The challenge is one millions Americans face each day - feeding themself and their family with just $3.00 per person, per day.
Patt Morrison wrote of her experience trying to do shop with $21 for a week as a vegetarian in the LA Times.
In the long run, it takes money to eat thin and healthy. For $3 a day — which is what you get when you divide 30 days into the $155 monthly food stamp allowance for one person — you wind up on the fatty-salty-sugary-canned-processed-bottled diet. Get heart disease on $3 a day! Ask the government how! [empahsis hers]
She highlighted that "Several members of Congress took the food stamp challenge, and now two of them, a Missouri Republican and a Massachusetts Democrat, are trying to make the food stamp fund a little bigger and to guarantee that combat-zone pay doesn't knock military families off the food stamp eligibility list (yes, there are food stamp debit cards in the pockets of U.S. military uniforms)."
Which led me to The Congressional Food Stamp Challenge, a blog detailing the experiences of two members, during the week May 15 to 21, as they lived with a budget of just $3.00 a day to feed themself.
As congresswoman Jan Schakowsky noted in her reflections of the week, "Living on food stamps is not just about the food. It takes a lot of planning ahead to live on a food stamp budget, and still, even if you get the calories you need, you can’t get the nutrients. Maybe some nutrition expert can figure out how one can eat healthily on a food stamp diet, but I can’t see how it’s done. Fruits and vegetables, especially fresh ones, are very expensive relative to foods like pastas and bread."
The Washington Post featured the experiences of Representative Tim Ryan, who found "He made some poor choices when he shopped for the $21 worth of food, and the country's food stamp program is not sufficient for the 26 million Americans who rely on it."
What started the challenge was two representatives, Jo Emerson (R-MO) and Jim McGovern (D-MA), calling on their colleagues to join them in raising awareness of hunger and what it's like to live on just $3.00 per day. Only two members joined them - Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in the challenge.
"I've been a little low on energy, but I feel guilty about complaining about anything," said McGovern, who took the challenge with his wife; each lost about five pounds. "For us, this is an exercise that ends Tuesday. For millions of people, this is their life."McGovern said he faced down many temptations at several receptions and fundraisers -- the duck rolls, the crab cakes, the red wine.
"Every time I thought, 'I wish I could have that scallop wrapped in bacon,' at the back of mind I thought, 'Why are you complaining? This is the way people live every day,' " he said.
The Southeast Missourian featured Jo Emerson's experience, "Most people on a day-to-day basis don't think about the fact that there are millions of people in this country who have to make a choice every day about how much they're going to spend on food," Emerson said.
And, who knew? "I'll save over a dollar by blowing my low-carb diet," Emerson said.
Which got me thinking, what would I do if I only had $21 for the week to feed myself?
What would be more important - satiety or nutrient-density; could I manage both?
More importantly, would I be able to feed our family of three, with just $63 for the week and still feed my child a nutrient-rich diet?
What compromises would I make in my diet to assure his diet was healthy?
I'm up for the challenge, as is my husband - later today, with just $63 in my pocket, I'll shop for a week of groceries, commited as a family to only eating what we're able to purchase with that sum next week.
We'll begin this evening, and continue through lunch on Friday next week.
In doing this I hope to learn even more about nutrition and provide my readers with insights about how possible it is to maintain a controlled-carb diet while on a tight budget.
I'd like to invite my readers to join me and use the comments section to share ideas, tips and frustrations as we journey together through the challenge.
Before you agree, here are our "rules" for the week:
1. The budget for food, all food, is limited to just $3.00 per person in our households each day ($21 per week, per person), so if you're single, you have $21....a couple has $42....each child adds $21. One major caveat - we cannot use anything during the week we already have in the house unless we deduct the cost of it from our budget - so if you're using chopped garlic in a jar already in your refrigerator, deduct the price from your budget for the week! Same goes for spices, cooking oils, and such since it's unlikely we'd have a stocked pantry if we were living life routinely on $21 a week per person!
2. We can shop for, prepare and cook whatever we want to eat, but cannot eat free food at business functions, meetings, work, or other places; but we can sample from tasting stations in grocery stores, and eat at parties we attend, hosted by friends or family (but not business functions!)
3. If you have a child in school, buying school lunch, the cost of the lunch is part of your budget....or you can pack their lunch for the week to buy more groceries. Or you can opt not to include your child in the budget and only do this yourself (and/or with your spouse).
4. We can eat out, but any cost to eat out must come from our $21 a week per person, so if we plan to eat out, we need to plan the cost and keep it within that amount when we do eat out. Friends and family cannot pay for us to eat out during the week, nor can the business expense account pick up the meal.
5. The budget does not include paper products, cleaning products, or non-food items available at grocery stores (lightbulbs, batteries, etc.); the budget does include alcohol, so shop wisely if you want a drink with dinner or use wine in cooking!
6. The budget does include condiments, spices, supplements, and anything you'd consume as part of your "diet," but does not include over-the-counter medications or prescription medications.
7. The challenge includes preparing and eating what you are able to purchase throughout the coming week, and any meals eaten out, since it's one thing to have to shop with a limited budget and another to live with it for a week.
Who will join me this week?
Those participating in the challenge are encouraged to email me photos of their groceries for the week, along with recipes and meal ideas and insights about your experiences during the week. I'll highlight them here on my blog next week and open discussion about the various challenges we all faced, and the things we learned along the way!