I recently read about what it is like to struggle with food insecurity. For example, to only have $60 a month to spend on food. From what I gathered, one’s diet may often consist of eating beans, root vegetables (mostly potatoes, I guess?), and pasta/bread. A few years ago, when I spoke to the coordinator of a local organization that provides food, shelter, education, clothing and support, they told me that when one is on food stamps, they only have about $3 a day to spend on food, so they generally go for food that keeps them from feeling hungry- and that often consists of high calorie, processed food. ($3 a day is about $90 a month. I guess these numbers may all vary by state and cost of food in the area, as well as change over time).
The Food Stamp Program in the US, currently called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), has something called a SNAP challenge. This challenge “encourages participants to experience what life is like for millions of low-income Americans living on the average daily allowance of only $4.15!” (I guess that is about $124 a month).
One Congressman tried to live only a food stamp budget for a week ($31.50 a week in Michigan, or $4.50 a day), and his story is chronicled here. The Congressman noted that his diet was very restricted, and that he often felt hungry, especially at night. He also noted that he discovered that “luxuries like chicken, beef and produce are simply too expensive for such a restricted budget”.
Another difficulty I read about is the inability to purchase in bulk (which can help bring down cost of food) because of insufficient funds to do so, or maybe the inability to be approved for a credit card. Additional issues include: availability of only a small refrigerator and no working freezer, no oven, no microwave, only one hot plate, lack of funds for oils and spices (which are generally costly upfront). These issues may make purchasing “raw” foods (foods that require extra preparation but cost less) or foods that take up a lot of space in the fridge or freezer very difficult.
This month, half way through, I managed to spend more on food than I’d like to for a whole month (i.e. the budget I set for myself and generally aspire to). So I’ve decided to spend most of the rest of this month living off of only what was available at my home. Since I already spent so much it must mean there must be enough to survive on, right? In a way, I am simulating what it is like when one runs out of food assistance before the end of the month.
One thing that did start to make me anxious was that I was already starting to run out of fresh produce. I immediately started growing alfalfa sprouts in my sprouter as a way to have something fresh to eat when my fresh produce disappeared (a similar one to mine can be purchased on Amazon, though they can grown just in a glass jar).
I should be okay on grains and even meat (which I don’t eat much). For grains, I have pasta, rice, quinoa, sweet corn, and buckwheat. I also have lentils and kelp noodles, though I don’t think I will be purchasing the latter again (they only have 6 calories per serving and gave me some digestive problems). I have some homemade chicken liver pate which seems to be lasting me forever (a plastic container of chicken livers only costs $1.75, and these livers have a huge amount of iron and Vitamin A). I still have half a container left and I put it in the freezer. I also have bread, matzah squares, and rolled oats. I also have some smoked salmon and a little bit of cubed pancetta. I have plenty of cheese (mozzarella, parmesan, and even paneer and frozen Jarlsberg, though not sure it’s any good anymore). I have homemade yogurt, and I have milk. I have a lot of frozen barbecue sauce (?), tomato paste, and even a frozen bottle of strained tomatoes (known as passata). I also have some pasta sauce. I have many apples, one avocado, and one banana. I have some raisins, dried cranberries, and some nuts. I also have some frozen peas and honeycake that I unearthed from the freezer, as well as a package of frozen quinoa dinner and maybe some frozen fish (not sure if edible). I have some ice cream and home-made popsicles. In terms of fresh food left- I have some baby kale, some cooked bell peppers and portabello mushrooms, and some mung beans. I also have 2 eggs left. It’s surprising just how much food one has hiding in various places in the kitchen. I am pretty lucky that I have every kind of oil, butter, vinegar, spice, and condiment available. Looking forward, I have a bag of yellow potatoes and one spaghetti squash which I imagine will have to all be eaten. I think I should be okay but the main issue will have to be dealing with lack of fresh produce.
To end this entry, I will ask the question: what kind of food do people really need when money is tight / what kind of food should you be donating to food banks? Here’s a Buzzfeed article describing what food banks are looking for. One thing I’d add to the list: spices. Or even better, donate money directly to the food bank!