Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Challenge: Day Two

Today is day two of the challenge, and I am definitely starting to feel it wear me down.
I’ll back up a little to explain --> If you’re anything like me, you are a student who procrastinates until Sunday night to do their homework for the following day. I stayed up late last night doing some homework and still had to wake up early in the morning to finish it. Usually, I would drink a cup of coffee in the morning to wake me up. But since I only bought enough food for one day yesterday; I had to wait until I could go grocery shopping today to consume anything but tap water.
It was 2:30 pm when I could finally do some shopping. This is what I ended up buying for the remainder of the week, all of which cost me $19.26:

  • 2 lb. box of pasta shells
  •  A slab of margarine
  • Container of parmesan cheese
  • 1 pack of frozen peas
  •  2 lb. bag of rice
  • A dozen of eggs
  • 3 apples
  • 4 bananas
  • 1 pint of ice cream 
  • 1 box of 5 pre-mixed packets of coffee

When I got home, I immediately started cooking some rice and eggs so I could devour my first meal of the day. The meal was one of the most satisfying I’ve had… in the ten minutes that it lasted.
Although my hunger has diminished, I’m feeling the effects of not eating as much as I normally do. That combined with not having a good night’s sleep has given me lightheadedness, shaking limbs, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Even while I’m going through this ‘challenge’ of eating on $4.40/day, it’s hard to imagine actually living this way for an entire month or longer without having any sort of backup plan. I mean, I can theoretically “cheat” and eat free food that I’m constantly surrounded by on a college campus or buy additional groceries, but for some people this is real-life and there is no other way of attaining food. 


I did it. I just managed my first Monday in forever without coffee. In truth, I had completely forgotten that coffee would have to be one of my sacrifices throughout this week. I think I’ve always taken coffee for granted because I always buy the huge bags of it that last me at least two months so I never think about the cost of it. Today while we were doing our grocery shopping for the week I decided that I probably couldn’t manage another morning of classes and work without my addiction… so I bought coffee. But when I say I bought coffee I mean I spent $5 (25% of my budget) to get a very small bag and a very small thing of creamer.

One of the overlooked problems of eating on food stamps is that you can’t buy in bulk. Obviously the cost is more upfront but then it lasts you much longer and it’s the better deal. Only having $4.40 to spend a day or $30.80 the cost of bulk goods is still too great up front despite the better deal they offer in the long run.

So onto what I’ve eaten today! All of the participants got to go grocery shopping today for this week’s worth of food so thankfully my meals have improved since yesterday. I had a can of SpaghettiOs ($1) for lunch and for dinner I plan on using the mushrooms I just bought to create a stirfry.

As a quick run down of my purchases at the grocery store:

  • Mushrooms $2
  • Eggs $1
  • Coffee $3
  • Creamer $2
  • Pasta $1.89
  • Cheese $1.50
  • Beans $0.89
  • Bread $1.30
  • Orange Juice $3
  • Sauce $1.50

Be sure to check my post tomorrow for pictures and what my daily routine of meals will be!


            I woke up at 8 am and had breakfast from the food I bought the night before. For breakfast I had a disposable bowl of honey nut cheerios for a dollar. The pint of milk I bought for the cereal cost $1.75. I also bought two packs of Ramen noodles for 67 cents a piece, one for lunch and one for dinner. That brings my total for the day to be $4.09. I figured that would be enough food to last until today’s grocery shopping trip. There were two main problems I had with the food for the day. One thing was that most of the food I ate contained extremely high levels of sodium. Another major problem  was that I was still hungry after every meal I ate. Until we went food shopping, I thought if someone had to eat like this every day they would easily develop some serious health problems.

            At the store I was only allowed to spend about $22.00, so my first thoughts were cheap and filling food. I bought oatmeal for breakfast, because not only will I be able to eat a filling breakfast for thirteen days, it is also very good for you and only cost $3. The oatmeal not only guarantees breakfast every morning but can also be a snack if I get hungry throughout the day. The next items I chose were bread($1.20), peanut butter($2.00), and jelly($2.00). This isn’t the healthiest for to pick out, but the peanut butter will give me protein for the day and there is enough ingredients for two sandwiches a day for six days. The last meal I thought about was dinner. I bought two cans of meats sauce($1.50 each) and pasta($3.00). The last important item I bought was store brand coffee($4.50). This might seem like it would not be a necessity, but if you are on diet that involves minimal food consumption and does not have a lot of nutritional value, it will be hard to stay awake during the day. This is very important considering if you are on food stamps it’s possible you are working more than eight hours a day and need to be able to focus. I had two dollars to spare and was excited because I thought that I could afford milk… I was wrong, so I ended up buying cinnamon($1.50) to put in the oatmeal and coffee to bring my total spending to about $20.40 after tax. After the shopping trip today, I feel it is possible to live off of the $4.40 a day SNAP budget. It definitely limits what you can get and puts your needs ahead of your wants. I’m glad I only have to do this for a week, because this still seems like an unhealthy lifestyle. I feel the more experience you have with this life style the better you will become at shopping healthy on such a budget.


            I was a tad anxious before going to the store, realizing from the start that by making minimum price my main focus, I would have to push aside my usual focus upon environmental and social justice in the food I purchase. Normally, I like to use my dollar to support humane practices, with the eventual goal that, with enough time and people, these better food practices can become the norm and that our government will instead subsidize these more sustainable farmers and practices rather than the rather harmful corn and soy like it does now.

            Although I am not a huge supporter of Whole Foods, that is where I do most of my grocery shopping. Not everything sold at Whole Foods is sustainable, although many people are told so. The good thing about places like Whole Foods, however, is that it provides options. There, I buy my sugar and rice and oatmeal, and a bunch of other things, in bulk. I use my reusable produce bags and therefore generate no plastic waste through my largest (bulk) purchases. Today reminded me, as I have realized this before, how it truly is an economic luxury to be able to even choose to shop sustainably. Every type of rice came in plastic packaging. All of the eggs were in either Styrofoam or some other form of plastic. And yes, these purchases amounted to a lot less than they would have at a health food store, but that is the problem I see. The way our food system is currently set up does not allow low-income individuals to choose the way higher-income individuals can. Freedom of choice should not be a class issue. The availability of different food choices allows us to make a choice regarding our personal health, overall environmental health, the work conditions of food producers, and conditions of animals in the meat we eat, and so on. By limiting the options available at low prices, we are also limiting the ability of those with less excess money to voice their opinions.  And although this concern has crossed my mind many times throughout by exposure to readings and documentaries on sustainability, today was the first time that I had to actually ignore most of what I have come to value and support with my money. I am extremely thankful that I have the monetary ability to choose what I eat and to minimize the impacts of my consumption, but it frustrates me that our current economic systems limits so many people from having this, what should be basic, freedom.


This is such a crazy week for me to be doing this challenge. I am not as prepared as I would like to be, but that’s making me realize how calculated I must be to spend such little money each week. Today I was unable to go to the grocery store with the group today due to other commitments. This sounds like my life. In general, I never make time to go shopping until I’m out of food. Usually when this happens, I have the convenient option of grabbing food to go or eating at restaurants with friends. That’s definitely not going to happen because I can’t get 2 solid meals anywhere besides fast food places on four dollars. I realize that too much of my monthly food budget goes to Starbucks or chocolate. While cappuccinos & eating out don’t add much nutritional value to my diet, these little luxuries and conveniences make my day so much better. They get me through being on campus from 9am to 10pm; they make skipping lunch more bearable.

After 3 classes at the gym, I basically blew my day’s budget buying a protein shake. I’m very quickly experiencing the nutritional hurdles that low income Americans are facing. Obesity is historically a condition of the wealthy, but in America the majority affected is the poor. The food in our supermarkets that’s cheap and affordable is packaged, processed, and high in fat, salt and sugar content. All these foods that I am tempted by and try so hard to avoid are now what I have to pick from thanks to the price tags in the fresh produce section. While these foods are satisfying to the taste buds, they don’t keep me full nor do they provide me with the proteins and nutrients a body needs to be healthy. Diet influences your body image, immune system, susceptibility to disease. Obesity makes you 20 to 40 times more likely to develop diabetes. More than 24 million Americans have diabetes; in 2007, this cost the US    $116 billion in excess medical spending. More healthy weight Americans means lower medical expenditures and government spending. Hmmm. There’s gotta be a better way to get everyone in this country access to the surplus of healthful foods.


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