I have not included my family in the Food Stamp Challenge, but wonder, if I was living with these draconian constraints, how I would approach shopping for him differently from the way I do now.
Currently, I prefer to buy organic fruits and vegetables. Whole grains. Cage free organic eggs. Lean meat.
With $30, I could probably feed my son this diet for 2 days.
But what would I do about the rest of the week?
Okay, no organic produce. Or, as I realized when I went shopping for myself, almost no fresh produce at all.
I’m going to stick with whole wheat bread, though. Luckily, it’s still on sale. I will probably have to concede this point as well, though, as I look for other food for the week.
Regular eggs will do. Concern about my family has to come first. And eggs are needed for so many recipes.
The issue of recipes is something that I did not really think about before this challenge. My eating this week has been simple foods. The amount of cooking I did was boiling water for rice and pasta. Tomorrow I’ll have to cook whatever meat I can afford for Shabbos.
I have not been able to afford the raw ingredients to make even the simplest of dishes. One of the other people taking the challenge mentioned that he bought eggs for breakfast, only to realize on Monday morning that he had nothing to fry them with. No butter. No margarine. No oil. Eggs fried on a dry skillet are not all that tasty.
I actually stopped to consider if I could have fried eggs with the oil from a tuna fish can, had I bought the tuna in oil (I bought it in water). How else could I get some fat in which to fry eggs?
People in dire need can’t cook recipes because they can not afford the basics to combine together. The flavor profile of my meals this week has been decidedly bland. I have this experience for one week. Families in our community live this reality all the time.
I would like to buy some meat for my son for the week. Lean meat, out of the question. Meat with more fat, also out of the question. After all, how much can I buy with chopped meat at over $6 per pound. Hot dogs will have to suffice. To some families in our community, hot dogs are a Shabbos luxury. If even then.
My son has to eat every day. Do I really need to eat every day?
I know that this question sounds crazy to most of us. But there are those among us for whom this is reality. Eating whatever meager leftovers the kids leave on their plate. Scraping pots and pans for burned on crumbs.
This experience is very humbling for me. I am emotionally drained. And I am only living it for 7 days. We must be more sensitive to the plight of the working poor, and those even less fortunate who can not find work. They are in our shuls. In our schools. Friends of ours. Neighbors.
So basically, my budget means mac and cheese. That’s not fancy pasta with three kinds of cheese. It’s the stuff in a box. With cheese-powder-product.
But how many days in a row can my son eat that? Even a six year old will eventually rebel.
And I have to buy something to spruce up the flavor profile. A few onions, perhaps. The ones in the bin with the other produce that is already past its prime. Way past its prime.
Spices are out of reach on a $30 budget.
Fruit juice? In what universe could I afford fruit juice with the SNAP budget. The super duper fruit punch contains natural juice. About 5%. Sometimes that’s his fruit allotment for the week. If that’s even on the budget. It might only be powdered drink, cut significantly to just flavor the water we’d be serving.
I left no allotment for drinks in my budget. One of the other participants bought a jar of coffee. He went over budget. And did not consider what he will be doing for Shabbos food. I’ve been drinking water. Water is very refreshing. But it does not remove any tastes from your mouth. I never thought about that aspect of a drink. It cleanses the mouth from other flavors. I taste my last meal until the next meal. It is not always pleasant. Especially with the blandness of most of my meals this week.
(Tomorrow I’ll discuss how I’m going to deal with Kiddush and havdala.)
I have to buy American cheese. I can make lunch for my son with one slice. If I cut the cheese into little pieces and microwave it, it’ll melt to cover the entire slice of bread. Maybe I can even stretch 3/4 of a slice of cheese. Peanut butter would be a good option. But our school is peanut free because life-and-death allergic reactions have to take priority.
What else do I give him for lunch? A few spoonsful of frozen broccoli? At least he likes broccoli. But for how many lunches in a row?
And then I’m stuck with the biggest challenge.
What do I send with him for snack at school? Because that’s what the kids look to see. A sandwich is a sandwich. Poverty can be hidden between two slices of bread. No one is really checking to see what type of sandwich anyone else eats.
But how does one hide dire need in the rest of the lunch box. In the eyes of some children, true love is measured by the snacks we send along. Yes, this is a childish perspective. But we’re talking about children. So consciously or not, to some of them, that is exactly their perspective. Not in a mean way. But as a way of affirming their place in our eyes. Especially when the snacks we send don’t measure up to the next kid’s snacks.
Pudding? Out of the question. Even if I make it myself and put it into containers. Why use all that milk?
Fruit leather? That’s a full meal’s expense ($1.40 per meal comes out to $30 a week) just for a lousy three inch by one-and-a-half inch sliver of pressed apricot. Who would waste that much money on that.
Fresh fruit is just too expensive. And even if I splurge, how much love does a pear really show?
So I’ve got to troll the junk food aisle. Not a great option for healthy living. It’s either salt or sugar. As a choice, it’s not a choice. And at $30 a week, I have no choice.
And the family who lives this hell for years on end, who will need the medical and dental care more urgently as the years roll by because they have not had the benefits of the vitamins and minerals that we take for granted with our diets, who try as hard as they can still can’t put a well-rounded meal on the table, that family can’t even afford lunch for themselves because they use that money to give their children a little more food.
Do we stop to consider those families?
Suddenly, my protein withdrawal headache doesn’t seem to hurt as much.