Thursday, November 25, 2010
Second, I'm sorry for being tardy with my final blog post. I got home from work last night and realized I had tickets to the wild game so I quickly got ready and headed towards downtown Saint Paul.
My final day of the challenge consisted of oatmeal topped with brown sugar. I finished half a bowl and had to throw the rest away because my body could not handle anymore. There is something about the texture of oatmeal and makes my stomach nauseous. I would rather eat glue then another bowl of oatmeal. Lunch consisted of 1 cup of cooked rice topped with sweet chili sauce. Dinner was rice again, but instead of sweet chili sauce it was soy sauce.
Being at the wild game and smelling all the delicious stadium food almost made me end my challenge early and indulge in a footlong hot dog from the Sausage Haus. It got to the point where I wanted to push a small child over and take his nachos from him. Thankfully I had enough common sense and self control not to. I got home from the game and joined a bunch of friends at a local pub. I waited until midnight before I order a beer. I then decided that I was going to walk to Jimmy John's for a BLT and bag of BBQ chips. Me being the idiot I am, I didn't realize that the night before thanksgiving most kitchens close at midnight. So I ran around uptown last night searching for a food establisment that would serve me and no such luck. So I was left with plan b which consisted of me walking home and eating a cinnamon & raisin bagel and granola bar.
As I was finishing up my challenge a few things came to mind. If you really want to make this a challenge I think people should try this for a month and see how they hold up. That would be the real challenge. As we sit down with our family and friends and celebrate the abundance of food. What do people living on SNAP do for thanksgiving?
Starting Weight: 186
End Weight: 181
Things I have learned on this challenge:
1.) People living on SNAP are extremely limited. They don't have the luxury of eating healthy food. They can't consume in mass quantity like the rest of us.
2.) People actually think I'm funny! To my sister: if you ever read this blog know that there are people in this world that think I'm funny. Sorry to break it to you!
3.) I'm as modest as I am ugly, which is to say I'm not modest at all and I am drop dead gorgeous. Those are irrefutable facts.
To use a phrase from coach Bill Belichick. I was served a piece of humble pie. As much as I complained and looked like hell. The challenge was a minor inconvenience for me compared to a daily reality for some folks. Thanks to everyone for the wonderful words of encouragement. I hope everyone has a great holiday!
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
As I wait for my brown rice to boil to prepare my final dinner of my SNAP Challenge, black beans and rice, I have a few minutes to reflect on my seven days of living on $27.65 – the average amount a low-income, single person would receive in food stamps for one week.
It's been a week of learnings – learnings about food, about other people and about myself – some of which I have blogged about throughout the week. I lost three pounds. By the fourth day of the challenge I found I didn't have the amount of energy that I usually do. I definately was sleeping more. I spent much more time thinking about food, grocery shopping, planning and preparing meals than I ever do when I'm not living on such a tight food budget.
And now that the challenge is nearly over, I find myself wanting to do something to recognize the week. Obviously, going out for a nice meal is out of the question as is a champaigne toast. I'm still living on $3.95 a day, after all, and this isn't an occassion that calls for a celebration. Rather, it requires a call to action for me and others who might want to do something to address hunger in Minnesota.
The first thing I did was make a donation in the amount of $27.65 to my favorite nonprofit that works to address nutrition and hunger in the Twin Cities. I specifically donated that dollar amount in recognition of one of the 440,000 Minnesotans who received food stamps in October.
The second thing I did was visit the website for Hunger-Free Minnesota, a collaborative campaign to end hunger in the state. Hunger-Free Minnesota hopes to get 25,000 people to sign a pledge that reads: "I believe that food is a basic and essential human right. I believe Minnesota produces enough food to nourish and sustain all who live here. And I support Hunger-Free Minnesota in its campaign to end hunger." It took me one minute to sign the pledge.
What I'm doing now is asking others to join me in making a donation in the amount of $27.65 to a local food shelf, hunger relief or meals-on-wheels organization. And I'm asking others to visit www.hungerfreemm.org to sign the pledge to end hunger in Minnesota.
The last thing I am going to do is enjoy every morsel of my Thanksgiving meal on Thursday and wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Today I had half a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast. If I had anything more than that I would have been in the fetal position praying to the porcelain gods. Lunch was a major upgrade that consisted of left over noodles and ragu- sweet tomato basil sauce. Dinner was a cup of rice cooked topped with the delightful sweet chili sauce.
I ran 4 miles after I got off work and actually felt really good. I actually felt so good that I went to LA Fitness and did a strength training workout after the run. Currently I feel surprisingly energetic and chipper and I can't really explain it. I'm not going to question why I feel this good since I have felt pretty miserable the past few days. We'll see how my body feels in the morning, but right now I'm on cloud 9.
25 hours and counting......
I didn't need to take the SNAP Challenge to realize that my gender and race afford me a certain amount of privilege. I've been aware of the benefits and opportunities that come with being male and white for a very long time. I was also aware of the added privilege that comes from having an education and a well-paying job. All of this allows me to take one week out of my life and feed myself for $27.65. And then, at the end of the week, to go back to shopping at expensive grocery stores and eating at fine restaurants
I embarked on this week-long challenge in hopes of drawing attention to the issues of hunger and food insecurity in
This young man, Freddie, is one of the 440,000 Minnesotans who received food stamps in October. He knows what it is like to live on food stamps for months – not just for one week as part of a consciousness-raising experiment. When I asked Freddie why he would thank me for doing what he lives, he said it was because he needs to live on food stamps but I chose to do this for one week.
Freddie is a real spokesperson for food insecurity in
Monday, November 22, 2010
Highlight of the day eating a PB&J sandwich. Low-light: ran out of bananas and realized that I only have 2 more pieces of bread left and 2 days left on the challenge. I was hoping to avoid the oatmeal, but looks like I have no choice, but to choke that stuff down.
Recently people have commented on the way I look. Normally, I welcome the comments, but lately they are down right brutal. My mom told me on Saturday that I looked really tired and lethargic. Later that day my sister told me that I looked like hell. Today a volunteer asked me who was doing my eye-liner, because I had bags under my eyes. I can't wait to see what I look like on day 7!
Snickers might give the most accurate description of what people act like when they're hungry. This is my personal favorite and I feel like I have acted like this since being on the challenge. Enjoy!
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Breakfast: PB&J sandwich and a banana.
Lunch: 1 cup of rice cooked with soy sauce.
Dinner: PB&J sandwich with pasta shells covered in ragu- sweet tomato basil.
I ended my last blog posting talking about how my diet would affect my workouts. Friday and Saturday I did strength training workouts. I knew the workouts would be difficult, but I had no idea they would be so bad. I had to lower the amount of weight I was able to lift and I did few repetitions. I ended up cutting my workouts short because I was so fatigued. I actually came home and took an hour nap after each workout.
For those of you who think there are solutions or loops holes to this challenge let me just say that the following senarios won't work.
#1.) Nobody can buy me food or beverages. For those of you who say "well I've bought a beer or a burger for someone living on food stamps before" That is great, but that is considered cheating in my book since those people eat this way on a daily basis and I am doing it for a week.
#2.) You can't give me money and say "now you have a bigger budget" - still cheating.
#3.) No I can't sit down outside of a wal-mart with a cup and ask for donations. - still cheating.
#4.) Steal food. - absolutely not an option.
I don't know when, if ever, I have gone four days without throwing away some leftover food or table scraps. Since starting my SNAP Challenge not a single flake of raisin bran or a bite of scrambled egg has gone into the garbage. That may change, however.
I waited until the weekend to prepare the two entrees that I thought would be the highlights of my week. The first was ground turkey served over pasta with spaghetti sauce. The second was chicken drumsticks served with the exact same pasta and spaghetti sauce. I made both dishes at the same time getting three generous servings out of the ground turkey and two out of the chicken drumsticks. Having more portions of the pasta with turkey, I decided that would be my dinner and, as it was the weekend, I would make the meal a little extra special by melting a slice of American cheese over it.
I should have known when the "imitation" orange-colored cheese didn't actually melt that the meal might not live up to my expectations. The first couple of bites tasted fine. Not great, but as this was one of my most expensive meals of the week ($1.39 for a pound of ground turkey), I wasn't about to be put off by the awful aftertaste that followed each swallow. As a boy, I lived on a farm and would often feed our chickens a packaged feed. The ground turkey I was eating had an off-putting smell that I associated with the feed I used to give our chickens. Halfway through the meal I began to wonder if it wasn't going to make me sick. It didn't, but the thought of eating this same meal two more times was not appealing.
Fortunately, I had the servings of chicken and pasta all ready to be heated for my lunch today. It never occurred to me that this might actually taste worse than the turkey and pasta, but it did. Something about the spaghetti sauce, combined with inexpensive chicken drumsticks covered with fat and skin, resulted in a meal that was nearly inedible. Being hungry, I ate the entire serving. Five minutes later, in an effort to get rid of the lingering taste in my mouth, I ate one of my six-ounce containers of raspberry yogurt and had half a glass of milk.
Now, I'm faced with a dilemma. I have three leftover servings of turkey and pasta and chicken and pasta and the thought of eating this one more time, let alone for three more meals, makes me sick. I can probably stretch my rice and black beans to three meals. I have one can of vegetable soup and two overripe bananas left in the pantry. That, combined with my remaining eggs, a couple of slices of bread and a whole lot of carrots, should probably get me to Thanksgiving.
I won't throw my turkey and chicken leftovers away quite yet. In a couple of days, they might look appetizing again. But right now I'm happy to return to a meal consisting only of a peanut butter sandwich and a carrot. If only I had bought a second jar of peanut butter instead of the chicken drumsticks.
After pouring over the supermarket ads in the Sunday paper, Paula and I decided to stick to the shopping list and make a few vegetarian substitutions. Armed with detailed lists and coupons, we shopped at five different stores: ALDI, Rainbow, Cub, Dollar Tree, and United Noodles (they sell tofu for .99/pound). This took well over two hours. But, we came in a little under budget and were able to splurge on some fresh spinach and squash from the farmer's market for $2.50. That makes six vendors.
I do most of the food shopping and cooking in our house, and I make everything from scratch (including soup stock). This is labor and time intensive, but our meals are super tasty, relatively inexpensive, and highly nutritious. I was amazed to see how many foods on our SNAP grocery list contain high fructose corn syrup. I expected to find this in the tinned fruit, but not in the bread, pasta sauce, raisin bran, tomato soup, and vegetable broth! I have trouble pronouncing some of the other added ingredients. What are they and where do they come from? Why so many additives?
Over the past few years, documentary films like Super Size Me, King Corn, and Food, Inc., have turned a critical eye on American agribusiness and the corporate food industry. These giant companies turn a profit by cheapening the nutritional value of food and selling it inexpensively. High fructose corn syrup and sodium are a major part of this process, from Big Macs to vegetable broth. It's one thing to eat these foods on occasion as a choice, but for folks using the SNAP card, this is the only option. Is it any wonder that diet-related illnesses like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are epidemics, especially among poorer people? What are the long-range "costs" of eating this way?
Giant food companies are far more interested in marketing their products than in educating consumers about nutritional content. These companies' methods of advertising and packaging have mastered the art of seduction, and have even contributed to widespread confusion about fat, cholesterol, trans-fats, and calories (not to mention the long list of additives). Indeed, knowledge is power, but when your stomach is growling, how much time and energy do you really have to learn the facts about food content and detect nutritional scams posing as bargains?
I notice a great deal of outrage and judgment directed at people who use food stamps and are "subsidized" by our government. I do not notice the same criticism of government subsidies of agribusiness and the corporate food industry. Surely, these hidden subsidies deserve critical attention and should comprise part of the larger set of arguments around poverty and food justice.
When it comes to food, is there no moral imperative to produce healthy, desirable foods that SNAP card users can afford? Must quality food always cost more? How inexpensive is cheap food?
Today is day 4 and I find that I've been obsessing about food - how long to the next meal, will I have enough food for the week. I'm amazed at the anxiety this produces and wonder how people get through this every day of their lives.
So far I've been having cereal with skim milk (measured) and a banana in the morning, turkey or grilled cheese sandwich, 5 baby carrots and skim milk for lunch and dinner. Today I lived it up and had poached eggs for breakfast. I'm going to make spaghetti and pasta sauce for dinner tonight so I can take left overs to work tomorrow.
I miss pizza, pepsi and potato chips.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
I've completed two days of my SNAP Challenge, gained one pound (probably from last night's pasta with ground turkey dinner) and experienced a low grade headache for most of yesterday, no doubt from the dramatically reduced coffee in-take. I'm spending much more time preparing meals than I normally do, though I can't call browning ground turkey, boiling a box of pasta and heating a can of spaghetti sauce cooking. It's been a great learning experience, but the most interesting part of this challenge hasn't been what I'm learning about food. It's what I'm learning about people.
Until deciding to live on $27.65 for one week, I had no idea how many of my friends and colleagues have, at some point in their lives, relied on food assistance. I've had conversations with friends who told me their families depended on food stamps while they were growing up. Others have said that an early marriage with children sent them to food shelves. After a layoff last year and no work since, a middle-aged colleague now finds herself using a SNAP card for the first time in her life to put food on the table for her child and herself.
People have sent emotional e-mails describing their embarrassment of going grocery shopping and having a cashier respond judgmentally when they presented their food stamps. Others have created elaborate explanations for why they can't join friends for meals at restaurants or contribute to neighborhood potluck dinners because they simply didn't have the money to participate in social activities that center around food.
This SNAP Challenge has generated other conversations as well. Many of us, it seems, have preconceived notions of the "kinds" of people who receive food stamps or visit food shelves. There are those that think it's only the chronically unemployed, under-educated, poor people who must rely on the generosity of public and nonprofit programs. It certainly isn't our family members, friends and neighbors. Man, are they mistaken.
Friday, November 19, 2010
One meal to go and our SNAP Challenge is over, but even a week of eating on such a limited budget is telling. My family is tired of peanut butter sandwiches, and my wife and I will definitely welcome back our morning coffee. But for us, the inconvenience is almost over. Tomorrow morning I can go to the grocery store – any store that I choose – and buy the items I WANT to eat, not items that will stretch the farthest. I won’t need to think about who has the lowest prices, best sales, or store specials. I can choose quality, freshness, and variety. If my family relied on SNAP benefits, that wouldn’t be the case.
This experience has pointed out something I’m embarrassed to admit - we take food for granted. For those relying on SNAP benefits, food is not a luxury. And subsisting on a limited food allowance is not an inconvenience, but a way of life. Going forward (and for the first time in my life), we will have a food budget. It won’t be as restrictive as the SNAP benefits we lived on all week, but it will have a limit. More then this, we will begin donating a portion of the money we’ll be saving on groceries each week to local food shelves and organizations like Open Arms. These are the people and organizations who know the real value of food and the important role it plays in the lives of those in need. Best of luck to the rest of you taking the SNAP Challenge this week. I hope your experience is as eye-opening as mine.
Lunch will probably be pasta and some left over ragu.
Dinner will be 2 cups of rice with sweet chili sauce.
For those of you who don't know me. I like to work out on a regular basis. which means I ususally work out 5-6 times a week. One thing I never considered before I accepted the terms of the SNAP challenge was how was my diet going to affect my workouts. I'm going to monitor my weight and how I feel during and after my workouts.
Weight 186 lbs
My Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is 1994.58. What does BMR mean? BMR means the number of calories my body burns if I were to stay in bed all day. The BMR formula uses Height, Weight, Age, and Gender to determine how many calories your body burns. In order to figure out what my body burns on a typical day I need the Harris Benedict Formula to help me. Which means multiplying my BMR by the appropriate activity factor. Since I am moderately active (exercise 3-5days a week) my formula will look like this 1994.58 x 1.55 = 3091.59. Which means my body will need on a daily basis 3091.59 calories to function properly.
If anyone is curious how many calories they burn throughout the day I have posted a link to the webiste that has a BMR calculator. This same website has a link to the Harris Benedict Equation.
If you take a look at my post from last night you will notice that my total caloric intake was about 2030 calories. You will also notice that my diet consists of very little protein which is what your body uses to help repair muscles after you workout. Last night I went for a 4 mile run and finished in about 32 minutes. I felt fine during the run, but after I finished I felt light headed and very tired. Today I'm a little sore in my legs, but nothing too bad. Tonight I am schedule to do a weight training workout. I am curious to see how I will feel during and after the workout. Stay tuned!
There is a reason for the adage – a picture is worth a thousand words. My lunch on Thursday (pictured here) consisted of a peanut butter sandwich (.07 cents), a banana (.16 cents) and a carrot (.07 cents). For .30 cents, it was a pretty nutritious meal.
Next Thursday is Thanksgiving and this year Americans will spend, on average, $45.79 for a traditional meal for a gathering of 10 people. That's a 16-pound turkey with all of the fixings, including pumpkin pie with whipped cream, for $4.58 a person.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday and I intend to enjoy every bite of my meal that day. We all should. That's what Thanksgiving is all about.
But what if every American donated just .30 cents – the cost of a peanut butter sandwich, banana and carrot – to meals on wheels or a local food shelf on Thanksgiving? If that were to happen, by the end of Thanksgiving Day more than $92 million would have been raised for hunger relief in this country. That would be one more thing to be grateful for.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Day 1 is almost in the books....
Breakfast: 2 servings of oatmeal with a little brown sugar 400 calories.
Lunch: 2 servings of oatmeal with a little brown sugar 400 calories.
Snack: 1 banana and a PB&J sandwich 560 calories.
Dinner: Pasta and pasta sauce and a banana 670 calories.
I'm extremely exhausted and still hungry. well played stomach!
Tonight was our “Looking Forward To It” dinner meal – meatloaf with ketchup/brown sugar glaze, mashed potatoes and fresh steamed broccoli. The excitement? It had to be the meat! And also the fresh vegetables. But mostly the meat – the portion sizes, the density, the amount of chewing. It was all so satisfying. Don’t get me wrong – our meat based dinners have been heartily welcomed after carb-heavy breakfasts and lunches. Roast chicken with potatoes was fine, chicken soup with homemade noodles and carrots was warm and tasty, even the frozen sausage and pepperoni pizza dinner filled a need (mostly, the need to eat quickly without a whole lot of prep). The essence of meat however was fleeting. None of these meals offered the same delectable sensation as tonight’s hunk of meatloaf. This week, after years of silence in the shadows, Meatloaf reigned as King.
So why did I have such a visceral reaction? I like meat, sure, but I'm not Mr. Carnivore. Is it all about the dynamic duo of protein and fat? Didn’t I get that with the beans-rice-cheese dinner? Maybe not enough, or maybe not the right combination?
The SNAP Challenge has opened my eyes to this fact about myself – despite 16 years of education and the resulting college degree, I don’t know very much about the general topics of basic nutrition, basic food chemistry, basic human biology. Without an understanding of those fundamentals, how could I make prudent decisions about the best combinations of food for my health with my limited weekly SNAP allowance? Why don’t I have that knowledge? Where would I expect to get it? And most importantly, who wouldn’t want me to have it? What would change if I and millions had this education?
This is where it gets all Matrix-y for me, to pull a reference from pop culture: I look around at our society, culture, norms, values, institutions, economic models, and government, and for a brief second, like Nero, I think I see and I think I don’t like what I see. “When you look into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you,” said the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.
For me, I see the SNAP Challenge as just the above-water tip of the iceberg.
Thank goodness for Open Arms and all the other organizations and individuals who have looked and not shirked from what they saw.
Since Tuesday, Max (our 11 year old, 6th grade son) has been forced to eat school lunch. He feels like he’s won the lottery.
Our thinking was that if we were on SNAP assistance, he would qualify for free and reduced lunch. He’s happy because, as much as possible, we are a tried and true home lunch family. So, aside from his happiness and delight (“This challenge is a snap!”), it gives me an opportunity to look at lunch nutrition in the Minneapolis Public Schools.
Today Max has a choice between,
Beef Nacho Grande
Refried Beans & Cheese
Turkey Salami on a Kaiser
Italian Capo Wrap
They also get to choose one(?) side of:
Shredded Lettuce and Tomatoes
It wasn’t till I hit these totals (especially the sodium) that it made me wonder how it might compare to a McDonald’s meal. Here’s how it compares to a Happy Meal: Cheeseburger, Small Fries and 250ml Chocolate Milk (and I’m just doing the totals, instead of individual breakdowns):
For lunch Max will have consumed:
McDonalds Happy Meal
Hmm. I’m just not sure how to respond to that. Do you?
We have millions of children going to school hungry who are accessing free and reduced lunches (and breakfast). So, just what are we saying to these kids? That we care enough to underwrite their lunches, but only with this “high-quality” food?
There’s a lot more I could say, but too much for this one post. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. If you’re interested, here are a number of sites that provide actionable steps to ensure that our kids can be healthy:
You can review the new Child Nutrition Bill up for signing at the end of the year:
You can sign Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution petition: http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution/petition
You can watch Feeding America’s call to congress to help hungry kids in the US:
I know that some fabulous Mom’s (and Dad’s) are working hard at Max’s old elementary school (Dowling Urban Environmental) to see if we can look at school lunch in a different way. Want to figure out if there are ways to affect change at your school? Check out the LunchBox: http://www.thelunchbox.org/
Max’s "lottery" will run out next week. Then it’s back to home lunch and green, leafy things. Think we'll hear about it?
Last week I announced in a church newsletter article that I would be joining Kevin’s SNAP challenge to live on $27.65 worth of groceries for a week. It sounded easier back then.
I decided to start my week at 8:00 pm on Wednesday evening. That means that I can officially “break my fast” next Wednesday at 8:00, which is about the time I expect the pie fest to begin at Holy Trinity following our Thanksgiving worship service. Last night was easy, since I went out for a delicious (and probably too large) Indian meal with friends at 7:00. I had some work to do at home and an early start the next day, so I decided to pick up my Raisin Bran and lunch supplies on the way to work. There’s an Aldi on
I pulled into the Aldi parking lot at 7:30 this morning with exactly $27.65 in my pocket (including a quarter for a cart). It didn’t occur to me until I saw the dim lights inside the building that Aldi wouldn’t open until 9:00. Already my plan was thrown off track. Heading back to my car, I considered ordering something from the dollar menu at McDonald’s but quickly thought better of it and drove instead to Rainbow, which was open. The cereal aisle didn’t offer anything near the price I knew I could get at Aldi, and the milk was much more expensive, too. So I ended up buying one banana for 19 cents. It wasn’t much of a breakfast, but it should tide me over until I can pick up some bread and peanut butter in a couple of hours.
So far, I’ve learned two important things:
- I’m going to have to do a much better job of planning ahead during this SNAP challenge.
- I’m not used to planning much for my meals.
__________ Information from ESET NOD32 Antivirus, version of virus signature database 5627 (20101117) __________
The message was checked by ESET NOD32 Antivirus.
My SNAP Challenge began this morning by measuring one cup of raisin bran cereal and a half a cup of skim milk to go along with it. (I actually could have used ¾ of a cup of milk, but I'm saving that quarter of a cup for later today.) The real challenge was trying to stretch my .07 of an ounce of coffee into as many cups as possible. I was able to make slightly more than two cups of coffee, though it is much weaker than I'm used to drinking. Still, it should be enough to prevent caffeine withdrawal.
It didn't take long to make my lunch: a peanut butter sandwich and one carrot. I realized this morning that my bananas are ripening much quicker than I had thought they would. I may be eating all of my bananas in the next day or two since I don't want them to go bad and I don't have the ingredients to make banana bread.
Looking at my work schedule I realized I probably won't have time to prepare the three drumsticks and pasta that was the menu for dinner. I'll have that meal later, but tonight plan on having a grilled cheese sandwich (using my "imitation" cheese) and a can of tomato soup. See, that ¼ of a cup of milk saved from my morning cereal might come in handy. I would much rather mix the tomato soup with milk than water.
Now, it's time to savor my final cup of coffee for the day.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
I’ve been wondering about the intent behind the new food stamps acronym, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). When they renamed it, where they trying to imply, “Lucky you, getting assistance and buying food will be a snap!” or where they implying, “Snap, we know this sucks, but do your best.”
I’m thinking it’s the latter.
I went home early from work yesterday. I had a headache, teetering on a migrane, and I was exhausted. Literally, I couldn’t focus on anything, and all I could do was dream of sleeping. Low energy is unusual for me, especially since we modified our eating habits to fresh, whole foods over the past five months. Here it was, only day one-and-a-half of having no coffee (because we couldn’t afford it) and eating an over abundance of carbohydrates (because we could afford it) and I was miserable. By noon that day, I had eaten four pieces of white bread between breakfast and lunch. Add to that, cereal in the morning, and I was running on not enough protein and, heaven forbid, no caffeine.
So, I went home and took three more ibuprophen, slept for an hour, then broke down and drank coffee while eating left over meat loaf from the night before (protein, yay!) I felt remarkably better, albeit guilty.
Today is a better day and I’ve rearranged some of our menu items in order to space my carbs throughout the day instead of all at once. It seems to be helping. And yes, I had coffee this morning. Sorry.
Of course, my week will come to an end and I will go back to fresh vegetables and fruits, but what about the neighbors in our community who don’t have that luxury? I’m saddened by the statistics of Minnesotans now accessing SNAP assistance: over 440,000 people this year alone, and that is up from 329,000 last year at this time. That’s not even mentioning the run on food shelves.
Simply focusing on what SNAP users are presented as options at the grocery store (based on the money they receive), how do people stay healthy living on this little each month? I’m sure many people do it, and do it well. In fact, I know many do, as I’ve heard from them already over the last couple days. And I raise my glass of water to you all.
But for me, the SNAP acronym still carries this meaning: I’m trying my best, but snap! this sucks.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Remember the old business adage: “Time, Money and Quality … pick two”? I’ve been thinking about that adage this week and seeing if it applies at all to my SNAP Challenge experience. It shockingly applies well: folks on assistance get all three, and so do our clients at Open Arms, but maybe not in the way you’d expect.
See, if I were a single parent on SNAP assistance, I most likely would be working multiple jobs to support my children (money for daycare, rent, utilities, etc.), I’d likely be transporting myself and kids via public transit, and when I was not working, my odd-hours free time would be spent riding the bus, picking up kids, cutting coupons, figuring out how my budget will stretch till payday, and doing things like … grocery shopping.
And grocery shopping is spent buying solely upon price. It’s what Mike experienced on Sunday trying to get our meals together for the week. Subconsciously he reasoned over and over, “I have X number of dollars to go X number of days. Let’s get our stomach as full as we can.” He and Amy watched these choices play out over and over with fellow grocery shoppers.
So I go back to, Time, Money and Quality. People on assistance get to pick all three: I don’t have time, I don’t have money, and so I don’t get quality.
And even though it’s tough, that scenario is manageable if you’re healthy. Now go back through the last two paragraphs and include the struggle of managing a life-threatening illness. Take your pick: HIV/AIDS, breast cancer, MS … it doesn’t matter which one; they still give you no time, no money and no quality, just to a larger degree. A life-threatening degree.
About then, I started thinking about how Open Arms fits into that equation. We prepare and deliver, free meals to people living with life-threatening disease. Time and Money … check! We also make fresh nutritious meals, many menus are organic and all are made from scratch. Quality … check! So we can provide all three, AND in the way you’d expect.
Don’t get me wrong, it still is a struggle to be on assistance and to be living with a chronic disease, help from Open Arms doesn't solve that struggle. But I’m hopeful that Open Arms can give a little breathing room just where they need it.
So when you are thinking about where to put your money today during the GiveMN “Give to the Max Day” (I know you have at least 20 emails from 20 different causes), think about which cause might provide three out of three. I’m hopeful that Open Arms will make it to the top of the pile, and that you’ll be inclined to donate the amount of money that a family of three lives on during a week while on SNAP: $59.59.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Amy is on her way home from a trip to a supermarket where they have whole chicken cooked rotisserie style for $5.99 each wkday. Other stores offer such for +/- $1.00 but only on a Tues or a Friday.
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.
My wife is Creative Director at Open Arms of Minnesota. When she first mentioned the SNAP Challenge diet that Executive Director, Kevin Winge, is undertaking, I thought it sounded like an interesting experiment. I knew that planning a menu and shopping on just $59.59 for the week wouldn’t be easy, but what took me by surprise was the emotional reaction I would have when faced with the realities of shopping on such a limited budget. Here’s how it started.
As my wife left for a day long meeting Sunday morning, she asked me to put together a menu and go shopping for the week ahead. 'No problem' I thought, as I do the majority of the shopping and food preparation for our household of three. I figured the hardest part would be keeping some variety in our daily meals. Using an allowance of $8.51/day for our family I began to decide on our weekly menu, using 3 basic criteria,: 1) I would try to prepare meals that we would typically eat, 2) I would try to use many items that we already had in our refrigerator and pantry (but count their costs towards our budget), and 3) I would limit the amount of highly processed foods I bought.
Things started off relatively easily. Over my 3rd cup of coffee of the morning (and last cup of coffee for the week) I pulled up an on-line grocery delivery website and started comparing prices and refining my meal plan. It quickly became apparent that I couldn't afford to shop on-line. Grocery ads in the Sunday paper looked more promising, but I had to change several of my meals to take advantage of sale items and weekly specials. In all, I spent about 3 hours 'planning' my shopping trip but still hadn't stepped foot inside a grocery store. I also still didn't have a complete weekly menu. I would have to wing it.
The next 2 hours in the grocery store were a lesson in frustration. Frustration at the trade-offs that were necessary to keep within budget. Frustration at spending an exorbitant amount of my time comparing prices, not ingredients. And frustration at the realization that my family and I are over-indulged spoiled shoppers and eaters. I figured that items such as coffee, and alcohol wouldn’t make the menu, but didn’t realize that other food ‘luxuries’ like fresh produce would be so difficult to work into our new diet. The longer I was there, the angrier I became.
I spent a total of $21.32 at the grocery store, and figured that the pantry items I had at home would have cost another $28.66. This leaves me with another $8.81 to cover 2 items that I need to complete my weekly meal plan: a whole rotisserie chicken and frozen pizza (a final adjustment to complete my menu).
Today is the start of our SNAP challenge week. If yesterday is any indication of things to come, it will be an interesting week.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Feeling a little anxious about my SNAP Challenge, which begins on Thursday, November 18, I had to go grocery shopping today. Dietetic interns from the
First stop was at Aldi on
Raisin Bran (20 oz.) - $1.79
Chicken Broth (32 oz.) - .99
Skim Milk (gallon) - $2.19
Macaroni & Cheese (7.25 oz.) - .29 (best bargain, but one of my least favorite foods)
Whole Wheat Pasta (12oz.) - .89
Three Yogurt Cups (6 oz. each) - $1.11 for three
Bananas (six) - .96
Margarine (16 oz.) - .59
Oat Bran Bread (loaf) – $1.19
Carrots (32 oz.) - .99 (best value/best nutrition...let's see what I think of carrots after a week)
Imitation Cheese (16 slices) - .99 (this one scares me)
Black Beans (15.5 oz.) - .59
Tomato Soup (10.75 oz.) - .49 (I hope I can mix it with milk and not water)
Vegetable Soup (10.5 oz.) - .49 (you don't pay extra for the additional sodium)
Total Spent at Aldi: $15.85
From there, it was off to the Dollar Tree where I could find only two items on the week's menu:
Spaghetti Sauce (26.5 oz.) - $1.00
Total Spent at Dollar Tree: $2.00
Missing chicken drumsticks, eggs, and a few other items resulted in a trip to a third store, Cub Foods, where I made my last purchases:
Cub Brand Canned Pears (15 oz.) - .99
Cub Brand Brown Rice (16 oz.) - .95
Medium Eggs (dozen) – 1.49
Gold'n Plump Chicken Drumsticks (six pieces) - $3.29 (This was a splurge. The Cub Brand drumsticks, usually nine for $2.97, were sold out. This surprise resulted in a significant decrease in my one extravagance for the week...coffee.)
McGarvey Coffee (two 2.5 oz. sample bags) - $2.38
Total Spent at Cub Foods: $9.10
GRAND TOTAL SPENT: $26.95
That leaves me with an additional .70 to spend on food during my SNAP Challenge week. I'm already fantasizing about another box or macaroni and cheese. And I really dislike macaroni and cheese!
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Having just eaten a delicious lunch, from the Open Arms' kitchen, now might not be the best time to look at the menu for next week's SNAP Challenge, but here goes. With some careful shopping, primarily at Aldi, but perhaps with visits to Cub and a dollar store, I will purchase $27.65 worth of groceries to live on for one week. Here's what the menu looks like:
Breakfast: 1 cup Raisin Bran, ¾ cup of skim milk and a cup of coffee
Lunch: Peanut butter & banana sandwich, a sliced carrot and a glass of water
Dinner: Chicken & pasta (one cup spaghetti with three drumsticks and ½ cup
Snack: One six-ounce serving of yogurt…and water
Breakfast: One or two eggs, two slices of toast with peanut butter and coffee
Lunch: Leftover chicken & pasta (one cup spaghetti with two drumsticks and ½ cup sauce), a sliced carrot…and water.
Dinner: Grilled cheese sandwich (wheat bread at Aldi for .99 a loaf), a can of tomato soup, one cup of milk…and water
Snack: Banana…and water
Breakfast: One cup Raisin Bran, ¾ cup of milk and coffee
Lunch: Peanut butter & banana sandwich, ½ can of pears…and water
Dinner: Spaghetti with ground turkey (one cup spaghetti and ¾ cup sauce), two steamed carrots, one cup of milk…and water
Snack: My second six-ounce yogurt…and water
Breakfast: One or two eggs, two slices of toast with peanut butter and coffee
Lunch: Leftover Spaghetti (one cup spaghetti with ¾ cup sauce), ½ can of pears…and water
Dinner: Macaroni & cheese, two chicken drumsticks, ½ cup frozen vegetables, one cup of milk…and water
Snack: One sliced carrot…and water
Breakfast: One cup Raisin Bran, ¾ cup of milk and coffee
Lunch: Leftover macaroni & cheese, one or two sliced carrots…and water
Dinner: Grilled cheese sandwich, a can of vegetable soup, one cup of milk…and water
Snack: My second banana…and water
Breakfast: One cup Raisin Bran, ¾ cup of milk and coffee
Lunch: Peanut butter & banana sandwich, a sliced carrot…and water
Dinner: Brown rice and black bean casserole (one – one-and-a-half cups), one cup of milk…and water
Snack: My third, and final, six-ounce yogurt…and water
Breakfast: 3-4 slices of French toast with the leftover pear juice substituting for syrup, one veggie omelet and coffee
Lunch: Leftover brown rice and black bean casserole…and water
Dinner: Two drumsticks, one cup brown rice, 2 steamed carrots, one cup of milk…and water
Snack: My third, and final, banana…and water
Next Day – Thanksgiving
Eat whatever I want and be very thankful.