The October 9 meeting of the SNAP Challenge participants was to be about food; planning, purchasing, preparing, but it was really about so much more.  There were 11 people in all who participated in the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge September 25 -29. Each person was to eat on just $4.40 per day with one bag of extra groceries that a food insecure person might receive from the local food shelf to last for one week.  All agreed that it was indeed a challenge and more importantly all agreed that they would participate again and wanted to get more people to experience the challenge.

Every participant commented on the difficulty in purchasing nutritious foods with the limited budget. Not only were some of the low cost items purchased high in salt and sugar and low in vitamins and nutrients – much of it was described as bland, tasteless or inedible.  Shopping on this budget took many participants to multiple stores to stretch their dollars further, but all were aware that if they did not have the luxury of owning a car this would have been cost prohibitive.

“I spent a couple hours pricing items in four stores. Then I spent three hours seeing what kind of menu would work. Who would find the time for this? Who would bother”, asked one participant.

How does a working parent make a budget like this work?

This led to the discussion of how you feed a growing child or a person whose health depends on dietary restrictions on $4.40 a day. All agreed that there was little you could do that was child friendly. Peanut butter was the only “kid staple’ that made my list.

“No tacos, no burgers, no pizza.  A younger person would be unhappy with my menu. No snacks or desserts either!”

“I could not have fed even one of my grandchildren for one day unless we had more food or we wouldn’t be eating at all by Friday.”

Sadly, this is a choice a lot of parents living with food insecurity face.

Participants talked of being able to stretch their dollars with a little knowledge of spices and seasonings but all reported quickly growing very bored with the choices. “I am done with bananas for a while” shared one participant to nods of agreement around the table. They also reported thinking about food more often. Even those the meals were planned for the week, the stress of wondering if there would be enough was always present.  Most participants reported feeling hungry and even a bit cranky at some point throughout the day; many reported felling ill, with headaches and weakness most common.  One participant reported a weight gain from eating too many carbs and not enough fruits and vegetables, others reported weight loss. All reported that no food went to waste – it was all used for a snack or another meal.

Participating in the SNAP Challenge affected the social aspect of people’s lives.  “I never considered alcohol a luxury” said one participant. Another recorded this in her Challenge Journal, “We were invited to a birthday part for my 91 year old aunt at a restaurant with cake afterwards at her house.  We decided we could not go to the restaurant portion but would go for the cake. Our rationale was that even people living with food insecurity go to birthday parties.”

Most participants admitted to cheating on the challenge at least once, adding something from their own stores, or dining out at some point. The changes to family gatherings and social outings, even work meetings were difficult.  Every single participant reported a better understanding of the issue of food insecurity but more importantly, all reported in increased sense of gratitude for what they have in their lives.  Most never considered how some of the things we take for granted are luxuries to many of our neighbors.  Stopping for a soda or a Dairy Queen treat are not expensive – unless you have just $4.40 per day. Convenience foods and fast foods are not nutritious and are expensive. It is easy to see why obesity and related chronic health issues are on the rise.

“This experience has forced me to examine how I live. We are a family of five with plenty. We have food in our fridge, freezer, cupboards and walk-in pantry with fully stocked shelves. For crying out loud, we have an EXTRA fridge (because we need to keep our drinks cold, of course) AND a deep freezer with the meat from half of a cow in it. We even have a garden with fresh veggies. We are blessed! But it also makes us sound incredibly privileged and spoiled, and it makes me uncomfortable knowing we have so much while others go hungry.”

Taking the challenge was difficult but very worthwhile. Raising awareness issues that raise from food insecurity, from chronic disease to poor attention spans at school and work, the problems are difficult but not impossible.

Will you join us next year for the SNAP Challenge?

* All bolded sections are quotes from participants’ Snap Challenge Journals


The face of hunger isn’t the bum on the street drinking Sterno; it’s the working poor. They don’t look any different, they don’t behave any differently, they’re not really any less educated. They are incredibly less privileged, and that’s it.”
– Mario Batali