Philadelphia Weekly Staff Writer Randy LoBasso Is Doing the Food Stamp Challenge
The holidays are coming up, and for lots of us, that means time with our families, a day or two off work and a general massive increase in food consumption. But for the 473,037 people in Philadelphia (31 percent of the city’s population) who rely on food stamps, things aren’t always so dandy. According to statistics by the Hunger Coalition, the average food stamp (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipient in Philadelphia gets $5 a day to spend on food. Which, if I’m calculating correctly, is about two slices of pizza, and maybe a drink. Or, one latte. Or, 3/5 of a burrito. Or, one craft beer. Or … you get the idea.
Earlier this year, from April 23-29, several area politicians, leaders and journalists took what’s called the “Food Stamp Challenge,” in which they attempted to live on just $5 a day. Newark, N.J., mayor Cory Booker is currently participating in a challenge of his own. The challenges have been brought on for several reasons. One of which is the gigantic amount of criticism those who receive food stamps often get. Take former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s insistence that President Barack Obama is the “food stamp president,” because the Great Recession saw a record number of Americans rely on food stamps over the last five years. Those receiving public assistance, such as food stamps, are often cast aside by the American Right as lazy abusers of the system. Or, just as often, it’s argued that they should receive less support because communism is the worst/the free market is the best/Darwinism.
So, with some of that in mind, today marks the day I begin living on $5 a day. PW’s arts and culture editor, Sheena Lester, will be joining me (Solidarity!). The guidelines, as we understand them, are as follows: $35 for the week; no dining out (because food stamps cannot be spent at restaurants in Pennsylvania); we cannot eat food we’ve already purchased; no accepting free food; and keep track of receipts. I plan on being as transparent as I possibly can throughout the process, with updates both on PhillyNow and Twitter (follow me @randylobasso). I’ll be updating you on Sheena’s experiences, as well.
Last night, I made my first food purchase for the week. Below is a photo of the food I bought to get through the challenge: pita, bread, cheese, tomato sauce, pasta, peanut butter, jelly, milk, butter, oats, bananas. (By the way, I am a vegetarian.)
It all cost $27.64 at the Superfresh on 180 W. Girard Ave. in Northern Liberties (I saved $4.96 with a discount card). Which means I still have about $6 to spend on anger/stress foods throughout the week. The workday has begun and so has this challenge. I’ll talk to Sheena and let you know how we’re doing in an update later on today.