Monday, September 11, 2017

Guest blogger: SNAP Challenge Reflections

The President of GardenShare's Board of Directors, Carol Pynchon, continues her reflections on this exercise.  Read her earlier posts here.

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.”

-Carol Pynchon