Lessons Learned from the SNAP Challenge





I’m still reflecting on my experience with the SNAP Challenge.  I do know that I’m really glad I did it.  Here are some of the things I realized.

    1.  Feeding people is one of my love languages.
      Are you familiar with the book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate by Gary Chapman?  The thesis is that sometimes our relationships go awry not because of a lack of love, but because the people express love in different ways.  He believes there are five main ways we like to give or receive love: giving/receiving gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service (devotion) and physical touch.  If my “love language” is quality time, but my husband’s love language is gifts, I may not interpret his attempt to express his love by bringing me flowers as being loving, because I’m mad that he spent the time getting flowers when I wanted him to be home and giving me quality time together.  It’s a great concept, so I recommend his books.This week it became clear to me that feeding people is one of my love languages.  When I was going into this, I never really had any concerns about me being hungry; what worried me was making sure my husband and especially my son were being well fed, because that is part of how I judge myself as being a loving wife and mother.  When my friend had surgery, I didn’t run out to buy flowers or a card or offer to clean the house or anything; I brought the family food.This isn’t a big surprise, but this experience really highlighted how much I depend on feeding people to express my love.
    2. I am more aware of the complexities surrounding hunger.
      I knew we had a lot of grocery stores, but it blew my mind when I finally counted them up in yesterday’s post.  I am sorry that we have so many when so many low-income families don’t have any at all that are close by.I think my biggest learning point was the shame and embarrassment and social isolation around being on food stamps.  As I stated in my Wednesday post, one of the hurdles to doing this was finding a week where we weren’t obligated to eat out or be eating other people’s food.  Of course, people using food stamps aren’t prohibited from restaurants or social engagement offering free food. But I hadn’t really considered how hard it might be for the “working poor” feeling left out of things due to lack of funds.  I am more compassionate around the experience of trying to pay for food with food stamps, or how often a person might have to skip going out for happy hour after work or eating out for a colleague’s birthday or new job because they didn’t have the money, or even bypassing potlucks at the Spiritual Center because they didn’t have something to bring.
    3. I am more aware of and more grateful for my blessings.
      I discussed those in yesterday’s blog post.  Today, I’m experiencing my gratitude for those blessings that I may have taken for granted earlier.
    4. I am even more thankful for our local Farmers Market.
      I always love shopping our Farmers Market, but there was an extra sense of joy to be able to buy my usual items instead of my highly restricted shopping trip last Saturday.
    5. I had less waste.
      I tend to overbuy at the Farmers Market.  I justify it by saying at least the money is going  to a good cause.  However, usually by the end of the week I find I haven’t used all of the produce I bought and I have to throw some out.  Or I have leftovers that no one is interested in eating any more and have to throw those out.  Whenever possible, I put my waste in the back, and some creature of the night eats lots of it by the next morning.  The rest becomes so-called “lazy composting,” rather than going into the landfill.But food waste is a HUGE problem in America, and I know I contribute to that.  If you are interested in learning more, I recommend the excellent documentary:  Wasted: The Story of Food Waste
      (trailer at: https://youtube/KUQGVSyXDWA)

      Not this week, though.  We definitely did not end up with produce past its time that needed to be “recycled” outside.

    6. It does come down to that old trope:  Time, Money, Quality.
      Not wanting to sacrifice the quality of our meals, I spent more time on our food this week.  A lot of that time was in planning, checking all the sales flyers, carefully calculating the cost of every item I put in (or took out of) our shopping cart, and shopping at multiple stores to buy items on sale.  Then I used some cooking tricks to up the flavor, fiber, or other aspects of the meals.  There were no short cuts, because short cuts are more expensive.I already spend a lot of time cooking, so the additional time wasn’t onerous for me.  Most of the additional time was the planning, which is unusual for me.  My standard technique is to buy what is available at the Farmers Market and then to plan my meals from there, so planning everything from sales flyers is definitely a different and time-consuming approach for me.

      From what I see from reading the blogs of politicians who have done the SNAP Challenge, they tend to prioritize saving time over improving quality (hence the sad collection of food Cory Booker chose as depicted in my Monday post.  I’m sure that week’s meals were a far cry from what he usually eats.  Ours were not that much different, although they were consistently more carb heavy and lighter on fruits and vegetables than our usual fare.  But we enjoyed all of our meals, and ended up being satisfied and even feeling nurtured after eating what we had available.

    7. We felt disciplined rather than deprived.
      Since I prioritized quality over time (again, realizing that is a privilege not necessarily available to people living on SNAP benefits), our meals were good.  Everybody liked everything I cooked.  No one left the table hungry.  We like our sweets, our treats, and our snacks.  But we didn’t need them.  To be honest, the only thing we didn’t even touch (other than an extra meal I’ll talk about later) was the container of organic pop corn kernels that I bought to provide snacks for my son to replace our usual crackers or tortilla chips.  But he never needed that as a snack, so it remains unopened.  We will probably just donate that to a food bank.I was more hungry than usual, but in a good way.  I had plenty of energy, and wasn’t spaced out from hunger or obsessively awaiting the next meal (although, with my fasting approach as described in my Tuesday post, that hour when my hunger started to kick in around 11 but I wasn’t going to eat until noon was my most difficult).  I lost 3 over the week, which is not a bad thing for me.

      I’m super proud of my son, who was nothing but complementary about all the meals I fixed, and never complained about missing his desserts or usual snacks.  This wasn’t his idea, but he agreed to do it with me and did an excellent job in embracing what he had instead of what he didn’t.

    8. In the end, we had plenty.
      The bottom line is that we had good food and enough of it.  Once again, I underline the fact that I have advantages a typical parent living on SNAP benefits does not have, such as a spouse who can pay our usual bills.  I can see how that would not necessarily have been the case if I had been a low-income working single parent living in a food desert.  But in our circumstances, it was a great learning experience in which we did not have to suffer from extreme hunger.I need to admit that I had one whole meal I bought for but never had to make because the meals I had made provided more leftovers than I had anticipated.  That meal was my stereotype of a SNAP meal of beans and rice.  The beans were dried, so they and the rice will last to feed us another time.

The designers of the SNAP Challenge encourage people to do it for a month to get a better idea of the entire experience of living on SNAP.  I don’t want to do that because of the damper it puts on our social life.  However, I have a lot left of many of the staples I bought this week–oil, vinegar, salad dressing, container of margarine, dried chile peppers, and such–and those will last for a while.  I have the ingredients for the uncooked meal, and enough flour and yeast to make several more pizzas.

Therefore, my plan is to try a second SNAP month some time in July.  I will continue to use those staples and the usable leftovers from this week and see if I can’t produce a more fruit-and-vegetable-heavy eating plan for my second try at living on SNAP levels.

So stay tuned for more SNAP insights in July!


3 thoughts on “Lessons Learned from the SNAP Challenge

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