Making $31.50 Work for the Week - By Lauren Biedron

September 25, 2013
by Lauren Biedron

I started the SNAP Challenge on Saturday. I went to the store with an all or nothing approach and spent all of my money upfront, leaving no room for cravings or incidentals later this week. I'm not sure if I'll regret this by Friday but at the time it felt like the right choice…to get as much food as possible and "make it work" for the rest of the week.

On some level, I was surprised at what I was able to buy for $31.18. My list included a few more produce items than anticipated and even a pound of ground chicken. Granted, my cart was not full of "normal" purchases—gone are coffee and the convenience foods (hummus, pre-made salad, almonds, granola bars) that I usually buy. There were a few splurges to help me feel more like me—a box of green tea bags and a bag of apples, to name a few.

When I look at my grocery list, I think this has to be enough food for 7 days. When I start to doubt, I do the math. I have enough bread for 8 sandwiches. Enough beans for two servings of black beans and rice. The rest of my rice, the chicken and any leftover vegetables will be turned into chicken fried rice. I think I might even be able to stretch the chicken and make "meatballs" to pair with a jar of tomato sauce at the end of the week. This weekend, an onion and a head of cauliflower were cooked and pureed into 3 portions of soup. I can make this work. Right?

And yet, despite the objective reasoning and a detailed list of food and menu plans, I still cannot shake the feeling like I'm running out of food. I feel it the most when I look at my loaf of bread, which is the most quickly depleting item in my inventory since I'm eating a sandwich every day for lunch. Having no "just in case" money, no ability to run downstairs and grab a snack, no room for error in what I've planned, is making me incredibly uneasy. I am plagued with fear and doubt.

On a positive note, the emotions brought forth by the Challenge have inspired me to slow down. To really think about whether or not I'm hungry, to chew my food, to make dinnertime last. I also have to be more mindful, taking care not to rush through preparing food or become distracted while cooking, for fear I might waste critical calories to get me through the week. I can't remember the last time I peeled an onion with such care as to only remove the very top, most papery-thin layer, or squeezed the juice out of a pineapple rind, just in case. This greater sense of awareness is something that I hope to carry forward into life beyond the challenge.

After nearly a decade of raising funds for hunger relief, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge to draw a deeper connection to my work and the struggles of those served by Feeding America's nationwide network of food banks. And while my experience is in no way representative of what our clients face, let me just say this:

This is tough. With food insecurity as the backdrop, everyday tasks are more trying, decisions more difficult. It is no way to live and yet the reality of life for 49 million Americans.

If you have taken the time to read this post in its entirety, I'd encourage you to go one step further and take action, either by taking the SNAP Challenge and sharing your experience with friends and family, or in another way. Hunger is a solvable problem if enough people come together to do something about it. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Every little bit counts. Together we can solve hunger.

food from Lauren's grocery bag
The complete contents of my grocery bag for the week.
Tags: SNAP

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