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Eating On A Food Stamp Budget: Wrap Up

Special Collections
National Agricultural Library

Day 7 and Beyond

“How did you do on the ‘food stamp’ challenge?” That’s the question people have been asking me since Sunday. “Did you have enough to eat, or did you have to cheat?”

I recently completed the SNAP Challenge, designed to give participants a taste of what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than the $31.50 per week you’d get if you relied solely on food stamps.

In one sense you could say I succeeded: I didn’t overspend and didn’t go hungry.

I carefully monitored my budget to stay on track. Coupons, yes. Items on sale, absolutely. Since condiments were allowable under the rules of the challenge, I added back in to my total the $2.50 I’d spent for a bottle of soy sauce. That allowed me to replace the milk that had spoiled before I could finish it. But the early satisfaction was fleeting.

I hadn’t accounted for staple items a household would purchase infrequently and stretch for many weeks or even months. So I made a judgment call, allowing myself to “pro-rate” a handful of flour and splash of oil here and there.

On Friday evening I attended a meeting where a meat-and-three dinner was served. Strictly speaking, maybe I should have declined. But since I’d fed a guest out of my own budget on Tuesday, I justified partaking. Besides, wouldn’t anyone do the same, regardless of budget? Community events like this one can – and do – go a long way toward filling the gap and feeding the hungry neighbors we may not notice in our midst.

The lettuce was bland, unadorned iceberg; it was the only salad I saw all week and I was grateful to have it. As I welcomed the change from my own monotonous cooking, I recognized the irony of doing so, and realized only later that what I enjoyed most about this one nourishing but unremarkable meal was that I didn’t have to worry how much it cost.

The practice of such careful budgeting is foreign to those of us too young to have lived through the privation of the Great Depression or the restrictive rationing implemented during the 20th century World Wars. Perhaps we’re headed there again.

I won’t argue with those who complained that the SNAP Challenge is nothing more than the thinnest slice-of-life exercise. On his blog, actor Josh Malina wrote: “I don’t know what it’s like for this to be my normal. I always had a vision of a finish line in my mind, and I am very aware that others live this challenge with no sense of when if ever they may cross that line.”

And so by successfully completing the challenge, we reveal our enduring failure.

Hunger is everywhere. It’s global and local, societal and deeply personal. Writing about it doesn’t alleviate hunger directly, but I’m going to continue over the coming months as I keep sifting through what I learned this week.

Through stories about the people who feed us I plan to share some insights, practical information – and with a little luck, some inspiration, too, I hope.

Click for additional resources and to read all the stories in Amy’s series.

Additional resources about hunger and how to help:

To express your support of hunger relief programs, contact your Congressional Representative.