Making $31.50 Work for the Week │ By Lauren Biedron

September 25, 2013

I started the SNAP Challenge on Saturday. I went to the store with an all or nothing approach and spent all of my money upfront, leaving no room for cravings or incidentals later this week. I’m not sure if I’ll regret this by Friday but at the time it felt like the right choice…to get as much food as possible and “make it work” for the rest of the week.

On some level, I was surprised at what I was able to buy for $31.18. My list included a few more produce items than anticipated and even a pound of ground chicken. Granted, my cart was not full of “normal” purchases—gone are coffee and the convenience foods (hummus, pre-made salad, almonds, granola bars) that I usually buy. There were a few splurges to help me feel more like me—a box of green tea bags and a bag of apples, to name a few.

When I look at my grocery list, I think this has to be enough food for 7 days. When I start to doubt, I do the math. I have enough bread for 8 sandwiches. Enough beans for two servings of black beans and rice. The rest of my rice, the chicken and any leftover vegetables will be turned into chicken fried rice. I think I might even be able to stretch the chicken and make “meatballs” to pair with a jar of tomato sauce at the end of the week. This weekend, an onion and a head of cauliflower were cooked and pureed into 3 portions of soup. I can make this work. Right?

And yet, despite the objective reasoning and a detailed list of food and menu plans, I still cannot shake the feeling like I’m running out of food. I feel it the most when I look at my loaf of bread, which is the most quickly depleting item in my inventory since I’m eating a sandwich every day for lunch. Having no “just in case” money, no ability to run downstairs and grab a snack, no room for error in what I’ve planned, is making me incredibly uneasy. I am plagued with fear and doubt.

On a positive note, the emotions brought forth by the Challenge have inspired me to slow down. To really think about whether or not I’m hungry, to chew my food, to make dinnertime last. I also have to be more mindful, taking care not to rush through preparing food or become distracted while cooking, for fear I might waste critical calories to get me through the week. I can’t remember the last time I peeled an onion with such care as to only remove the very top, most papery-thin layer, or squeezed the juice out of a pineapple rind, just in case. This greater sense of awareness is something that I hope to carry forward into life beyond the challenge.

After nearly a decade of raising funds for hunger relief, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge to draw a deeper connection to my work and the struggles of those served by Feeding America’s nationwide network of food banks. And while my experience is in no way representative of what our clients face, let me just say this:

This is tough. With food insecurity as the backdrop, everyday tasks are more trying, decisions more difficult. It is no way to live and yet the reality of life for 49 million Americans.

If you have taken the time to read this post in its entirety, I’d encourage you to go one step further and take action, either by taking the SNAP Challenge and sharing your experience with friends and family, or in another way. Hunger is a solvable problem if enough people come together to do something about it. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Every little bit counts. Together we can solve hunger.

food from Lauren's grocery bag
The complete contents of my grocery bag for the week.

Posted by Emily Basten on September 25, 2013 at 2:53 PM in Our Leaders
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Your challenge. My reality. Two very active, very hungry teenagers, my husband is ill, I am disabled, but cannot get disability, because my family doctor & rheumatologist (like every other doctor who accepts medicaid, that I’ve encountered), make a policy of refusing to help their patients, by filling out the required paperwork. The kids are on the free lunch program, but they report (like most teens), that the food available at school is disgusting – very green, green bananas, mealy, dry apples, and tiny, meatless salads are some of the better options, for them. One grumbles, but eats. The other has given up trying, & either takes food from home, or, if there is nothing left that is portable, skips eating.

You see, there is no difference in available funds, between younger kids & older. No difference between sedentary & very athletic, active kids. Many teens who would be – could be – happy, healthy, productive, active teens – the hands our relatively near futures must rely upon – end up nutritionally disabled from much of their potential. Don’t believe me? Try feeding a starting line, teen football player or cheerleader, or runner, basketball player… on the same budget that another family has for their preschoolers, or early elementary school age child. Actually, the children (& their mom’s) who are very young – 5& under, have the added benefit of programs like WIC. For those unfamiliar, WIC is a very valuable & necessary program for ‘Women, Infants, & Children’. It provides formula, milk, cheese, juice, peanut butter, & other foods, dense in vital nutrition for the brain development & healthy growth of nervous, & musculo-skeleta growth and development. While by absolutely no means, would I deny these little ones, I find it thoroughly demoralizing, debilitating, and yes – unfair, that when we ‘adults’ – voters, nutritionists, lobbyists, media, & particularly politicians discount in it’s entirety, half a generation’s worth of people with real needs, who go un-met. I find it ESPECIALLY short-sighted of the politicians, who pander to the current voters, with their ‘thoughts’ about the needs of our small children, while ignoring those who will be of voting age, many, by the next round of elections. Those young, up-coming voters, no matter how we try to hide the reality of real poverty, are paying attention. They know their parents are skipping meals, in order to feed them. They know that their asthma, allergy & other meds are always first, even when not taking our own meds depletes our quality of life – even our longevity, itself – but we have to put them first. They are our kids. Our ‘babies’ as it were.

It’s a damn good thing we ARE looking out for them. No one else is.

Posted by Carla | September 26, 2013 at 7:11 PM

Just because I forgot to say it, and wanted to – please, understand; I appreciate movements like this challenges, and those who try it – you have my utmost respect. It is wonderful to know that there really are many who see it, and do what they can, however large or small, are out there, paying attention, and carrying enough to act on it.
Thank you.

Posted by Carla | September 26, 2013 at 7:24 PM

It is rough when an adult or child, or baby goes hungry.
I did not realize the problem was so great in the US.

Why don’t people like the Gates Foundation and others focus their money in the USA. It would be amazing to see what 1-2 billion dollars could do in the USA for hunger.

Posted by sfs | October 4, 2013 at 4:36 PM

I am appalled with some people who receive SNAP benefits. I just returned from Whole Foods and was proceeded in line by a SNAP recipient who purchased 5-6 items totaling $62.88. Two items were not approved by SNAP for purchase, so the cashier did an over ride of those items and she paid for those items with SNAP. This is a disgrace and it is unacceptable for taxpayers to foot the bill for this type of squander. May people cannot afford to shop for frivolous food items at high end grocery stores, much less those who are receiving SNAP. What gives??

Posted by Mary | October 16, 2013 at 12:52 PM

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