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Days 2 & 3 of the Mazon SNAP Challenge: what we ate and discovering the blogature of those living in poverty

My husband and I are taking the Mazon SNAP Challenge from 7/16/12-7/22/12.  That means that during this week, we will eat no more than $63 worth of food, which is the same budget allotment as two individuals receiving food-stamps (now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP).

SNAP/Food-Stamp Factoid That I'll Bet You Didn't Know #5: 

MYTH:  You can only use food stamps to buy "basic" foods, like milk, vegetables, bread, meat etc.

REALITY: Households can use Food Stamps to buy any food or food product that is made for human consumption.

You can also buy seeds and plants for use in home gardens to produce food.

Households CANNOT use Food Stamp benefits to buy: alcoholic beverages, tobacco, lunch counter items or foods to be eaten in the store, hot foods, soaps, paper products, toiletries, vitamins, medicines, pet foods, any non-food items (except seeds and plants).

Soft drinks, candy, cookies, snack crackers, ice cream, seafood, steak, and bakery cakes are food items and are therefore SNAP eligible. Any change to the current definition of "food" covered by SNAP would require action by a member of Congress. Several times in the history of SNAP, Congress had considered placing limits on the types of food that could be purchased with program benefits. However, they concluded that designating foods as luxury or non-nutritious would be "administratively costly and burdensome."

Some restaurants accept Food Stamp benefits from some homeless, elderly, or disabled people in exchange for low-cost meals.  Food Stamps cannot be exchanged for cash.

Sources:  SNAP4Seeds, The USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, USDA Study:  Implications of Restricting the Use of Food Stamp Benefits

Interesting Factoid, huh?  I actually strongly support the freedom of choice of food that is given to SNAP recipients.  I think it restores some dignity and control to those of us who are forced to rely on a government program for much of our food.

Tuesday night I went to King Soopers (Denver's Kroger affiliate) to stockpile some more $0.50 Vitamin Water (which we aren't drinking this week) and while I was in the store, I checked out the Bakery Markdown rack.

Now before you go all snobby on me and say "Ew. Stale bread," let me just clarify that King Soopers does not sell day-old bread.  The stuff that's on the Bakery Markdown rack is hours old.  I find the markdown merchandise to be totally fine, and when I'm buying baked goods to store in the freezer, why would I care if it's a few hours out of the oven?  Most of the items on Markdown rack are half-price or less.  Our local King Soopers has excellent kosher supervision in their bakery and we can choose from a great selection of delicious artisan breads and baked goods.

I had a few bakery coupons in my purse.  I was tempted to buy some heavily marked-down Udi's bread, which would have been $0.50 after my $1 Udi's coupon, but I decided to leave those loaves to customers on a Celiac diet who actually need gluten-free bread.  Instead I found this Ecce Pannis Semolina loaf that was marked down from $2.99 to $0.99.  I had a $0.75 coupon (which wasn't doubled because it was a Catalina).  The Semolina loaf cost me $0.24, which I view as a huge bargain.

So, I decided to take the $0.24 expenditure out of our $8.94 surplus (now reduced to $8.70) and make croutons out of it, since we are eating split pea, carrot-ginger and chicken soup this week.  Making your own  soup croutons is so easy, it's barely a recipe.  Cube the bread (use a long bread knife instead of a paring knife and it will take very little time), spread it out in a pan lined with a parchment sheet and spray it with a blast of olive oil cooking spray.  Sprinkle with garlic powder or onion powder or both (not too heavy) and then a green spice. I use basil; I'm a basil junkie.  A friend of mine uses parsley.  I've also used pre-soaked rosemary with success. Bake it at 350 for about 10 minutes until it's lightly browned.  Voila, croutons.

Since I didn't have to dip into my 3 lb. bag of Rhodes dough to make the much-needed soup croutons, I decided to use half a loaf of the Rhodes dough for garlic knots instead.  My super-easy recipe for Rhodes dough garlic knots is here.  Sorry about recycling the picture from that post; we had already eaten some, and I froze the rest before I thought about snapping a picture.

So, what did we eat these past two days?  I had jury duty on Tuesday, which lasted until about 1pm, so my breakfast was just coffee and a banana, and my late lunch was a giant romaine salad with a half-can of tuna which I inhaled when I got home.  Joshua had his usual breakfast, coffee, egg white omelet with cheese and a banana, and for lunch, he had the other half of the tuna, carrot sticks, romaine and tomato salad with a little cheese shredded on top.  For dinner, we essentially had the same thing we had on Monday plus croutons, with cherries and pineapple for dessert.  We snacked on about a quarter cup of popcorn as well.  

On Wednesday, we had egg white omelets, coffee, organic soy milk, and bananas for breakfast, and Joshua had a little cheese as well.  For lunch, brown rice and some leftover chicken from dinner, romaine, tomato and carrot salad with Target Italian dressing, and pineapple.  Dinner was again, the same thing we had on Monday, except I swapped out rice for the potato, put croutons in the last of the carrot-ginger soup, noshed on a few garlic knots and had popcorn for dessert.  We also dug into our free (thanks to MyCokeRewards) Diet Coke stash.

Are we hungry? Admittedly a little.  It's restrictive to keep to this "diet," even though I feel that our food selection is actually liberal.  I think it's the very fact that we are restricted, rather than the restriction itself, that keeps me thinking about food.

I received a wonderful email a few days ago from reader Max S.  Besides her much-appreciated expression of support, Max also pointed me to a fantastic blog, Food Stamps Cooking Club.  I spent a few hours trolling through the recipes, tips, comments, etc. and I was fascinated. Then, on the blogroll, I found a link to a blog called I am the Working Poor.  I went there and I was hooked. One blog led to another and I discovered a massive online library of blogs written by those living below the poverty line.

I was completely unaware of the HUGE online Food Stamps community.  I don't know why I was surprised.  Why wouldn't 47 million people with common issues share ideas, thoughts, advice, etc. online?  What I discovered was that, contrary to the misconception that all Food Stamps recipients are helpless victims, many of them are strong-minded, capable people who rely on their ingenuity, resourcefulness and just overall smarts to stretch their meager budgets.  Some of them are completely focused on pulling themselves out of their dire straits and back into the economic middle class.  

went back to some of the first posts on the I am the Working Poor and found this paragraph.
While leaders propose "austerity measures" to pull their countries through the recession, so do we individuals propose our own plans to our families to pull through tough times. Some of us plant fabulous gardens, others coupon, some subsist on lots of bean and rice dishes, and many just go without certain things that others take for granted. 
Food Stamp recipients don't really think too differently about food than I do.  The difference is, they don't have most of the choices that I do.   

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