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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The SNAP Challenge Part 2

In the post "The SNAP Challenge Part 1" I introduced the SNAP challenge.  In case you forgot, here's what it's about:

The SNAP challenge is a very simple concept. People who accept the challenge are asked to only eat food they could afford if they were relying the US federal government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This works out to about $4.50 a day.

Here are the rules:
1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge days. That amount is $4.50 for all food and beverage.
2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge days, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout your days.
6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

You can do the SNAP challenge anytime and you can also take action anytime.

During the month of September, a group of friends joined me in taking the SNAP Challenge. One mom of three in my neighborhood decided to put a special spin on it by taking the challenge as someone with celiac disease, which is a reality for two of her children. She provided some excellent details and I want to share many of them here.

I want to eat what I consider "real food," that is food with minimal ingredients. I may have taken the “SNAP Challenge” as a kid, without even knowing it.  The program wasn't called SNAP then. 
I was shopping at Target for the usual food staples.  In the cereal aisle, I spotted a box of Life cereal on sale for $2.50!  I figured that could cover breakfast, assuming a box consists of many portions.  I made the purchase, and highlighted the price on the receipt with pride.  Then I realized that Life is mostly made of gluten; I forgot my personal challenge guidelines. 
Whole Foods is our typical grocery store.  We’re a vegetarian family with two celiac kids, so it just makes sense. I scooped some into a bag from the bulk bin and weighed them.  I’ve never weighed food in a store before. I went with onion [to season the lentils].  
Walking through the rest of the store was somewhat depressing.  While I only signed up for three days of the challenge, the challenge guidelines made me feel guilty for wanting more expensive items.  We didn’t buy very much food this trip, certainly less than we normally do. At the checkout, the cashier asked what type of onion we were buying.  I forgot what type it was.  I had to say “the cheapest.”   
For breakfast, I had a banana with peanut butter (86c). If we weren’t rushing to get everyone out of the door I would have tried to enjoy each bite.  At work, I had tea (16c); I skipped my beloved morning coffee drink which is typically the biggest motivator for getting out of bed.  For lunch, it was gluten free ramen ($1.50).  This was my only prepared food and it was the most expensive meal of the day.  By dinner, I was cranky.  I had a headache.  Still, I managed to make a spotted rooster like dish for 78c per person.   I would normally use bell peppers for this dish instead of tomatoes, but bell peppers are way too expensive for a SNAP budget.After dinner, I was still cranky and I still had a headache.  I wanted to eat chocolate.  I wanted coffee. 
I’m trying to figure out what I want to prove here.  Do I want to show that you can in fact eat fresh foods (and even gluten free) on a limited budget? This required a lot of planning on my part.  The challenge is difficult on its own, without adding these extra constraints.   
I abandoned my gluten free commitment for the SNAP Challenge on the 2nd and 3rd day.  (I ate gluten!) I took a late lunch today, a 61c Morningstar Farms vegetarian sausage patty.  I heated it and returned to my desk, ready to leisurely enjoy every bit.  A problem at work pulled me away from my tiny lunch and I was angry; I just wanted to enjoy my tiny meal.
My husband and I were more short tempered than usual with the kids.  After work, we attended a planning committee meeting to try to prevent a new residential community adjacent to our neighborhood with the kids.  Again, I was very cranky by the end of the day.  

After participating in the SNAP challenge for a few days, my friend and her son when to an event
supporting gluten free food items for local food banks. She admitted that they donated many more items than they would have before the challenge.
Final Thoughts - It’s a relief to be done with this project and I only participated for three days.  That’s 3 days out of 365 in the year.  I wonder how people can function long-term while being hungry.  Do you just get used to it?  Does it affect their ability to function within their family unit and their communities?  Does it impact their ability to improve their financial situation? It has made me feel spoiled, wasteful, and guilty.  
Those last three words of her notes have really stuck with me. I completely understand those feelings. And I think they are reasonable feelings. But I also know this woman is a good, kind, caring person and she's not to blame for the insanity of this challenge. And I'm grateful for her honesty.

I hope reading this post and Part 1 has given you enough motivation to take action. You can donate, volunteer, or speak out. Which one will you choose?

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