I’m taking the CHS (Community Human Services) Food Stamp Challenge this week. Live on a $6.50 food budget per day. Sounds easy? Not if you want to eat healthy.
I’m a vegetarian by choice. Seems like my budget should be low. Nope. The healthier I try to eat, the more expensive it becomes. I only drink water (and coffee in the mornings), so that cuts down that area of the budget.
Day 1. I cheated and bought some of the food “take-out”. Because I procrastinated and didn’t plan today’s meal.
AM: 1 serving cottage cheese and a bagel, plain; coffee with generic brand flavored creamer.
Cost: about $1.80
Lunch: A veggie sub w/cheese from Sheetz. Bought a 12 inch so I could have the other 6 inch for dinner
Evening snack: 3 pretzel rods and a banana.
Cost: $0.47 Total for the day: 1.80+3.98+.47= $6.25 ($0.25 under budget and about 300 calories under the suggested 1200 calorie intake.)
No breakfast as I ran out the door for a meeting. Which is good because I spent
$2.47 X 2 on coffee since we met at The Coffee Tree and it would have seemed weird to not get coffee. I could say it was a business expense, but if I was living on a tight budget, that would have been my reality.
Lunch was however paid for at the next meeting. Thankfully.
Ate the non-meat sides from the meal I made my children. High in carbs, low in protein. Added a salad.
My portion of the cost- about $2.00.
A package of cheese crackers as a snack later- $.50
Total for the day- $7.44 (.$94 over budget)
I wake up hungry. I do not usually want to eat right away, but today I do.
Cereal with milk- $0.75 Banana- about $.27 Coffee with creamer. Total- $1.72
Lunch- MSF Chix patty on a Sandwich Thin with sprinkle of grated cheese. Cost: $1.65
Dinner- I forgot to write it down. And by Thursday I was so tired, cranky and hungry, that I just can’t remember what I ate.
Snack, Nutella on 4 pieces/(1)Graham cracker- about $.23 Total w/o dinner- $3.60
You get the idea of how I had to keep track of every bite I had, so I’m going to let that part go and tell you what happened now.
You see, I was getting hungry and tired. It was so frustrating to not just be able to go grab something from the cupboard and eat. Trying to dollar out every meal, every choice was nerve wracking.
And if you think this isn’t the way it is for people eating on a budget, if you think they are so lucky because their budget is provided with food stamps- DON’T.
It’s exhausting worrying about making the best choices for nutrition this way. By Friday, I almost gave up. I have personally had this struggle before- where I maybe only had an extra $40 to put a week’s worth of groceries on the table for 5 of us. I did not put my kids through that again, but I chose to do it because I think it reminds me to be humble now that times are better.
The hardest part was trying to eat healthy. If you put a lot of forethought into it and really work at buying things that can be used multiple days during the week, it is possible. Sort of. Fresh foods cost more and run out more quickly. But it is time consuming and like most people, we have a busy life here. I spent so much time focused on food.
By Friday, I had no salad components, the fruit was gone and I was feeling fatigued and stressed out from calculating how to feel full on a budget. And, other than those crackers, I had no budget to buy anything “sweet” or “snacky.”
It did not feel good to go to bed hungry every night.
By Saturday, when the offer was made to take me to lunch during PodCamp, I was almost in tears from hunger. It just so happened that the week of the Challenge, I had people offer to take me out to eat. I would not have been able to do that if I had really been dealing with poverty issues. But, I felt guilty that my $14+ tab at Tavern 245(double my budget for the whole day) had been picked up. So…
I ate breakfast on Sunday because I knew I had to be sharp-minded to present my PodCamp session. But, I skipped lunch because had I needed to pay for it, my week’s budget had already been busted. It sucked to not be able to join with the other #pcpgh6 -ers like I wanted. It felt horrible to not be able to socialize through a meal with such a fun and intelligent group of people. But, I had taken the challenge and had that been my reality, I would have lost out on that social situation.
If you have never done a food stamp challenge, you do not need to be invited by a group to do it. I challenge you to do it on your own. Can you make it through even 3 or 4 days?
On Monday, when I could eat as I wanted, the relief was so great and the stress so reduced, that I could function again and had a very productive week. It’s amazing what hunger does to a person.
If you are reading this, you might be hungry.
Please read the following, from Adam MacGregor of Just Harvest, and find out how you can help yourself or others who find themselves unable to feed their families right now by visiting the Just Harvest Website. The US is a mess and we need to help one another and ensure that those we elect understand the needs of their communities.
Nearly One in Four of Allegheny County’s Households with Children Report Inability to Afford Enough Food
Newly released report shows that region’s rate of hunger follows national trend
Across the four congressional districts in Allegheny County, nearly 25 percent of families with children have reported that they have not been able to afford needed food over the past year, according to a report released yesterday by the Washington D.C.-based Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
The report, titled Food Hardship in America, separately examines food hardship rates – the inability to afford enough food – for households with children and without children nationally and in every state, every Congressional District and 100 of the country’s largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas. The full report is available at the following link: http://frac.org/pdf/aug2011_food_hardship_report_children.pdf
The analysis shows that food hardship rates are very high both for households with children and for households without children. Nationally over 2009 – 2010, the food hardship rate for households without children was 14.9 percent, and it was 23.4 percent for families with children.
Allegheny County comprises Congressional districts 4, 12, 14 and 18. The average rate of food hardship among households with children the districts is 21 percent, ranging from 17.5 percent in District 18 (Tim Murphy) to 25.4 percent in District 14 (Michael Doyle), which includes the city of Pittsburgh.
Tara Marks, Co-Director of Just Harvest (a Southside-based nonprofit that has been working since 1986 to eliminate hunger and poverty in our region) noted that the FRAC report’s findings illustrates the disproportionate, devastating effect that the recession has had upon low-income families. And, it serves to underscore the gravity of the task facing the newly formed Debt-Reduction Super-committee, of which Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is a member.
“As advocates for poor people in our region, we hope that Senator Toomey will take these numbers into consideration in the inevitable discussion over whether to cut funding to essential public safety-net programs like SNAP [the Supplemental nutritional assistance program, formerly known as ‘food stamps’] or TANF [temporary assistance to needy families],” said Marks. “Programs that protect the poorest and most vulnerable Americans must remain off the bargaining table in these debt-reduction proceedings.”
Yesterday’s report is part of FRAC’s ongoing Food Hardship in America series, which analyzes data that were collected by Gallup and provided to FRAC. The data were gathered as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index project, which has interviewed more than one million households since January 2008. FRAC has analyzed responses to the question: “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?”
Simply Put- How hungry are we?