Yesterday was leftovers day. Breakfast, store-brand rice crispies with half a banana; lunch, leftover tuna pasta salad and an apple; dinner, leftover rigatoni with meat sauce and sautéed escarole on the side.
After another rice crispies breakfast this morning—my last meal on the SNAP Challenge—I survey what’s left over: one apple, a few stalks of celery, a quarter of an onion, an inch of olive oil, a few slices of too-soft, packaged bread, most of the can of the generic coffee.
I told a social-worker friend I was doing this, and he laughed: “Julia Child takes the SNAP Challenge!” Then he started running down all the reasons—that I hope I’ve pointed out over the past four days—why he thought it was a ridiculous exercise: “You know how to cook! You have time to do it. You have a car. You have access to stores like Apple Farm that don’t exist in poor neighborhoods. You don’t have any kids at home clamoring for stuff they see advertised on TV. People on food stamps lead entirely different lives.”
But it wasn’t a ridiculous exercise. No, I didn’t go hungry. The cupboard wasn’t really bare; I just ignored what was in it, and other than a little mayo and catsup, only cooked with what I was able to buy for $5 a day each for two people. All along, I hoped that my descriptions and pictures of food didn’t seem like I was preaching or showing off: “Look what I can make in five days for $50!” Because I grew up with a mom who put nutritious meals on the table for a few dollars every day, I did want to show that with a bit of planning, extreme-low-budget cooking doesn’t have to be all rice and beans.
What did I miss? The stuff that adds color and interest to our food: spices and fresh herbs, scallions, balsamic vinegar, lemons, dried fruit and nuts. Things that come in jars and bottles: roasted peppers, Dijon mustard, olives, pickles.
What did I learn, or re-learn? Discipline. I ate less food, smaller portions, no seconds. No desserts. I ate at regular times. No snacking. Because I didn’t consume a big snack in the afternoon, I ate dinner at 6, not at 9, so I didn’t go to bed with a full stomach. I lost four pounds.
What was most surprising and disappointing was that hardly anybody seemed to care about the SNAP Challenge. My Facebook posts only got a few “likes,” and the only comments on my blog posts were from a guy who wanted to use them as a forum to complain about how people on food stamps cheat the system and eat better than he does. My blog posts, however, about celebrity gardens in the Hamptons and about what a chef went through when he competed on “Chopped” are evergreen. Lots of people are interested in a private garden with an original Richard Serra Tilted Arc sculpture and whether contestants know beforehand what’s in the mystery baskets.
Here’s an idea. Maybe I should get a celebrity spokesperson and re-cast the whole story as The SNAP Diet: Snap your fingers and lose four pounds in five days for only $5 a day. The rules are simple:
– Eat smaller portions.
– No seconds.
– No snacking.
– Other than black coffee, your only beverage is tap water (ice cubes allowed).
– No dining out.
– No desserts, chips, cookies or candy (even on Halloween?).
Oh, and please have compassion for people who live and eat this way, not by choice, but because they have to. Donate to your local food bank. Volunteer at soup kitchens and hunger-relief organizations. Instead of sending your clients holiday gift baskets, donate to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign in their names.
Your clients will appreciate it, I promise. And so will the kids. Now I’m thinking about lunch. At the local Chinese restaurant … roast duck wonton soup with tofu and scallions …