It’s Hunger Action Month! Consider helping GardenShare raise awareness and understanding of hunger and poverty issues this week – or any day(s) or week(s) this month – by taking the SNAP Challenge. I did it last week – shopping and eating on $4.60/person/day. Here’s a snapshot of how it went and what I learned:
- It wasn’t terrible, I didn’t starve. I had enough to eat, but I sometimes felt like what I was eating wasn’t the healthiest and didn’t make me feel great, like cheerios for breakfast and peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. That’s a lot of carbs!
- Shopping on a very limited budget is challenging and nerve-wracking. Because I was buying for only one, I wanted/needed small quantities; all the “deals” and good prices were for the “family size.” And even if you were feeding a family, the large sizes really add up and take a chunk out of your budget.
- Sugary, high-carb food tends to be cheap. I had pb&j for lunch all week (which I will admit was a treat at first). It was affordable, but monotonous and not my healthiest choice. I did avoid mac and cheese and ramen, which are really cheap and filling options.
- Friends can help! One friend brought me peaches as a thank you and another gave me a cabbage and a couple of spaghetti squash that were surplus from a prison garden. They were amazing treats and great supplements to my diet.
- Another boon (and one might say slight cop out!): a senior friend asked me to drive her to a doctor’s appointment. On the way home she offered to take me out to lunch. Bam! Protein – an amazing smoked chicken sandwich on hearty multigrain bread. What a treat (and nice change from pb&j!). Also, my periodic minimum-wage job – bartending at the Bucc – offers a free meal for a full shift. I don’t usually take advantage of that, but last week the juicy hamburger was much appreciated! I had anticipated taking advantage of free will meals in our community – Campus Kitchen on Monday and Methodist church on Wednesday, but these two “free meals” helped get me through.
- I had read suggestions on SNAP Challenge and low-budget meals (Good and Cheap is a great resource no matter your budget). In the end, I was sorry I had followed some of their advice though; I could have done without pasta, bread, cereal and relied on more vegetables and fruit.
- I’ve never been more convinced of the value of GardenShare’s Bonus Bucks program and SNAP/EBT options at farmers markets. The food from my CSA (for which I could receive a subsidy if I were a SNAP recipient, and even if I wasn’t but needed some help) carried me through the week. Tomatoes, squash, greens, eggplant all made for delicious, healthy, and still affordable meals.
- I only grow tomatoes and some herbs, but this time of year you could live off a small garden, even a few things grown in pots would add substantially – and healthfully – to any meal plan. Local bounty is plentiful and nutritious, everyone should have that option.
- When I described my challenge to my son, who lives in a co-op with eight others in Seattle, he reminded me that their meal budget is $3.25/person/day (in Seattle!). That just shows what you can do if you have the benefit of bulk buying, if you can muster enough money up front – on your own or combined among roommates – and have enough mouths to feed or space to store it so it doesn’t go bad. A small garden and an army of eager gardeners doesn’t hurt!
All in all, taking the SNAP Challenge accomplished its goal. I felt first hand the strains of shopping and eating on a very limited budget. As a mother, I couldn’t help think how much more difficult it would have been if I’d been managing a job, three young children, and their full schedules and hungry tummies. I recognize more clearly the barriers to affordable and nutritious meals - and the importance of GardenShare’s work to ensure “healthy farms, healthy food, everybody eats.”