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Eating On Food Stamps: Take The Challenge

Five days with less than $5/day for food — a food stamps challenge.

10% Of Americans

With the economy stagnant and unemployment on the rise, more and more Americans are turning to federal assistance to get by. In July of this year, the food stamp program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was used by a record 41.8 million people, over 10% of the population.

The purpose of SNAP is to allow people at near-poverty income to purchase food, but at an average monthly benefit of $133.12 (in June 2009), this is probably not an easy task.

In addition, Congress plans to reduce benefits from the current level of about $4.50/day, to an even lower $3.70/day. Current levels reflect an increase in funding enacted last year with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. However, lawmakers plan to end this boost, using the difference to fund other programs. This will lead to an actual drop in benefits from one month to the next.

That’s why the Texas Food Bank Network issued a food stamp challenge to be held Oct 25-29 of this month.

Up To The Challenge

For five days, I will take the challenge, and I urge you to do the same.

Here are the rules: attempt to live on $4.50/day from Monday-Wednesday, and $3.70/day from Thursday-Friday. The rules of the Texas challenge are simple — you can’t accept free food, and you can’t consume previously purchased food or spices.

Basically, you have to account for everything.

The food stamp challenge is not a new idea. Even Wikipedia has an article on the trend started by hunger activists to raise awareness about the challenge many Americans face.

So, because it’s been done before, I wanted to add my own twist to the process. Actually, three twists:

  1. Vegetarian all the way. I’ve been kind of a pseudo-vegetarian recently, taking a bite of meat when it’s free or having fish now and then. No more of this. For the next five days, I’m strictly veg.
  2. No pre-prepared or restaurant food. Maybe it seems like a given — how could you afford to go to a restaurant with $4.50 a day? But I’m going beyond no restaurants. Nothing I make will be pre-prepared. Making your own food from scratch means you know what’s in it, and I think it’s a great way to have a healthier diet. It’s also more work, but that only means you appreciate your food that much more.
  3. Try to buy local and seasonal foods. This can be tough to do even on my normal food budget, so I won’t exclusively shop at the local co-op. But when possible, I want to stick to locally grown produce, organic milk, and seasonal foods. That means pumpkin!


As a recent college graduate in a faltering economy, money is tight, but my monthly food budget is still around twice food stamp levels. Maybe this is just because I’m wasteful, maybe because I eat out. I’m not sure.

That’s part of why I’m doing this little experiment. Not only will it help make people aware of the experience of eating on food stamps, but it will help me become more aware of what I’m spending. Will I be able to splurge on organic milk and free range eggs? Is it possible not only to eat nutritiously, but to eat conscientiously on less than $5 a day?

Over on my blog, Eating IN , I’ll be keeping track of every morsel, calorie and cent for the five day challenge. You’re welcome to join me for the details. Otherwise, I’ll be doing a summary wrap-up for Earth Eats on the results next week.

Read More:

  • SNAP/Food Stamp Monthly Participation Data (FRAC)
  • Food stamp list soars past 35 million: USDA (Reuters)
  • Food Stamp Program (USDA)

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Sarah Kaiser

Sarah Kaiser is a student-turned-townie living in Bloomington, Indiana. A social media specialist at Solution Tree, she spends her days tweeting and her nights foraging at the local summer market for new tastes and flavors. And occasionally rocking out on the ukulele.

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