Guest Post: The Food Stamp Challenge (Pt. 2)

Posted on February 28th, by Christian Madison in Blog and Updates Content, Blog Posts, Uncategorized. No Comments

Last week we were honored to have a colleague of ours, Dr. Daphne Hernandez, write a guest blog on our site about her class’s “Food Stamp Challenge”. To read this short entry, please follow this link. Dr. Hernandez sent us an update of her findings and we are happy to share them again with you this week. The final entry concerning the final analysis of the project will likely be complete in the coming months.

A Lesson in Experiencing the Items that Comprise the Food Insecurity Scale – Dr. Daphne Hernandez

I woke up day one of the Challenge excited and ready to take on the task at hand. Breakfast: 2/3 cup of oatmeal, 1 cup of low fat milk, and 1⁄2 t of sugar. I did miss the dried cranberries that I usually add in to the oatmeal, but otherwise it was not a big deal. Drank some water and off to the gym. I came back from the gym very hungry, like I always do. I immediately went straight for the cheese. I cut the 8 ounces of cheese into (8) 1 ounce slices. I figured that I could have 1 ounce of cheese every day, and then one day I could splurge and have 2 ounces. I was excited!

Next it was time to make an omelet. I took out a cup of broccoli. Oh, wait! Could I afford to eat 1 cup of broccoli? The 16 ounce bag had to last me all week. I ended up putting some of the broccoli back into the bag and left myself with 3⁄4 cup of broccoli. I had just finished portioning my cheese and broccoli. What about my eggs? I figured I could have 2 per day for 6 days. What about my bread? It was a big loaf, but what does that really mean? I figured that I could have 3 pieces on 3 different days and have 4 pieces on 4 different days. Phew! I realize that I had to plan very carefully if I wanted to have food for each day of the challenge.

Later in the day I had a snack which consisted of an apple and two tablespoons of peanut butter. By the time it was for dinner, I was very hungry. Again, I found myself rationing the food and wondering if I was going to have enough for the week. Then it hit me. I now was experiencing several of the items on the USDA food insecurity scale. Food insecurity is the lack of access to healthy food because of resources. The USDA has developed a scale to help researchers quantify and develop statistics on households that are food insecure:

Screenshot 2014-02-28 12.48.40

Household Food Security in the United States in 2012, ERR-155 | Economic Research Service/USDA 

Specifically, I experienced:

“..worried whether food would run out before we got money to buy more”

“The food that we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more”

When discussing food insecurity, I am frequently asked why individuals who are categorized as “food insecure” are worried about food when they have food. Yes, they may have food, but they are aware that it will only stretch so far. They are also aware that they themselves are eating very little (and sometimes nothing), along with reducing the quantity (and sometimes quality) of food that they provide their children. I understood how one could be worried about not having food, despite being in the presence of food. It is not easy.

When I sat down for dinner, I made another realization. I was serving myself less food, especially less vegetables than I usually do. Here again, I was experiencing one of the items of the food insecurity scale:

“….did you or other adults in the household ever cut the size of meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food”

Although the students and I were engaging in the Food Stamp Challenge for one week, it was very similar to what families experience the last two weeks of the month. Individuals on food stamps run out of food, especially the “healthy” food by the middle of the month. Having gone through this experience, I have a better understanding of why low‐income individuals on a limited budget make the food choices that they do. It is my hope that the students in my course take this knowledge and apply it to their careers as health professionals.

Dr. Hernandez is a professor at the UH Department of Health and Human Performance.

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