Monday, November 15, 2010

CHRIS: Joining the SNAP Challenge

The past year we’ve been living on one wage earner’s income. Our total income is down 60% from the prior year. After some initial adjustments, I like to think we have embraced a great awareness of frugality, cost consciousness, making sacrifices, living on less. Well, this SNAP Challenge has raised the bar and is already teaching us new perspectives on our living habits. Mostly those centered around the role food plays in our lives. But creeping into our conversations are other related things like time management, public transportation and energy costs, consumerism and advertising, role of government assistance and quality of information.

So the four of us are going to live for a week on food we buy from our $11.35 per day allotment. No using things we had already in the house. We’ll see if we make it. And you’ll hear about it here. The good, the bad and the ugly, and any food cheating that goes on.

For the record – I love food, fine dining, and delicious recipes. I love reading food magazines. I appreciate food-beverage pairings, subtle spices, over the top presentations. I have been, on occasion, a hedonistic glutton, although those days are fading fast in the rear view mirror. But with all that, I do have the ability to treat food as fuel. On an emotional level, I can turn off my relationship with food. If need be, I can just shove something edible in my mouth and be done with it. We’ll see if this week puts that to the test.

We spent most of Sunday morning looking through flyers for coupons, comparing advertised prices at the different stores, and meal planning to stretch our weekly cash allotment. Not relaxing or enjoyable by any definition.

First realization: a Two For One coupon or a Half Off coupon trumps Nutrition and Brand/Store Loyalty. Every time.

Second realization: Compromise comes very quickly. Do you like butter? Think it is healthier than margarine? Well, margarine is unbelievably cheaper than butter, and with that compromise you’d have some money left over to put toward other things, like meat. No, you say, I wont do it. Ok, fine: how do you feel about canned ham instead of Boar’s Head Honey Roasted Ham from the deli sliced just the way you like it? No compromises, no food to get you through the week. Third realization: you can kiss spices, condiments and specialty items good bye. At least this week.

Since Amy and Mike took on the challenging task of shopping yesterday, I’ll let them post about their experiences. And I hope Amy writes about the menu planning choices; a talented cook and gourmand, she didn’t have a whole lot to work with which to work.

I’ll fill you in on some of the logistical elements that were remarkable to me.

It took no time at all to unload the grocery bags. There were only two.

Not counting the huge bag of potatoes, the dry goods fit on ONE shelf in our panty. That’s a 1.5 x 2 x 1.5 footprint, equal to 4.5 cubic feet. And the refrigerated items? I googled “Top 10 Refrigerators” and found stats on the cubic footage on the most popular models. Space ranged from 16 cubic feet to 27.5 cubic feet. Our food took up ONE shelf(I even put the freezer items onto the shelf temporarily to prove everything would fit). That’s a 1.5 x 2 x 1 footprint, equal to 3 cubic feet. For some perspective, college dorm refrigerators are 1.7 to 4.3 cubic feet.

We ate up most of our fresh veggies last night. And enjoyed them. Going to be a week before we see anything other than the canned or frozen vegetables that are on sale. Somebody in the food and marketing industry determined what vegetables I would be eating this week. Is it cheating if I cook up that heritage pumpkin I took off our front step last night?

Breakfast this morning was pretty easy, considering the lack of choices. No juices, just water. Choice of a single egg scrambled with a slice of ham cut up in it or a small bowl of dry cereal/milk or oatmeal (no berries, raisins, nuts, brown sugar, honey, milk or cream in it – just plain oatmeal). Buttered white toast for those that wanted it. Banana was today’s fruit. And probably tomorrow’s. Amy and Marley got a ham sandwich each for lunch. No mayo, no mustard. Barely enough butter to make the ham stick to the bread. Elena chose school lunch – she would get it for free if we were on a Food Assistance program. Marley got a little Tupperware of crushed pineapple out of a can that we hope lasts all week. Now that I think of it, I could drain off some of the syrup and add water to it to make breakfast juice once for one person.

I close with some thoughts about upcoming trials this week:

Elena may have a wheat and/or dairy sensitivity. Oh well, this week she will itch and her eczema will get worse.

Marley may be coming down with a cold. Hmm, wonder how she fend it off, given the foods we’ll be eating. I hope a limited number of apples and bananas, and those canned veggies help her.

Five pounds of potatoes could go a long way. Here you go kids, have a baked potato for a snack, with margarine on it. Oh, yeah – we bought butter instead and not a lot of it either.

I wonder how much we’ll like our popcorn without butter.


  1. It truly is amazing how we take things for granted. I look forward to fallowing your challenge over the next days. I wonder if you wouldn't mind weighing yourselves today, and again on Saturday morning, to see you you have lost/gained any weight. You don't have to post your actually weight. I'm just curious to see if less food equals weight loss, or if less healthy food equals weight gain.

    Good Luck,

    David Bernick

  2. Amazing! What an ambitious adventure. I know you will all learn a great deal and teach us something as well. Thanks for doing this!