Today is my last day of the SNAP Challenge where I’ll be at work. Current stock suggests I’ll be eating small amounts of chicken and the rest of my eggs over the weekend with potatoes, soup, and beans. I did go running last night but forgot to grab my GPS watch, therefore those calories are not reflected in yesterday’s totals.
For breakfast I had two glasses of milk, a glass of apple juice, and a granola bar. My fiancee and I ended up eating the rest of the Avgolemono last night. Therefore I’m eating PB&J again for lunch today. I tried to make up for the lack of yogurt today by drinking an extra glass of milk. Running out of yogurt means I won’t be eating any honey today, which should positively impact my sugar consumption.
For dinner I’m planning to have a chicken and kidney bean omelette with a side of peas. I expect to repeat the omelette dinner two more times over the weekend, swapping kidney beans for chili beans and dropping the vegetable because I don’t have any other green items. With proper seasoning I imagine these omelettes taking on a somewhat Mexican influence.
Using my entire budget at the beginning of the week and then flexibly preparing meals worked well. I’ve speculated before that I would end up with food to carry over into next week. As of now it looks like I’ll end the week with extra ramen, apple juice, potatoes, and striped peanut butter and jelly. The extra $4.50 from not having to buy juice, ramen or potatoes next week would make it easier to add real fruit or produce and cheese to my diet. That would solve some of the problems I’ve had this week getting in my services of fruit and dairy.
Was this a breeze to do? No. Is it entirely possible to live with some focus on nutrition on roughly $30? Yes. Those answers come with some caveats though: 1) the cost of living in Cincinnati is fairly low compared to most of the nation and 2) while I’m fine with eating canned vegetables I’m sure some people would push me to use fresh produce. I can’t argue much with the cost of living, I pay a really low rent and price for food here compared to the places some of my friends live; I would not want to live in Washington D.C. on my current salary. Canned vegetables were an effective choice in my mind because any stock I could create would be non perishing. I think the main priority when living on this budget is to focus on immediate needs and ensuring future stability. Fresh produce, while nice, comes with a certain intangible cost due to its perishable nature.
I’ll be glad to get back to my normal coffee routine next week, and to have a Coke or Pepsi every once in a while. I’ll probably continue to pack my lunch though, as anyone offering financial advice would tell you, its cheaper than going out to lunch a few times a week.
While I’ve focused on the quantitative this week, I think its worth noting the qualitative and social aspects of food. I say that this budget is livable purely in the mathematical sense. It’s possible to make choices about food that will allow you to eat, get sustenance, and meet basic nutritional needs. That doesn’t cover the sociology and psychology of food as it relates to cultural expectations and family tradition/ritual. I gotten some inquiries through the week about why I wasn’t going to eat a free cookie, eat a free lunch at a meeting, or “at least have a coke.” Food is something we use to bond with others. Whether they be new acquaintances or family members. I cannot count the innumerable times talked about the best pizza place, how I like my chili (Cincinnati style or with beans), or which is my favorite burrito chain.
I got the chance to talk about Avgolemono earlier this week. My family goes nuts for the stuff and it is an important part of bonding for us. We do the same for a few other things like the caramel cake my grandma makes or the tomato pilaf that my great-grandmother used to make. Food is tied up in our identity as a family and as people with Greek heritage.
What is inescapable, then, is how food threads through our lives and our interaction with others. Therefore, while $30.00 will buy you food for the week, it will not buy you a fulfilling social life. If there is any reason SNAP is supplemental, beyond the simple economic contribution the program suggests, it is so that we can continue to take part in these social interactions. Some might be very cheap, as was the case with Avgolemano, while others might be trying for someone on a budget, like eating out with co-workers at lunch. That is why SNAP is so important and why cutting it has such an impact. It not only takes away from the extra nutrition a family can get by having these benefits but it also makes it even harder or impossible to take part in some of the social aspects of food that I and many others take for granted.