Could You Live on $5 of Food a Day?

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Joyia Yorgey

The Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge concluded (for us) last Thursday, ending a week of eating on the budget of a SNAP recipient household. We started the week with $64.40 in an envelope and a mostly emptied refrigerator. Three days into the week, we only had $5.50 in the envelope but plenty of leftovers and pantry items remaining.

On the final day of the challenge, we finished the last of our tea, oats, bread, rice, eggs, and fruit. We used the last of our food budget to purchase a box of brownie mix ($1.50) and a tub of strawberry ice cream ($2.99), ending the week with $1.01 left over. I was very excited that we could afford to purchase dessert; but it also felt so extravagant.

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Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler

What are my thoughts only one day past the food stamp challenge?  I am overwhelmed by the choices I am privileged to have. I was at a work lunch today and I kept going over to the cookie tray. Usually I limit my sweets consumption to try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. But I couldn’t help myself.  

I was conscious of my inability to eat sweets, to consume food that I had not planned for or pre-purchased, or just to eat an unlimited volume of something. It made me realize how lucky I am not only for the food, and the choices I am able to make, but for the sheer privilege of choice. 

Thank you to the organizers of this Food Stamp Challenge. It has enriched my life, my families life, and the lives of my congregation.

Joi Tolliver

I’m at that awful time of day, after breakfast and before lunch and I am hungry. Last night my girlfriend (who is also taking the challenge) and I were talking about our experience and how difficult it is to actually purchase $35.00 worth of food and stick to eating just the food purchased. It can be done but it is difficult. 

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Sharon W.

Here’s an issue that, I’m ashamed to admit, didn’t occur to me until I was grocery shopping this morning. Poverty doesn’t just mean food stamps; it also tends to mean no car, or an unreliable car, as well as living where there are few or no supermarkets. (All the mom-and-pop corner grocers in my town went out of business decades ago, but Camden is still full of corner stores. And the economics of running a corner grocery mean higher prices and smaller selections.)

I was able to get through the week under the $35 ceiling because I could drive to Wegman’s—the cheapest supermarket near my home—and use the car to lug back whatever I bought (instead of needing to carry it myself). If I were really living like a poor person, I don’t think I could have finished successfully after all.

Eileen S. Sklaroff, President Female Hebrew Benevolent Society

I am not a cheater nor am I a quitter so I knew with great certainty that I would stick to the rules of The Challenge and see it through to the bitter end. There were days when I was hungry and reached instinctively for a bunch of grapes or a rice cake to tide me over. But those snacks were in my mind, not within my budget, so I waited until the next meal.

I spent $60.88 of my $64.40 allowance. It seemed fair to hold back the remainder because Mark could not participate with me after Friday lunch because he had a bris in New York on Shabbat. (I am ashamed to say that my first thought was “more food for me!”).

The only food that remains is a head of Romaine, a few carrots, a few potatoes, half a cuke, a can of tomato sauce and two boxes of pasta, which we didn’t eat because we didn’t like the taste, and some rice. Not an inspiring repertoire with which to begin a new week, but I won’t have to do that because come tomorrow morning I will be at the closing event for the FSC where a light breakfast will be served. And I can eat it!

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Joi Toliiver

I am a week behind, but I still wanted to take the challenge. I must admit it’s starting out kind of hard for me but I won’t quit. I spent $34.23 on groceries, and I planned out all of meals.

I ate my breakfast but now I’m hungry. Normally I would have had some fruit or some potato chips to hold me over until my next meal but that wasn’t in the budget and I’ll have to wait until my next meal to satisfy my hunger.

I also realized that you have eat leftovers in order to survive off of the $35.00.  What I made for dinner yesterday (Sunday) I will have for lunch on Monday.  One day down 6 more to go and I’ll keep you posted. 

Sharon W.

Well, I did it. $29.32 for a week of food. I managed to squeeze a reasonably nutritious diet out of that $29, with a lot of planning and cooking. Lots of beans and vegetables; about ten ounces of meat for the whole week.

I also lost a pound in a week without trying. I’m coming away from this experience convinced that, for tall (I’m 5 foot 1), growing, or active people, living on a food stamp budget means having to choose between enough quantity and enough quality.

I actually plan to try to continue eating like this for at least a month to get a more realistic sort of long-term picture. Meanwhile, I published a wrap-up post for the week on my blog, A Number of Things


Like some others who’ve been sharing on this blog, I also spent a lot of time this week thinking about the past. My grandmother raised four of her children on public assistance during the Depression; her daughter (my mom) was frugal all her life, I believe as a result. My mom always told stories of how my her mother “got by.” I’ve often heard how they ate “every part of the chicken but the head.”

Many of the foods I still cook today are the “peasant foods” I learned from my mother and grandmother: the tomato sauce I shared earlier this week; pasta y fagioli; escarole and cannellini beans; broccoli and pasta with anchovies; and many more too numerous to list. The common thread among these dishes is frugal nutrition.

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Emily Coplon (Chester, PA)

Well I was able to feed eleven people a multicourse meal for $68.50. We have plenty of leftovers so I think we will be fine as we have $31.30 left for the rest of the challenge.

I am very tired of tracking everything but the kids are very good at marking all the fruit they eat. I have had to hide some cause they would go through $20 worth of oranges if they were available. I’m glad it got everyone to think about what he is eating and if it is because it is really something he wants or just something he is eating.

Eileen S. Sklaroff, President Female Hebrew Benevolent Society

Early in my married life I made a pledge to myself that I would never compromise when it came to the purchase of food.  It was so seminal a moment that I can still remember where I was and what I was doing-–standing in a ShopRite in Kearny, New Jersey mulling over a pound of fresh flounder priced at 79 cents. I am laughing even as I type this but that was a lot of money for fish some 44-years ago. In a split second I decided not only to purchase the fish but always to give priority to the quality of the food on my table.  And I wasn’t even thinking about having children at the time.

Not surprising that I made this commitment because I was raised by a father who believed in organic farming, pesticide free foods, alternative medicine, naturally derived vitamin supplements and many other things that are accepted today but were hardly the norm when I was growing up in the 50s in suburban Philadelphia. 

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