wheat toast. Tomato soup made by blending the contents of a can of stewed tomatoes with soy milk. Without fresh vegetables, lunch looked like a hospital meal. Without curry or dill or other seasoning in the soup, it tasted like one too.
I’m looking forward to tonight’s dinner of rigatoni with meat sauce. What to serve with it? All that’s left in the vegetable bin are a quarter of an onion and some lettuce, which I need to stretch for two days. On Saturday, I’d spent $46.55 of my $50 budget for five days. I have $3.45 left. What can I get?
I go to Apple Farm, about four miles away, which sells produce for less. This shopping trip hits home. For people on a tight budget, there’s a real big difference between buying apples at $1.29 and .79 a pound. You can feed another mouth or get enough for another meal.
I ignore the fresh fish and Italian cheeses and pick up fruit: two apples @ .79 per pound for .80, two bananas for .44. Vegetables: to give color and crunch to salads, one bunch of radishes for .99, one red onion for .36. And then a head of escarole, the cheapest green, for .90. Total $3.49.
Day 4 Dinner: Rigatoni, which had been on sale for .99, with meat sauce made with a base of finely chopped onion, carrot and celery cooked in a little olive oil, then simmered with the rest of the ground beef and canned tomatoes. To make sure the meat wouldn’t spoil before I cooked it, I’d made it the day before while the chicken and vegetables were roasting. The cheapest ground beef, 20% fat, made for a too-fatty burger on Sunday, but the flavor is just right for meat sauce. The radishes and red onion brighten up the wedge salad, made with the last of the head of iceberg. I chop up a few leaves of escarole for bitterness and garnish, saving the rest for tomorrow’s dinner. This is the best meal of the week.
A number of politicians, including Newark mayor Cory Booker, have taken the SNAP Challenge. Many have pointed out that most SNAP recipients don’t have cars and don’t have access to stores like Apple Farm. If you do, is it worth it to drive four miles to save 50 cents on a pound of apples? Usually not, but yesterday afternoon it was.
Even suburban areas like Westchester County, New York, are losing their lower-cost food-shopping options. A large A&P, where many lower-income people shopped, closed more than a year ago. The space is being renovated for a Pet Smart and a Chef Central, which sells high-end cookware. There used to be two excellent produce markets nearby. One is now a Waldbaums and the other is a CVS. Both sell packaged snacks—cookies and chips and candy—not fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and cheese. As Booker points out, “Folks on SNAP don’t always have an abundance of wholesome food available to them and end up consuming many empty calories.”