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My Week on the Food Stamp Challenge

Written by Carri Uranga

December 30, 2013

My Week on the Food Stamp Challenge

During this season of abundance I like to take a moment to appreciate what I have and be thankful for the simple things in life like the opportunity to work, earn money and eat food whenever I want. It may sound basic to most of us, but for some it’s not so easy. Since a close family member of mine has been out of work for 6 months and now on food stamps I decided it was time to take the Food Stamp Challenge for myself.

I had read about Mario Batali, the famous chef, doing this Food Stamp Challenge to bring awareness to and support the NY Food Bank. Apparently 1.9 million people in NY alone are on food stamps and 47 million people nationwide rely on food stamps to feed their families. Here in NYC a person on assistance gets $31.50 for a week. While the official Food Stamp Challenge that Mario was participating in took place over the summer, I decided to self inflict my own food stamp challenge spending 5 days eating only on $4.50 per day. The timing was perfect – my husband was out of town, it was the week after Thanksgiving and it felt like an excellent way to kick off the holiday season of plenty. Sunday night I bought my groceries for the week:

 

    • Loaf of cranberry walnut bread $5
    • Jar of crunchy almond butter $7
    • Container of oatmeal $4
    • Carton of eggs $4
    • 5 bananas $1.25

Of course, the almond butter and fancy bread I considered a splurge, but I was going for filling, tasty and versatile. I could use the almond butter on toast as well as in my plain oatmeal. The bread could be toasted and also used for egg sandwiches. The bananas went well in the oatmeal as well as sliced up on the almond butter toast. It all went splendid together.

The first few days were seemingly effortless. I found the amount of food to be adequate, maybe less than what I wanted mentally, but I only felt hungry a couple of times, mostly due to the fact I was keeping up my activity level – a rigorous daily yoga practice, a daily 4.5 mile walk, 3 runs per week and some home mat/core work. On the first day however it was tough walking 75 minutes home from a 75-minute practice surrounded by temptation. Here’s an excerpt from a post:

“This is a fun & interesting challenge…although it was kind of sad thinking about food on the 4.5 mile walk home from practice passing endless, numerous pizza joints, sandwich shops, bars, restaurants, etc…I can’t imagine being homeless and hungry in the city and seeing such wealth & abundance while you have none of it. I felt like I was in a movie…looking in the windows while people are laughing it up and indulging…I don’t currently feel sorry for myself, but feeling empathy for others who may be in this situation with no choices.”

By Thursday I was starting to yearn for something besides toast, eggs, almond butter and oatmeal. I had walked 9 miles in addition to my practice and felt particularly hungry, but of course, I stuck to the plan. By Friday night I was dying for some “real” food! It was cold, rainy and I had just finished a doctor appointment so I felt I “deserved” something more than toast with almond butter. After all, I had just spent 5 days staying true to my intention. It was 7pm Friday night…I had proved my point…right? I admit I almost caved. All I wanted was a glass of wine and some delicious, warm, comfort food, but I knew I would regret it. I knew the “failure” wouldn’t really be worth it; besides, I could enjoy plenitude the next day and with my husband back in town it would be that much sweeter. In the end I went home and ate my last pieces of cranberry walnut toast. What was delicious on Monday, now tasted like cardboard, as I’m sure the bread was leftover from Thanksgiving in the first place.

Overall, I found the challenge to be fairly painless, but only because it lasted 5 days. I was really trying to keep in mind the perspective of people who live like this day in and day out – not out of choice, but out of necessity. The morning after the “fasting” week I got my favorite pumpernickel bagel with jalapeno spread. I shuddered at the $4 price feeling guilty since this was almost my entire day’s budget just the previous day! During the week I heard from many friends who were supportive and impressed with my effort. Some even said while they weren’t going to the same extreme, they were at least trying to curtail their spending for the week, a feat in and of itself during the holidays.

I would like to undertake the Food Stamp Challenge again one day while raising funds for people in need, creating a more meaningful pursuit than just a personal goal. Instigating awareness, compassion and discipline any time of the year is gratifying, but even more so during the holiday season. Up for trying the Food Stamp Challenge for yourself? Join the movement and let me know how it goes. Good news is the family member scored a job and started working during this same exact week!

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