Highly Processed Starches, Canned Vegetables, and High Sodium, Oh My!

In case you hadn’t heard, PCUSA launched their version of the food stamp challenge on Sunday.  Read staff accounts:  here , here, and by searching the hastags #snap, #snapchallenge, and #pcusa.  The challenge came an interesting time when on Nov. 1st Congress passed cuts around $5 billion from the Federal Food Stamp Program, effecting 47 million people.  More on that can be found in these articles from the Washington Post and NPR .

Even though I receive food stamps currently, I decided to partake in the challenge.  Because I work heavily with organizations involved in local food, my resources warrant access to local, high quality produce on a regular basis, an option some may not have.   While I realize that people on food stamps also have resource they utilize, I wanted to see what it would be like to rely primarily on the allotted food stamp amount.  Below is my journal I kept during the challenge.
This post is to track my personal record of the food stamp challenge.  The premise being that you only eat what the average food stamp amount would be in one week.  For my current state of IN the average monthly benefit is, $132.46 which averages out to about $30/week or $4.25/ day.  I will participate in the food stamp challenge Sunday- Saturday morning.  I’ll start with a 24hr fast and will have about $20 to spend for the remaining four days.  I’ll use only public transit to grocery shop. Below is my account of the process:
Sunday, 11/17- Day One:
The food stamp challenge officially began today however I’m won’t be eating until Monday night.  I wanted to get into the mindset by starting the challenge truly hungry.  I’ve decided to fast for 24hrs.  From 5:30pm on Sunday to 5:30pm on Monday I will consume nothing but water and tea.  In preparation for the fast I made a nice meal of an assortment of local fall veggies, one thing I’m afraid I won’t be able to eat this week. Part of this challenge is trying to not compromise my diet.  This goal seems grim as I tend to eat a lot of local fruits and vegetables but I remain hopeful.

Monday, 11/18- Day Two:
My fast officially ended today and it wasn’t as grueling as I suspected however I was fortunate that it was a simulation and not a reoccurring theme brought on by the choice to eat or pay bills.  I didn’t end the fast like I had originally intended but my grandfather was in town and willing to provide a free meal.  I couldn’t say no to a chance to see him.  Originally I intended to end my fast with a trip to grocery store for the rest of the week’s meals.   However, tonight I’ll embark on this challenge using public transit to access my food.  Tomorrow I’ll write about this journey but now the bus is calling!
Tuesday, 11/19- Day Three:

Last night after my 1.5 hr. journey to the grocery store which was less than a mile away, I gathered my food for the rest of the week.  I started by waiting on a bus that never came (typically for our lovely transit system) but then I decided to hoof it, fortunately it was only a 20 minute walk.  Once I finally arrived the search for my meals was on.  Since I had a variety of fresh produce and other food items at the house that needed to be consumed I calculated this into my cost.  I made a list of the things I had at the house I could eat and calculated what the grocery store cost of this was and subtracted it to my total of $20.  After this process I had about $6 left to spend at the store.  I picked up one loaf of bread, one can of beans, one can of peas, pack of $1 granola bars, and $1 raisins to supplement my existing supply of Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, sweet potatoes, PB, apples, spaghetti, sauce, and couscous.(see above picture).  I also realize that the quality of my produce (organic and locally grown) and previous food items (whole wheat pasta, organic sauce) would have been more expensive than the prices I compared them to in the grocery store so yeah I cheated a bit.

Meals for the day:
Breakfast: PB sandwich, granola bar, raisins
Lunch: Couscous and Brussels sprouts
Dinner: Free meal @ local community center

Wednesday, 11/20- Day Four:
After a good two days into this thing I’ve noticed that the meals I eat fill me up immediately but do not sustain as I’m ravenously hungry hours later.  This requires me to consume more crappy processed starches. 

Meals for the day:
Breakfast: ½ pb sandwich and granola bar
Lunch: Spaghetti with canned sauce and peas
Snack: Raisins and Apple
Dinner: Spaghetti sauce with canned sauce and peas.  A few carrots, ½ sweet potato, 1 turnip

Thursday, 11/21- Day Five:
At this point I’m sick of the lack of variety in my diet.  Which grain am I going to have today (crappy wheat bread, couscous, or pasta)?  And which sodium laden item will I put on top (canned pasta sauce, black beans, or peas)?  Tonight it was a mixture of peas and beans with roasted Brussels sprouts atop couscous.  I also allowed myself some wine; I needed more fruit in my diet after all.  

Meals for the day:
Breakfast: PB sandwich and an apple
Lunch: Free Lunch @ Church
Dinner: Couscous w/ canned black beans and peas, and Brussels sprouts
 *Wine not included
Friday, 11/22- Day Six:
I’m over it.  I’m ready for more variety in my diet and to get back to that bottle of Kefir and goat cheese that has been staring longingly at me all week.  Saturday please come soon and rescue me from my bland processed diet. 

Meals for the day:
Breakfast:: Peanut Butter Sandwich and Apple
Lunch: Spaghetti with canned sauce and peas and black beans
Snacks: Carrots and Turnips, raisins
Dinner: Couscous with black beans
*Free office coffee not included
Although I’m not officially finished, I’m one meal away from being rid of this highly processed and exceptionally boring diet that so many Americans know as normal.  I never feared I would run out of food but the lack of variety was equally as disempowering.  There were many times this week that I caught myself hiding my canned pea laden meals from my officemates.  Of all things I was ashamed of canned peas?  It’s because I know what real food looks and taste like and everyone should be able to have that option regardless of price.  No one should have to opt for canned vegetables over fresh because of price. 
For more reading check out this NY Times Op-Ed, here.