Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge Corrections

I apologize.  I was wrong on two things.

1. You can only buy food with food stamps.  Toiletries/household supplies/paper products are all on your own dime according to the SNAP website.

2. Many people have mentioned that it is intended to supplement your income.  I assumed that many people on food stamps probably would if they had a job or some extra income, but most people on the program only had food stamps to buy food.  However, according to some USDA statistics, 75% of SNAP participants use a combination of food stamps and their own money and only 20% of SNAP participants have no income (including government assistance).  So some people rely solely on food stamps to eat, but most have other incomes.  

A quote from the Washington Post article: "[T]he maximum monthly benefits can quickly climb as the size of the household grows. A family of four, for instance, could receive as much as $668 a month for food."

So apparently it is not as bad as I thought.  I will still donate to a food bank, but that is quite a bit of food for thought...

Monday, May 4, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day

I'm finally finished! (And I beat Gwyneth!)

Weight: 145 (down 3 pounds)

Breakfast: Piece of frozen pizza, 2 pieces of toast (with butter and peanut butter) and a banana
Lunch: 3 little cracker samples (free), granola bar
Snack: Cookie
Dinner: Vegetable soup, toast with peanut butter

I had quite the day.  I was asked to stay and work 3.5 hours of overtime at work when I was originally going to work a 5 hour shift; 8.5 hours altogether.  However, I only packed a granola bar and a cookie in my lunch which would then have to last me 8.5 hours.  I really wanted more hours, so I took it, but I was unsure of how well I would do on that amount of food, deciding that I would have one snack on my first break and the other snack on my next break.  I ended up sort of cheating and going to the free sample stand which amounted to 3 little crackers but I'll take what I can get.  I don't know if it's cheating since it's free and it wasn't very much food.

Later, the store got extremely busy, the supervisor got sick and couldn't continue her shift and it was a stressful shift with the store sorely understaffed.  With all the chaos and the need to focus on being as efficient as possible, I must have had an adrenaline rush because I did not feel hungry at all throughout my shift but I ate because I felt that I needed to.  All in all, it was a weird day and I relaxed with dinner and reading in the bath.

And now for the moment of truth.  What is left over?  Well, obviously you already know because you probably skimmed the text to look at the picture.

My leftovers:

For $35 in one week, I'd say that I did pretty well.  But now, let's think: could this feed another person?  My brothers or my dad, all around 6 feet tall and 2 of them overweight?  My guess is that this food would provide 11 very modest meals and a lot of milk and cookie snacks.  That would last a person 4 days at the most.  So, no, I do not think SNAP is feasible for more than one person and even then it is definitely a tight budget.  Maybe I didn't budget correctly and maybe with some adjustments I could have fed two, but I find it unlikely that it would feed 3 or more people.  I won't rule it out; there are very cheap cuts of meat and packages of produce out there, but, to me, it doesn't seem possible.  I believe that it's possible that I could still survive on this budget for one person if I were also buying toiletries and toilet paper but it wouldn't be easy.

What did I learn from this? 
- Living on a food budget requires very careful planning; no impulse buying or giving in to cravings. 
- I have a better understanding of food budgeting.
- If I want to do overtime at work while under a tight budget like this, I need to pack extra food just in case.  
- From an overweight person's perspective, I am eating too much.  You don't need that much food to feel full.  
- PC Spinach pizza is awful and I will not buy it again.
- It is possible for one person to live on $35/week, $140 a month of food but it requires discipline and planning.  It is extremely difficult for 2 or more people to live on $35/week, $140/month.
- Coffee is addictive and the withdrawal is not fun but it's over in a couple days.
- And, most importantly, SNAP (Food Stamps) desperately needs more funding...

Now that the challenge is over, since it's past midnight and I've had all my meals, I feel like I'm stepping into a fantasy world with so many flavours that includes coffee, beer, wine, Parmesan, sour cream... (and I wonder why I'm still fat)

But I'm being melodramatic.  Thousands, maybe millions of Americans (and Canadians and other nationalities that do not have the SNAP program) do this for a good portion of their lives.  I will be donating to a local food bank in my community now that the challenge is done.  Since I'm on the internet, I'm not sure whether I should say that I donated or not since I am tooting my own horn if I tell people, but I'm just doing this for attention if I did the challenge without people knowing that I donated.  Maybe I'll leave it at this: Don't worry.  I'm terrible.  I realize that donating to a food bank or a charitable organization benefiting the homeless or the poor does not make me any more special or moral than anyone else. 

And with that, I will say thank you for reading (if anyone bothered to)!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 6

Good evening and welcome to the penultimate day of this interesting experiment.

Weight: 146 (down 2 pounds)

Breakfast: Banana, 3 scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of toast with butter
Work Snack: Cookie, granola bar
Lunch: None
Dinner: 1/2 can vegetable soup

Today I did not have a big appetite.  The breakfast was extremely filling and when I came home from work I wasn't hungry for a meal like I usually am.  It could have something to do with today being a shorter day because I slept in or maybe my appetite is getting smaller from the challenge.  I must add that, unlike the pizza, the vegetable soup I had today was delicious.

I think I finally got used to the lack of coffee!  I had a good amount of energy and even had an hour-long bike ride and I felt more focused at work.  It's incredible how much of an effect a lack of coffee can have on you when you are used to having coffee every day; it really is a drug.  I miss coffee much more than alcohol.  

I ran out of eggs today but I still have a lot of food left over for my final day.  I still have pasta, cookies, bread, 1 bowl of soup, several pizza slices, some milk, lots of peanut butter, 1 granola bar and 1 hypothetical egg (since I accidentally bought a pack with one broken egg).  I am 100% certain I will not run out of food.  I think it's fair to say, at this point, that the food stamps budget is not horrible for one person, but it does not seem feasible for 2 or more people.  Tomorrow, I'll see if my leftovers post-challenge could feed a second person for a week.

Goodnight and see you tomorrow.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 5

Day 5 it is.  I've been up 17 hours or so, so far (up at 5:30 for work...) and I am absolutely exhausted so I'll try to make this one quick.

Weight: Plateauing at 147

Snack: Medium bowl of Mini Wheats
Breakfast:  Pasta with tomato sauce, cookie
Lunch: 1/2 box mac and cheese, 1/2 can tomato soup
Snack: Small bowl of Mini Wheats
Dinner: 3 small pieces of frozen pizza, cookie

 (My frozen pizza; much smaller than the box)

I ate a lot of food today.  I chalk it up to the fact that I was awake longer than usual but there was a lot of snacking...  I think that's because I didn't have any protein today.  Yes, that would make sense.  Those two factors probably made me waste a lot of calories.  I was hungry for all of this, too.  It wasn't just eating because I was bored.  

Today after work, I thought I deserved a reward (I know, right?  A reward for doing what too many people have to do their entire lives), so I went to a wine shop that offers samples and tried their Strawberry Margarita.  It was so sweet and delicious.  I wanted to savor it but I also didn't want to hold up the woman at the shop too long as she awkwardly watched me sip the sample.  Internal dilemmas...

I'm starting to run out of certain foods.  I am now out of Mini Wheats and Kraft Dinner.  I'm still confident that I'll be fed decently the next two days but there might not be a lot left over at the end.

Final comment for today: the PC Spinach frozen pizza was not very good... :(

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 4

Good evening!  It is Day 4.  This is one of the few occasions on the internet where taking a picture of your meal is appropriate and not annoying.

Weight: 147 (down 1 pound)

Breakfast: 2 scrambled Eggs, piece of toast with butter, banana
Snack: Small bowl of Mini Wheats
Lunch: 1/2 box of mac and cheese, 1/2 can of tomato soup
Dinner: None (not hungry)

Lots of cravings today but I didn't give in to them.  Even when mac and cheese, one of my biggest temptations and my favourite foods, is available to me, I still crave other foods.  I guess I crave variety, lots of choice.  I found myself getting jealous of my brother, who could dress up his pasta with fresh garlic, vegetarian sausage, red pepper, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and other appealing condiments, while I could only have pasta with tomato sauce.

I did feel relatively energetic this morning without coffee, which was good.  Maybe the coffee withdrawal is over.  I'm starting to run out of things; 3 eggs left (one was cracked and I didn't notice until I'd used up a few eggs already), bread is halfway done, cereal is halfway done, 2 bananas and 2 apples left, 1 serving of mac and cheese left, etc.  However, I still have plenty of pasta, plenty of soup and an entire frozen pizza left over, which I'm going to have tomorrow for the Pizza and Movie Night my brother and I do every Friday. 

Still doing fine.  I'm just hoping for more energy before the week is over and really looking forward to coffee (and alcohol) again.

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 3

Day 3, almost halfway through!

Weight: Still 148

Breakfast: medium bowl of Mini Wheats and banana

Work snack: granola bar and cookie

Lunch: 2 scrambled eggs, medium bowl of pasta with tomato sauce and apple

Dinner:  piece of toast (wasn't very hungry)

Today was okay.  The main thing was the lack of coffee.  I got 9 hours of sleep today but I felt weak and lethargic all day and I think it was maybe coffee or alcohol withdrawal (these are things I have every day, but usually just one serving of each each day).  I also noticed that I've been having a headache every day so far which is not normal for me.  If I had decided Advil and toiletries were part of the challenge and Advil was too expensive, I would be in agony.  It was bad enough doing a shift with a headache that didn't go away, knowing I didn't have any Advil on me and my break wasn't long enough for me to buy some and also be able to sit down for a while.

I had my dad's girlfriend look at the food I bought for the challenge and she said I did quite well except for the cookies and mac and cheese, which I could have substituted for some cheese or some beans so that I have more protein and that I should have bought a larger amount of butter if I were doing the month challenge, since buying in bulk is always going to save you money.

I didn't know this but there is a documentary on this challenge called Food Stamped.  I also found an interesting take on the challenge from Rebecca Vipond Brink, a nutrition writer from The Frisky, who weighed in on Gwyneth Paltrow's food haul:  "Nutritionally speaking, this is a vitamin bonanza. But people who live on SNAP benefits don’t just have to get nutrients, they have to get actual calories, because they tend to have very physical lives, doing service labor and taking care of children and not necessarily being able to afford a car and so forth." 

Wikipedia paraphrases Brink: "It was estimated that Paltrow's food totaled 7,059 calories, or only about 1,000 calories per day. It was also pointed out that instead of the seven limes that she bought, she could have gotten four pounds of pasta for less money, and that such a substitution would have provided her with substantially more calories. Brink also suggested a completely different set of food items for the same amount of money, which would have yielded 2,530 calories per day: five pounds of potatoes, two dozen eggs, five pounds of flash-frozen chicken breasts, a block of cheese, a gallon of whole milk, four pounds of apples, three pounds of oatmeal, a bag of celery, 16 ounces of peanut butter, 15 ounces of raisins, one pound of carrots, and 28 ounces of rice. Brink also pointed out that such a shopping list was only realistic for someone who did not live in a food desert."

Even so, this is 2,530 per day to feed 3 people.  How do you feed everyone in your family, even with Brink's suggestions?  It seems impossible.

On that pleasant note, goodnight and I will be back tomorrow to report on day 4.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 2

Hello again.

Today's stats:

Weight: Still 148

Breakfast: medium bowl of Mini Wheats and banana

Work snack: granola bar and cookie

Lunch: 2 scrambled eggs, 1/2 can of tomato soup and piece of toast with butter

Dinner: 2 pieces of toast with butter and peanut butter, Mr. Noodles, apple

Admittedly I went overboard with the last meal and I still feel very full from it.  I felt tired today but still easily satisfied by my meals.  I did experience a few cravings for things, since I work at a grocery store and there are all kinds of tantalizing foods in the house that I can't eat.  The grass is always greener on the other side.  So far, I'm really not suffering too much or at all.  However, it is going to be much easier for one person to do this challenge as opposed to 2, 3, 4 or more people; a couple or a family.

I was also informed by my dad's girlfriend, who is much more knowledgeable than me since she has experienced financial instability and still does (but to a lesser degree), that just buying food with $35 doesn't give you the full picture.  When you are on food stamps, you also have to use that money for toiletries like pads, tampons, toothpaste, shampoo, Advil, toilet paper, shaving cream, etc which makes it all so much worse when you realize that.  One can always budget around that each week and save up for toiletries (eg. one toiletry item per week), but when you think about that, it just makes the budget so much tighter, even for a single person.

If I do this challenge again, I think I will include the toiletries and probably try it for a month.  But that initial purchase of just the essentials (toilet paper, shampoo, toothpaste, Advil, pads/tampons) would turn that first week into a 168-hour famine.

So far, so good.  See you tomorrow. :)

Monday, April 27, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition: Day 1

Today I begin the challenge...  After a long shop at No Frills, armed with shopping list, notepad, calculator and pen, this is what I got for $35.15, just 10 cents under the $35.25 ($29 American) allotted for food stamps.  

Honestly, I think that's pretty good for $35.  I bought 19 items, consisting of 5 bananas, 5 apples, bag of pasta, 2 boxes of PC Mac and Cheese, cookies, eggs, Mr. Noodles, granola bars, small pack of butter, bread, milk, peanut butter, 3 soups, tomato sauce, frozen pizza and a box of Mini Wheats.

I managed to get some protein with the peanut butter, eggs and almond granola bars.  I also have some fruits and vegetables with the bananas, apples, soups and maybe the pizza (since it has spinach).  I wouldn't call this a healthy diet but I think it's quite likely that it will last me a week.  Everything was around $2, except for the $4.49 pizza and the butter, which was $3 for a little stick.  In hindsight, I regret buying it, since it doesn't have nutritional value and I'll only use it for the mac and cheese and toast.  I could have bought some instant coffee with that $3!

While we're on the subject of coffee, it is not pleasant being without coffee when you try to work a shift on 6.5 hours of sleep without any of that magical bean juice, I mean, that waste of money that doesn't provide any nutrition.  I didn't get coffee or tea (and definitely not alcohol) because I didn't want to spend money on something that wasn't food.  Anyway, I think this amount of food is enough for a week.

Throughout the challenge, I will weigh myself and record my meals everyday to show you how I budget my food and whether there is a change in weight.

Today's Weight: 148

Breakfast: small bowl of Mini Wheats

Work snack: granola Bar, cookie

Lunch: Mac and Cheese (1/2 a package), 1/2 a can of tomato soup

Dinner: Mac and Cheese (1/2 a package), 2 scrambled eggs, apple

Other than the lack of coffee and sleep, the first day went fairly well.  It's hard to gauge how you're feeling when you're tired and that affects your mood all day.  I realized that in order to not eat more than 3 meals and maybe a snack, you have to plan your meals out, preferably with 4 hours between them.  I did fine for breakfast, snack and lunch but 3 hours after lunch I was already hungry, probably because I'm used to larger meals or eating and snacking more often.  Altogether I'm enjoying the food (obviously because I got to eat mac and cheese) and I feel full after each meal.   I'm also drinking water after each meal so that I can digest the food better and so that I feel more full when I'm done eating.  

I wasn't sure whether I should forego my daily B12 vitamin or Advil for headaches, but decided against it.  I suppose I was more inclined to leave them out since Advil is $3-5 and vitamins are fairly expensive.   If anyone actually reads this thing, let me know if there is an argument for including them in the comments. 

A little background on myself:
I'm a slightly overweight woman in her 20s with a vegetarian diet.  As my blogger name suggests, I am indeed a hedonistic hermit.  I love my junk food, alcohol, coffee, tea, sugary drinks sometimes.  I almost always have something sugary in the house.  For my meals, I usually gravitate toward 3 things: black bean burrito, pasta with tomato sauce and dal makhani curry with naan.  Then I'll add some fruit or a salad for nutrition.  But I eat many other foods as well.  My spread for this challenge isn't far from my current diet; I often have scrambled eggs, soup, cereal, toast, pasta, etc.  The pizza is new but I thought it would provide several meals for $4 so I went for it.

Another thing to include is that I've never encountered poverty in my life.  I've always been some form of middle-class, whether it was lower or upper middle class.  My mother was a lawyer and until she died a few years ago, my dad, brothers and I lived a comfortable, almost indulgent lifestyle.  She bought so many fancy things that we didn't need, we shopped at Whole Foods sometimes, we ate out at restaurants often and money wasn't as important as the healthiness and quality of the food when we were grocery-shopping.  

It's hard to admit but when our dad tightened our belts and we swapped the Starbucks for Folgers it was difficult for me to adjust to the change (the loss was probably part of that but it was a big change for us as well).  That was the closest I've been to anything resembling poverty.  In reality, we just started living a reasonable lifestyle where we spent modestly and focused on buying what we need.  There was no starving or hardship, just some upper-middle-class kids becoming lower-middle-class kids.  I later learned that our mother left dad with a large amount of credit card debt.  It wasn't that she didn't make a lot of money but she couldn't control her spending.  

Now I know why dad got a second job and felt anxious about spending too much.  Luckily he got rid of the debt and paid off the mortgage with the Life Insurance.  Now I still try to focus on the essentials, but I often get swept up by temptation when I see something appealing or something that's on sale.  To sum up, I have never been poor or homeless and my lifestyle is still fairly indulgent and sometimes expensive.  

I suppose another reason that I'm doing this is that I will move out of my dad's house soon and this might be my future.  I've been saving a lot of money, but it never hurts to think about your food, what it costs and how to budget for both survival and nutrition.

Well, I got through day 1, let's see how day 2 goes.  With a good night's sleep in my future, I'm feeling hopeful.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Food Stamps Challenge, Canadian Edition!

Hello again!  It's been about a year since I've posted on this blog but I've found something inspiring to write about here.  Like my last series on reviewing food while stoned, it does involve food, but less... and not as expensive or appetizing.  This week, starting tomorrow, I will undertake the Food Stamps Challenge.  I decided to do this after watching Dose of Buckley's video concerning Gwyneth Paltrow's attempt at the Food Stamps Challenge.

If you would like to watch it, click on this link:

Food Stamps
(This image is created by Rob Rogers and it belongs to Rob Rogers. 

Looking at Paltrow's blog ( it seems like she did actually try to do the challenge or she at least had her staff try to do it, but midway through the challenge she was found eating at an expensive restaurant and she admitted that she failed after 4 days.  Whether her tastes were too expensive (or healthy, which is expensive as well) or she understandably had trouble feeding herself and her two children, she did try and she did make a donation to the food bank so I can respect that.  Not to mention the fact that she did raise some awareness and people are at least talking about the issue.

However, as a Canadian, twenty-something and former college student I am not above things like Kraft Dinner, ramen and canned food!  Therefore, I accept the challenge that no one challenged me to!

What I hope to gain from this is an understanding of budgeting and what it is like to live on just the essentials (no coffee, alcohol or expensive condiments like Parmesan cheese or olive oil - my bread and butter) and, admittedly, I wonder if I will lose any weight from this as it is a rather drastic lifestyle change.  Since I'm only one person, I'm hopeful that the food will last me a week, but I won't rule out the possibility that I'll run out.  Honestly, the most offensive thing about Gwyneth's food stamps challenge was the fact that she blew money on an avocado and 7 limes!  So I hope to be a bit more strategic when I am spending; no drinks, no unnecessary condiments or overly expensive items, etc.

Because I am Canadian, I have converted the $29 allotted for the challenge to Canadian currency (so it's fair), which adds up to $35.25.  I also will include reasonable things as freebies; spices, salt, cooking spray and water because those are one or two times a year types of purchases.  You might wonder why I don't follow the food stamps budget of my own country, but we don't have a program like that.  In Canada, the homeless or financially disadvantaged only rely on welfare and various food banks so I have decided to see what it is like to survive as an American living on food stamps.

I went shopping at No Frills this evening and tomorrow I will show you what I got for $35.  See you then!