“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

04 October 2014

SNAP Challenge

The blogger at one of my favorite food blogs, Budget Bytes, recently completed the SNAP Challenge.


The Challenge asks you to survive on the average amount of money provided through SNAP (food stamps) in the USA. You also have to follow SNAP rules, which don't allow you to purchase any "prepared" foods, like TV dinners. You can spend $4.50 per person per day.

We are not on food stamps, but our family spends roughly this amount on food, with the exception of eating out (probably three or four times a month). We are able to do this because we occasionally receive free meat from my husband's family farm and because I am at home to cook.

Cooking every day is luxury that most families don't have, which Beth--the blogger at Budget Bytes--takes into account by prepping most of her food for the whole week at one time. Let me be clear on this: COOKING EVERY DAY IS A LUXURY. Many people on the SNAP program absolutely cannot do this because they work long hours, are disabled, or don't have access to a stove that works. Even if they have the time and equipment, they may not have the necessary skills. My husband wouldn't be able to eat healthfully like this because he just doesn't know how to cook. How and when are impoverished people expected to learn?

Why is this important? Because almost a year ago, the federal government rolled back SNAP benefits from (roughly) $1.50 per meal to $1.40. That means that a family of three, like mine, lost $29 per month from their food budget. That is significant.

Conservative pundits have been railing against the SNAP Challenge for a while now. I won't call them "Republican pundits" because I'm sure they aren't all Republicans, and not all Republicans agree with cutting SNAP benefits. What these people do have in common is a fiscally conservative viewpoint and absolutely no capacity for empathy. They think that because they can run out and buy $70.64 of high-quality food at their local mega-mart, anybody should be able to do it. They completely disregard reality, which often includes working long hours at multiple jobs, urban or rural food deserts, and lack of access to a car and/or working kitchen equipment. Not to mention that food costs vary widely, and are highest in densely-populated urban areas or very small towns, where the majority of SNAP recipients reside.

Reduced SNAP benefits really mean hunger pangs in the classroom. It means parents going hungry to feed their children. It means senior citizens surviving on canned beans and oatmeal. It means that food security--the one thing most responsible for a person's future success--may be denied to 48 million Americans, many of them disabled, children or the elderly.

I can attest to the fact that this kind of shopping and cooking is really, really hard. I've lived on a smaller food budget than even SNAP provides, as many of the working poor do, and so I've learned how to grocery shop and cook as a survival mechanism. It takes practice, and it requires much more effort than most middle-class people comprehend. Doing it with dietary restrictions (gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut allergies, IBS) often feels impossible. Gluten-free bread and cereal is far too expensive. Alternatives to peanut butter, like almond or sun butter, are absurd. Beth at Budget Bytes discovered she couldn't afford coffee on her budget. I don't buy breakfast cereal anymore. But living on a SNAP budget can be done.

Could you do it for a week? How about two?

These people did:

Forty Days of SNAP
Brotman: Snap Challenge is No Snap
Because I Said So: My five days on the SNAP Challenge were not fun
SNAP Challenge: Finishing Strong

True, the official SNAP Challenge month is over. You can (and should) give it a try anyway. If you try it, shoot me a message to let me know how it's going. Or to commiserate over the price of winter fruit.

Good luck and good eating.