From a SNAP Challenge Veteran
Greg, a professor at USC has spent more than 50 days on the SNAP diet! Below are his observations from the experience.
In 2011, I spent 50 days on the SNAP diet. Encouraged by the United Way Financial Security Council, my wife and I decided to take the SNAP challenge for a 40-day stretch in May and June (with a one-day interruption for our 20th wedding anniversary).
This fall, we did another 10-day stretch while I was co-teaching a class on the geography of food at USC. Many of our 34 students in the class also took the challenge.
Greg’s rules: We should spend no more than $320 on food for the two of us for a 40-day period. We should not compromise nutrition.
What we learned:
1. It’s possible. We spent about $300 total and ate like Michael Pollan suggests: Eat real (not processed) food; Not too much; Mostly vegetables. We did have meat about 3-4 days each week.
2. It takes a lot of planning and time. Using whole foods is more nutritious, but the preparation time is longer. Shopping takes a lot longer. While I didn’t like the extra time shopping, I don’t regret the extra time cooking, and for families this can be valuable time together.
3. It’s boring. We made batches of food that sometimes lasted for 3-4 meals, typically a dinner and the next two lunches, sometimes more. For a couple of “foodies” this was a bit of a sacrifice. Oh, but what we could have done with more time!
4. It takes more energy. Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans, but part of this is because someone else used the energy to cook the canned beans. (We did not calculate the extra energy costs.)
5. It takes a village. Pot lucks are nice and we did a few of those. More importantly, we belong to a food coop where $10 buys us a big box of fruits and vegetables from the State Farmers Market. It takes a little organization to get a group of people to pool their resources.
6. We did not use coupons. Most coupons are for less nutritious products.
7. We did shop around. Honestly, we stiffed the supermarkets by going to 2-3 in a week (more energy) and buying only their particular specials. The point: we did not usually choose what to eat first, then look for it in the store. Instead we saw what the store had on special, or what we could afford, and made the most of that.
8. We did not eat out. Well, only once for a buy-one-get-one-free burger at Hardees. And yes, we stiffed them too — no fries and no drinks. We took it home, sliced a real tomato on it, and washed it down with water. Just $1.99 for two, and the American farm subsidies for corn and beef paid the rest.
9. We did not drink alcohol. We’re not big drinkers, but 50 days without a glass of wine was a bit of a sacrifice.
10. We are privileged. We’ve had the benefits of education to know how to eat well. Since we were students for a long time, we learned how to live frugally. We are in social circles that allow us to share readily.
Great observations about the other factors such as time, transportation and education that can impact a SNAP diet. Today’s article with more information: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget.html