Tuesday, November 18, 2008

End-of-the-week thoughts

I have to admit that I cheated at the end. I had a friend in town from SF and we went out drinking, which is, of course, not in the budget/not allowed as a food stamp purchase. I spent more in one night than I did all week.

Other than that, I think I did a decent job. I ate 3-4 meals a day with snacks of fruit & pb (although sometimes my "snacks" were pretty hefty, so that might count as a 5th meal). I actually have plenty of leftover food -- I probably could stretch the budgeted amount to 1.5-2 weeks of food. (I suppose then you'd get into the problem of keeping food fresh or multiple grocery store trips?) I even stayed away from all the free food at school.

I now have a better understanding of the food stamp "challenge" -- staying healthy while buying inexpensive foods that won't take too long out of a busy working schedule to prepare (and not grabbing a quick meal take-out!) and not being able to buy non-food necessities like toilet paper and whatnot on the government funding.

- grace

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reflections on this past week

I typically shop for sales at Kroger and Meijer anyway, so although I figured this would definitely be a challenge, I wasn't necessarily expecting to go hungry. Kroger was having fantastic sales last weekend, and so I started my week with the following:

-a box of cereal
-soy milk
-half a pound of deli turkey
-two loaves of bread (thanks to buy one get one free!)
-a head of iceburg lettuce
-five bananas
-two apples
-a package of chicken breast
-a box of value spaghetti
-spaghetti sauce
-Jiffy corn muffin mix
-a dozen eggs
-a frozen pizza
-a bag of plain tortilla chips

All of that cost me about $26. I made the assumption that at some point in the past I would have bought basic cooking oil, salt and pepper, but other than that didn't use any condiments.

Breakfast and lunch were really not a challenge at all, although I did get tired of eating plain tortilla chips every day. Also, milk goes a much longer way when mixed with water after adding it to cereal (tricks from my childhood). Dinners, however, were just not satisfying. I alternated between chicken with corn muffins, and plain spaghetti. Often times I would end up making myself an egg sandwich with lettuce late in the evening to make it seem like I was eating vegetables. I must admit, I had $3 to spare and ended up spending it on two junior bacon cheeseburgers and fries at Wendy's. So, it was my choice to not buy vegetables, but for that lunch at least it was worth it! For the rest of the week, however...I'm feeling a bit nutrient deficient at this point.

I also have to confess that I went to a club Friday night, and ended up buying two pieces of pizza from NYPD at 3am, which cost $6. Ridiculous to think that one snack cost almost one-fifth of the total I spent on food for the week.

Anyway, this week left me wondering how being a single person on food stamps might be different than if I were part of a family on food stamps--because depending on how food stamps are actually distributed (is it weekly or monthly?), the ability to buy a larger variety of foods is definitely limited for single individuals. And finally, as a public health student and someone who usually exercises often, it hit home that food restrictions are going to have a large impact on someone's willingness and ability to exercise, which of course has important implications for health--both in the short- and long-term.

I will say that I was the only one of my friends participating in this challenge, and it sparked some interesting conversations when I told people what I was doing. Everyone thought it was a great idea, and many expressed that they plan on doing it at some point in the future because they thought it was a really important perspective to have. I agree with them 100%.

In the end, I went over budget by about $1.50 for the week. I shopped at Kroger b/c it's like the (one) grocery store in my home town (where lots of folks are on food stamps).

My personal goals were to find some cheaper foods that I normally don't eat and to eat relatively healthy. My hypothesis for the challenge was that processed foods would, in the end, actually be more expensive, so I stuck relatively close to what I normally eat/make. What I didn't anticipate was that I would be hungry between meals!

(I did actually cheat Sat nght when I went out with friends for dinner at a super cute place in Detroit... I spent over $30 for one night of dining out (with alcohol) - hah! My calculations for the week assume that I had left overs I'll have tomorrow.)

What I learned (that I didn't know before)
* I probably get 1/3 of my calories (usually) from snacking on "bad" stuff like sweets - I completely removed this from my diet this week.
* Because I couldn't afford to snack between meals, I was hungry, especially in the afternoon and late evening...I think I was actually potentially healthier but I was short a few calories - aside from nutrition I think this is probably the biggest challenge for people on food stamps
* Many of the meals I make ARE under $2 a serving (even with spices)! But I normally eat things between meals that may cost more than my meals...
* My sweet tooth can be satisifed by grapes, sweet potatoes, and other sweet things that are actually good for you.
* Sometimes my taste buds are hungry when my stomach is not. (o:
* I spend as much on lunch as I do on dinners.
* I was cognizant of the fact that others had money to go out to grab dinner or a snack if they were hungry and pressed for time and that I couldn't. It made me want to be one of them.
* Oatmeal is significantly cheaper than the cereals I like and a great way to save money (and be healthy).
* Cheese is relatively filling and I don't need much to no longer feel hungry.
* Carrots are REALLY cheap; canned tomatoes, broccoli, and sweet potatoes are cheap; feta and summer sqush (currently) are expensive
* One serving of most vegetables is under $1
* I normally buy really expensive lettuce in a box, but romaine hearts are a cheaper way to go
* Half a box of mac and cheese with two servings of nutritious veggies is about $2
* On a limited income you really can't afford vegetables and fruits to go bad...which maybe one really good reason to stick with mostly canned or frozen items.
* Eating out is more expensive than I thought: one meal at $15 after tax/tip = more than 3 days of 3 meals on my diet for the week.

What I'd really like to find out about from others:
* Are processed foods like Ravioli in a can or spaghetti sauce (without added meat) on pasta or freezer meals ACTUALLY chaper than making a dinner (than say tofu veggie stirfry with rice)? My mac and cheese dinner did seem to be...
* Do these processed foods fill you up more? What types of food stick with you so you're not hungry after an hour? I didn't find that vegetables with carbs really did.
* Are there any other REALLY cheap veggies (or fruits?)

If I (me, not someone else) were really on food stamps, my actual goal would be to find foods with high nutrition and (sustaining) calories per $.

I'm interested in hearing about others' experiences/thoughts on Wed!


Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm glad this is almost over. I finally ate a meal that wasn't in a box last night and it was oh so good, I'm gonna take my leftovers for lunch today. Being able to buy food whenever and wherever you want is definitely a luxury that many people take for granted. But as someone mentioned in a previous blog its not always about food that makes living difficult. Its the other stuff like toilet tissue, toothpaste, laundry detergent, etc that one can't afford to get.


Thursday, November 13, 2008


Today was my last day of participation in the food stamp challenge. Tomorrow, I shall go with my 8 year old son to New York, and I don't want to impose the constraints of the food stamp challenge on my son. 

The food stamp challenge has been a very interesting and overall very positive experience for me. Honestly, I have found it relatively easy to manage. During the past four days, I have sometimes felt a little weak, and I had one headache, but most of the time I felt more healthy than normal. I think this is because I had no alcohol, less caffeine, and because I cooked all my food myself rather than eating out. I felt cravings at times, but I don't think I have been really hungry. I did lose a little weight, though.

I think I approached the food stamp challenge as an exercise in mindfulness: paying attention to what my body really needs, buying and preparing food carefully, and not wasting anything. I hope that I can turn some of this mindfulness into longer term habits. 

I don't think I gained a realistic feeling for what it is like to live on food stamps. All circumstances of my life were very comfortable during this period. I had the time needed, and a very large kitchen, to prepare my food carefully. I was able go to stores such as Whole Foods to buy exactly what I wanted.  People who have to live on food stamps all the time will have a much more difficult time.

Thank you for sharing experiences on this blog, and good luck to everyone who continues for the remaining three days. 

Tilman Borgers 
Yes! It is so tough to pass up the free food... I accidentally took some snacks that were being given out in one of my classes without even thinking about it. I was halfway done eating my free chips and popcorn before I realized that I shouldn't have taken them! Oops... soo, I'm going to subtract another dollar from my total. Good thing I reserved a little.

About the free food... how interesting that we, many of us people of privilege, have all this access to free snacks, free coffee, free meals. Yet people who are actually struggling with getting enough to eat don't have that. Or the places they can get food (e.g. churches, other agencies) carry a stigma, might be hard to access via public transport, or require a ridiculous amount of paperwork...

- Sarah

Struggling, but Surviving

Hi all,

I just figured out how to post, but I'm also on day four of the challenge. I saw that other people bought their groceries at once, so I tried to do the same with less success. See, in my home (which I am the only one doing the challenge,) my girlfriend usually makes the grocery list if we are buying to eat for an extended period of time. Since I shopped on my on, I kinda panicked and bought some canned veggies (corn, spinach,) fruit (peaches, fruit cocktail,) spaghetti stuff and rice-a-roni type deals. When I was done shopping, I went over by like 50 cents, because of a discrepancy over a sale. Anyways, I have run into two problems: first, I'm vegan, so it is difficult for me to get enough protein without getting my soy products (didn't think about tofu at the time.) Two, I bought two rice dinners (red beans and rice and black eyed peas and rice) that had beef and chicken fat in them (which I didn't see at first.) So, I had to swap those dinners out with enough ramen noodle packages so that the money would be equal. I'm definitely not eating as well as I'm used to, but I think I can make it alright until Sunday. Although I have always been aware of the struggle that welfare recipients go through, but it's really hard to be a vegan and be on this budget.

Is it just me, or has everyone been invited to an unbelievable amount of lunches, dinners and have been offered more food than ever before? Or maybe it's my hunger talking....

~Jason Smith