SNAP, if you're not familiar with it, used to be called "Food Stamps." It's a supplemental program to help low-income people with "nutritional assistance." On average, this assistance works out to about $4.50 per person, per day.
That's not a lot of money to spend on food. I just ate a meal that cost over $3 and it wasn't anything fancy, although it was kind of lazy (frozen stuff). I'm sure I spend that much all the time, even when I'm not being lazy.
There used to be a page at Feeding America about the SNAP Challenge, but it's gone. However, you can read the experiences of Beth, blogger at Budget Bytes, who took the challenge this past September. She did it for a full month.
I'll definitely be making on of Beth's recipes, including this One Pot Chili Pasta. Along with other, yet-to-be-determined things I can eat for several days.
I won't eat anything I didn't buy for this week. I was torn on what I could use that I already had. Spices? Olive oil? Salt? I ended up buying one spice and a container of oil, but more on that later.
While I won't eat the food we already have, I do have two outings planned that involve food (more or less). I guess that's where the "supplement" part of this SNAP program comes in.
I'm committed to buying a $4 dozen of eggs from some friends who raise their own chickens. I've actually met these chickens. I asked for the eggs before I thought about the challenge, so I'm not including it in my food costs for the week, and I won't eat the eggs until next week.
We're going to eat with my parents one night for a belated celebration of my birthday, so that's a meal that won't come out of this budget. And on Tuesday, I'm taking a class on Entomophagy, the practice of eating bugs, at Local Harvest, a grocery store here in St. Louis that focuses on locally produced food. Bugs = food? Probably not in the quantity we'll be consuming, but still. Unless I completely wimp out, they will cross my lips. I know, eating bugs sounds gross. But it's interesting! And the class will be taught by someone from the Butterfly House. If you live in St. Louis and want to join me, you can sign up here.
Local Harvest is a place where I wouldn't try to shop at if I had only $4.50 a day to spend on food. If I do this challenge multiple weeks, at different stores, I'd consider them to be one of the most difficult. But if you have the money to spend, they have some pretty awesome stuff.
Local food costs more. Good food costs more. Sustainable produced food costs more. These are unpleasant truths. If you have the money to spend, though, it feels good to support local farmers and to know you're eating good food.
Somehow I don't think I'll eat enough bugs to really make it supplemental, but I want to be upfront about what I will be doing.
I'm lucky. I've had enough food to eat for most of my life. The only time I can remember being hungry is in college. While that was probably mostly my own fault (spending money at the bars instead of at the grocery store), there were times when I was hungry.
During those hungry times, I scavenged. Dinner at a friend's house. Whatever food I could get at work.
So I'm not going to feel too bad about that dinner out, because most of us have that from time to time. Not everyone, though, which is something to think about. Having no network of support during lean times is a harrowing thought.
I'm torn on eating all the food I can at work, mostly because there is a LOT of food available there, for free. Not enough to make a meal, but a gazillion snacks. I guess I've also been lucky to work at lots of places that offer free food. Another thing that helped me in college and, if anything, actually hurts me now, because it's free food in the form of extra calories.
So why am I doing this challenge? I want to see if I can get by eating on only $4.50 a day. I want to be able to imagine what it would be like to do all the time. Ultimately, though, I want to regain appreciation for what I have, which is a nearly unlimited budget for food. Not truly unlimited, especially not if you're reading Saveur, but pretty close. Most months, I think we spend way too much on food. The last couple months, we've brought the grocery budget down a little, only to double the amount we spent eating out. It's a constant battle.
I don't want to go back to eating macaroni and cheese, cereal, and cheap pizzas. But I'd like to find a middle ground.
Week Ten: Diet - SNAP Challenge