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Food Stamp Challenge: 20 Things I Learned

Recently I completed a month-long Food Stamp Challenge. During that time, I lived on a limited budget of $28 a week to simulate living on Food Stamps. Below are my top 20 lessons learned from my endeavor (in no particular order).

1. Living on a Food Stamp budget is really difficult: It just is. There is very no room for error. Spilled milk, burned dinner…these little things can push food insecurity into going without food for a significant period of time.

2. A month-long Food Stamp Challenge is much easier with friends: I was blessed with an amazing group of partners this year. Thank you to Aaron Smullin, Tamara Grubb and Vicki Berg from our staff here at Second Harvest as well as Bridget Blevins from KQ2, Greg Miller from News-Press 3 NOW, Barry Birr from KFEQ/Eagle Radio and my family. I encourage everyone to tap into their experiences by visiting our blog.

3. Having health issues makes living on Food Stamps even more difficult: Because of a 2007 Bi-Lateral lung transplant, I have very specific dietary requirements. Also, my family partnered with me during the last week of the challenge. We had to make sure to protect the diet of our 10 year old who suffers from Crohn’s Disease. 

4. From coupons to bargain-shopping to meal planning, food begins to require a great deal of time: Food becomes overwhelming; it seems I was planning, shopping or thinking about food all the time. One of my partners even remarked that he was dreaming about cheeseburgers – and he’s not even a big cheeseburger eater.

5. Healthy, nutritious food becomes hard to purchase: Healthy fruits and vegetables as well as important dairy items were just too expensive. I became very aware of the increasing price of gasoline. It was a real eye-opener the day I realized that a gallon of milk cost more than a gallon of gas – and gas was really expensive.

6. I didn’t like myself as a hungry adult: I was tired, I didn’t feel well and I struggled to focus. I was not a productive professional leader, father or husband. I appreciate the support and patience of everyone around me.

7. Eating became less about enjoyment and all about seeking some measure of food security: I really enjoy food. I enjoy eating a nice meal with friends, colleagues and family. That joy was gone and it didn’t have anything to do with the company, just my relationship with food. That may sound crazy but food insecurity radically changes a person’s relationship with food – it can no longer be enjoyable if your mind believes it’s about survival.

8. I learned a person can eat gluten-free on a tight budget with a little creativity: I am not even going to try and explain this. Check out my interview with Second Harvest Director of Finance and Administration Vicki Berg.

9. I went without food and it impacted my health: I was sick the last week of the challenge…just sick. Physically and emotionally spent – I was ready for the FSC to be over. I learned that being successful with the FSC requires rationing food and I didn’t do as good a job as I should have done.

10. I spend too much money on food: I just do. Being without made me very, very aware of the fact that I typically have too much.

11. I am a horrible cook: Some of the stuff I cooked was just bad. Some of my partners love to cook. Check out Bridget Blevins’ blog posts.

12. I became very aware of how much food I typically waste: Nothing goes to waste when the starting point isn’t enough.

13. I ate the same thing over and over: I finally settled in on a plan that worked and didn’t deviate much from that plan. That required that I eat the same thing over and over and lots of Ritz Crackers when I was hungry. This of course was my choice but I had limited time to plan and shop.

14. Immediately I felt social isolation: Meeting someone after work for dinner and drinks was out. Inviting friends over to the house or feeding the kids’ friends hanging out at the house was impossible.

15. I couldn’t just stop by the store or restaurant and “pick something up”: So many times I just wanted to pick up a sandwich or something quick on the way home. While I may have avoided some less than nutritious dinners, I can say it was a big change.

16. I was personally embarrassed that I missed my cup of coffeehouse coffee so much: I love going to get an awesome cup of coffee in the morning. I was surprised how important that was to me and how much money I typically spend on my morning coffee.  

17. Allowing Food Stamps to be used at Farmers Markets was a brilliant move: Although I didn’t have the opportunity to visit a Farmer’s Market during the FSC, I did get a much better appreciation for the decision by the USDA to allow those purchases.

18. Two words: Bean Soup.  Ingredients: Two bags of different kids of dry beans, one bag of taco seasoning, one bag of dry Ranch dressing and a half pound of ground beef.  Prepare: Cook the beef, add the items together with a half cup of water and allow it to cook on medium/low for about two hours. Sound gross?

19. SNAP (Food Stamp) allotments should be increased: Did you know that for every $5 in Food Stamp allotments spent, the community receives about $9.20 in economic activity? Increasing food security of children and seniors (the largest populations impacted by Food Stamps) helps a community. Economic activity means jobs. This program works!

20. I am thankful that I do not have to rely on SNAP benefits for my food. I just am…so thankful. I took some extra time to connect with those members of the community served by Second Harvest and as always I am inspired by their optimism, their strength of character to overcome disabilities and other challenges in life. More often than not we only see folks for a short period of time while they face and overcome life’s challenges. They are people of character.  

Thank you to everyone who participated and supported this year’s Second Harvest Food Stamp Challenge. It is now up to us to take what we have collectively learned to move forward towards a region capable of nourishing our children, families, seniors and individuals in their time of need.


Posted by David Davenport, CEO - Thursday, 04/12/12, 01:47 PM - Comments - Category: Food Stamp Challenge 2012

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