Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Week 1: It's a SNAP - or is it?

Friends of Northeast Florida Community Gardens staffer, Katie Salz, is doing a series of articles on her experiences trying to eat a healthy, balanced diet with only the resources provided by the safety net for Americans, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). To see all of the articles to date, Katie's SNAP Journey.

I spent a lot of time this last week thinking about the amount of money I would spend on food this week. I even spent a lot of time talking about how much money I would spend on food this week. When I woke up hungry this morning, I remembered that the fridge was off limits to me until I hit the supermarket.

Assuming I would get more for my dollar I drove the 5 miles to Walmart. Just how many dollars had I decided to spend for the next five days? My best research was telling me about $6.50 per day, which was confirmed when I spoke with a family friend utilizing SNAP.

As an individual, with no income she receives
$200 per month,
which is $32.25 per week
or $6.45 per day.

I had always considered myself an informed shopper, avoiding high fructose corn syrup, buying as much organic as possible while being sure to avoid the 'Dirty Dozen' ( and seeing to it that our pantry is stocked with essentials such as beans, canned tomatoes and flour.

I realized quickly that I had no idea what it really meant to be an informed shopper.

I started with the frozen vegetable section, still hoping that I could complete this experience as a vegetarian. A large bag of frozen broccoli cost me $1.98. I moved on to the dairy section to check on eggs and cheese. The cheapest dozen eggs cost me $1.88 and a block of mild cheddar set me back $4.66.

I wandered more. Roaming the aisles, I was getting hungrier and nervous.

I had no clue how to ensure well-balanced meals for the next 5 days.

I checked out pasta and beans, flirted with the idea of canned collard greens and confirmed there was no tofu to be bought. I put my high horse in the barn and bought a package of Tyson chicken breasts for $6.66. My running tally indicated I still had more than half of my money left to spend.

The bigger issue was becoming clear; what exactly was I going to eat this week? I had food in my cart, but no discernable meals.

A luxury of discretionary spending is being able to fill the cart without a question that nightly meals will appear.

Back and forth I trekked from the beans and rice to the pasta and cereal, over to peanut butter and back to the canned collard greens. It took me more than an hour to make my decisions, and try to ensure I had meals. I still had not had anything to eat so I was eager to get home, but realized I had nothing remotely close to a fresh vegetable or fruit. Comparisons abounded in the canned fruit section, and the best option was a 6-pack of store brand applesauce.

Here's the final list of purchases, totaling $32.20:

Macaroni shells$0.82
Brown rice$.78
Wheat bread$1.25
Cheddar cheese$4.66
Chicken breast$6.66
Vanilla yogurt$2.38
Peanut butter$2.12
Baked beans$1.98
Dried black beans$1.22
Taco seasoning$0.68
Alfredo sauce$1.68
Canned collards$0.83
Frozen broccoli$1.98
Apple sauce$1.50

Meal possibilities:
  1. Pasta with chicken, broccoli and alfredo sauce 
  2. Peanut butter sandwiches 
  3. Grilled cheese sandwiches 
  4. Egg and cheese sandwiches 
  5. Eggs with broccoli and cheese and toast 
  6. Rice and baked beans 
  7. Rice with black beans, collards and taco seasoning 
  8. Cereal and yogurt 
I'm not sure how hungry I will be this week. I have enough bread to have 2 sandwiches per day, some with egg and cheese and some with peanut butter. The rice and baked beans and the rice and black beans will give me a lot of food, as will the chicken and pasta. All of it piled together on the counter doesn't look like much, but explained here it seems to be enough.

While I spent a lot of time thinking about this project, there were definitely aspects I hadn't considered.

Shopping with a meal plan is vital; otherwise, the $32.25 is spent on a mismatch of ingredients that amounts to little. 

My typical grocery shopping experience starts with a list of items that we have run out of and then turns into an adventure of what looks the freshest and has the fewest chemicals and preservatives, what is organic/local and what is on sale. Except for checking out sale items, this approach does not work for $6.45 a day.

  • 'Enough' is of course relative.
  • There is nothing organic.
  • There are no extras, like butter, oil or seasoning.
  • There are no fresh fruits or fresh vegetables.
  • There is no reason to believe this is a well-rounded diet that would be satisfying on a long-term basis.
~ Katie Salz
October 26, 2011

If you have questions or suggestions for Katie, please use the comment section and chime in. We look forward to hearing your input on this series of articles.