Guest blogger, David Heiges, shares his Texas Food Stamp Challenge experience

October 29, 2010 § 29 Comments

By David Heiges

When my wife asked if I was interested in taking the Food Stamps Challenge I thought, “How hard can it be?”  Surely we can live on $60 for five days.  I might get hungry, but I could stand to lose a few pounds.  It will just take some creative menu planning.  When we came up with our shopping list I realized that this was going to be more challenging than I thought.  I love Italian food.  It’s relatively inexpensive.  Anything covered in melted cheese is fine with me.  But cheese is expensive and doesn’t have the nutritional benefits of fruit and vegetables.  And, I have a four year old son.

Wendy and I decided that we wouldn’t restrict our son’s diet.  He’s four so he doesn’t need a lot of food – but he does need healthy food.  His diet didn’t change much:  Organic yogurt and milk, cereal, almond butter and jam sandwiches, apples, plums, orange juice and multigrain Cheez-Its.  We could have saved about five dollars if we had purchased cheaper bread, peanut butter and milk, but that was non-negotiable.  Wendy and I bought pasta, marinara sauce, cereal, English muffins, cream cheese, fixings for a lasagna, eggs, beans, rice and garlic.  No spices. No salt. No pepper.  No salsa.

We ran out of milk and yogurt on Wednesday.  I drank water for breakfast so my son would have orange juice all week.  We ran out of OJ this morning.  We used the last two slices of bread for his lunch today.  Almond butter – gone.  Plums and apples – gone.  We have eggs, spaghetti and some rice and beans left.  We made it by the skin of our teeth.

But here’s the catch: I had an unusually gratuitous week at work food-wise.  Monday I had lunch with a colleague; Wednesday a client brought us breakfast; and Thursday and Friday my employer bought me lunch.  That’s four meals I would have eaten, and we would be down to eggs.  I hate eggs.  Even when they’re covered in cheese.

In my life, I’ve worried about a car breaking down, my American Express bill, having to replace the refrigerator unexpectedly.  But I have never had to worry about food.  I’ve always bought what I want, when I want, and as much I want at the grocery store.

The Food Stamps Challenge was enlightening.  I now understand the terms “food insecurity” and even more, “bread-winner”, a term thrown around casually by many people, but for more than 40 million people, that term has an entirely different significance.  They worry about buying the bread.  It isn’t a game.

On Wednesday, I started to worry about running out of food.  Would my son have enough to eat on Friday?  I realized that if I lived like this for an extended period of time it could change who I am.

After five days of living on a small fixed budget, here’s what I learned:

  • If you’re worrying about food, you’re probably worrying about a lot of other things – rent, daycare, credit card bills, utilities, putting gas in the car.
  • I take food for granted.  I waste food.  I appreciate its taste and nutritional value, but have not viewed food as a true resource.
  • “Honey, let’s just go out for dinner” is not an option.  Neither are olives, snacks, Diet Coke, Starbucks or ice cream.
  • Condiments are a luxury.
  • Participating in a potluck at work, buying a gift for my niece, or having a holiday meal would cause great anxiety.
  • Quantity versus quality is an extremely difficult determination.
  • The confines of the budget didn’t allow for smart shopping.  A dollar or two more could have purchased a larger quantity of an item that would last longer but would have required taking something critical out of the cart.
  • $62 = 2 square feet in the refrigerator.

I am so fortunate.

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§ 29 Responses to Guest blogger, David Heiges, shares his Texas Food Stamp Challenge experience

  • Dave/Wendy: The blog and the News 8 piece are fantastic. I knew what you were doing but had no idea. I think about all the food we waste daily just by making too much, knowing Delilah probably won’t eat it all. Not to mention the leftovers that come home with us from restaurants (because we’re too tired to cook) that I never end up eating. We’ve discussed not necessarily taking the challenge (no promises!) but definitely becoming more aware of what we already have in the pantry and what we really need. And yes, coffee, diet coke, a “cheap bottle of wine” are all luxuries.

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