Lean Plate Club takes the Food Stamp Challenge

Artfood_breakfast_2 I didn’t get around to writing about it here, but I talked with friends about the Food Stamp Challenge that Representatives Jim McGovern from Massachusetts and Jo Ann Emerson from Missouri began promoting back in May to raise awareness of the meager food stamp program benefit.  They put forward a challenge to their congressional colleagues to spend a week on a food-stamp level budget.  Since May, more lawmakers have taken part; Representative Barbara Lee of California just finished her own challenge this past week.

In the first round of challengers, while reading a Washington Post article, I was somewhere between dismayed and agog to see what Rep. Tim Ryan bought when he went shopping for his week of food, and I wasn’t the only one.  I, myself, thought, "Why isn’t he buying a big bag of beans and a big bag of rice?"  Any place the challenge was covered, it seemed, plenty of people wrote in to give advice about how to get better value out of a severely limited food budget.  As the challenge makes clear, lots of people live this every day.

And today there’s an excellent feature in the Washington Post by Lean Plate Club columnist Sally Squires titled How Far Can Your Dollar Stretch?  Sally is a personal favorite of mine – I’ve long enjoyed her thoughtful, matter-of-fact approach to nutrition and fitness.  And even if you’re not in the position of really needing to save a buck, the sample grocery basket she put together is worth a look.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the sample $120 basket (for a family of four) looked strikingly similar to my own.  Plenty of beans, some tofu, whole-grain bread, tortillas and oatmeal, yogurt, peanut butter, oil and vinegar. (Minus margarine, processed cheese, eggs and, of course, meat, and with most of our produce coming from our CSA subscription and the farmers’ market instead of frozen.)  Lots of ingredients in this group, rather than tons of products.  It’ll take a little cooking in places (rice, beans), but there are lots of quick-fix meal possibilities here too – eggs, sandwiches, quesdillas, fast soups with the frozen veggies and chicken parts.

I’ve seen a fair number of how-to-get-by-on-less tips and recipes over the years, and sure, this one, at $120 a week, is not the cheapest of the cheap.  In a less expensive area than D.C., this market basket could be had for less, and I’m sure, with some careful shopping, the cost could be reduced still further. 

However, there are no compromises brokered here on nutrition – no ramen noodles to speak of.  There’s also plenty of food – and varied food at that.  While there’s no doubt that the food stamp benefit is not munificent, and there would be real difficulties in purchasing this range of items in food deserts, it’s nice to see a nutritious diet on a budget done well.

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