My name is Congresswoman Barbara Lee, and I represent California's Ninth Congressional District, and today I began the Food Stamp Challenge. Over the next seven days, I will live on $21 worth of food, the average weekly benefit for a food stamp recipient.
In my district, there are approximately 65,000 people enrolled in the food stamp program, which is a lot of people, but less than half of all who are eligible. Nationally, the program helps more than 26 million low-income people purchase food for themselves and their families. It's designed as a safety net to help ensure people have access to food during difficult times, and the majority of people leave the program within nine months.
There are several things participants in the challenge hope to achieve. We want to raise the visibility of hunger in the United States. There are approximately 35 million people in our country for whom food insecurity is a daily reality. We want to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by low income people in obtaining a healthy diet (I will describe some of my experiences with this at the supermarket today below). Finally, we want to build support for improving benefits and access to the food stamp program, which is due to be reauthorized this year as part of the Farm Bill.
Today, I went to the store to buy groceries, and this is what I ended up buying:
2 cans of beans
1 can of peas
1 box of crackers
1 bag of brown rice
1 package of chicken thighs
1 package of tortillas
1 loaf of wheat bread
1 box of grits
I was struck by how hard it is to eat in a healthy manner on a tight budget. I had to put the apples back because they were too expensive. Whole wheat tortillas were twice as expensive as flour. I got grits instead of oatmeal, and I could not afford to get some of the things I eat every day, like nuts, juice or coffee (even instant coffee was $4 per container!).
My gameplan for today was to skip breakfast and go to McDonalds for lunch, where I got a McChicken sandwich for $1.10 and picked up some free condiments.
So far, so good, although I am already ready for a snack. I will continue to update you on my progress.