Today is the final day of my family’s participation in the Mazon SNAP Food Stamps Challenge. I wanted to share with you my final grocery total, as well as some parting thoughts on our experiences.
As far as food costs, I did two additional shops this week. Mid week, I picked up hamburger buns at Walmart for a BBQ with my family (which I mentioned here). They had Roma buns on sale for $1.50 per package, so I bought five of them – two to use with my family, half a package for our Snobby Joe’s and the rest for the freezer. (If you missed it, here was my first shop at Aldi and my second shop at three different stores.)
Today, I stopped and picked up some food from the Dollar Store (2 packages of bagels, a bag of pretzels and a bag of animal crackers). We were going to take the kids out, but weather and a bunch of other stuff changed our plans. In any case – the food was purchased, so I’m counting it.
My total for one week of groceries was $120.87 – which was about $37 under our SNAP allotment.
We actually have a good deal of food left-over – brown rice, lentils, half a container of yogurt, skim milk, butter, etc. – but our fresh produce selection is almost entirely depleted. And while I still have room in our budget, I’m going to stretch what we have through dinner tonight and hit up Aldi again tomorrow morning.
So, yes, I was able to come in “under” the average SNAP budget, but I think context is just as important as numbers.
- I did this for a week – and only one week. It was a challenge that my family and I took on willingly – and that’s a far different thing for those whom this is reality. Knowing that there was an immediate light at the end of the tunnel made this infinitely more doable – emotionally and financially.
- As we’ve talked about before, I believe that many of the privileges in our middle class life – not one, but two cars, the money to pay for gas, close proximity to dozens of grocery stores, high speed Internet access at home, room to store bulk purchases, nice appliances to make my job of cooking easier, etc. etc. – actually make it a lot easier for me to save money.
- A few of you asked me on Facebook, when I’d share pictures of my nightly meals, how I got my kids to eat the food. Fortunately, my kids are pretty good eaters – which I believe is as much luck as anything else. The fact that at least two of them will eat Snobby Joe’s and like it, and that all three will compliment me on a Shabbat lunch of black bean chili over sweet potatoes, makes the job of cooking uber-frugal meals far easier and more pleasant.
- My kids had lunch provided for them five days this week at camp. The SNAP budget allows $1.50 per person, per day – so that’s $22.50 in “bonus money”.
- We ate dinner at my family’s house one night (we brought the buns – which cost $3 with the sale, still $4.50 less than our average budget for that meal) and we potlucked with friends for Friday night dinner. (That was a last-minute decision and I did use all the food we had purchased and planned for dinner as our potluck contribution. We just didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to socialize with some friends we haven’t seen in a long time.)
- I have a family of five, which means our budget feels a lot less tight. I was able to afford variety (within the vegetarian, plant-based range, at least) and quantity, which I don’t think I could have done if I had to feed just one person on $31.50 alone.
Two other thoughts I wanted to share:
Doing this challenge made me painfully aware of the value of having a safety net – and, at the same time, the incompleteness of this net. Politics aside, hunger in the richest nation in the world seems like it should be an oxymoron. But it’s not. The magnitude of this problem is overwhelming.
- In 2010, 17.2 million households, 14.5 percent of households (approximately one in seven), were food insecure, the highest number ever recorded in the United States (source).
- Of the food-insecure households, only 55% participated in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition assistance programs- SNAP, WIC and the National School Lunch Program. (source)
What happens to the other 45%? How are they feeding themselves and their children?
2. Along the same lines as the last bullet point, I have been thinking a lot this week not only about those who receive nutrition assistance, but also about those who do not – the other 45%.
I’m thinking about those who wrote to me to say, “We don’t qualify for SNAP, but our food budget is less than what we’d receive on SNAP in any case. We aren’t making it to the end of many weeks.”
These heart-wrenching emails underscored for me the fact that the safety net is far from complete. Hunger not only persists, but is prevalent. In the richest nation in the world.
I’m a black and white kind of person – I see a problem, and I like to see a solution. I don’t get emotional about it, most of the time, I just attack it.
This problem, though, is so big and so complex, that all I see are more problems. Private assistance is no doubt a part of the answer (remember this big list of Jewish food pantries?!), but so is advocacy – whatever that means to you and your family. You can read about Mazon’s advocacy efforts to end hunger here.
I hope that my family’s lasting take-aways from this Challenge are three-fold:
- To keep struggling with the complexities of this problem (no burying our heads in the sand)
- To keep searching ourselves for our small piece of the solution
- To keep sharing with others so that together we can make a difference
And on that note, I’ll ask you to stay tuned tomorrow when I share the stories of some of the more than a dozen readers who emailed me this week to share their personal experiences with SNAP. There is no doubt that their narrative is far more informative than mine!
Have you been joining me on the SNAP Challenge? I’d love to hear about your thoughts and reflections as well.