post 2 of 2
So what did we eat during the five days of our SNAP Challenge? We had spaghetti with sauce: no meat, no added vegetables like we usually add. We cooked up one pound of pinto beans to yield 6 cups of cooked beans to eat as refried beans, burritos and minestrone soup with some leftover spaghetti. We ate eggs, cooked up as omelets with a few veggies and a few sprinkles of cheese on top. Cereal with milk. Peanut butter helped us stick together.
We had purchased fruit a couple of days prior to the Challenge, and we worked that purchase of 4 apples and 4 pears into our budget. Our hearts sank when we cut into one pear and found half of it bad, leaving less to eat at supper, no money left to go back to the store to purchase more. My husband return the pear to the grocery store and they gave us double our money back. Because we weren't working that evening, have a reliable car, and live just under a mile from the store, we could do this. Not the case for many others relying on SNAP benefits. Consider, if you will, some of our state’s senior citizens who live in small towns without grocery stores who may not be able to drive 30 or 50 miles to the nearest grocery store if this happened to them.
We used $8.00 of our budget to shop at the Farmers Market for melon, zucchini and one large onion, as SNAP benefits are accepted at a few farmers markets in the state. We added flavor from basil growing in a pot outside. Emily snacked on cherry tomatoes from a plant in our yard for an after-school snack. A little-known option of the SNAP program is that a person can use their benefits to purchase seeds or seedlings. If a family can find the means to set aside some of their benefits in the spring, there can be a great return on that investment at this time of year.
How do people who receive SNAP benefits learn about these aspects of the program and how to make the most out of a limited food budget? NDSU Extension operates the SNAP Education (SNAP –Ed) Program across the state, which goes by the name the Family Nutrition Program. Their educators lead grocery store tours, teach nutrition education to kids in school and the community, and work with kids in gardens, helping them grow (in more ways than one.) My colleague’s family received SNAP benefits more than 20 years ago, and she still remembers her SNAP-Ed lessons and keeps a well-stocked pantry to this day. The tools of SNAP-Ed can stay with people a lifetime; the average length of stay on SNAP is 9 months. SNAP-Ed tools and tips are useful and available to anyone online: http://snap.nal.usda.gov/resource-library/click-n-go-education-materials
It was really helpful to be able to use "pooled resources" as a family. When I've read the experiences of others taking this Challenge, they have been single, and had to put resources toward items in amounts as packaged, which often doesn’t support buying a variety of foods. That pound of dry beans, which cooked up to 6 cups of cooked beans, can get monotonous for one person over a week. One of our compromises was a commercial bread that was much cheaper and has 24 slices (compared to the more expensive and higher nutrition quality bread we usually purchase). In the middle of the week at lunch I had a peanut butter sandwich with just one slice of bread, as I wanted to be sure there would be enough to last. We made the bread stretch to the last day, but that lunch did not stretch to last me well to dinnertime.
Although I didn’t experience a great deal of hunger pangs, what I did feel is complicated by a minor health issue. I have some mild acid reflux that I manage that by eating small meals or snacks every few hours. But this week I didn’t have the food resources to do that; I had to stick to the “three square meals” pattern. The day with the small peanut butter sandwich was worse, as I ate my lunch early and was “on empty” for several hours. The feeling is like hunger pangs, but it burns more. This calls to mind over half the people in our state who are living with chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Not only can adequate nutrition prevent such diseases, it is crucial for managing them once we have them.
It hit us about how hard it could be to build a pantry on a very limited budget. How can you purchase for the future while trying to meet today's needs first? We could have blown one day's worth of resources on one jar of spices to make a delicious recipe. We would have it for some time to come, but what will we eat today if we do that?
Duane has this idea of providing a "head start" to people with few resources: staple foods like oil, grains, dry beans, etc. so they can build a better life. A well-stocked pantry is like a down-payment on a house - once it's there, a family has so many more other doors open to them, so many more options available. And speaking of a head start, Head Start Programs are also like a down payment on a better life - opening so many more doors and the chance for a better, healthier life for our children.
We did it. We pulled it together. We had a few teaspoons of peanut butter, a few sprinkles of cheese and some toasted oat cereal left. We RAN OUT of some foods. But to anyone who says that accessing food through SNAP is “taking the easy way out,” I encourage you to try it yourself. I encourage anyone who helps others make decisions about food to buy or eat to take the Challenge. I also recommend that any elected official who makes decisions about spending on food and nutrition programs, if not ever experienced a scarcity of food in their lives, to step up to take the Challenge. It will change how you think about how people access what is necessary for all human life: food.