Monday, October 21, 2013

Eating On $4.20 Per Day

 For the past six months or so, I've been a part of the planning committee for a local, monthly food advocacy event called Seed Money Suppers. Part of a larger food advocacy organization, Community Food Advocates, the Seed Money Suppers are a way for people to come together in the community and, for just $10, enjoy a meal of yummy soup and beer from a local brewery, and hear from schools, community leaders and organizations who are trying to bring fresh, quality food to the Nashville area.

It might be a group trying to start a community garden in an economically poor part of town or a school trying to start an after school organics farming program for kids. The groups present their needs and proposals for meeting that need, and then the attendees vote for their favorite cause which then receives the "seed money" raised that night (usually about $500). It's a pretty awesome organization and way of bringing people together in the name of good quality food for all in the community.

I give you the back story because what we're planning for this next Seed Money Supper really gave me pause - contemplative pause - about how we all view food and its apparent abundance.

This month, instead of having our typical meal and our typical speakers get up and talk, we're dedicating the dinner and the entire week to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps) because on November 1, the government will cut SNAP benefits significantly. For the average family in need of the program, benefits will be cut about $26 per month, which means they will now have just $4.20 per person per day for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, seasonings and drinks.

That's right, $4.20 per person per day. Could you eat on $4.20 per day?

When I really started to think about my lifestyle, which I consider relatively thrifty, I realized I had absolutely no clue what it would be like to feed myself on so little, and certainly what it would be like to try to eat healthfully on so little. In fact, I wracked my brain to think of even one possible recipe that could feed four for that little. I'm still trying to think of one.

My cohorts at Community Food Advocates figured about the same, so on October 28 they are issuing the SNAP Challenge to the community to challenge people to experience what it would be like to eat on so little. Here's the challenge:

  • It will last for 5 straight days October 28th to November 1st.
  • Spend no more than $4.20 per day, including beverages.
  • Only buy and eat/drink items that are allowed to be purchased with SNAP.
  • Don’t use food already on hand unless you deduct the value from your daily amount.  Salt and pepper do not count against the daily cost allowance, but all other seasoning, cooking oils, condiments, snacks and drinks do.
  • Try to include fresh produce and a healthy protein each day.
  • Don’t accept food from family, friends, co-workers and others. Avoid free food anywhere. No outside food or dining out is permitted since you cannot use SNAP benefits on hot meals. 
  • You many need to cut coupons or search grocery paper ads on days that items are discounted.
  • Keep a log of what was bought and eaten for each meal, as well as grocery receipts.
  • Keep a daily journal of the experience.  Did you feel deprived or restricted?  Did you eat differently than usual?  Were you hungry?

As part of the kickoff, we are having our monthly dinner, but this time it's a potluck in which attendees are encouraged to make a healthy dish that would be something a family on SNAP could make with their food budget. The recipes for each of the dishes will be compiled and given to families in the community who receive SNAP assistance to help them create affordable meals in their homes.

So, I need your help: Do you have any recipes that could fit this bill? We're talking a meal for four that costs about $5 to make. That $5 must include all costs for oils and spices too except salt and pepper. Please send any recipes my way!

And, I encourage you to take the challenge, even if it's just for one or two days. In our country of abundance, indulgence and enjoyment, it's always good to be reminded of how difficult it is for some folks. That being able to afford anything to eat, let alone fresh produce, farm-raised meats and organics, is a struggle. 

To learn more about the SNAP Action Week, visit

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