One of the things I’ve noticed the most while doing the SNAP challenge this month is that I am constantly thinking about food. I have to think about what to cook, what meals to plan, whether or not everyone is getting enough to eat, whether or not the family raided the fridge and took something I meant for a recipe or meal. It’s crazy-insane how much ‘time and energy’ being in this type of a forced budget puts on me. I’m thinking this is true for those who are forced to live on a minimal budget too.
FOOD ISN’T AS GOOD
Another thing I’ve noticed is that I’m not enjoying food as much. The dish I made the other day for breakfast brunch (image over there <—-), a veggie scramble with eggs, bacon, jalapeno sausage, squash, spinach, potatoes, tomato, bell pepper, onion and spices was wonderful, really, really good and filling, very good for you too, but I couldn’t help but notice that it was missing my favorite turmeric spice, which adds color and taste and smell to the dish, that I would have used some fresh cilantro and basil if I could have ‘afforded’ it, that the store-bought eggs were weak yolks without that beautiful golden/orange color of the farm-fresh, free-range eggs, and they had a different texture and slightly different flavor from it.
It was an good dish, but it wasn’t the quality of the dishes I am used to preparing, no matter how much love and attention I tried to put into the planning of these meals. It’s just not the same. I wondered, at first, if it were psychological–that maybe it wasn’t as good to me, because I KNEW it was not the same as what I’d usually do–but no, it’s not that. I mean, that might play into it a bit, but mostly, it’s just that fresh, natural, healthful ingredients TASTE better. But they cost a lot more. I believe they are better for you too.
SNACKING ON A BUDGET, HEALTHFULLY
Then I’ve noticed the snack problem. When you’re planning meals for a family on a budget, there’s very little wiggle room. I bought a box of chocolate frosted mini-wheats generic cereal on sale and a box of cinnamon cereal on sale, because they were cheap and I thought they might provide a ‘snack’ for us when we didn’t want to cook something or eat an actual meal. The problem is, that isn’t always what you want, and it’s not a healthy snack. But if you do anything else, you either have to eat something raw (like a piece of fruit–which is fine, once in a while, but fruit for every snack CAN get expensive), or you have to COOK something. Prepared snacks, grab-things, quick treats, those are hard to budget for and they aren’t healthy.
They aren’t impossible, and since I’m doing this to be healthy and nutritious, I avoided buying convenience items. Here’s the deal, though, I could afford to incorporate snacks into the SNAP budget. But if I did, the majority of those snacks would contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms/genetically modified plants), artificial stuff, HFCS (which I said was a no-no, but I messed up and got some BBQ sauce (for free with a coupon) that had HFCS as the third ingredient in the label–I only used a tablespoon, but I wish I hadn’t done it!), or other stuff that’s bad for you–like excess sodium, preservatives, pesticides, and more.
What I usually buy for snacking is: nuts, seeds, grains/granolas, wasabi beans, wasabi beans, kale chips, quinoa chips, banana chips, apple chips… I keep these things around,
So buying fruit and veggies to snack on is the ideal thing to do, but again, that gets expensive. I have grapes, grape tomatoes, bananas (a good, cheap fruit to have around that is filling), orange, apples, carrots, celery, radish, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. All of these things can be eaten completely raw, just crunch on them, and when I’m not doing the SNAP challenge, I frequently grab a veggie to munch on. But while doing the challenge, I find myself wistfully sighing that veggies are ALL I have to munch on.
IT COMES DOWN TO CHOICE
In my life, I’ve long said that we feel the most helpless in any given situation when we feel we have no choices. Give us choices, sometimes even choices we would rather not make, and we feel less helpless. Having choice empowers you. Knowing that you get to choose, even if you don’t like all the choices, gives you some control over the outcome. But being on welfare, having to budget on food stamps, that removes a lot of your choice. Sure, there are still some choices. But it takes away form the choices you should have.
Throw in advertising on television for food. Oh, my God, I hadn’t noticed how much television and online advertising there is for food! Every commercial break has a restaurant commercial with steaming plates of gorgeous food. Things you can’t eat on a food stamp budget: steak, shrimp, roasted asparagus, pastas with rich meaty sauces… oh, yummmm! But it’s easy to watch those when you’re belly is full and what you just ate is just as good or better than what they are showing. But for someone on a food stamp budget, you’re looking at your plate of lowly-seasoned, budget-friendly food and wistfully sighing at the television commercials, wishing you could afford those things.
I felt this way doing the challenge, and I’m able at any time I want to stop the challenge and go eat anywhere I want to. If I felt this way so strongly when I’m only ‘pretending’, how much more so does a food stamp recipient feel it when they can’t? A lot, I’m willing to bet.
But it gets worse. What about when the kids start watching those commercials and asks you to go to Chuck-E-Cheese, or order a pizza, like so-and-so’s parents do? Why can’t we be like the other families and order Chinese takeout in those little boxes? Why can’t we have a pizza? Tommy’s parents are going to get burgers and shakes after the game, can we go there too?
I lived with that with my kids. The uncomfortable shuffling of, “If I don’t fill the gas tank up completely, I can still make it to payday. I can be a little bit late paying all of the phone bill this month, even though I need it for work, but they will let me carry over part of it to next month as long as I pay some of it… so, okay, I can manage to buy some burgers and fries for the family after the game on Friday.
And that’s the reality of some food stamp recipients, the constant barter and trade with oneself to make ends meet and still appear ‘normal’ and functional in society. It’s depressing, and frustrating and makes one worn down and angry all the time. It’s so hard to be grateful, to live in gratitude. You want to, but it’s easy to feel like a victim, and the system and society only add to that feeling.
But there are some who can’t even manage to shuffle bills to do those things. The answer to the kids would always be no, we can’t afford it, we’re broke… or ‘broken’ as my daughter used to say. I told her once when she was little that we couldn’t buy something she wanted because I was broke. She told her teacher at school the next day that her mother said she was broken. We laughed about it.
It wasn’t funny.
THE SHAME YOU FEEL
It’s really funny, in a sadly ironic sort of way, when I see a food stamp recipient extolling, “I am not ashamed to ask for help!” because they are, or they wouldn’t even be saying they weren’t. People who aren’t ashamed don’t bother to say they aren’t ashamed. And people who receive food stamps know that a percentage of the population EXPECTS them to be ashamed.
And sadly, most are ashamed. I know I was. I’m not ashamed NOW to say I was on food stamps. Would I be ashamed to be on them right now? Yes, I would. I mean, I just would. I would feel like all that hard work over the years has been for nothing. I would feel like it was a huge step backward in my life. I find that, just doing the challenge, I am ashamed to some extent. I mean, on the first shopping trip, I felt/worried I’d be judged by people, so I found myself whispering to my family so no one would hear me talking about ‘food stamps’ or a ‘budget’. And how embarrassed I was when I said, rather loudly, about the spaghetti squash, “I can’t afford that!” only to realize someone else I didn’t know was standing beside me.
It’s similar on Facebook, whenever someone new comments on a ‘challenge’ post where I’m talking about buying the stuff with food stamps, I find myself wanting to clarify to the new commenter who hasn’t been following along that I’m not REALLY on food stamps. That it’s just a challenge.
Just a challenge… and what a challenge it is, whether it’s this fake one I’m doing, or the real challenge low-income households face with food insecurity. My pride is the only thing hurting me right now. How very much worse it must be for those who struggle daily. Please, don’t hate me for saying I felt embarrassed–I’m trying to be honest here. I AM embarrassed, and I think it’s fair to say that, though no one SHOULD feel this way, a lot of food stamp recipients are ashamed and feel embarrassed just like I have been feeling.
IT’S NOT THEIR FAULT! (Always)
I am so sick of people saying, “Well, they wouldn’t be like that if they’d just go get a job!” But they ignore the fact that majority of these households have at least one full-time person working usually more than one job. They are just not making enough to make ends meet, in the richest country in the world. Sure, we joke on Facebook about ‘first world problems’, but so what if were ‘first world’ and our ‘problems’ are supposedly inconsequential to those of starving kids in Ethiopia or something? I mean, does it matter to the kid who is hungry here?
The way I’ve explained this in the past is like this: If I hit myself on the thumb with a hammer, will it make me feel better if YOU also hit your thumb with a hammer? No, that’s not very likely going to make my thumb feel any better and it’s going to make yours feel worse. So why are we saying to these people, “You should be grateful for what you have, lest you smack your thumb too (like the starving kids, or whatever other example you put in).
I’m starting a new campaign on Facebook when this is over called Eat Ugly Fruit. It has to do with sustainability and how we throw away so much food, food that some people would be more than happy to eat, because it’s not ‘pretty’. I’ve been a perpetrator in this. I search for the big, fresh, ripe, juicy, beautiful fruit and vegetables at the store. I know the ugly stuff gets tossed out. Why aren’t we doing something about that? Why isn’t that being donated to a soup kitchen? Ask your local grocery store and work with them to set that up. Why isn’t that donated to a food bank? Get your food bank to do this, YOU ask the store manager if you can pick it up and donate it for them. Something.
If you aren’t the type to do those things, fine. Consider this: if you’re going to cook with it, juice it, freeze it… buy the ugly fruit. Sure, I get it if you’re doing a dinner with fresh stuff and you want it to look all pretty or you’re eating something raw–but if you’re going to smash it, boil it, bake it, juice it, or do anything with it that won’t keep it ‘pretty’ and whole any more, buy the ugly fruit and veggies.
Got my first pickup of Bountiful Baskets today. We really quite impressed with the quality of the produce in the basket. Will do a separate post just about them and the basket, because they deserve that. I’ll link to it here when it’s done. (Bountiful Baskets Post here)
Thanks for following along. I’ll have more updates on the dailies and the numbers and where I am financially later today. I’m on target, but I have some stuff to discuss about calories and nutrition.
Love you all… thanks so much for your support during this challenge!
Love and stuff,