Food Stamp Challenge Week 1 – the confessions, the concessions, and the lessons

June 27, 2008 § 6 Comments

David Davenport, President & CEO – I’m six days into my Food Stamp Challenge, and I realized that I haven’t shared the basics with you.

First of all, for those not familiar with the Challenge – here are the rules I’m following:

  • I can only spend $21 a week on food and beverages for 30 days.
  • I will not eat food I already own.
  • I will not accept food from family, friends, coworkers and others. Not even the free samples from Costco.
  • I will keep track of my expenses and share my experience with you, including when I fall off the wagon.

To get started with the Challenge, I gathered all the food in my little place, boxed it and taped it shut. It’s deep in my closet, away from casual glances, and too difficult to access for late-night temptations. (Dear wife: There are no perishables in that box, so you don’t have to worry about bugs or other multi-legged guests). This was actually pretty simple for two reasons. First my family is still in Houston and will not be moving to Austin until later in the summer. And second, I have found that my personal grocery shopping process had not evolved much since college. Although the quality of the food is better, I am not a complicated shopper.

On Sunday, I spent $17.21 at the grocery store. I left a little room in the event my calculations were off. I used most of my remaining budget to buy water on the way home from Waco on Wednesday. It seemed like a bad call at the time, but I was REALLY thirsty.

So it’s Friday and I’m doing ok. What have I learned so far?

  • It is almost impossible to eat a healthy diet on $21 a week. I have some medical challenges which make it absolutely necessary that I eat a low-sodium, low-carbohydrate, and somewhat balanced diet, or the medications I take will not work appropriately.
  • Food stamps, as the program was designed by the government, are not supposed to be the sole source of a food budget. But for folks like me, who do have high medical prescription costs, food stamps can be, and often are, the entire food budget. I’m learning that balancing nutrition and medicine is a tough task.
  • I am more aware of the power of food advertising. Although I don’t usually eat fast food or junk food, I can’t drive home from work without the enticing neon glow from fast food restaurants reminding me of their low-priced goodness. Now, I constantly crave a hamburger or a slice of pizza. I find myself observing people at the grocery store spending a great deal of money on food or people walking in and out of a restaurant. Not in a stalker, green-eyed-monster kinda way, but I’m much more aware of this activity.
  • Two weeks ago, I was amazed at how little I could get at the grocery store for my typical food budget. Even with conscious shopping for this challenge, my $17.21 shopping trip yielded one bag of food; not quite half-full (or, for the pessimists out there, half-empty).

Alright, here’s my confession. I broke the rules, but for good reason. Honest.

Gospel CafeDuring my recent trip to Waco on Wednesday, I had the opportunity to meet the folks at the Gospel Cafe, a small agency in Waco doing amazing work. Founder, (and passionate force of nature) Sherry Castello, opened the kitchen back in 1996 as a unique and special ministry to those in need. If you are ever in Waco, I highly recommend a visit to this special place. Everyone who walks through their door is valued. They’ll be glad to welcome you and feed your body and spirit.

Ok, so back to my confession. Sherry would not stop asking me what I wanted to eat. She was both caring and relentless at the same time. I confess, she wore me down. But accepting the meal also gave me the chance to sit and visit with some of her guests as we ate together. What a wonderful place! – THANK YOU, SHERRY, and a special thanks to your team for all your hard work on behalf of those in need.

Alan GrahamLast night, I broke the rules again. This time, my accomplice was Alan Graham from Mobile Loaves & Fishes in Austin. Alan took me along on a truck run around town to help distribute food to our homeless neighbors. The four hours I spent with Alan in that little white truck, sharing stories, distributing food, and talking to clients was life-changing. Because this meal was more about breaking bread with Alan, and those who benefit from Mobile Loaves and Fishes, it was a special moment I felt I needed to experience. THANK YOU, ALAN. It was a special ride.

I cannot mention my friend Alan without giving equal time to one of my other new friends here in town, Dan Pruett at Meals on Wheels and More. Dan and Alan both share the unique ability to communicate their passion for making our community a better place. Today, I rode with Dan to deliver meals to a handful of their East Austin senior clients. It was very clear that we were really delivering love, respect and dignity. Meals on Wheels and More does more than deliver food. I cannot tell you how powerful and deeply personal it is to take part in delivering such a gift. THANK YOU, DAN. I won’t soon forget our visits.

What a week! The kids are coming up from Houston for the weekend and I cannot wait to see them. I know these posts are long, but I can’t help but express how much I owe to all those who I’ve spent time with this week. In the end, I know it will help me become a better person, better father, and a better professional.

I will be back soon to give you another update. ‘Till then, I encourage you to give my friends Dan, Alan and Sherry a call or send them an email. Thank them for being who they are and for the incredibly important work they do to make Central Texas a special place for all.

Then sign on to volunteer. You’ll be glad you did.


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§ 6 Responses to Food Stamp Challenge Week 1 – the confessions, the concessions, and the lessons

  • A Friend says:

    Hi David. I just returned from the grocery store after being on vacation for a week. My pantry and fridge were bare. I hesitate to tell you how much I spent , but suffice it to say that it was WAY more than $21 for a week’s worth of food.

    I admire you for taking this challenge and relating your experiences to those of us too selfish to do so.

    I’d like to know what you ate during the week. And I’d like to know what you think we can do to change this situation.

    Looking forward to more of this kind of reporting. Let me know if you need an accomplice.

  • Dude says:

    I’ve been a college student for a while now, and living cheap is something that my friends and I all do pretty well. I live on close to $21 a week for food and manage to eat pretty healthy. I do get assistance from food pantries, but as a non-working student I do not qualify for food stamps. I recently got back from a brief vacation and on my return I noticed that food prices had gone way up, and the amount of food at food lines had gone down as well. It can be hard to eat cheap and stay healthy, but I find that the hardest part is self control (and coupons).

    I have completely cut out fast food from my diet, like you were talking about. It is simply too expensive and most of it is terrible for you anyway. I don’t eat potato chips or any expensive snacks like that, I eat my leftovers, fruit, or vegetables, which are all good for me. Not eating fast food was incredibly hard at first because I had made eating out a part of my life without realizing it, but since I broke that habit I rarely want to eat out anymore.

    I find it really important to eat foods with fiber and protein. Both of them help you stay fuller longer, and it is easy to get more of both of them by making easy changes to a normal diet. For example, I eat a lot of sandwiches and pasta. You can use the money you save on junk food to splurge on the extra cash that a loaf of whole wheat bread costs, or whole wheat pasta. Whole wheat foods are more filling and have more fiber and protein than their only slightly cheaper counterparts. Fiber also helps with lowering cholesterol, which can be a big deal if you’re eating cheap as cheaper foods tend to have a lot of saturated fats and cholesterol.

    For eating cheaper and eating meat, you can go to the grocery store really early in the morning when the butcher puts out the “about to expire” meats, that you can just freeze. The price is sometimes less than half of what it would have been if bought normally, and you can save a TON of money this way.

    Hope this helps you on your challenge. It’s really hard to get used to shopping cheap but since you’re doing this for a whole month you might keep some of these habits after your challenge which would be some extra money in your pocket for whatever. Good luck!

  • Thank you both for your support. I will need it as this is becoming a big challenge for me.

    Dude, your story is inspirational and I am sure I will come back to it often it during the days and weeks ahead. Thanks for the tip – I have not been able to figure out how to get meat into my diet.

  • […] my colleges at Mobile Loaves & Fishes and Meals on Wheels and More as I traveled with them the first week of the challenge. I was uplifted by the many emails, blog comments, and phone calls from friends and concerned […]

  • Lawrence Schnellmann says:

    as someone who desperatly needs food assistance, I find your story arrogant and unhelpful.

    I have searched for hours trying to find a list of approved foods for the SNAP program.

    Although it may be very true, I find it hard to believe you had a bilateral lung transplant, and then went on a ‘food stamp diet’ for a month.

    must be nice to have a family to look out for you.

    signed.. single white expendable male.

  • If only I had a penny for each time I came here.. Superb read!

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