Food Day Got us Thinking About Food STAMPS!
Did you know that 18%of Maine residents receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as “food stamps”?
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits are set to be reduced starting November
1st, resulting in a cut of about $36 per month for a family of four in Maine, as a stimulus-related increase in benefits expires. Further, deeper cuts are being promoted in Congress, with the House of Representatives having already passed a bill that would cut $39 billion from SNAP funds over the next ten years. The Senate is
proposing smaller cuts, but the writing is on the wall that SNAP funds will be decreasing, at a time
when many Mainers are still struggling in a weak economy.
There has been a lot of talk about SNAP these days. As a broad based coalition, focused on eradicating hunger and malnutrition in York County, Maine, we wondered what it would be like for people to try the SNAP budget for a week.
As a way to honor Food Day, October 24th, “A nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food” (see www.foodday.org) we issued a challenge to our coalition members – to live for a week using the SNAP budget of $4.50 per person per day. While we realize this doesn’t fully replicate the conditions of the 28,378 people in York County that receive SNAP benefits (source: SNAP Data System, 2010), we think it a useful tool for those who don’t have to rely on such benefits to gain insights into the reality behind the talk around “Food Stamps”.
Two people took our challenge, and here, Gail Roller, volunteer with Partners for a Hunger-Free York County (PfHFYC), shares her thoughts on the experience.
“Working with PfHFYC has made me aware of the vast number of people right in our communities who are food insecure and depend on SNAP funding to purchase their food. Many of those people are children and the
elderly, and they depend on SNAP.
My husband, Mark, and I decided that we would take the "snap challenge" and eat for a week on a SNAP budget ($4.50 a day). We made it, but not without a lot of planning and some changes in the way we are
used to shopping and eating. (Mark gave up his Diet Coke for a week, I cut back on coffee, and we found out just how many meals you can get out of one roasted chicken.) Having a car and access to shopping around, a fully equipped kitchen, a knowledge/love and time for cooking, and not being fussy about what we ate made it a lot easier to get through the week. The experience made us realize just how much we take for granted being able to buy what we like and having money to occasionally have a dinner out.
I am not sure if we could have done it if we had a couple of children to feed, less time to plan/prepare/cook, and limited access to a grocery store. As it was, with just the two of us, we ran out of milk before the week was done. It is a challenge to plan a nutritious diet with enough protein, vitamins and nutrients on a limited budget. Good nutritious food is often expensive and balancing a healthy diet on a limited budget requires education and
This experience was an eye opener for us. (Interestingly, we did it the week that the government shut down). It made us realize just how critical the SNAP program is to families with limited or no income. We live in the
richest country in the world. All Americans should have access to good nutritious food. Nutrition, education and health care are rights not privileges.”
Sheila Littlefield, a retired doctor and her husband also took up the challenge. Sheila wrote a report of her experience, complete with spreadsheet which are available upon request. Here are some excerpts from her
“I took The SNAP challenge at the suggestion of a friend during the week of October 5-11, 2013. Our family consists of two retired persons, both in their 60s. I consider our normal diet fairly healthy, and we don't have any significant food allergies or other issues with diet or
I admit that I had some trepidation about this challenge. I had read some of the reports online, in which people described being constantly hungry and also having lost weight within one week of starting the challenge. My concerns involved having enough food and also having healthy food. In order to address this, I did considerable planning about what kinds of foods I could buy with $4.50 per day per person.
In preparation for the challenge, I shopped in various places looking for the best deals. I decided that a diet which used vegetable proteins which were combined correctly to make complete protein would be the best way to go. However, I did buy 1 pound of ground beef (93% lean) and also a roasting chicken. These two items provided a total of five meals that contained animal protein. We would normally eat some type of fish during the week, so this was replaced with one can of tuna fish…
I also priced in some pantry items which I already had on hand, including cornmeal, whole wheat flour, salt, pepper, spices, raisins, oil, baking powder, and frozen blueberries. I also priced coffee to make four pots of
coffee during the week because neither of us were willing to give up our morning coffee. I used the price for the amount of these items that are used during the week in creating my spreadsheet with the prices included…
I spent a total of $54.44 for both of us for the week. Things that were left over included one plum, four slices of bread, one cup of oatmeal, five eggs, three carrots, and 2 cups of pasta with sauce. This might have been
able to be enough for us to have an eighth day on this diet, but we would have lacked some necessary foods to make three good
Dinner was the meal that I spent most of my time planning and cooking. I made one very large pot of soup with vegetables, beans, corn, and also added some whole wheat egg noodles later in the week. Another large meal was Spanish rice, with one half pound beef, peppers, onions, and one-half of the black beans. The other half of the ground beef went into a pot of spaghetti sauce which was served on whole-wheat pasta. The chicken was
roasted and served as a dinner, and then part of the meat was used in a salad the next day, and the rest made a third meal the following day. The chicken was served with either sweet potato or squash, broccoli, and cornbread stuffing which was left over from a large pan that was cooked early in the week.
I really had not planned on any snacks, but we did have coffee and occasionally would take a nibble of something if we felt hungry. One evening I attended a church service and had some cookies and tea. Another
evening I visited a friend and had some crackers and cheese, part of which I provided from the cheese that I had purchased for the week. My husband had some of the bread with peanut butter on it when he felt hungry, and I did not include the peanut butter in the groceries for the week…
We did not go out to eat at any time during the week. This is not our usual pattern. I also spent much more time in shopping and pricing things in various stores.. I'm privileged because I have both time and transportation to do shopping in at least five different places, where I found good prices for staple foods. I also have a kitchen with the freezer, refrigerator, stove and oven, and good facilities meal preparation, and time to do the cooking.
My impression at the end of this week of challenge is that it is possible, though difficult, to eat a nutritional and adequate diet on the SNAP program. That said, I certainly am glad that this challenge is done!”
Thank you to our two challenge-takers! Are YOU up to the challenge?
How do you think the following conditions would change the experience?
For more information about SNAP and SNAP budget Challenge follow the links below:
SNAP DATA by County
Maine Voices by Good Shepherd Food Bank President, Kristen Miale
on her “SNAP Challenge” experience (Portland Press
“Food Stamp Benefits Going Down Before the Holidays”
Former Executive Director, York County Shelter Programs, inc. YCSPI is home to York County's largest food pantry - which provides food for people from all over York County.
Is a Master Gardener and volunteers with Partners for a Hunger-Free York County.