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May 16, 2007



I know this is a tough task, especially with all of the tempting situations you are put in, but I hope that you can use this experience to help improve options for the underprivileged here in the US. I wish more of your colleagues would participate, but at the least, I hope they will listen.


This is a very impressive undertaking and I'm sure it's going to really open your eyes, but since you're participating in it already, I'm fairly certain you're not the ones that need to be made aware of this issue. It's sad that only a very few of your colleagues are taking on this challenge with you. The other ones that can't be bothered, well, they're the ones that allow this type of crime to continue in the US. Maybe we should worry about our own people instead of others.

Ran Kailie

When I was living on very little money each month and trying to feed myself and my boyfriend I would buy cans of refried beans as cheap as I could find them, and make bean burritos with a tiny bit of cheese I shredded from a huge surplus block. I would then cut the large tortillas in half and make us each one out of one tortilla. This with some plain yogurt made a pretty healthy meal.

Pasta and ground beef with tomato sauce would also go far, I could make a huge pot and freeze most of it and it would last a week or two.

Appetizing? No, but filling at least.


About 25 million people (25 million!) in the U.S. are living on your budget and with your diet for this week. Every week, week after week. Many with grueling, physical jobs. Thanks for taking this on so that those of us that are so privileged not to have to wonder where our next meal will come from, can have our eyes opened. And particularly those of you who have the power to work against hunger in the United States. Many people supplement their food stamps with soup kitchens and food pantries - maybe you can make a visit and shine some light on the essential role they play in getting people through the week as well. Thank you again!!


Wow, thanks for doing this! As a grad student on a limited budget, look in the area for either ethnic markets or farmer's markets. Often you can get good produce cheaply. (I've found that produce is cheaper and better at asian groceries than big supermarket chains.) There's a little farmer's market stand a few blocks away from me where I can get a week's produce for $6 or so. Also, legumes (dried) are your friends. You can soak them overnight and cook them all day in a crockpot.


Will you live without health insurance for a month?


It is great that you are doing this. However, the issue goes much further than food stamps (although I agree the paltry sum is too small).

In this country, cheap, unhealthy food is subsidized by the Farm Bill. Healthy alternatives are twice as expensive or more. Any wonder why poverty and obesity are so closely linked.

If I were to have to feed my three children on foodstamps, I would be forced to buy the most filling foods, which are usually the ones with the least nutrients.

Please tell your husband to fix the farm bill, too.


It is great that you are doing this. However, the issue goes much further than food stamps (although I agree the paltry sum is too small).

In this country, cheap, unhealthy food is subsidized by the Farm Bill. Healthy alternatives are twice as expensive or more. Any wonder why poverty and obesity are so closely linked.

If I were to have to feed my three children on foodstamps, I would be forced to buy the most filling foods, which are usually the ones with the least nutrients.

Please tell your husband to fix the farm bill, too.


I don't know if this has been brought up, but have you tried getting food at a local food bank? It would supplement your food stamp purchases quite nicely, and if the rules of this experiment would permit, it would call national attention to the great service to the low-income people that food banks provide. I have had to use food banks more than once; they are literally lifesavers and they always seem to struggle to get donations, especially during the holidays.


I'm sure this is a huge challenge. But I gotta say you can do better. If you are on a budget you buy dry beans and cook them, canned beans are a luxury. Buy bread, milk and eggs at the gas station. They're cheaper and fresher. Convenience foods are out. Meat is not on the daily menu.


It's kind of wonderful that you are doing this, Roughing it and all that. Just out of curiosity, when you retire and live off your retirement, Will you have to go through this all over again? OOPS, that's right, you have a completely different retirement program that the rest of the American people.
Did your chauffeur take you to the grocery store?
Did your empathy meter peg out at playing poor?


I think it's great you're doing this. Obviously you worked hard to get where you are today, and to try to get a different perspective on something is great. Keep up the good work. I think we need more leaders like you in this country.

William Tillis

I'd really like to see some photos of what the grocery cart looks like at checkout and what the meals themselves look like. I wonder how much weight you'd gain on this kind of diet.


This may well be the most ridiculous and pointless exercise I've heard of lately, and I'm surprised any thinking person--let alone a US Congressman--would allow themselves to be duped into participating in it. Government assistance is just that...assistance. You have a job, a source of income in addition to the amount provided by food stamps, as should anyone self-respecting able-bodied adult who receives welfare. No one ever said you can eat well on $21 a week, because you should be expected to supplement that money with wages you receive for productive labor. Even someone who does nothing more with his time than panhandle has more than $21 a week for food. What fool set up this "challenge?" We already know the fools who are taking it. A congressman turning down a meal at a political fundraiser is making no more of a valid point than a homeless person on foodstamps turning down a meal at a downtown mission. Anyone who relies on welfare should know where and how to get free food and stretch the money they're given. Impressive undertaking? This is pointless posturing. I applaud those who stayed clear of this stunt.


I really think this is a great thing you are doing. I really hope that by doing this it REALLY does impact Congress. I wish more of our leaders would have taken this chalange, because they really do not understand what a lot of America is going through.

Mrs. M

Thank you so much for doing this. My husband and I are OK now, but for the first few years out of college, when I was making $7.50 an hour but had private college-sized debt, this was definitely what grocery shopping was like. My mom was a young single parent, and a Marine, when I was small, and I remember weeks and weeks of spaghetti or mac and cheese (spaghetti noodles with melted american cheese). I really appreciate your willingness to empathize.


Jack - What about our senoirs and our disabled that cannot work. This is what they have to live on as well. SSI does not pay to much, and if they do raise recieve a increase in on their check, their food stamps go down. I have seen this with a family member. try paying rent, utilies and just the basics (TP, Toothpaste, dish soap..etc.) on $600 amonth and only receive $32 in food stamps. It does not go far. These are the people that really need help. If you are receiving foodstamps as a supplement to your income(from a job) then that is what it is a supplement.

J Black

Ah yes... Food stamps. Thank you for reminding the media what that's all about. Before we left Massachusetts in 2002, my four sisters, myself and my mom survived on food stamps for about three years when my mom was to ill to work. My youngest sister was still in diapers at the time, and they weren't covered by the food stamps -- neither was stuff like tampax, baby bottles, and toilet paper...

I suggest going to free pantries, like we had to do. Thank goodness we lived in a white collar area outside of Boston - there were tons of donations of chick peas, miso soup packets and organic flour and other such things that other poor people wouldn't touch, because they hadn't been brought up to be familiar with healthy eating. Because, as I am sure you're finding out, poor people have access to hardly anything that's, well, good for you. It's all fats, sugars and carbs.

But seriously; free pantries. Go to your local one - they will give you a quota of food your allowed to supplement your diet with. Stock up on soups and canned veg -- on Sunday make what we called a 'Medley' - tomato soup with whatever else you could possibly put in. If you have pets, may I suggest sharing with them some Dinty Moore?

I sympathise with your stress over not knowing if you'll have enough food for the week -- as the eldest child in a single parent family, I had to worry about that every day from thirteen to sixteen. Every day.

The problem isn't in, however, the fact that people are poor -- the problem is in the fact people cannot get the jobs they need to support their family, some because they lack proper education, some because they don't have anywhere to keep their kids during the day, some due to lack of nationalised health care systems draining them financially and physically.

Is there an easy answer? No. While giving more money to the food stamp system will benefit families short term, the entire cultural capital of the nation has to be raised if people are expected to take more responsibility for their financial needs. Industry has to return to America to invest in the local economy and create greater opportunity in areas with blue-collar workforces.

If there is a single area which can be looked upon when reminding oneself what happens when industry is taken away from working-class areas, please look to Detroit. Of course, it's also the place to look if you're interested in some good food-stamp recipes.

michael martin

try doing this with 17 bucks a week in washington state
i my self cant afford any thang but boxed stuff and i find my self eating
the same thangs every month
i also have to go to a discount store and get old or expired food or food that dont sell in major markets this sucks fix it please
kergan@gmail.com e-mail me for help i will comment on this and other programs in my area and how backwoods it really is to who ever will hear it.


When I first moved to DC with student loan debt living on an entry-level non-profit salary, most of my pay went to rent and paying my loans, and I rarely ate on the day before payday. I think I subsisted on the free catered lunches the various think tanks provided with their lectures, sometimes stuffing an extra sandwich in my pocket. The sad thing was that I was not the only one who lived like this. Thankfully, four years later some of the loans are paid off and I've received several raises so can afford to eat three meals, but man, was that difficult back then. I can't imagine trying to feed kids on such a salary.

Thanks for doing this.


We're with you in Central Texas!

Capital Area Food Bank of Texas' Food Stamp Challenge Page:



Jack -- save your venom. This is for real for a great many Americans.

I can relate from personal experience that I'd never met anyone who worked harder than my girlfriend. Two years ago, she suffered a spinal cord injury and was rendered disabled. She and her son live on exactly this food budget which I supplement for her to the best of my ability. Because of a severe lack of housing assistance, she invariably needs to spend the bulk of her cash disability payment on a very modest 2 bedroom apartment in our home state of Massachusetts and there is usually nothing left over to augment the food budget.

Mr. and Mrs. McGovern -- bless you!

I'm certain that this has been an eye opening experience for both of you and I couldn't be more proud of my Congressman!

Grumbly Allbluster

You have to focus more on dried foods,like beans and rice, rather than canned. When you buy rice, get brown. The kind you have to cook for any hour takes longer, but actually has some food value.
You will find yourself being driven more and more to highly processed starches,in any of a variety of forms, which go straight to fat. That's one reason poor people are so often morbidly obese and diabetic. These foods have a glycemic index that is through the roof too.
You will find that protein is the hardest item to get, and the one you need the most. Buy eggs by the 2 1/2 dozen flat, or if you can find a poultry processer, buy them there. They'll be "slightly irregular" but very cheap. Be prepared for the occassional surprise when you crack one open.
You can afford parts of the chicken such as the necks, wings, thighs, etc. These can be made into a rich stock to cook beans or rice in. Also lard and fatback are essential.
Purchase cheap coffee, usually the store brand or some other off brand and learn to drink it black.
Use cornmeal to make your bread. It can be eaten three times a day, and is good cold.
Get used to powdered milk.
You can survive for 20 days out of the month on food stamps, but you spend most of your time cooking from scratch, saving all scraps, and you will eat beans and rice until you are ready to scream. After a while you will start to dream about a good cut of beef, literally.
The last 10 days of the month are pretty hit and miss. You will find that that you can get pretty inventive with a couple of chicken necks, some rice and/or beans (again) and some dehydrated vegetables. Appetite makes the best sauce, or more realistically, if you get hungry enough you will eat just about anything.
If things are really thin, you can suck on ice cubes. They will quell hunger pangs for awhile.
I had to live on food stamps, and those who tell you what an easy ride it is are talking through their hats. It is a hard way to go.
We never touched on what a time consuming, dehumanizing and humiliating experience it is to get qualified and to get the stamps in the first place.
Good luck. I think you will find this an eye-opening experience.


It's interesting that you're in the unique position to both understand what it's like to be too poor to eat well and possibly change that for the rest of us.

You say you're tired of eating beans, rice, and bread. So am I. Please read this article and see if it makes sense to you. Maybe you can speak for those of us that have nothing but Ramen noodles and peanut butter sandwiches to look forward to for many years.


Here's a relevant quote from the article:

"Compared with a bunch of carrots, a package of Twinkies, to take one iconic processed foodlike substance as an example, is a highly complicated, high-tech piece of manufacture, involving no fewer than 39 ingredients, many themselves elaborately manufactured, as well as the packaging and a hefty marketing budget. So how can the supermarket possibly sell a pair of these synthetic cream-filled pseudocakes for less than a bunch of roots?

For the answer, you need look no farther than the farm bill. This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation, which comes around roughly every five years and is about to do so again, sets the rules for the American food system — indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not, and in the case of the carrot and the Twinkie, the farm bill as currently written offers a lot more support to the cake than to the root. Like most processed foods, the Twinkie is basically a clever arrangement of carbohydrates and fats teased out of corn, soybeans and wheat — three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. (Rice and cotton are the others.) For the last several decades — indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning — U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.

That’s because the current farm bill helps commodity farmers by cutting them a check based on how many bushels they can grow, rather than, say, by supporting prices and limiting production, as farm bills once did. The result? A food system awash in added sugars (derived from corn) and added fats (derived mainly from soy), as well as dirt-cheap meat and milk (derived from both). By comparison, the farm bill does almost nothing to support farmers growing fresh produce. A result of these policy choices is on stark display in your supermarket, where the real price of fruits and vegetables between 1985 and 2000 increased by nearly 40 percent while the real price of soft drinks (a k a liquid corn) declined by 23 percent. The reason the least healthful calories in the supermarket are the cheapest is that those are the ones the farm bill encourages farmers to grow."


What a wonderful thing to be doing! I think that it's time more people stepped up to bring attention to the problem of poverty in this country. I am a teacher. When I see children who eat at school in the mornings and afternoons, meals full of fat, processed ingredients, and then go home to nothing but meals full of fat, processed ingredients, it makes me angry enough to put my fist through a door. How can they possibly be healthy enough to learn, grow, and achieve if they don't see a single fresh vegetable in a week or more? Thanks for being one of the few lawmakers to stand up against hunger and really try to do something about it.

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