by Maria Schulz
Recently, my daughter Maddie told me about something called The Food Stamp Challenge. It started with Chef Mario Batali, from ABC’s food and entertainment show, The Chew.
Mario Batali raises awareness about hunger in America
Batali wanted to highlight how tough it is for the poor
to buy food—even if they worked, and even if they are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP—formerly known as Food Stamps). With SNAP, they receive about $29 per week (per person) to eat all of their meals—that’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner for 7 days, at a rate of a little over $4 per day for each family member.
With the goal of careful budgeting and high quality nutrition in mind, Batali set off with a stack of coupons to sales at the local supermarkets and the Dollar Store. He hoped to feed himself and his family on a small budget—about $31 per person, or $1.48 per meal for the entire week.
Of course, Batali quickly discovered that it’s easier to buy cheap carbs than protein, fresh fruits and vegetables. He bought cheaper cuts of meat like pork shoulder and chicken thighs. His grocery list included such things as eggs, lentils, rice, beans, lettuce, bananas, peanut butter, jelly, bread, pork, and chicken.
Batali said that he was starving for most of the week. He spent most of the time thinking about food and worrying about money. He told The Chew viewers: “This was really tough! I imagine it’s what it feels like to be hungry all the time. It’s not easy feeding a family of four for $1.48 per meal. Could you do it?”
Paltrow accepts the challenge
Always one to jump in where she probably shouldn’t, the actress, foodie, and Goop blogger/yogi on the mountain Gwyneth Paltrow said, “Yes I can!”
So off she went to the grocery store with $29 in hand. She proceeded to buy romaine lettuce, an avocado, 7 limes (yes, 7…was she concerned about getting scurvy?), eggs, peas, beans, rice, an onion, leeks, cilantro, kale, corn, one tomato, a jalapeno, and soft tacos. Unlike Chef Batali, she didn’t really think about what she would need to sustain herself and she didn’t budget wisely.
I’m set for today. Wait…this has to last me ALL WEEK?
As a result, four days into the challenge, Ms. Paltro up and quit—and went on a binge-eating blitz that included fresh chicken breasts, fresh veggies, and black licorice.
Obviously, Gwyneth is not a great shopper and probably has no idea how to live on a budget—she is the same person who famously said: “I am who I am. I can’t pretend to be somebody who makes $25,000 a year.” But let’s face it: not everyone is a world-renowned chef that knows how to shop wisely, stretch a budget, and cover all of the nutritional bases. Even Mario Batali struggled.
Either way, here’s the real issue: poor people can’t just quit their challenges. At the end of the week, they’re still hungry and struggling. I bet they’d love to run out and get some organic chickens, fresh vegetables, and candy just to break up the monotony of beans, potatoes, pasta, and more of the same every single day, if they’re lucky…but then they probably couldn’t eat for the rest of the month.
Another, completely different challenge that many poor people face is that they can’t get to a discount grocery store to get wholesome yet inexpensive food. Why? Because they live in what’s known as a food desert. If you have limited transportation options (no car, can’t afford to take the bus to shop, or have to walk everywhere) and live in a neighborhood with only corner bodegas, convenience stores, and fast food, you will have fewer options to eat well on a tight budget.
I’m one of the lucky Americans who don’t have to live on $1.48 per meal, per day. Could I do it? Sure. Or maybe. But probably not. I could eat lots of spam, deviled ham, peanut butter and jelly, and pasta if I had to—it would be a flashback to my childhood. However, if I ate this way all of the time, I would weigh a ton and have lots of health issues that have nothing to do with how lazy or shiftless I am.
The point of the Food Stamp Challenge is not to fixate on how ridiculous Paltrow’s basket of food seems. The real point is to show people that Congress is looking to slash SNAP, and it’s not even adequate now! Unless this is 1950, there’s no way that $29/week is enough. Yes, I know it’s a supplemental program, but when someone is struggling, you don’t take away their lifeline.
In this land of plenty, millions of hard-working Americans are going hungry. They are not lazy slugs that lay around all day doing nothing. They are at or below the poverty line and struggling to keep their heads above water. Children and the elderly are also suffering.
So, we can all feel better about ourselves if we do the Food Stamp Challenge, because we think we’re imagining a poor person’s pain. Or, we could skip the challenge and find a local food bank, food pantry, charity, or soup kitchen that needs our help.
Today, I will thank my lucky stars that my family has enough to eat. And then, I’ll find a local charity that needs me so that I can help a child, family, or elderly person who is hungry.
HOW TO HELP
To find a Food Pantry in your area, go here.
To find a local Food Bank, go here.
To help someone on Long Island, go to:
Long Island Cares, Inc.
Note: even this meal costs about $2.49 per person
Find healthy recipes here
to feed 4 for under $10:
Do you think you could do the Food Stamp Challenge—and succeed? What would you put in your basket? What’s your favorite, budget-friendly meal? Please leave a comment and let us all know. Thanks!