This is Mark.
This is Lindsey.
To open, I should state a few things:
I was participating in this challenge with my willing significant other. Hi. We are both creative folks: an architect and graphic designer. We both have a fairly pragmatic approach to our work and lives. We thoroughly enjoy cooking. When you combine these particulars, you will understand our approach to the SNAP Challenge. At the outset, we had relatively little sense as to how feasible the challenge could be. Yet, we fully embraced it, we decided we would keep costs down as much as possible by making absolutely everything, and it would be utilitarian, from multipurpose sauces to the bread we dipped in our stew.
To us, the most practical and cheapest way about this challenge would be to buy nothing pre-made. In addition to this keeping our costs down, it also meant our meals were a little healthier. Most importantly, it gave us a kit of parts with which we could make a variety of meals. Having flour, which is extremely cheap, we could make loaves of bread, pizza dough, and a roux for our soups and stews. We still haven’t used the last of the flour we bought.
Mark makes this sound so perfect! He failed to mention that he’d never made bread before without a machine. I actually looked at the finished loaf and said, “Oh, you’re not going to bake it?” But that was it, a flat disc of… bread? After a night out when we very much wanted a late night snack, we turned the disc into garlic bread, which really turned into eating the oil and garlic scraped from the top. Moving on…
Had we bought only a loaf of sandwich bread, we would have been out twice the amount of money, and an item that had only one use. But our taste buds would have remained intact. A can of stewed tomatoes turned into a marinara sauce for pasta and pizza, and also a base for a vegetable stew. The majority of our produce was the essentials – carrots, celery and onion – complimented with more expensive items that were stretched out through most meals – Brussels sprouts, brown rice, olive oil, cheese. I wanted to put cheese on everything, but I refrained for SNAP’s sake.
At the end of a week, we found that we were actually quite successful. I think we were dancing close to having 10 percent of our cash allowance still left to spend. I took offerings of candy at work, is that cheating? What’s more, we feel as though we made some memorable meals. That marinara sauce was amazing! And who doesn’t love a good bowl of cereal?
However, we also knew that we were very fortunate. We knew how to make these meals, except for the bread, we live a short walk away from cheap, affordable and healthy food, and we had every tool at our disposal – a mixer to knead our dough and a large stockpot to make stew.
There was only one day where I found myself hungry, but I didn’t want to overeat and then not have enough another time, or then be eating a portion of Mark’s food. So I was starving and cranky. And then I went on my way to a horseback riding lesson. Oh, the irony. If I were truly on food stamps I would have had to give up riding long ago. I made several sacrifices, like declining a lunch invitation with friends, and not grabbing a coffee in the afternoon, but to truly NOT be able to do those “simple” things is unfathomable for me.
Despite what we thought was a success, we still felt a bit psychologically drained. The largest take away from the experience was that it – outside of work – consumed the majority of our day. We spent all evening chopping and stirring, and then thinking about what we’d make the next day. We spent an entire weekend afternoon baking bread. One week of living off the average food stamp budget was an interesting challenge, but after that it’s just a burden.