When Jennifer Moore, at the United Way of the Midlands, asked me if I would like to participate in this year’s SNAP challenge, I accepted without giving it a great deal of thought. The SNAP Challenge, part of the National Hunger and Homeless Awareness Week is this week (November 13th-20th). United Way of the Midlands and Harvest Hope Food Bank are partnering to launch the SNAP Challenge to help over-nourished people like me experience in a small way what the people who live on SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program—known by its more common name as “food stamps”) benefits experience every day.
The guidelines are pretty simple: you have $4 a day to buy food. Go.
So, I set off to Wal-Mart to shop, figuring that Publix, Earth Fare and Fresh Market (my usual food sources) wouldn’t be likely to help me get by on my $4 daily allotment. I spent $27.82 and in return I got:
Hot dog buns $1.25
A loaf of white bread $1.00
A bag of black beans $1.22
A bag of white northern beans $1.22
2 1lb. bags of rice $1.26 ea.
Quick Grits $1.16
A package of chicken leg quarters (5) $4.42
2 boxes of macaroni and cheese $.64 ea.
A package of spaghetti $.82
A can of mushroom flavored spaghetti sauce $.82
1lb. Blue Bonnet margarine $.92
Salt and pepper set $1.06
Peanut Butter $2.88
Strawberry preserves $2.08
A package of chicken hot dogs (with pork and beef added) $.88
2 sweet potatoes $1.01
2 baking potatoes $1.20
The 1% sales tax set me back another $.28. But still I figure I can make it stretch over the week. Even though there are no vegetables, no fruit, no milk, no French Truffle oil, no Cheeze-Its. Hell, there’s not even any Romano cheese for the pasta.
I realize that my SNAP experience will not be an exact replica of what the 45 million Americans who have to real choices about food experience every day. I will probably feel like crap, since my diet, which is usually very high in fresh vegetables and fruits, is going to be loaded with cheap chicken fat and starch. And since I am a of good Irish Catholic stock, I’ve taken the liberty of taking a couple things “off budget”: coffee and alcohol. (The Irish, you’ll remember, convinced the Pope to put St. Patrick’s Day in the middle of Lent so they could have a party in the midst of the great forty day fast…God, thank you for Canon Lawyers.) Caffeine is not a food, I reason, it’s medicine, hence the coffee. And I’m going to Pub Politics on Wednesday, and even though I can’t eat there, I can drink. Thank you, Jesus, Buddha and Allah. (Okay, not Allah, he’s a teetotaler.) And if you think that my “off budget” legalism is cheating, may I remind you that we fought two trillion dollar wars “off budget” during the George W. Bush presidency and nobody but Ron Paul cared. I’m not inviting him for dinner anyhow.
Tonight was my first meal, white beans, rice and chicken. It required a lot of preparation: soaking the beans overnight and then cooking them for two hours in a broth of water, salt and pepper. I cooked a chicken leg quarter slowly for an hour to make a broth for the rice and then put it in the refrigerator to cool and let the fat rise to the top. It didn’t really work though, so the rice was a bit fatty, but on the whole, it was pretty tasty. There are beans and rice left over for lunch tomorrow. Total cost for dinner: about $1.75, including leftovers.
This is going to be interesting. Unhealthy, but interesting.