November 28, 2011

Food Stamp Philanthropy

The month of November is coming to close.  My family set out to see if it is possible to live on the $4.73 per person, per day that is provided to the poorest families of Georgia by the SNAP program.  This was a financial experiment to see if eating healthy on a food stamp budget is even possible or is eating healthy on food stamps a myth.

In our experiment, we followed a few guidelines:

1.  The $4.73 per person, per day would be our entire food budget, including eating out.
2.  We would shop at the local grocery stores.  We have two in walking distance about 1.5 miles away.
3.  If we finished under budget, we would donate any extra funds to the Atlanta Community Food Bank.
4.  If it was sustainable for our family, we would continue to live on a food stamp budget.

In our experiment, we found some shopping and eating wisdom.

1.  Eat a plant-based diet.  Legumes, grains, vegetables and fruit are our staples and are also the best value at the market.  Meat, bread and packaged products seemed to be the worst value at the market.
2.  Cook your own food from scratch.  Eating out killed our budget, instantly and decisively.  For example, one serving of oats made at home cost me $.05.  Oatmeal at McDonald's cost $1.99.

It was 40x cheaper to make oatmeal at home than to buy it in a cheap restaurant!  

3.  Grow a garden.  Food stamp money can be used to purchase seeds for a garden.  Plant in pots or anywhere there is dirt.  If it dies, plant it again.  This is a free, renewable source of food.  You don't need to be Martha Stewart.  You don't even need to buy seeds, use the seeds from the pumpkin from Halloween or the tomato in your burger.  Those seeds will grow!
4.  Buy In-Season.  Vegetables that are in-season are cheapest.  That is also the time when organic prices are nearly equal to conventional.  By buying in season, we were able to buy almost all organic vegetables and fruits.

Is it possible to eat healthy on a food stamp budget or is it a myth?  Yes.  It is possible.  Because of our efforts this month, we are donating the amount of money we came under our food stamp budget.  How much?


What does this mean?  It means we can change the conversation away from "is it affordable" to more relevant issues like food deserts, the toxic food environment, basic education about cooking, growing and nutrition, and even more fundamental elements like owning a pot and pan, a hot plate and having time to cook when you are working two or three jobs.    

We are separating the wheat from the chaff.  What are the real barriers to health in America and what are the knee-jerk myths that are just excuses to our progress?

My family will continue to eat on a food stamp budget.  We already have our next month's plan in place.  It is going to be fun and (gulp) more of a challenge than November.    

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