Read Jan's menu for Challenge Days 1-4:
When I accepted the Food Stamp Challenge - eating on $21 for a week, the national average food stamp allotment - I didn't really give it much thought. Kevin Anderson on my staff, the one who brought the Challenge to my attention, was also doing it. I knew it would be a useful and interesting experience. I didn't think about how hard it would be.
Shopping was really hard. Here's what I learned. It is much easier to afford pasta and bread than it is fruits and vegetables of any kind. It is hard to buy much of anything for $3 a day. It is impossible to get a Starbuck's coffee or a Diet Pepsi if you don't want to run out of money pretty quickly. I also learned how miserable it would be to live on food stamps for any length of time.
I shopped Monday night for some things that would last all week and others that would last the four days I was in Washington.
Here is my menu for first the four days.
On Day 1, I had a horrible headache from caffeine withdrawal - no Diet Pepsis. Breakfast was fine but dry tuna on two pieces of white bread was not especially satisfying. Then I found out that for the purpose of the Challenge, I could use condiments which include mayonnaise and relish. Halleluyah! I went to a couple of receptions at the Capitol and had to decline all drinks, hard or soft, and goodies. Instead I told people why and was nourished by their praise. (Pretty sleazy, I know.)
On Day 2, I had planned to have toast and a banana for breakfast, but I forgot that I didn't have a toaster. So just plain white bread and margarine had to do. I was really looking forward to lunch which was left over Pasta Roni and tuna. Pretty good.
Lettuce with a little dressing (condiment) was a real treat. I am looking forward to a big salad with all kinds of veggies including basil (way too expensive) when this is done, plus some strawberries and cantalope and asparagus. But not until next Tuesday.
Today is day three. I went shopping this morning with an NPR reporter who was doing a piece for "All Things Considered." She asked me if this was a gimmick. I said that in some ways I suppose it is. But yet, there is a reality to it. I know that a big salad is coming, and I'm not stuck with pasta and rice for very long. But it is definitely a learning experience. I won't take those things for granted in the same way, and I will definitely work to improve the Food Stamp Program to make nutritious food more affordable.
Even though I'm a white meat person, I bought chicken leg quarters at a good price -- $6.18 -- to last me for the rest of the week. I overpaid for one tomato, $1.28, because the price wasn't labeled in the bin, and I didn't realize it cost so much. Let's see how thin I can slice it. A bag of carrots for $1 will provide a good snack, replacing a glass of water as my snack of choice. And I bought three more bananas for $.44. I love bananas.
Every day 35 million people in American struggle to put food on the table. I am not one of them, not even close. But just this small effort to put myself in their shoes, has made even more real to me the immorality of such a fact in the richest country in the world.
I am a co-sponsor of H.R. 2129, the Feeding America's Families Act of 2007, introduced by Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Missouri) who issued the Food Stamp Challenge and are also doing it, along with my colleague Tim Ryan (D-Ohio). This important bill would increase funding for our nation's anti-hunger programs, including the Food Stamp Program.