Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4: It’s Time for Rationing

oatmealIt’s Day 4 of my food stamp challenge, and I think I’m somewhat used to this new, if temporary, normal. Oats with banana and peanut butter are not a tasty breakfast. But it beats the alternate breakfast food I bought: Nothing. And it keeps me full for a couple hours as I work through the morning.

I’ve eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day for the last three days (and, not counting weekends, several days before that). To keep myself full this week, I’ve been slathering an extra knife-smear of peanut butter on the bread, and hitting the inside of both pieces, with the jelly in the middle. (Fun fact: The America’s Choice brand of jelly has no actual grapes in it, just juice and syrups.) By the time dinner rolls around, I’m usually pretty hungry, so I melt some cheese on a pita with sauce, and—at least over the last two nights—I make some cheap beans and rice I bought with my remaining money after the original purchase. They will be gone today.

My friend and colleague Sheena Lester, also involved in the challenge, seems to be doing a little better than me. “The challenge is just that, but I’m doing all right,” she says. “I baked the chicken thighs last night, ate half of one with some rice and a salad of some spinach, romaine, orange slices and the chopped-up skins off each thigh; a banana and yogurt was my dessert.” She’s been re-using her dinners as next-day lunches, too, often grinding the night before’s sustenance into a salad. “Mindless eating has never really been my thing, but having to be so deliberate in my meal planning is nerve-wracking,” Sheena adds, noting that, as a mother, things would probably get a lot more difficult: “Managing it if had to feed my always-hungry vegetarian 15-year-old boys this way would really be nuts.”

It was noted during Cory Booker’s food stamp challenge that he began going through caffeine withdrawal. So far, I am not. But I’m crossing my fingers that it doesn’t happen by Monday. Because I made some poor decisions in how I go about making my coffee throughout the week. When I work from home, there’s usually a series of trips to my kitchen where I’ll shovel Chock Full ’O Nuts into the coffee maker and make individual cups (at work, we have a coffee maker, and it’s free, but as per the rules, I cannot accept free food). Chock Full ‘O Nuts is the brand of choice because it’s the cheapest and largest can on the shelves, though this entire situation is making me re-think buying some of the cheap foods I usually go through.

Nevertheless, cheap still means it’s around $14 for a large can, which gets me through three weeks or so of regular coffee drinking. I wasn’t about to spend almost half my budget on coffee, so I managed to find a cheaper brand: Martinson. It’s OK, and the company claims the packaging is environmentally-friendly, so at least I’ve got that going for me.

Problem: Call me when they start making on-the-go coffee makers (not instant coffee), because on $35, there’s no stopping in for a quick coffee for $2 at a corner store. Everything I drink has to come from that can. So I’ve been filling up a 1,000 ML Swiss Gear water bottle with as much coffee in the morning, bringing it wherever I go, and drinking it throughout the day.

By 11 a.m. the java is cold. And not in a Starbucks Iced Coffee cold sort of way. It’s room temperature and the first sip actually stings. Heating some of it up in a Styrofoam cup in PW’s microwave is a decision I’ll live to regret for a long time. And as per the rules, I cannot flavor it up with sugar I did not buy or non-dairy creamer sitting in the office’s kitchenette. Nor would I want to.

Getting through the weekend will probably prove difficult. I have one pita left, 11 slices of bread, less a quarter gallon of milk, about one serving of my rice and bean dish and two bananas. I have yet to open the pasta or small tub of butter I purchased (not sure why that looked like a good idea at the time, but it did) and still have plenty of oats.

Sheena sees things the same way. “Being a workaholic helps keep my mind off hunger, and I’ve been going to bed a little earlier to avoid the late-night munchies,” she says. “But the weekend’s gonna be a bitch; I can already tell.”

We’ll probably both have a better perception of this on Monday, but I can already tell $35 probably isn’t enough for the average Pennsylvanian to get through a week of food. And it looks like I’m not alone. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health actually released a survey this week noting that 82 percent of Americans support providing additional money to SNAP participants. Seventy-four percent support educating SNAP participants on nutrition or cooking classes and 77 percent of Americans support maintaining or supporting food stamp spending levels. It’s a bipartisan issue, even if Internet trolls would have you believing otherwise.

My lunch today—which I’m about to go make—will be a grilled cheese. Based on the amount of America’s Choice mozzarella I have left. I expect it all to be gone by Sunday. And as it happens, I’m moving this weekend, which I can’t imagine will decrease the levels of hunger I’m getting used to. I could probably use a beer, too, but basically spent all my money. Stay tuned for more updates.

3 Responses to “ Food Stamp Challenge, Day 4: It’s Time for Rationing ”

  1. K.Smith says:

    Mr. LoBasso
    I loved following your “Food Stamp Challenge”, and just by reading your experience, proves that it actually IS a challenge. Thankfully, I’ve never had to rely on SNAP/Food Stamps, but I know enough people who do. I cannot imagine that I would have to go without my daily ritual of snacking on apples and oranges. (Thankfully, I do not like bananas, as they are now $2.00 a pound.) I do not mind snacking on nuts but as you said, they are expensive, and when you mentioned it, I was so sure you would say you snacked on chips in lieu of nuts.
    I do not mind oatmeal, but I like it with lots of butter and sugar. Way to go with the ongoing PB&J sandwiches. I’m sure you’ve had your fill. The only thing I’ve ever eaten constantly for more than 3 to 4 days, was spaghetti; anything else and I’m sure I would throw a fit.
    Good job and thanks for proving a point! Not everyone on Food Stamps wants to feel down and out and disgusted, as I’m sure it is humiliating. Due to no fault of their own, they must accept the program just to survive another day.
    Oh, did I miss where you shopped for paper-goods?
    Anyway, good reporting!

  2. B A says:

    Thank you for taking on this challenge. It proves that we need to pressure our government to look at how we treat those in need.
    Please drink lots of water. Your body was used to one routine and you are changing the way you “fuel” yourself, I am sure you are physically feeling the difference.
    Great writing, take care of yourself.

  3. phillygal says:

    i’m glad so many people are doing this and making the results known. let’s hope it leads to a conversation about food stamps. we have a health crisis on our hands, and until we supplement poor people’s income with enough to afford healthy food and not with starches and empty calories, things are only going to get worse.

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