A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

One family's experiment living on a food-stamp budget

The Spouse’s Perspective—Guest Post by David

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Readers have asked how others in the family have experienced the SNAP Lenten Challenge. Well, let’s see.  Here is a guest post from the head of the household:  David.

I’ve certainly been aware of the effort and time Nan has been putting in to budgeting, record-keeping, and menu-creation [and reflection—added by the editor] – and through that the seriousness of the exercise. However, at least through the first ⅔ of the time, I honestly didn’t feel like our eating habits were particularly different. There certainly has always been enough to eat. It wasn’t until I became a little more reflective that I began to notice the ways in which things have changed.

First, as a willing participant, I completely eliminated all incidental food purchases. I hadn’t thought about it previously, but it turns out that I had been purchasing food (read pretzels, chocolate-covered cashews, and trail mix, mostly) fairly regularly at the College Store to stock my desk for snacking while I work (or zone out) in my office. I haven’t tallied how much this would be (though I probably could, given my records in Quicken), but I estimate at least $30 per week there. A small but significant fraction of our budget. The impact on my calorie intake is probably even greater. The SNAP budge restriction also eliminated impulse purchases at the grocery, which, mostly, were things in the same vein – chocolate covered cherries, anyone? Those purchases, at $5 a pop, add up very quickly. So, there’s one thing different – much fewer random high-calorie inputs and a stronger sense of how expensive those kinds of treats are. The corollary here is the recognition of how lucky we are that we can make those kinds of purchases normally.

We had cut down on wine purchases anyway, but now we pretty much only have it when it’s leftover from some event or gifted to us (birthday treats from my parents, for example). Strange that one becomes attached to something that’s an acquired taste anyway. Does wine really taste that good? No, not really. (Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy drinking it, but maybe the attractions of addictive substances are the subject of a different blog.)

The refrain from the girls “Not more rice!” is interesting, too – their sense of repetition has been noticeable, though, honestly, it isn’t something I felt. Their observation is, however, true. We have relied much more extensively on rice as the major constituent of many of our meals.

We are able bakers and create breads, pies, biscuits and muffins with frequency. Have our abilities, predilections, and circumstances (we have lots of bakeware and a functional oven) made it easier for us? Probably. A couple of times I wanted pizza.  I just made the dough and used what we had in the fridge for toppings and some canned tomato sauce from the basement. I think I only had to purchase cheese. I’m on sabbatical (and therefore have time) and know how to make pizza dough (or at least it’s easy to look up on a tablet). The circumstances of our experience make it easier, maybe.  Still, I have noticed some physical effects – my finger and toenails are quite weak; they break and peel very easily. Could it be that reduced protein intake is weakening them? Maybe.

Nan may have already reflected on this, but receiving even a few things from the food bank (apparently left over as the stuff no one would take) extended our options extensively. Bruised apples and pears were cooked down into butter or pies. Six heads of iceberg lettuce makes a lot of salad or can be cooked as greens and added to fried rice. A box of crackers makes a welcome snack. We like to think of ourselves as offering hospitality to many with offers of shared food. Receiving it, rather than offering it, was interesting, as it seemed like a bonus. I was indeed, truly grateful, but also felt like, “well, we don’t really need this, shouldn’t this go to someone else?”

Our benefactor, who works for a food bank, reports that these were foods that no one wanted (or, perhaps, could carry or could store or who knows). Still she does report that things like cases of Ho Hos can cause fights. I don’t really know what to think of it. Maybe most important is to be grateful, humble, and reflective on the gifts of food and the gifts of insight this exercise is providing.

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