Starting October 1 (today! ack!), I will take a month-long food stamp (SNAP) challenge. For those who don’t know what this is: For one month, I will attempt to feed myself and my family on the basic amount of money allotted to a food stamp recipient for the State of Texas (where I live) and to do so in a nutritionally balanced way that is healthy and hopefully enough calories to sustain life. I will blog each day (I hope), include information about meals, time spent planning and preparing to shop and cook. At the end of the challenge, I’ll share recipes, budgets, shopping lists, information, and a memoir-style book I’ve been working on for a while now that deals with food insecurity, includes all the recipes I’ve been sharing, and much more.
In doing this challenge, there have to be some rules, to make this as realistic as possible. I posted those on the other blog today. Please take a look at them! Doing the food stamp challenge for just a week is easy (it’s not, but stick with me! I say it’s easy, because most people doing it for a week know that at any time they can break their challenge. They know they can buy whatever they want and stop any time. Anyone can do almost anything for a week. Hell, people fast for religious, spiritual, and medical purposes all the time, sometimes more than a week! A week without eating ‘well’ is not going to show the impact.
Plus, it’s easy enough to pretend to have to live hand-to-mouth when you know there’s a safety net beyond that to help, and I need this challenge to be real–realistic–true to the experience that a real food stamp recipient who is living on nothing but food stamps to sustain life and stave off hungry would have no choice but to do. Why? So many reasons. I want to bring about awareness. I want to fund raise for our local food bank (you can sponsor me here! If nothing else, please sign my guest book!). I want to see if it’s possible and report that back–win or lose, I hope to bring about some information, maybe make some budget-friendly menus and recipes for folks with limited means. I want to write a book about the experience along with the recipes, budgets and shopping lists, as well as information and resources, links and news about food and nutrition. I want people who might be on the fence about food stamp benefits politically to see both sides of the issue from someone who is not political in nature but knows there is a problem here that needs solved.
And because someone needs to constantly put out intelligent information to combat some of the stupid stuff I’ve read about food stamps, nutrition, food and diet in our country. What kind of things, you ask?
Well, pictures like one on Twitter: A guy was talking about how easy it is to eat on a food stamp budget, and then he posted pictures of meals with each priced out. In the picture, he had an egg sandwich, where he counted .20 cents for the toast and .10 for the egg, and he declared that a .30 cent sandwich. And while that is true, in that the components of the sandwich might have only cost .30 cents, where do YOU know that you can buy just one egg or just two pieces of bread? He showed he could eat for a week for a little under 12 bucks. His diet contained some veggies, and he managed to get some ‘free’ stuff at restaurants from coupons and such. He said the food stamp challenge was easy, saying it was just American budgeting. The problem is, you can’t get free coupons every week, every day, and even if you can find that for one person, where are you going to get three coupons so you can feed you and a couple of kids? He’s a single guy–most food stamp recipients are families with kids. Plus, I can plug his diet into FitDay and show that it wasn’t nutritionally sound to eat. And I really don’t believe for one minute that he’d be able to do this for 30 days, much less, another 30 days, then another… the way low-income, food-insecure, or food stamp recipient people have to do.
Then there are people who are cocky and spout off how easy it can be (read my post about Donny Ferguson’s stupidity when he did this ‘challenge’ and didn’t even finish it below budget.)
And so that’s what I have to show in the challenge I do–more than a week, ’cause anything is possible for a week, even if it’s hard, and it has to be leveraged out for a month, since the food stamp allotments are given once per month and are expected to last the entire month.
Even as realistic as I will try to make this scenario for the 30-day food stamp (SNAP) challenge, I can recreate the scenarios, live with the income guidelines and all, but what I can’t recreate, no matter how long I play this game, is the feeling of fear and insecurity, the true anguish over wanting and doing without, needing and doing without, being hungry, being scared, not knowing where that next meal is going to come from, or knowing that if I choose to feed myself–for hunger, for life, or just because–that I will have to sacrifice somewhere else to do so. I can’t fake that. I can’t pretend that. But maybe I’m in an unique situation to do this challenge when compared to the CEOs and the congressmen who are flippantly doing this as a publicity stunt (though many, to be fair, are hoping this publicity stunt will bring about awareness and donations and assistance to those who need–I’m not knocking those who are trying it, but it IS a publicity stunt, regardless of the intended outcome–my own challenge included!)
My unique situation is this: I have been on food stamps before. I was a single mom, raising a young daughter on food stamps and government assistance while I struggled with a full-time job and going to school. A lot of people don’t realize this: I was working full-time; I was going to school full-time. I just didn’t have enough money to live off of, even while working, and to raise my child and go to school to try to improve my quality of life, and and and… Then, years later, when I was a single mom with TWO kids–one aged 7 and one a newborn–I ended up far away from family, in Dallas, Texas, where my daughter was about to have four major surgeries. She was in a full-body cast and we were unable to leave the house much. I had to limit my grocery shopping to when people could help me by sitting with my daughter, a quick trip when the tutor from the homebound school district was at the apartment with her, or whatever I could get at the Sam’s Club behind our apartments with cash (they didn’t take food stamps back then) and at the 7-11 across the street.
You know, if you’ve ever seen someone using food stamps at a convenience store and thought that was horrible and you judged, I want you to think about something: I had a seven year old child in a full-body cast alone in an apartment in a not so great neighborhood in Dallas, a city we had just moved to, and she was hungry and I was hungry, and I couldn’t leave her alone for long. There was a 7-11 across the street from our apartment, I could see my front door from the counter at the store and the entire way there. I frequently used food stamps to buy Banquet fried chicken in a cardboard box that I put in the oven and cooked. I bought eggs and bacon and cream cheese and on rare occasions, I was lucky enough to get there when the produce arrived and I might get a head of lettuce (at a ridiculous price, but fresh something was better than nothing). I bought milk, bread, donuts, burritos (that you’d pop in the microwave), cans of soup and beans and such. Yes, it was pricey, and yes, I tried my best to fill in and buy everything I needed at the grocery store when I could go, but when you have such little time to shop, you miss things, forget things, need to run out for something more… or maybe you can’t get a ride and you’re almost out of things. It happens.
The point: Don’t judge. There might be reasons you don’t know. There might have been a better way of handling what I did, but I was in my early 20s, with two kids, far away from any family and friends, with a disabled, immobile daughter and a newborn premature baby. I challenge anyone out there to do better… we all have a story to tell.
I’ve been there.
Representative Stephen Fincher cited a biblical phrase that he used to pertain to food stamps, because he is in favor of lowering them, slashing funding to the program (he’s Republican, for those who are into that type of thing–I’m not, but thought I’d mention it) He said, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”
This seems a clear insinuation to me that people on food stamps are freeloaders who sit around not working and subsisting on food stamps just for the fun of it.
But what he seems to ignore is that the audits show that nearly 90% of all food stamp recipient households have at least one adult working; they are simply underemployed. What he seems to ignore is that you cannot get food stamps any longer if you don’t work or have a legitimate exemption to exclude you from working (like a disability or being a full-time student). In Texas, where I live, there is a three-month lifetime maximum for an able-bodied adult who is not working or in a work search or study program. Working is a requirement for food stamps in the overwhelming majority of cases. So the reality of it is, most food stamp recipients do work, and if given the chance, most of them would like to work better jobs that paid more money. This is the reality of the majority of food stamp recipients. They aren’t freeloaders. They aren’t people who are looking for handouts. They are normal people, like you and me, who through circumstances–some within and some beyond their control–have ended up in situations where they simple aren’t able to survive in this society the way some others can.
The reasons why don’t matter.
How they got there doesn’t matter.
Whether it’s their fault or whether it was completely out of their control, doesn’t matter.
What matters is where they are right now and how they can get out of that situation. And food stamps is one method of helping people stretch a budget, plan for the future, and prepare to get out of a bad situation. Most people are on food stamps for fewer than five years their entire lifetime. Bet you didn’t know that. Bet most people don’t realize that… it’s not a long-term way of life for the overwhelming majority of food stamp recipients. But I’ll be talking more about this in the future updates on the challenge.
THE FOOD STAMP (SNAP) CHALLENGE FOR TEXAS
So the Houston Food Bank has a SNAP challenge on their website. You can read more about it here and see my SNAP Champion page HERE. That page is accepting donations to pledge to ‘sponsor’ me during my challenge. All the money goes to the Houston Food Bank, not to me or through me, and the Houston Food Bank is one of the largest food banks in the country, servicing the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area–which includes cities like Dickinson, League City, Friendswood, Humble, Texas City, Alvin, Pearland, Webster, Katy, Kemah, Cypress, Pasadena, Sugar Land, Stafford, Missouri City, The Woodlands, La Marque and of course, Houston proper and some parts of Galveston in pincches… I’m sure I’m missing some, but you get the idea. There are a LOT of people serviced by this one food bank, and it needs all the help it can get.
My son will be volunteering at this food bank during the challenge month, toward the end of the challenge. I want him to see that normal, ordinary people in need come in there and give and take and share and how the whole process works. He’s going to be a cop–that’s his college plans right now and his dream for the future. I think, as a cop, he’s going to be faced with people who are in crisis, in poverty, in need–I want him to see now, before he’s faced with that, I want him to see the real people behind poverty, hear the real stories behind the need, so he doesn’t judge so much when he’s in a position of authority over people in the community. It will make him more compassionate, I think, more real. We will be donating food from our pantry during the challenge–I have a ton of stuff that is left over from before I started eating organic for health. In one respect, I feel bad donating things I know aren’t the healthiest, but I also feel bad letting food that has some nutrition, even if it’s not the healthiest, go to waste. So we’re going to donate it. We have some cherry pie filling, green enchilada sauce, red enchilada meat sauce, cream of ‘whatever’ soups, and more–and most of the stuff is really high in sodium. Really high in sodium. Also, we will also be donating in cash the difference between what we usually would spend for food versus what we actually spend for food to the local food bank as well.
I finished my list of rules, and you can read them here. I will be following those rules and staying within the guideline amount I have to work with and all that. I’ve also decided I need to log how much time I spend preparing for the challenge. Not including the blogging and writing aspect of it, because that’s in addition to the challenge, I need to calculate how much time I put into the shopping and planning for buying food this cheap, making the menus and the shopping list and such, because it’s fair to say not everyone has the time to put into this that I do. I’m blessed to work from home and have a family to help me. A single mom with three kids and a deceased husband who is working two jobs to make ends meet might not have the time to shop around, scout out sales and plan menus and shopping lists. These are all things that must be considered.
It’s going to be interesting!
I’m also doing this because of stupid politicians… and today is a beautiful day NOT to get into the stupid politicians, what with the government shutdown.
Hope you guys will stick with me, keep giving me your suggestions and ideas, make sure I’m keeping it real, help me with naming the book and more. If you think there’s something that absolutely should be a rule for the challenge, tell me in the comments below. If you have any questions, please ask.
Love and stuff,