By Cassie | March 1, 2014
Well, it is now on Day 5 of the SNAP Challenge. Most OSU participants finished the challenge yesterday, but I started a day late and also decided I wanted to do a full week rather than just 5 days! So I’m gonna keep on trucking along :) I just thought I would update you on the realizations/perspective I have gained from the challenge so far.
First off! The SNAP budget is small. And I mean small. Luckily, I am the type of person who already likes to plan ahead for my weekly meals and budget myself pretty tightly on the regular. But I can only imagine what it must be like for people who fall into poverty and hunger and are forced to have to completely rework their food planning. Even for me, I had to spend about half an hour, maybe a little longer, devoted to planning out exactly what items I was going to get from the store. I had to plan to make sure that:
- Each item could be used
- The ingredients for the meals for the week were similar (i.e. that I could use one item for more than one meal)
- There was at least a little variety in the meals (I realize you could probably get two loaves of bread and a couple packages of bologna to last the week, but come ON, people. Would you feel healthy and/or satisfied eating that for every meal?!)
- And that I would be able to make meals that were actually somewhat healthy and enjoyable.
One major realization I have had so far is that it is extremely difficult to eat healthily on this budget. Yes, you can buy fruits & vegetables for fairly cheap if you play it right. But if someone on a SNAP budget were to get a lot of produce and dairy items, I think people often forget one detail….these items go bad. Quickly. Much more quickly than you may even realize.
For instance, I bought a bunch of bananas at the beginning of my challenge. There were seven bananas and I thought to myself, Perfect! one for each day. But, on day 3 of the challenge, the bananas were already ripening…quickly! I had wondered why on earth the bunches were sold completely green at the store, but now I think I understand. They need to last! I ended up searching ways to make bananas stay fresher longer, which involved taking them off of the bunch and individually wrapping the stems in plastic wrap & foil. It actually worked!! They are just now starting to get a couple freckles on Day 5, significantly reducing the ripening time. (They had gone from light green to very yellow in one night before I wrapped them like this.)
But imagine someone on a SNAP budget. Often, these individuals and families are low or no income, and are struggling to make ends meet. All of the knowledge that I have about food, from family & books & websites & experiences, may not even be available to them. So even being able to plan ahead so well for my meals, and knowing what to do to make them last longer, is an advantage I may have over those facing hunger & poverty in our communities. Worth a good thought…
Also. There is a decent amount of time that I had to invest into planning & preparing these meals. Some were quick, like reheating leftovers or making up a PB & J sandwich. But even over instant meals, these items take some time. And if the food item takes less planning, effort, and knowledge, of course it will be preferred. Not everyone has the luxury of the time or effort required to make a healthy meal. Also, food items that are going to last longest and have the most caloric value are going to be more important in the end, rather than getting in all of your leafy greens, fruits, and veggies, most of which do not carry many calories and do not sustain as well. And, perhaps above all, “bad” foods (high in sugar & fat) are cheaper. It’s that easy. All of this, to me, explains well the epidemic of obesity among impoverished people, which many critics use as a way to “explain away” the need for SNAP. I already know for certain I have eaten more high-fat and high-sugar foods, as well as a lot more carbs, on this SNAP challenge diet.
But anyways, those are my reflections so far on the SNAP challenge. I encourage you to try it! See what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of people who actually quite probably live within a few miles of you right now. Poverty & hunger are realities, and I think it’s really important that those of us who are fortunate enough to go to the grocery store without sweating and stressing over every little item that they buy are made more aware of the struggles many face.
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