Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Food Stamp Challenge Mirrors Reality

Reflections from a Former Food Stamp Recipient
Shandi Penrod
As I read others' posts for the week, and especially in the discussion following the screening of Food Stamped, I felt an uncomfortable connection to the participants in the SNAP Challenge as they each learned a little bit of what it's like to live on the budget of a SNAP recipient. I lived on food stamps in grade school and high school--perhaps before that too, I don't remember--and I lived on a food stamp budget for the next four years while in college, though technically courtesy of government loans rather than a government EBT card.
Grade School
In grade school I remember wondering how my friends could buy both lunch and an extra carton of milk. In junior high I would sometimes skip lunch and just drink milk so I could save $1.20 for some spending money, hoping perhaps a few weeks out I could see a movie with my friends. "Sample days" at Sam's Club were among my and my sister's favorite days, and my mom made a point to make a game out of eating enough samples to make a meal before we left.
In high school I would start my day with the choice of a glass of milk or a store-brand frosted Pop Tart. Our school didn't have a breakfast program, so that was never an option, but I remember begging my mother not to put me on the lunch program which required students to check in to an office every day to collect a green token and, worse, to pay for lunch with the token in front of hundreds of my peers. Back at home, a typical dinner was a $1.50 frozen meal--the other frozen meals were too expensive, my mom would say--or a bunch of tortilla chips and dip leftover from some relative's birthday party--because, of course, a meal didn't actually have to be balanced or nutritious as long as it was enough food to fill you up. I was tired every day and sick a lot, but I didn't know one of the main reasons for this was from the food I was eating.
In college, I was completely on my own without parental help. Though going to school for 16 to 18-hour sememsters didn't leave time for a full-time job, I did work part-time. Half my meals were spent in the fast-food-filled school cafeteria, because that's what my student loans covered. When I met my friends at Denny's I'd order water with lemon, squeeze the lemon and add a bit of sugar; my other "poor" friend and I joked about our "poor man's lemonade." I ate a lot of Ramen noodles and dollar-menu items. I usually skipped fast-food water because they often charged an extra 10-25 cents for the water cup.
I cried a lot.
A pet died because I couldn't afford to have her benign tumor removed and it became infected. I'm supposed to choose my own welfare over a pet, right? I still feel awful.
If I spilled something or accidentally left food in my car overnight, that meant I lost a meal. Similarly, losing and buying a new notebook (or worse, a calculator) would bring a fresh wave of tears, because that meant cutting from either my healthcare or food budget. I learned to clean my plate and accept every bit of free food I was offered. I literally rushed a sorority because they were having a free picnic outside my freshman dormitory. Restaurants only received my patronage because I was lucky enough to have a boyfriend who didn't mind paying for his girlfriend's dinner dates.
Instead of personal choice dictating my diet, circumstance did.
On the otherhand, I knew a lot of people were worse off than me. Therefore, I never considered taking food from a food pantry when that meant I might take that food away from someone who may have been starving; I was still scraping by somewhat okay. Well, pride in my perceived self-reliance may have played a part, too.
Life wasn't awful. I didn't starve. I just wasn't very healthy, and I spent a lot of energy in stress and tears over paying for food.
Flash forward to today.
Today I'm much more secure about my finances and my food, even during the hardest times, and I never rationally worry about from where my next meal will arrive.
Irrational worry is a different story.
I regularly spend time reminding myself that while it's not okay to negligently waste food, it is okay when I accidentally spill milk or find forgotten, spoiled food in my refrigerator; I don't have to clean my plate if I'm full; and I don't have to eat those free hydrogenated-oil-filled pastries at my relative's birthday party if that's not what I want. I try to ignore my worry that I consumed enough hormones, BPA, PCBs and other chemicals found in cheap American foods to leave a lasting health impact--something to which I'll never truly know the answer.
And now food is very personal to me in a completely different way. I eat a vegetarian diet, eat as organically as I can comfortable afford, and learned the nearly forgotten art and science of growing one's own food.
Maybe I used to need to, but today I don't have to cry over spilled milk.
And yet, millions of people still do. Will you do something to help ease their pain?
by Shandi Penrod
Here's a place to start: Jewish and Muslim Day of Service

Monday, November 19, 2012

Our Week

Cyndee Levy

We survived the challenge without much difficulty in terms of the quantities of food that we purchased.  Having a large family probably actually made it a bit easier as long as we made good choices and stretched our dollar. With a total budget of $189 we ate fairly well.  The kids were fine with apples and peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, they didn’t really miss the extra snacks that they often have to round out the lunch.  However, they came home hungry and we didn’t have much to snack on.  They finished off the breakfast cereal on day 3 as it became the after school snack.  We also discovered quickly that portion control, which they are not used to, was an issue.  We never had leftovers and once or twice there were little grumbles from the boys.  We had an additional $60 to spend during the week, but it was used up quickly for after school slurpes (the boys used their own money initially, I paid them back out of the food budget), extra cereal mid-week and a few extra things for Shabbat.  There was a beautiful Kiddush lunch at Traditional so that took care of one meal.

We learned that $31.50 per person each week doesn’t go very far.  We also talked a great deal about how much easier it is to shop with a Costco membership (several family members suggested that Costco shopping might be cheating), and will a nice Walmart near buy for us to do most of our shopping.  We wondered want it would have been like to shop only at a discount food store in the city.  We also wondered what it would have been like if I was not someone that liked to cook. 
For example, one night we have spaghetti squash, tilapia, mixed kales in a salad with roasted beets, and melon for dinner.  It was great and we actually had 2 guests that night for dinner.   If I didn’t like to cook or if I was a working mother holding down more than 1 job, I imagine that a home cooked meal would have been much harder to pull off.

The Levy family will go into this season more thankful for all that we do have and a bit more sensitive about the challenges that others face.  We are planning to make a donation of one week’s family budget to the food pantry…it seems like a great deal of money, but we know it is only a start.

Final Thoughts

Andrea Kaiser

Obviously, it takes a few weeks to create a habit, and perhaps our food stamp society spend the first two-three weeks learning what they can and can't afford, in order to get some variety in their meals.

Doing this for ONE week was eye-opening for budget and what the dollar buys. Often, we walk into the store and buy impulsively. This required planning on many levels: Pre-planning activities and coordinating easy-fix meals for when you are not home, and more intensive food prep for when you are home. Even though I did this, I found I did not wish to eat what was on my pre-planned meal schedule, and often varied from it. My homemade vegetable soup lasted me five days. My bean mixture lasted the entire week plus 1-2 more days! But I am tired of beans, now. I was wise in what I bought so I would not be so hungry. Potatoes can go a long way when bought 5-10 lbs at a time!

May you think about the many single people out there who just desire variety and small packages, as well as families who desire larger quantities?

May I suggest that as we sit down at our meals this week and ALWAYS that we consider the plates of the hungry? Take a brief moment before you indulge to reflect on this. You will delight in your food much more. And try a little silence as you consume each bite and discover its true flavor. 

Heartfelt thanks for this opportunity!


Lenna Tasley-Broome

I went over my budget - Friday.

Also, today looks shaky at best.

Some people are able to use the stamps as supplements in their budget - those that depend on them - it is scary. The blogs have addressed so many of the realities: - good food choices are not accessible, transportation, preparation of the time healthy budget minded meal - and the harsh reality.

I feel sad today.

To all the children in this experiment - my hug.

To all - my hug.

A New Situation

Andrea Kaiser

Okay, I found myself in a new situation---and I was surprisingly comfortable.  I went out to eat with my sister at Pi's (pizza) in the Kirkwood area. I took all my own food with me. Tammy was ordering from the menu. I told the waiter he probably had never had THIS situation come up, and I explained the Hunger Challenge. How could one eat only $31.50 for an entire week was his question. I shared my purchases and he started coming up with his own ideas for success!

 I ordered a glass of water, and also asked if he could take my meal and heat it up. He happily agreed, and was curious to see what I was eating! I explained to him I missed a meal that day to be able to consume this full plate of food: I had two soft corn tortillas and a bean mixture I had been eating all week, made with fat free refrieds, black beans and canned tomatoes. I garnished it with a small amount of shredded Mexican cheese. Beside it was a boiled red potato, and some broccoli with another small sprinkling of the same cheese. My plate was full, and later so was my belly, especially since I had a hard-boiled egg as an appetizer and a small banana for dessert. A gastronomic delight! Oh, dear, I forgot about ordering water with lemon, and adding sugar for my own free lemonade!

My meal was quite substantial--I almost felt like I ate enough for a queen. I wasn't hungry the rest of the evening like I was most of the week by 9 or 10 PM. No sunflower seeds tonight!

On day 5, I invited a friend for a meal, but was refused. He didn't want to eat beans! I didn't have much left from my groceries for the week: eggs, beans, broccoli, some frozen mixed vegetables, a yogurt, some milk, and my Joe's O's (Trader Joe's version of Cheerios). Variety is dissipating, and boredom is truly settling in.

Tonight I locked myself out of my car at 4PM, and feared I wouldn't get home for dinner by the time I was really hungry. I was beginning to feel the pangs. Earlier this week, when I got past the point of hunger, I would just skip a meal; but tonight, knowing I was going to Shabbat services, I wanted to eat something beforehand!
One more day to go!

It's only been a week -- how would I have survived if this was endless??

When I am job seeking, I eat minimally, and somewhat healthfully as well. What was different this time, was the tinier budget allowance; I normally spend a few more bucks than $31.50; not much more. I am so glad I don't indulge at all in coffee, alcohol, or cigarettes. And I very rarely buy bread or desserts, including cookies/candy. I keep my snacks minimal and make them last a long time. I keep my drinks to water and milk; occasionally juice. I periodically make lemonade from unhealthy concentrate, for something different to drink. I will add seltzer water to juice and make my own soda. That in itself, saves a lot of money! 

I recall when my childhood family was on hard times, Mom served Jell-O with milk as dinner. Sometimes with toast. Or rice with milk and cinnamon; adding a can of fruit. (She thought it was a good source of protein).  When she baked chicken, 8 of us had to eat off just ONE chicken. By the time it was served to her, she was left with the back! 
We all would share ONE can of vegetables. Most of our meal was meat and potatoes. Our salads were always iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I didn't know salads any other way! I learned when I was 50 and diagnosed with Celiac Disease, I had been severely malnourished as a child.

Having lived a life in financial abundance with a husband, I saw the other side: pure indulgence! And unfortunately, that's when my diagnosis showed up! I was banned from many foods for the rest of my life. What I learned: Moderation reigns over gluttony.

Now that I am single again, my past patterns of moderation return, whether I like it or not! AND this time I am healthier!

I am thankful for the opportunity to reflect on prayer before my meal! In addition to thanking God for the gift of food, I prayed for my stomach to remain full for as long as possible! 


Janet Rodgers

Thursday:  Chanukah came early to the Rodgers's household.  I had 2 red potatoes and one onion left so we had latkes for dinner!  So yummy.

Friday:  Uncle.

Day 6

Lenna Tasley-Broome

Homemade soup - frozn veggies, small pot, chix broth, lots of spices and bread.
snack - hot tea/pbutter spoon.