I've spent no less than 5 hours thinking about my plant based nutrition on $4.72 per day CA Food Stamps budget. Sure, many of us *think* that we can shop and eat on a budget like this, I mean, we're smart and have good bargain shopping skills, right? I've been making lists, checking prices on Safeway.com, and obsessing about what I am going to be eating over the next week. This doesn't include the time shopping for the food, which takes longer in some aspects to find the items that I can afford this week, but also shortens the shopping time because there is SO much that I passed up because I knew it was over that $2 an item magic number. So here I am, beginning my Hunger Challenge a few days early since I will be out of town at the end of next week. Others beginning The Hunger Challenge begin on Sept. 11, 2011, but maybe my early start will inspire you to see if you can do it, too?
I hear a lot of people criticize those that rob the system and "take" from social programs. I am doing this in part to have a better understanding of what it really feels like, because I think sitting back and judging vs. actually putting yourself in someone's shoes, even if it is just for a week, makes a huge difference.
I went shopping for most of my food tonight at Trader Joe's. I went there because I know that they have bananas for 19 cents (realizing now that there are surely much cheaper bananas somewhere, I just don't know where! many on Food Stamps don't know where the cheapest prices are either though), and I know that they have some healthier foods without a lot of junk added like high fructose corn syrup. But in reality, on $4.72 per day, you don't have a lot of wiggle room to add much to your food, even if it is cruddy ingredients. But high fructose corn syrup along with salt is obviously something that is added to a lot of cheap foods to make them tasty but cheap, and something that I'd like to try to avoid.
I had it in my mind that I could buy some of the basics; frozen veggies, pasta, pasta sauce, beans, rice, bread, peanut butter and jelly, as long as the item wasn't over about $2. Once you get over $2, your overall budget takes a big hit and it had better be a worthwhile item.
I have never in my life had to go grocery shopping with this mindset. I do comparison shop, comparing organic vs. nonorganic, what's on sale with what's not, etc. But I sorta, kinda, try to make money saavy decisions, but it's really based on personal preference, health, and taste, not truly on the amount of money in my pocket. Sure I've had ramen for a week in college here and there, but I knew that it wasn't going to be a lengthy, being-hungry-and-poor situation.
I arrived home with $29.06 worth of groceries. I have almost $4 left, total, for the next 7 days and frankly I dunno how I'm gonna make it. I'm kicking myself for "splurging" on whole wheat, high fiber bread that was $2.59. I may need a second loaf of bread by week's end! It was the cheapest bread at TJ's, but I could've easily gotten a Wonderbread type loaf for $0.99. I didn't want to compromise on unhealthy things, and I'll see if it makes me go hungry later in the week. I also splurged on zucchini, onions and whole wheat pasta instead of plain pasta. Like the bread, I went with a healthier version of pasta for $0.39 more. Zucchini seemed inexpensive for what it is, and onions are inexpensive and add a lot of flavor to things - however looking at the receipt, anything over $2 gets scrutinized.
I'm challenging own ideas around healthy eating, which includes a vegetarian, mostly vegan diet. I will be eating 100% vegan this week. No eggs. No dairy. Definitely no meat or fish. I keep thinking to myself, this would be SOOOO much easier if I ate eggs! Protein, cheap, filling, can be added to any meal. But then I think, this would be SOOOO much easier if I ate from the $1 menu at McDonalds. And it would be SOOOOO much easier if . . .
It's no coincidence that our Nation's poor have higher rates of heart disease, obesity and diabetes. I am already seeing the whole blame the victim in a different light. Take this challenge for a week, and you eat things that wouldn't make you at higher risk for disease! It's difficult, and would you have enough willpower to stick to your ideals of healthy eating? To avoid that $1 cheeseburger? (I actually don't know if you can still get a burger for $1 but I assume that you can at some fast food place!)
The Food Bank supplements food for a lot of people in our communities. This often includes fruits and vegetables, which is awesome. But I think of the strain on our local food banks with budget cuts, and times during the year when donations to the Food Bank are running low.
I am beating myself up over bread, zucchini, onions and pasta. Which with looking at overall health, the stress related to worrying about your next meal and how much money you have left in your pocket for the week takes a toll on your health too.
Stress. Anxiety. Self-doubt. Worry. Let the Hunger Challenge begin!