One family’s SNAP Challenge Experience - Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank

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One family’s SNAP Challenge Experience

Posted on: July 2nd, 2013 by Kashif No Comments

Could you feed yourself on just $3.25 per day?

Many low income households are forced to do just that and survive on food stamps.

In order to better understand their plight and challenges, a few brave souls attempt to live on a budget of under $4 a day (the allowance provided under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP)

This is the story of one local family who is taking on the food stamp challenge to see what it would like to live on a limited budget. If you want to learn more about trying the challenge, you can learn more about it here.


SNAP Food Challenge – Day 1

Today was a hiking day and we were not prepared with food. Using our combined daily allowance for Kaimyn and me, we bought bread, cheese, mustard, and two roma tomatoes.

Everything was on sale. We wanted fruit – since it is summer and the peaches & nectarines looked great. Our budget could not cover fruit!

Made it to the hiking trail and sat on a bench to make our… mustard-cheese sandwich. Buck thought I was laying out bread on my lap for him so he stole it! That was 64 cents worth of food!

Dinner was dried beans, rice, onion, another tomato (at 50 cents each), dash of salt, and half a leftover cucumber.

By the way, coffee is out! Used one tea bag several times per day and then plain water.


- like fried onions over beans & tomato
- love tea and happy to return to it
- dog, cat, and chickens would starve if this were true
- mom and kiddo were hungry and lacked energy

SNAP Food Challenge – Day 2 (back to work)

Tea bags are cheaper in the large box but my weekly budget does not support purchasing the larger amount. We are realizing that the more people supported in the house, the better our food budget. Maybe this would diminish after say 5 or more people in one house attempted to live off of SNAP. I won’t know because my kiddo went to her dads for this week and Mr. Jeffie is being a big poop about this challenge. One person on a SNAP budget does not work so well.

After a breakfast of tea, 4 oz plain yogurt, and sprinkle of toasted oatmeal, I was hungry and dragging by noon. No budget for a mid morning snack. A bit dazed, I walked to grocery store to find fruit – lucky for me, one banana came to 25 cents! Amazingly, that helped me stretch out my cheese and mustard sandwich for the afternoon.

I hoped to buy a whole chicken and piece it up for the week. I’m afraid because I know that I am running out of cheese and can’t afford any more or any peanut butter. The $10 chicken will take the rest of my weekly allotment. I’ll go with the dried black beans and maybe splurge on a small amount of chicken on Friday.

OH – here is the kicker. I am checking out at Safeway and the cashier asks whether I want to donate to cancer research. I said I already told the card machine that I did not. He pushed quite hard about doing the donation at the point of sale. The man behind me glared at me. They must have thought my $7.00 total was too cheap.

SNAP Food Challenge – Day 3

Ouch! One painful belly today.

I couldn’t bear to be without veggies again so I stopped by Albertson’s on the way home. A few more choices though still don’t grasp how one is supposed to afford the non-edibles like toilet paper and dish soap.

Since I’m down to $8.00, I opted for one small broccoli crown (the whole head might have been more affordable but I could not find any…), two brown mushrooms (even though they cost an enormous amount by weight, they weigh only ounces), and a small onion. Stir fried this with a 1/4 cup of brown rice. I feel somewhat better now.

Almost cried as I prepared last night’s meal – the Walla Walla onion I was so happy to find on sale was rotten on the inside. Thought about taking it back but if this was reality, I’d spend much more on fuel than buying another onion. So, when I purchased tonight’s, I spent close to three minutes picking through to find one that appeared solid.

During the first two days of shopping for food, I felt quite sad that everything looked good and I could not purchase any of it. It felt paralyzing! Today, I’m rather pissed. Let’s say I wanted carrots. Granted I prefer organic, non-GMO, and when possible, locally grown and in season.

And, because I have access to a garden and pots, I can grow my own. Albertson’s choices for carrots include the affordable basket of topped singles, plastic bag of washed and topped carrots, plastic bag of washed baby carrots, and the bunch of organic carrots with the tops and leaves intact. The organic bunch is only sold as a bunch and though supported through the WIC program, cost $3.99 a bunch. They were so much more appealing than the basket full of dried, day old bits.

I know this challenge is intended to help us learn the issues regarding our food systems. I’m not certain who to point at with this type of marketing tactic. Added task – talk to the grocery manager.

SNAP Food Challenge – Day 4

Interesting predicament today – I provide refreshments at my work/community meetings. They are minimal but still represent aspects of our food system that are inaccessible to many. To keep me faithful to this challenge, I fed others and did not indulge. Because the meeting was near a Whole Foods market, I attempted shopping there. These purchases were not using my …allocated SNAP budget.

Let’s just say this market is not an option. Meeting you at the entrance are beautiful, sweet smelling fruits of summer. All – each and every one too expensive to even consider. I thought it would be nice to have someone custom carve melons like they do at the meat counter. Then people could experience the nutritional benefit and taste of these otherwise untouchable items.

Also, I know that melons grow on a vine and don’t require much before making it to the market or farm stand. I lived in central Florida and know people who worked these farms. So, why must the melons cost so much?

Putting on this hat of extremely limited funding makes me wonder how many other aspects of humanity are linked to food and nourishment? For example, I’m feeling rather depressed today.

Is it because my belly hurts? Does it have anything to do with viewing all these items I cannot obtain?

Like Kristen noted, sometimes we do things for food that the system identifies as criminal. There is always a story and I wonder how often that story behind the “crime” has a direct connection to hunger or hunger-related depression.

Here we see a scenario where we wait for the other shoe to drop. If the milk spoils or the toast burns, the children might need to go hungry for a day until the next paycheck or SNAP allocation arrives.

I know that this challenge was not intended to help me appreciate food though it certainly has. Michael Pollan tells us to eat whole foods instead of processed/refined foods. Interestingly and possibly because I cannot afford them, I intensely crave salad, berries, and all that great tasting produce that accents the plate.

How can anyone logically believe cuts to SNAP will help? I say double or triple the budget to make our children healthy and help them hold their heads high. We are one world – one community and need to help prevent our brothers and sisters from falling from hunger.

SNAP Food Challenge – Day 5

Tonight I must own a realization that I have two more days of this challenge to go and must do it on $7.00. Earlier in the week I described my hope for chicken on Friday or Saturday night.

However, this would mean going without something for two days. Tomorrow I will eat the last small bits of cheese during lunch. My predicament is that I need energy for Saturday afternoon.

This will be a workday during which I will engage community and should be sharply connected in heart and mind. Currently, my mind is on balancing my needs with food: meat, produce, or cheese? I’m going to label today as Tea and Tomatoes.

Humans are quite interesting. Some of us mean well and act with our heart. We have a communitarian sense and cannot allow another person to suffer. A kind heart noticed me going without a beverage during a work outing today and felt strongly compelled to share her tea. I refused her kind offer several times and in the end, she insisted. She has a beautiful spirit and understands this challenge many of us are undertaking and others live through every day. My promise to her is to pay her kind support forward to someone else.

When we returned to the office, someone provided muffins at my group’s weekly meeting. Normally, I would partake though in the spirit of this challenge I refrained. Later, another colleague invited me for tea as part of a meeting. She purchased for the both of us before I had the opportunity to refuse. This tea would have taken half of my remaining budget. I accepted her kind offer and now must wrestle with accounting for this drink.

On my way home, I purchased a tomato to go with my rice and beans for dinner. I fretted over the cost and found one that would fulfill my intent and maintain my budget. However, it’s price per pound was incorrect in the system. I felt odd sharing this with the clerk and then described to her my reason for being so concerned over 50 cents. She was quite happy to fix the price and then comped me the tomato. Again, a kind heart though I will certainly deduct this one from my week’s budget.

I tell you all this to highlight the power of community and more so, to describe the outcome. I feel awful! Knowing that I will make up for all of this support does not help with my feeling significantly indebted and quite powerless. Yes, I know this is not my reality yet I also know that this is reality for many others.

So, what is the best scenario among friends and neighbors? Do we help one another or is my questioning a product of our individualistic patterns? I’ve learned how people in developing countries will feed visitors before themselves. Some will divide up their meal so that everyone is fed even if the result is that everyone eats only one grain of rice. Maybe this is similar to my appreciation for fresh produce – something so cherished holds great potential for providing happiness, even if it is a small and fleeting taste. And, the act of making another person happy ends up in making us happy as well.

Curious again how people propose to take away from the one aspect that can make a lot of happiness (and health) in the world.

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