In April 2008, when we first began to feel the pinch of the recession at the grocery store, my teenage daughter suggested our family take the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge.
This entails a family living on a food stamp budget for one week to raise visibility and understanding of the challenges that millions of low-income Americans face in obtaining a healthy diet under current food stamp benefit levels.
Some members of Congress took the challenge in 2007 and encouraged others to join them. At the time the challenge was created, the average monthly food stamp benefit nationwide was $94.05, about $3 a day or $1 a meal per person.
Even though I know healthful meals will be practically non-existent and tempers short, our family still plans to take the challenge. I just haven’t made the time to find a week when we’ll all be home for every meal, when we’re not invited out to eat any meals (this is a no-no on the challenge) and when we’re all mentally prepared to spend some days going to bed a bit hungry.
Often at the grocery store, I think about this challenge when I’m buying $18 worth of fish for my family of four to consume at one sitting – and that doesn’t count side dishes, like steamed asparagus at $3 a pound or $5 worth of fresh fruit for a salad.
I also think about the challenge when I make healthful, prudent choices at the store as well. For instance, yesterday I was at a discount grocery store in Fulton and came upon fresh chicken tenders for $1.95 a pound, beautiful green beans at 99 cents a pound and sweet potatoes straight from Vardaman for 39 cents a pound. I bought two pounds of chicken, a pound of green beans and six sweet potatoes. With tax, my bill was $6.71.
This was enough food to easily feed six people for one meal, so it was fairly close to $1 per person. You’ve got to admit, that’s a pretty nutritious and delicious dinner for a buck a plate.
On the downside, however, I drove to a fast-food restaurant afterward and ordered a grilled chicken salad for lunch and with tax, the bill was $6.54. In one swipe of the debit card, I had spent the same amount of money I could have used to feed six people an evening meal.
What an eye-opener.
So until we take the challenge, which I’m sure I’ll write about in great detail, I will continue to be mindful about the amount of money I spend at the grocery store and in restaurants. We may be eating more Mississippi catfish than Alaskan salmon and more turnip greens than asparagus, but at least we’ll have food on our table.
And that’s more than I can say for a lot of families right here in our own community.
If you’re interested in taking the challenge, or just learning more about it, visit http://foodstampchallenge.typepad.com/my_weblog/about_the_challenge/index.html
Ginna Parsons is the Daily Journal’s food/home/garden editor.
Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal