The SNAP Challenge – Part I

Remember food stamps? They don’t exist anymore in that name. These days, those benefits are called SNAP — Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Meant to be supplemental in nature, this program doesn’t exactly pay big bucks to its participants. What it does do is provide approximately $4.30 per person, per day to buy food. If you’re reading this while sipping a Venti no-whip, light-foam, vanilla soy latte, this might be a reality check. $4.30 probably wasn’t enough to buy your drink, much less a full day’s sustenance. I’m not here to debate who may or may not really need these benefits, that is for a different discussion. For now, let’s assume that for some, SNAP means the difference between feeding a family or going hungry.

Can you feed yourself – or your family – enough nutritious food to survive on this amount? A recent Wall Street Journal article by Brett Arends documented an experiment called the SNAP Challenge – where for six weeks he challenged himself to live on only the $4.30 per day. The article is only available online to other WSJ subscribers. If you are one, you can see the full article here. If you are not, read on, as I reference some of the quotes.

In his article, Arends says, “I started with a list of don’ts—things I wouldn’t do. I didn’t eat out. I didn’t eat any packaged or processed foods. I didn’t try to live on energy bars. I avoided cheap carbohydrates, like white bread and noodles. Yes, they’re cheap. But they’re empty calories. I abandoned buying coffee out. For my caffeine needs I carried tea bags instead (one cent each from Wal Mart.)”

Interesting, eh? Forget SNAP for a moment. One of the objections I hear most often when I tell people how important it is to eat real food — not packaged, minimally processed, or preserved — is that, “it’s just too expensive.” I’ve already looked at this idea in my post ”Is Real Food More Expensive?. I often consider a variety of responses to this, among them: What is your health worth? How much does it cost to treat diabetes or heart disease? How much would you pay to have more years to enjoy your elderly father or your child? 

After looking at the reality offered by the SNAP challenge, I think it’s important to repeat this message: Eating well does not have to break the bank. However, this SNAP challenge provides yet another way to look at it. While the author spent only six weeks on this challenge, he managed to make it work during this time period by buying real food — not factory produced food-like items, but actual food. Even if we are not limited to the small budget that he used as a guideline, many of us are on tight budgets. I’ve experienced this myself, as my family has to make our grocery budget last a very long way. (We buy either organic or otherwise real food and manage to spend less than $100 per week for a family of four on groceries). We very occasionally eat out. My husband does buy coffee and sometimes has meals out that add to the overall cost of food, but we do that by choice, and are living proof that you can indeed eat healthily on a modest budget.

So what was the impact of Arends’ challenge to his health? Tune in to Part II to find out….

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