Laura Engelman, center, talks about taking part in the Food Stamp Challenge on Monday afternoon during a meeting of fellow participants and other interested people. Listening are, from left, David Hampson, Susan Kralman and Dorothy Knudsen.
Photo by Andy Porter.
WALLA WALLA — It is possible to eat for a week on a budget of $31.50, but it isn’t easy.
It can also be fairly monotonous and not particularly healthy.
Those were some of the observations participants in a local Food Stamp Challenge shared Monday as they gathered to talk about living for a week on the average amount a low-income person on food stamps receives.
The challenge was posed by the Interfaith Coalition on Poverty, a local group concerned about homelessness, hunger and other issues. About eight coalition members took part, along with students from a local church.
While one person tried to get by on $4.50 per day, most participants chose to buy what food they could with $31.50 and try to stretch that out over seven days. Participants agreed to only eat what they bought and not use food they had on hand when the challenge started, except for condiments such as salt, pepper or ketchup.
“Last night I was down to a small dish of beans and rice,” said David Hampson. “The first day my plan was just to get basic staples, and when I went to get that it was $29. And the next day I bought a bag of rice and a banana and that was it.”
Kevin Gates, youth director of the First Presbyterian Church, said the week of the food stamp challenge led up to a “30 Hour Famine” involving 22 students who agreed to go completely without food for that period to get a ideas of what millions of people experience every day.
“Twenty-two students went to Grocery Outlet and said, ‘OK, what can we get for that ($31.50)?’” he said. “And then they went 30 hours without eating at all.”
Laura Engelman, who helps coordinate the Blue Mountain Action Council’s gleaning program to bring fresh produce to local food banks, said she was specifically interested in how a person could live on $31,50 a week as well as trying to eat as healthily as possible.
While that was possible with planning, Engelman said living on that strict a budget took another toll. “I also found the hardest part was the social part,” she said. “No coffee shops, no beer with friends,” or other casual activities.
Participants also said mealtimes could get downright boring when restricted to low-cost staples. “I’m so sick of pasta and potatoes,” Gates said. “It was tough for me and it was tough for the kids.”
Hampson said he lost about four pounds during the challenge.
“The main thing I wanted to learn from this is can you eat healthy? And the answer is ‘no,’” he said.
Later in the meeting, the conversation turned to what could be done to sustain the effort to raise awareness of hunger in the community and help people in need.
“We all made a choice to participate, and when that time is up we can go back to our lives,” said Tim Meliah, the interfaith coalition member who proposed the challenge. “Where does the conversation continue?”
A snapshot of thoughts of Food Stamp Challenge participants gleaned from emails sent out on Feb. 20:
“I’m out of money while living on beans, rice, cereal and milk, and PB&J sandwiches, with some frozen spinach and a bag of oranges to try to make it healthy. I think despite my best efforts this budget does not allow for enough variety of fruits and vegetables to call it a long term healthy diet. My daughter says if I run out of food before my time is up I can fast! Easy for her to say. I’ve already lost weight and it’s only been 2 1/2 days.
Hope others are doing better than I.”
“The hardest part for me is to not be eating a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I think if I ran the food stamp program I would increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables allowed.” — Dave Hampson
“Since I’m trying to eat like a homeless person with no storage or cooking facilities, I’m trying to buy discounted ready made items at the store each day. For $2.44 I’ve gotten ready made meals in the deli section the 18th and 19th. Orange chicken and rice and chicken cordon bleu (sp). I’ve supplemented that each day with a can of green beans (.33 each), 2 tangelos each day (.25 ea), and 2 bananas (.15 ea). They had a pack of thin banana cookies for .53 that should have lasted me all week, but I got munching and ate about a third of them Mon and Tues, will clean them up tonight I’m sure. Have to be careful, because today I’m eating a huge sub sandwich for $3.96, so the cookies and a couple of banana’s tonight should do it. for my $ today. A lot more bread, rice and potatoes than I usually eat. Wanted to make a big pot of soup, but ‘my friends’ can’t do that in their circumstances. Hope to hear more stories...” — Penny S.
“I made a pot of tomato soup and went through it way quicker than planned. On rice, beans and sweet potatoes now and moving on to lentil soup to finish out the week soon. The hardest part for me so far has not been staying full but rather eating the same thing day after day without getting bored, saying ‘no’ to coffee or meals out with friends and refusing free food when it has been offered.” — Laura Engelman.