Feeding My Family Is Not A SNAP
Wholesome Wave Georgia is sponsoring a SNAP Challenge this week. (SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the challenge is to eat on the average SNAP benefit of $4.17/person/day for a week.) My family has decided to take part (well, really, I decided on behalf of my family). I’m planning to write about our experience daily, and I look forward to the conversations that will arise from it. Having read several other blogs from folks who have taken the challenge, I realize this has been a hot topic for some and there have been some pretty heated words thrown across the internet about it. Let me say, sharing your grocery receipts and letting others catch a glimpse of the way you relate to food is risky business. We need not judge one another. The whole idea of the challenge is to help build compassion and understanding. Let’s please share our thoughts with one another. There needs to be a broad conversation about creating healthy, sustainable food systems that are accessible to all. In our talking, commenting, and writing, let’s work for understanding and creativity and compassion.
Two weeks ago, a friend who runs a local farmer’s market passed along a SNAP challenge opportunity. Since then, I have been talking with my husband and kids about taking part. It’s been a challenge just to convince my two teenaged sons that this is a worthwhile effort and they won’t starve (but they WILL have to eat what I put on the table). My husband, on the other hand, is pretty excited about the thought of me spending so much less at the grocery store. Preparing for the Challenge has led me to do some looking at our patterns of shopping and eating. What sort of changes would I have to make to feed my family of 4 on $16.68 per day, or $116.76 for the week?
First, let’s start with where we are:
- We like to eat. We have favorite meals, and the table is a very important part of our family life. If I mess around with Midweek Mexican, there will be a revolt.
- At the moment, my boys’ sports schedules are tame. This means we have time to cook and to eat together at home. A month ago, there was a lot of drive-thru in our lives. A trip to Chick-fil-A puts us way over a daily budget of $16.68. This week, we might be able to manage a Little Caesar’s $5 pizza if things get hairy.
- My husband and I are trying to lose weight and overhaul our eating habits. For him, this means a low carb diet. For me, it means starting the day with a green smoothie and making sure there are plenty of fruits and vegetables on my plate. I could spend our entire weekly budget buying meat and nuts for him and fruits and vegetables for me in a heartbeat. That 21 day detox I was thinking of? Not going to happen.
- We’ve been working our way into integrating more organic products and pastured meat and eggs into our grocery budget. It’s expensive. I’ll visit the farmer’s market later in the week where I will take advantage of Wholesome Wave’s double SNAP benefits program. We’ll see how far that will get us, but I’m pretty sure it’s going to be tough to stretch even $8.34/person into enough organic and pastured food to feed us all for a day.
So I’ve been searching the grocery ads and plugging numbers into my calculator to determine the costs for the basics of our diet. If I can automate breakfast and lunch, then I have the opportunity to think through dinner options.
Here’s my plan for breakfast:
- Scrambled Eggs with Cheese for the 3 males in my house ($1.71)
- An orange for me ($.33)
- Milk for one son (organic – $.37/8oz)
- Coffee for the other ($.45 with cream and sugar)
- Sparkling water with lemon for me and my husband ($.66)
Daily Budget Remaining: $13.16
I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking through this plan – and I realize time is a luxury. Even now, I’m sitting at my desk at work finishing this blog. What mom on SNAP can get away with that at work? But time is just the first of the luxuries we take for granted. For the past year, we have been quite intentional about planning meals and spending less at the grocery store. Even still, when I see the total pop up on the cash register, it’s always a surprise to me. I’m not that person who can keep a running tally in her head while she shops. I’m much too distracted by the new product on the end cap to pay super-close attention to the cost of what is going in the cart. And when I go over what I thought I wanted to spend, I don’t have to put things back. There’s enough cushion in our bank account to swing it. For many of my neighbors on SNAP it just doesn’t work that way.
So before I ever go to the grocery store and farmer’s market, the real challenge of the week is to pay attention. Pay attention to how we shop and spend and eat. Pay attention to the role of food in our lives. Pay attention to the comforts that provide a buffer between our daily existence and the stressors many of my neighbors bear every day.
And then I pray that the attentiveness helps us see ourselves and the world around us.
In seeing, may we then give thanks for luxuries we fail to notice and begin to work to change the habits in our own lives and in the structures in our society that mean that too many of us are hungry, too many of us are fat, and too many of us trade nutrition for feeling full – some of us because we have to and some of us because we just do.