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Day 4 of the SNAP Challenge

21 Jun

Well, beans, we had a good run together. You fulfilled my carnivorous urges for 4 days, but your time is through. After tomorrow I’ll be left with a few eggs, some pasta, a solid number of PB&J sandwiches, and a drawer full of produce.

Nothing exciting to report today. Instead, I’d like to share what two other SNAP Challenge participants have been up to. One inspiring, one laughable. The contrast between the two, which I found almost simultaneously, is mind-boggling.

From Chef Madison Cowan's Facebook Page: "Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe's Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)"

From Chef Madison Cowan’s Facebook Page: “Southern fried chicken, sweet potato mash & cucumber/tomato salad. Trader Joe’s Brooklyn offered 5 free range drumsticks for $2 & after searching a bit I was able to find a packet of 6! 2 leftover sweet potatoes at $0.49 each, $1.49 for a large English cucumber & $2.45 for a packet of 6 organic tomatoes on the vine (I used 2.)”

First, I came across the twitter feed for Chef Madison Cowan from Iron Chef America and Chopped. He and his family participated in the SNAP Challenge; the average amount given to 2 adults and 1 child is $94.50. The food he churned out of his kitchen on that budget was astounding. Fried chicken. Blueberry pancakes. Sweet potato and chorizo hash. Everything I found on his Facebook page made me slap my forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” I quickly realized that I didn’t think of any of those things because I’m not a trained chef with years of experience in a professional kitchen. So the conclusion: it’s not impossible to make nutritious, delicious meals with a limited budget. Again it makes me think about what kind of support SNAP participants are given when it comes to healthy cooking and picking the right items when they go shopping. Or maybe I just don’t know because this isn’t the way I typically think about food shopping. Finding out what sort of programs are available has become my weekend assignment (though I’d love to hear some people chime in in the comments section). I applaud Chef Cowan and hope that he publishes some sort of budget recipe and shopping guide.

Shortly after closing out of Chef Cowan’s page, I stumbled across NYC Comptroller John Liu’s twitter feed, where he posted a photo of himself eating beans straight out of the can. Really? Also, you happened to have a can opener in the back of your limo? I tried not to judge, as he was further along in the challenge than me and god only knows what I’ll be eating by Sunday night, but come on. Beans out of the can? It felt exploitative and I was offended, but I shrugged it off.

John Liu doesn't have time for bowls.

J Liu doesn’t have time for bowls.

BUT THEN I SAW HIS NEXT LUNCH:

Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Stacks on stacks on stacks like a boss.

Really? Half a loaf of bread? You really ate that? You are in charge of this city’s finances and you couldn’t manage to make $31.50 work for week? It’s troublesome. Moreover, it’s a mockery of the Challenge itself and draws attention away from the issue at hand by creating a backlash of hilarious but disappointing coverage.

The official SNAP Challenge ended yesterday for most (if not all) participants, and today the Farm Bill was REJECTED in Congress. I’ll consider the last 3 days of my SNAP Challenge a victory lap for everyone that helped raise awareness for the bill, and spend some time tomorrow recapping what went down on the House floor…

For now, it’s a late-night peanut butter snack for me and then off to bed.

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Day 2 of the SNAP Challenge

19 Jun

Having lost the gusto I had on Day 1, today was a little less exciting and a lot more like a regular work day sans coffee. Another egg and banana breakfast, a glass of water. Around 11:30am, I really needed something to snack on but wasn’t quite ready to dive into my spaghetti, so I headed downstairs to the green market for a piece of fruit. As my coworkers each bought a $4 lemonades, I picked through a pile of peaches ($2.99/lb) for my sugary treat and headed to the scale with what I thought was an average sized peach. It turned out to be a half-pound monster that cost me $1.67. This immediately made me reconsider my snack urge: how hungry was I? The $31.50 budget comes to about $1.50 per meal. Was I hungry enough to eat a SNAP-budget-meal-worthy-peach all at once? I decided I wasn’t.

For the next hour I let the peach sit my desk and mask the smell of farts that was emanating from myjames-and-giant-peach garbage can full of egg shells (yea I said it, boiled eggs smell like farts. don’t act surprised). I decided around 1pm that it was finally time to eat my leftover spaghetti and have some more water. Finally, at 3pm, that peach met it’s maker: I carried it to the kitchen and sliced it in half to find the most deliciously ripe and juicy peach I’ve ever had. I packed up the other half to bring home for later and brought my bounty back to my desk before anyone saw the peachy gold I had foraged outside.

With the saga of the peach over and dessert to look forward to later, the day carried on. After some overtime and visit to the vet with our cat, I got home at 7:45. For a few minutes I considered eating bean salad for dinner, but realized I needed to prepare something for lunch tomorrow: back to Western Beef I went. As I shopped, Paul happily ate his turkey chilli, which he topped with cheese and put in a tortilla. This is the fourth chilli meal he’s had in 2 days.

I came home having spent $8.34 on peanut butter, jelly, a loaf of bread, an apple, and a can of chopped tomato. I turned the bean salad into bean chili with some pantry spices, leftover pasta sauce, and can of chopped tomato, and topped it off with some chicken. It was about 9:15pm.

As I sit here now typing at 10:30pm, my stomach feels pretty full. I’m guessing its the massive amount of beans and eggs. Not enough to stop me from devouring the rest of that peach, but enough to make me appreciate a fibrous diet with ample greens and fruits.

Rachel’s Budget: $20.98 spent, $10.52 left

Paul’s Budget: $31.50 spent, $0.00 left

 

Click headings below to learn more:

About the Farm Bill and proposed cuts

About the Food Bank for NYC & SNAP Challenge

Learn about SNAP eligibility standards and allowances in NYC

See the USDA requirements for eligibility and do the math

Learn the difference between SNAP, WIC, and EBT

TELL CONGRESS TO PROTECT THE SNAP PROGRAM

Day 1 of the SNAP Challenge

18 Jun

Last week I decided to take part in the SNAP Challenge alongside many others and the Food Bank for NYC from June 12th-18th to help raise awareness for the upcoming vote that could effect it’s future. For those 7 days, I would have $31.50 to spend on my food (about $1.50 per meal) which is the average amount of money provided to people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

At the end of this post you can read some background information and find resources on the Farm Bill 2013, SNAP Program, and what’s at risk. AKA, the “What’s all the fuss about? Section”

Never one to turn down a challenge, my husband Paul also signed up. He has no qualms about eating the same meal for days on end, so this is likely a factor that will work to his advantage. On the other side of the spectrum, I enjoy pretending the Food Network has hidden cameras set up in my kitchen; every day is a new episode of Chopped, and I never eat the same thing twice in one week if I can avoid it.

Sidebar: “Hey, um, didn’t you already miss this? It’s June 17th.” If that’s what you were just thinking, you’d be correct. Before I even started I hit a road block: I had weekend plans out of town, which meant I’d have to forgo the BBQ and pies and fresh market finds, bring my own food, and basically miss all of the main activities planned. Literally, the first thing we did was put together a brand new BBQ, and the second thing we did was cook lunch on it. So, here is my first realization during the challenge: I really couldn’t go on that trip if I were living on a food stamp budget unless I was willing to let my friends foot the bill. Since I wasn’t, I decided to start the SNAP Challenge today, on June 17th. Judge me if you must, because I already feel like I failed, but here we are: Day 1.

Paul & Rachel Go Shopping

Instead of making a right out of our door to Whole Foods, we turned left and headed to Western Beef. Having grown accustom to eating as much organic and fresh foods as possible, this was our first big change. It just didn’t seem possible to shop there on a budget. I’m looking forward to going in there next week and comparing prices for the same items I purchased at Western Beef; for now, it would just make me sad to 1, see all the food I can’t afford and 2, see all the food I’ve been paying way too much for. <<insert sad walking here>>

I played it safe and left myself some wiggle room for the rest of the week. Contents: Half a chicken, black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, corn, 1 onion, 3 bananas, dozen eggs, 1lb of pasta, and 1 large can of crushed tomato

I played it safe and left myself some wiggle room for the rest of the week. Contents: Half a chicken, black beans, chick peas, kidney beans, corn, 1 onion, 3 bananas, 1 dozen eggs, 1lb of pasta, and 1 large can of crushed tomato. TOTAL SPENT: $10.97

Paul went in pretty confident, knowing that he's lived off of chili before and he could do it again. Gladly. Contents: Jar of tomato sauce, chick peaks, black beans, small can of crushed tomato, pink beans, milk, 1lb of turkey, chili mix, 1lb pasta, box of corn flakes. TOTAL SPENT: $16.52

Paul went in pretty confident, knowing that he’s lived off of chili before and he could do it again, gladly. Contents: Jar of tomato sauce, chick peaks, black beans, small can of crushed tomato, pink beans, milk, 1lb of turkey, tortilla wraps, chili mix, 1lb pasta, box of corn flakes. TOTAL SPENT: $16.52

Day 1 Meals

I had a hard boiled egg and a banana for breakfast. Around 11:30am I “snacked” on another hard-boiled egg. For lunch I ate some bean/corn/onion salad (which will be making numerous cameos this week), and boiled chicken. I used the chicken bones to make a stock which will see some action later this week in a soup. For dinner, spaghetti with marinara. Even though it would’ve been easier to buy a jar of sauce, I just couldn’t. Food stamps or not, Italians don’t do jarred sauce. It’s worth the extra effort to make it from scratch and save a few pennies in the process. I used fresh basil from a plant I have and a lot of hot crushed peppers to hide the fact that I forgot to buy fresh garlic and couldn’t use parmesan cheese.

While I slaved away in the kitchen, Paul had a bowl of cereal for breakfast and BOLDLY picked up some Pad Thai for lunch (that’s minus $8 from his budget). I’m not sure if he’s a genius or just arrogant, but I’m feeling silly for boiling chicken bones all night. For dinner, he made himself about 3 lbs of turkey chili and ate it as a burrito. This will be his lunch and dinner for the next few days.

Day 1 Recap

I’m not hungry, but I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled with what tomorrow looks like: more eggs, more spaghetti, more beans. I also realized quickly that in order to eat during the day, I had to plan out my meals at night and prepare/cook ahead. It’s time-consuming and time isn’t something people always have to devote to cooking.

Useful Information:

Food stamps were renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP in 2008; the goal of the program is to help recipients maintain healthy diets by making relatively expensive items like fresh fruits and vegetables accessible to those with low incomes. Since the literal food ‘stamps’ were mostly replaced by Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, food stamp is a somewhat outdated term.

Click headings below to learn more:

About the Farm Bill and proposed cuts

About the Food Bank for NYC & SNAP Challenge

Learn about SNAP eligibility standards and allowances in NYC

See the USDA requirements for eligibility and do the math

Learn the difference between SNAP, WIC, and EBT

TELL CONGRESS TO PROTECT THE SNAP PROGRAM

Hurricane Sandy Volunteer/Donation Projects: From Gale A. Brewer’s Office

5 Nov

I just received the following email from councilwoman Gale Brewer, and wanted to pass along as it contained a lot of great information about new donation drop-off locations and volunteer opportunities. See below:

Today, Monday, November 5, 2012 West Side institutions are working with former Community Board Chair Mel Wymore to fill a large truck of supplies to go to Staten Island. You could drop off supplies at JCC, 334 Amsterdam Avenue at West 76 Street, NY NY up to 10pm on Monday, November 5. Items needed: blankets, toiletries, wipes, flashlights, batteries. No clothes. The truck will leave the West Side on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

On Monday, November 5, 2012…info from the City Council as to where assistance is needed:

Staten Island  Councilmember Oddo and Assemblymember Malliotakis have organized volunteers throughout the weekend.  Today they are at the Staten Island Recreational Association at 599 Fr. Capodanno Blvd. from 9am to dusk and will continue to help clean out homes that have been impacted by the storm. They are in need of cleaning supplies – shovels, rakes, brooms, gloves, garbage bags, masks, toiletries and pharmaceuticals (e.g. Tyelonol, Advil, etc.).

Brooklyn Red Hook Councilmember Gonzalez along with a number of local community groups have been organizing volunteers to help residents and local businesses in the Red Hook area.  Volunteers should report to 402 Van Brunt Street, between 10 am – 5 pm.

Coney Island  Councilmember Domenic Recchia is coordinating volunteers, at 2770 West 5th St, Room 4C (nearest open F Train stop is Avenue X), and they will send you to wherever you are needed most.

Park Slope The Park Slope Armory shelter (361 15th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues) continues to need volunteers who can work a 12-hour shift, starting at 8 AM or 8 PM daily. You need to be comfortable working with the elderly, disabled, and other people with special needs and you cannot bring your children. If they have too many volunteers, you may be turned away, so be prepared for that. The John Jay High School shelter (237 7th Avenue, between 4th & 5th Streets) also continues to need day, evening, and overnight volunteers. You need to be able to dedicate at least 6-8 hours and cannot bring your children.

-From Brad Hoylman: Many of my neighbors are still without heat, hot water or plumbing. In coordination with the offices of our local elected officials and the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, we are seeking three (3) shifts of volunteers to go door-to-door in Fulton Houses and Westbeth to assist residents today, Monday, November 5.  How you can help: Show up at either 12 p.m. or 3 p.m. at the Fulton Center Auditorium (119 9th Ave between 17th and 18th Streets) to go door-to-door at Fulton Houses to assess residents’ needs. OR  Show up at 4 p.m. at Westbeth (55 Bethune Street Washington and West Streets) to help carry water and other supplies to residents. hoylmanforsenate@gmail.com

 Thank you, Gale A. Brewer!

 

Hurricane Sandy Recovery: Donate Locally

4 Nov

There are a number of organizations that do great work in NYC. They were doing it last week, and they continue to do so in the aftermath of Sandy. They feed, shelter, nurse, teach, and support our community of NYC. Some of them lost power, some of them lost everything. Now it’s our turn to help them..

Below is a list of organizations who are currently accepting donations which will go directly towards Hurricane Sandy relief in NY; for some, it will go directly to the people they support. For others, it will go towards rebuilding their headquarters or other damaged services vital to their continued operations.

Food Bank for New York City: As one of the country’s largest food banks, the Food Bank procures and distributes food to a network of more than 1,000 community-based member programs citywide, helping to provide 400,000 free meals a day for New Yorkers in need. In the aftermath of the storm, the need for food is even greater now. To make a donation, click here.

Little Shelter: This no-kill shelter in Huntington, LI has been open since 1927; I got my own dog there 11 years ago. Their facility suffered a lot of damage, including the cattery and second kennel. Staff on site managed to save all of the animals inside, but the buildings need extensive repair. To donate, click here.

The Ali Forney Center: AFC protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning (LGBTQ) youth from the harm of homelessness, and supports them in becoming safe and independent as they move from adolescence to adulthood. Their Drop-In Center in Chelsea was destroyed by flooding. They are currently scrambling for a plan to provide care to desperate kids while preparing to ultimately move into a larger space that will better meet their needs. To read an official statement and donate, click here.

Operation Wesley: Thousands of pets were displaced this week when Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Northeastern US. Operation Wesley wants to bring comfort to these less fortunate pets in New Jersey and New York by delivering pet food and supplies to the hardest hit areas. From now until Saturday, November 10th, they will be accepting mail packages; on Sunday and Monday items will be delivered. For a list of supplies needed and a shipping address, please visit their website: http://operationwesley.org/sandyhelp.html For more information about helping pets, visit the Naked K9’s Facebook Page.

Henry Street Settlement: They open doors of opportunity to enrich lives and enhance human progress for Lower East Side residents and other New Yorkers through social services, arts, and health care programs. They’ve been working tirelessly to help their LES community with food and warmth, even though their own facilities are in need of repair after flood damage from the storm. Please donate by clicking here.

Brooklyn Recovery Fund: This is a joint effort between the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the Office of the Brooklyn Borough President, and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce to create a pooled fund to provide support to Brooklyn’s nonprofit organizations working with the communities and individuals most affected by Hurricane Sandy. To donate, click here.

Hope for New York: HFNY mission is to provide volunteer and financial resources to organizations serving the poor and marginalized of New York City. They are affiliated with a number of churches and shelters in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, including the Bowery Mission and NYC Rescue Mission. To donate funds or in-kind supplies, visit their website by clicking here.

Please know that I in no way discourage donating to the Red Cross, the Mayor’s Fund for NYC, FEMA, or any other organization helping recovery in our area and beyond. If you’d like to add any other organizations to this list, please email suggestions to giveandgetnyc@gmail.com.