This challenge is meant to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by families who have fallen on hard times and have to rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program called SNAP – more commonly known as food stamps – to put food on the table. Last year, SNAP helped feed 1.8 million Michiganians.
For my SNAP challenge, I pledged to voluntarily limit my food consumption to what can be obtained with the average SNAP grant in Michigan – just $136 per person per month, or $30.73 per week. I had a choice of doing this for any amount of time, from a single day to a full month. I pledged seven days, but I honestly didn’t last two days without cheating.
One of the most frustrating aspects of surviving on a SNAP budget is having to choose between a relatively healthy menu that includes fresh produce but which may leave you hungry; or a more filling but unhealthy menu consisting of highly processed foods. This is truly an either/or proposition; the average SNAP benefit will not let you choose both, healthy and filling.
Since I was able to find many veggies on sale at the grocery store, I went with a healthier menu that totaled $32.37 ($1.66 over my budget, but close enough).
Here is what I bought:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal and tea.
- Lunch: Lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms and dressing for salad; bread and butter for toast.
- Dinner: My meals were to consist of either scrambled eggs with toast, or PB&J (minus the J), or a frozen dinner, each with a banana on the side.
- Snack: Grapes.
The hunger got to me on the first day. A small breakfast and lunch, with only a handful of grapes as my one snack left me feeling famished and wanting to grab a cupcake from my local bakery. (I did resist that one day.) The scrambled eggs, toast and banana for dinner were much more filling.
Breakfast, lunch and snack were the exact same on the second day, and just like the first, I was starving by 3 p.m. By the end of business day, I could not resist the candy bowl at the office, so I told myself that cheating was OK, since I already knew surviving on SNAP is very hard. Dinner that day was a very depressing PB-no-J sandwich and a banana.
The third and fourth days were pretty much like the second: Same breakfast, lunch and snack; same feeling of lingering hunger throughout the day; cheating with office snacks; a depressing frozen dinner and a banana on the third day, and outright cheating on the fourth day (it was girls night out!)
The Lessons Learned and Lessons that Should Be Learned
Surviving on a SNAP budget is very tough. It requires diligent menu planning; choosing what’s on sale, rather than what we would prefer to eat; eating boring meals; and enduring significant sacrifices, be it eating healthy but going hungry, or eating meals that will tame hunger but which will compromise our future health.
While SNAP benefits are very modest, these (as well as benefits from other safety net programs) do prevent the abject poverty of many families. In fact, last year SNAP helped 46 million people and raised 4 million out of poverty.
Given their latest efforts to decouple the nutrition title from the Farm Bill, and their proposal to slash funding for food assistance, the House Republican leadership should take on the SNAP challenge, even if it is for just three days.
If they knew just how difficult it can be to survive on SNAP, and if they paid attention to data suggesting the effectiveness of this program in reducing poverty, they might reconsider their efforts to cut this program by close to $40 billion over 10 years.
— Yannet Lathrop