America is an enormous frosted cupcake in the middle of millions of starving people. -Gloria Steinem.
Steinman’s analogical cupcake is not only unattainable for millions living outside of America but also for some of its own citizens. This is the case for many Americans living off of food stamps. The Food Assistance Program (FAP) is a government initiative for American citizens with low income or no income. The program gives food stamps equivalent to $4.30 per person for an entire day of meals (DHS, “FAP Overview”).
As a middle class American, the only dilemma I have encountered concerning food is what to order. Always having access to the foods I preferred, I had not considered myself privileged until I attempted the food stamps diet. In accordance to the Americans living on a limited food budget, I lived off of $8.60 for a total of six meals over the course of two days. I kept a journal of everything I purchased as well as any physical or emotional changes I encountered.
During my experience on the food stamp diet, I realized that lack of nutrition and food availability is not only a consequence of the money allotted. The problem is that American’s have lost the ability to stretch the worth of a dollar. Society has become so accustomed to the instant gratification of fast food, that most people do not take the initiative or time to cook, find deals at grocery stores, or even research recipes. All of which are crucial for those suffering financially. Meal preparation should include more than a car ride or hitting the start button on a microwave. I discovered that American’s standards of the amount of money and labor a meal should involve is what needs reformation, not the FAP.
According to the Food Assistance Program, an individual or family can receive food stamps after a government application process determines that the household has less than $2,000 in resources (DHS, “FAP Overview). Benefit amounts vary depending on income, medical disabilities, and the number of people in a household (DHS, “FAP Overview). I decided to do an online screening of what a person like me, a healthy 19 year-old woman, would receive with no financial assistance. The questions ranged from my pregnancy status to the amount of money in my checking account. According to the prescreening test, I would receive around $190-$200 a month or $6.30 a day (DHS, “FNS SNAP Program Eligibility Screening Tool”). However, the government money does come with restrictions. The FAP has a list of rules that all recipients must follow or else risk the loss of their benefits. One of these rules bans the use of food stamps for fast food establishments. That eliminated the use of my dollar menu strategy.
My first day on the food stamp diet was the most difficult. When I woke up and walked into my sorority house’s dining room, I had to ignore the Captain Crunch, freshly brewed coffee, and the blend of strawberries, blueberries and bananas lying out for breakfast. The problem with living in a sorority is that food is everywhere. My “problem” left me grudgingly walking to class on an empty stomach. On my way I decided to stop at The Village Apothecary.
1 Nature Valley Oats and Honey Granola Bar = $0.95
I walked passed Starbucks and Espresso Royale practically drooling for a latte. The average three lattes that I buy each day costs about three times my budget. By two o’clock my lack of caffeine had made me debilitated. Studying at the library was nearly impossible with a headache and lack of focus. All I could think about was food.
Apple from Bert’s Café = $1.00
By the end of the day, I could not exercise because of my lack of energy and went to bed around eleven o’clock, early for a college student. Between two o’clock and eleven I had eaten:
Chicken flavored Ramen Noodles = $0.99
Individual Cheerios Cereal Bowl: $1.10
After spending $4.04 on food the first day and practically starving throughout its entirety, I decided to do some research. I read the New York Times article commenting on the food stamp diet. I amended the assignment to include three of my roommates and replicated living in a multi-person household. Together we had $17.40 and went to ALDI, a grocery store known for its generic brand products and inexpensive prices. Together we purchased:
1 Box of Millville Instant Oatmeal = $1.39
1 Jar of Reggano Pasta Sauce = $1.19
3 Boxes Cheese Club Mac&Cheese = $.39 each
6 Pack of Kiwis = $0.99
2 Boxes Fit&Active 51% Whole Grain Spaghetti = $0.99 each
4 Kirkwood Chicken Breasts = $6.39
1 Gallon Skim Milk = $1.29
Our cost at checkout was $15.84, including tax. Unfortunately, we didn’t do enough research and ended up having two meals of pasta. Thankfully everyone loves carbs! All four of us had three healthy sized meals within our budget.
Americans have lost their talent for frugal food shopping. People do not look into finding the best price on food; they just accept the cost at the most convenient store. In my opinion, this allows producers and stores to increase their prices. The spread of laziness also contributes to the health crisis facing the country. It is considered easier and more convenient to drive to fast food restaurants after a long day rather than attempt grocery shopping and preparing a home cooked meal. As Mark Bittman stated in his article, Is Junk Food Really Cheaper, “the core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch”(Bittman, 2011). Clipping coupons is another way to stretch $4.30. This once negatively judged practice has now become a recent phenomenon in America.
The food stamp diet is a practical system that has the ability to create a healthy way of living. Even though the budget restricts where people can shop and the quality of the product they can purchase, my shopping experience at ALDI is an example of how there are possibilities within these limitations. The $4.30 will not buy caviar, but it is an extraordinary amount compared to the rapid starvation occurring in other parts of the world. Perhaps as soon as low income Americans change their attitudes towards meal preparation, everyone will get a bit of Gloria Stein’s cupcake.
Bittman, Mark. "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?" New York Times. 24 Sept. 2011. Web. 2 Oct. 2011. <http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is- junkfoodreallycheaper.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&sq=food %20stamps&st=cse&scp=2>
"FNS SNAP Program Eligibility Screening Tool." Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Pre-Screening Eligibility Tool. USDA. Web. 02 Oct. 2011. <http://www.snap-step1.usda.gov/fns/>.
State of Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). "DHS - Food Assistance Program (FAP) Overview." SOM - State of Michigan. Web. 05 Oct. 2011. <http://www.michigan.gov/dhs/0,4562,7-124-5453_5527-21832--,00.html>.
State of Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS). Information Booklet. State of Michigan Department of Human Services. Print.