Time for a mid-week reality check. The jug of milk has started to go sour. The fat in the leftover ground beef we cooked with last night’s spaghetti sauce has congealed into a bright orange slick. I may have just busted my budget by opening a Dollar Tree bag of Twizzlers I discovered in the pantry.
And I hate oatmeal.
I’m halfway through the SNAP* Challenge, trying to eat adequately and healthfully while spending no more than $31.50 for the entire week. At the beginning I was confident I could manage easily, but quickly learned how tricky it is plan, shop, budget and adapt to this way of thinking. Everything I typically buy is eligible, right? Not if I want a marked down rotisserie chicken at the end of a long workday. Hot foods aren’t allowed and neither are foods that can be eaten in the store.
Then there are the leftovers, unavoidable if you’re trying to get by on a food stamp budget. You can’t indulge in single-serving foods, so you’ll be looking at staples such as legumes and grains repeatedly on your plate. If you can afford fresh vegetables, you’ll need to prepare them early in the week and try to stretch them out. If you wait too long to cook them, some will certainly spoil. Tonight, leftover beef goes into a soft tortilla with tabouli on the side.
How often do we reach into a cupboard for some small item – garlic or Jell-O or just plain salt – without thinking twice about it? Canned soup, a bag of chips, pancake syrup: walking past but not having enough money to purchase these items at the grocery store has been peculiar and uncomfortable. Not because of any actual deprivation I’ve experienced, of course, but because it’s more tedious and frustrating than I want to admit, constantly calculating each item’s cost against that dwindling $31.50.
Actor Josh Malina is also taking the SNAP Challenge, and blogging about it. “I’m not necessarily hungry, but I’m finding myself thinking about food a lot. It’s something I normally take for granted,” he wrote on Wednesday.
And that’s the most startling thing about the seven-day experiment. It makes a person realize not simply how much we take for granted, but how habituated we can become to our own comfortable circumstances. Which got me to wondering: Just how many people currently rely on aid from SNAP?
The answer in North Carolina alone: 2.2 million.
*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.
Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.