Guest Post: The Food Stamp Challenge (Pt.1)
Our colleague Dr. Daphne Hernandez from UH’s Department of Health and Human Performance is teaching Honors 3397: Applied Nutrition Policy this semester. As part of the course, she and her students are exploring the implications of nutrition policy by living it: they are attempting to live only on the $25 or so each week that the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides to single, benefits-eligible adults. What follows is Dr. Hernandez’s first blog post about the project. More discussion can be found at ABC13, The Houston Chronicle, and at the UH News Page.
Last Friday I headed to the grocery store with list in hand. Actually, it was two lists in hand. The “survival list,” and the “wish list.” I made a survival list that had the essentials (rice, beans, apples) and then I made a wish list that included “chocolate, salsa, crystal list”. I started with the bulk beans and rice. I was feeling good as I was at $2.61. Then I head to the dairy aisle. I got 12 large eggs, 16 oz of cheese, and a gallon of low fat milk. I started to consider my dairy decisions. This was getting pricey. Cheese was $3.78. That was 15% of the budget! Not sure I wanted to do that, but I continued on.
I next headed over to get some “healthy” sausage – over $5. Surely, I could not afford the sausage, and I could not get myself to try the “mystery meat”. Sausage was moved over to the “wish list.” Continue on to the bread aisle. I felt that I hit the lottery when it came to bread, peanut butter, and strawberry preserves ($5.48). I could get many snacks out of those 3 items. Next, I got my oatmeal ($2.38). Then it started to get dicey again. I need some cooking oil. I usually cook with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO); it has become a staple of mine. But at $1.79 could I really afford it? Then it hit me. I was barely going to have enough for my “survival list,” much less my “wish list.” It began to cross my mind, “Why did I ever assign this project. This is a horrible idea.” Followed by, “Why am I putting myself through this? And why did the students agree to do this?” Okay, it was time to buck up and continue shopping.
I next headed to the frozen aisle and retrieved broccoli and spinach. These are two items that I usually buy fresh, but not today. Produce aisle. Between the two lists, there were a lot of items in terms of produce. Tomatoes, potatoes, bell pepper, garlic, and tofu all moved over to the wish list. I ended up getting two onions and four apples, but I really wanted seven apples. At this point, I had pretty much maxed out my budget. How was I going to afford the seven applies? I looked and looked over my list. Then I finally had an “ah-ha” moment. Exchange EVOO for vegetable oil, a difference of .79 cents. Then exchange the 16oz of cheese for 8 oz of cheese, a difference of $1.40. I made those changes and took two bags of apples with me to check out (one bag of four apples and another one with three apples). I told the nice lady at the cash register to ring everything up except the last bag of fruit which had three apples. I explained to her that I could only spend $25 on groceries today. In the end, I was able to buy all seven apples and had some change left over, which I used to buy a can of diced tomatoes that were on sale. Although several items were moved from my “survival list” to my “wish list,” my “survival list” quickly became my “wish list,” and a list of groceries that I was very happy to have.
The follow up to Dr. Hernandez’s article can now be viewed here.