As I write this, my stomach is full of Indian take-out and chocolate. My first day off the SNAP Challenge and I’ve already spent about $25 on food in one day, compared to last week when I spent just as much for five days. Did I learn anything from this experience? 100% yes. Have I touched a dish today or set foot in the kitchen? Absolutely not.
Let’s backtrack a little to Day 5: Friday. By this point I was tired of being in the kitchen, and my usual fervor for making every meal special was waning. I boiled some pasta and tossed it with the last of my red sauce from earlier in the week, and to top it off, I added some corn. Yes, corn. I have no idea why.
The morning of Day 6, the corn pasta made a repeat appearance as my breakfast. For lunch I packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich which I ate at an outdoor cafe, as Paul had a blue cheese burger. Speaking of Paul, did I mention he is no longer doing the Challenge at this point? He tapped out on Day 3 due to a misunderstanding of the rules; if iced coffees weren’t allowed, he wanted out. But I digress.. On our way home from a walk in the park, I stopped at Western Beef to see what else I could buy with my remaining budget. I wound up leaving with two apples and a sweet potato and $0.21 left in my #SNAPChallenge wallet.
Inspired by Chef Cowan’s chorizo hash and disgusted by my previous dinner, I made a sweet potato hash with swiss chard, corn, and garlic scapes, topped with an egg. It was delicious and reinvigorated my determination for the last day, whereby I woke up and headed straight to the kitchen to make pancakes. Realizing I had no milk, I decided to power through and use water instead, resulting in the grossest-but-best-looking pancakes I’ve ever had.
For lunch I had another peanut butter and jelly in the park, and an apple with peanut butter later in the day. By dinner on Day 7 I was out of everything except bread and pasta (and peanut butter and jelly, but I’d had my fill of peanut butter for the day), so I wound up eating spaghetti with butter, garlic powder, and basil grown in my apartment.
So what did the SNAP Challenge teach me?
For one, having a limited budget for food is scary. This isn’t the same as saying “I’ll set aside $30 for food this week, and $30 for other necessities.” This is “I have $31.50, and once all my food is gone, it’s gone until my EBT card gets refilled.”
It’s also a pain in the ass. I spent more time cooking, and washing dishes and tupperware this week than I have in a long time. It’s not an impossible task, but it requires more effort and is likely undertaken by people with disabilities or the elderly, who make up a large percentage of SNAP recipients, in addition to low-income families with children to feed. In other words, people who legitimately have a harder time cooking and cleaning every day than I do.
Resources and Farm Bill Shpeel
My daily musings about nutritional shopping and cooking programs were quelled by some research: ESNY (Eat Smart New York! SNAP-Ed) is New York State’s SNAP nutrition education program. Cornell University Cooperative Extension delivers SNAP supported nutrition education in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Here, eligible participants learn about MyPyramid/MyPlate, Menu Planning, Food Preparation, Nutrition, Fitness, Food Budgeting, Food Shopping, Food Safety, and Physical Activity. I’m unable to find the percentage of SNAP recipients who participate, but the program is available for participation, and that’s obviously a step in the right direction.
I also found some additional resources, including “Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables” which as the name implies, provides recipes and shopping tips for eating healthy veg & fruit snacks and meals. In addition, SNAP recipients can visit Snaptomarket.com and see which farmer’s markets in their area accept EBT/WIC.
The purpose of doing the SNAP Challenge was to raise awareness of the program itself, and the dangers it faced on the House floor, as Congress voted on it’s fate and potentially cutting $20 billion. It would’ve meant $3.9 billion dollars cut over the course of ten years, and 2 Million people losing their access to SNAP (As of March 2013, there were 48 Million people enrolled). The Farm Bill is a somewhat confusing piece of legislation that touches on a whole slew of issues, from agriculture to environmental and wildlife protection; it’s comprised mainly of SNAP funding (about 75%) in addition to farm policy, making it hard to decide on it’s fate without being able to view the two separately as individual bills. That said, here’s an interesting read on why it failed to pass, and why that’s a good thing that it did. For something a little easier on the eyes, here’s a neat infographic about the House cuts versus the Senate.
The House will have to get their partisan ‘ish together and create something that works before December. I hope that the SNAP Challenge helped prove, at least a tiny bit, that every penny counts.