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Food stamps and the SNAP challenge with celiacs disease September 28, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in food/cooking, societal commentary.
Tags: , , ,
6 comments

I grew up relatively poor: our family received food stamps during various parts of my childhood.  I remember what eating on the ‘food stamp’ diet was like.  We ate a lot of ‘goulash’: a pound of really cheap hamburger mixed with a pound of macaroni, a can of corn kernels, and a can of tomato soup.

To this day, I can’t stand the taste of corn with anything tomatoey because of it.

I thought of this after reading about Ron Shaich’s experience with the SNAP challenge.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with this, Ron Shaich, who is CEO of Panera, decided to try to live for a week on $31.50, which is the average amount someone on food stamps receives.  In the article, he said:

My approach to grocery shopping was to try to stay full. That meant carbohydrates. In retrospect, it was a poor choice. I ended up with a diet largely based around pasta, lentils, chickpeas and cereal. While it wasn’t a ton of food, I could mix and match for various meals and find myself not quite full — but enough to get by. Breakfast and snacks were Toasted Oats. Lunch and dinner varied between chickpea, jalapeno and tomato soup, lentil casserole and pasta with tomato sauce and garlic. Fresh fruit, vegetables and yogurt were too expensive.

I read this and my first thought was that I would neither be full nor healthy.  In fact, a diet like this would likely cause me to end up sick within a day or two.  I can’t eat wheat at all (and I have other food sensitivities), and if I ate tons of carbs (even if it was something like rice and beans), I would feel cruddy in the short run and, over the long run, end up with metabolic syndrome.

In fact, I know this because this is pretty much what happened to me growing up on foodstamps.

Reading this comment, I started to wonder about how my celiacs diagnosis would change things.  This made me wonder if I could put together a menu that would be less carb intensive (so that I would feel sated) and gluten-free.

Using the online shopping feature at my local grocery store, my grocery list looked like this:

  • tea – I buy bulk tea, which costs about $.05/day, so $.35 for a week
  • 2 cans of Starkist selects tuna in olive oil $3.18 (all other tuna adds broth)
  • an 8 oz brick of cheddar cheese $2.50
  • 8 oz. of butter $1.59
  • 2 dozen eggs $3.58
  • 2 lbs. of 80% ground beef $7.18 (cheapest protein with most calories)
  • 3 small heads of romaine lettuce $3
  • a 5 lb. bag of potatoes $3
  • 2 green bell peppers $2
  • 3 tomatoes $1.06
  • 7 bananas $2.10
  • 1 little can of cumin for spice $1.29

My total, therefore, was $30.83.  If I were to do this over a two week period, I might swap out the cumin and be able to afford half a bag of rice…but potatoes are generally better both in the nutrition and satiety department than rice.

My diet would consist of a couple eggs every morning in 1 tbsp of butter.  For lunch, I would have salad every day with either tuna or a hard boiled egg.  For dinner, I would have potatoes every night with some variation on toppings of cheese, butter, or maybe meat with tomato and pepper cooked in.  I could have stuffed peppers a couple of nights.  I’m not sure if I would have salad left over for dinner, but if I did, I would try to have a bit.

I decided to look at the nutritional content of the food using fitday.  This would be about 1460 calories per day…assuming you eat all of the hamburger grease.  If you look at the vitamin and mineral content for the entire week, you get this:

nutrition

All in all, not horrible.  Keep in mind that this is over 7 days, so anything close to or above 700% RDA is good.  I’d probably be okay if I could take a multivitamin…except you can’t buy those on food stamps.

I know I could eat like this because this is actually not too far off from what I do already.  I don’t have as many potatoes, instead having more berries, yogurt instead of cheese, and some nuts and dark chocolate when I’m really hungry.

The kicker is that most people could not, however.  I’m trying to lose weight, and this is the best way I’ve found to do it because it doesn’t leave me hungry.  The rest of my family eats this way, but they eat a lot more than I do…and both Mike and the older son are under doctors orders to NOT. LOSE. MORE. WEIGHT.

You see, since going gluten free, both of them are actually struggling with eating enough to not become underweight despite me constantly piling more fruits and vegetables on their plates…and the occasional gluten-free brownie.  (The older boy is six feet tall and has a 29″ waist, to give you an idea.)  Therefore, I know that a normal healthy person cannot eat this way and sustain their weight.

My conclusion, therefore, is that it’s only possible if you’re planning to lose a lot of weight…and once you’ve lost that weight, you’re going to be starving.  If you are a normal weight adult or, worse, a growing child, you will not have enough to eat regardless of how healthy your choices may be.  There are a lot of people out there with dietary needs who are stuck: if they don’t follow their diet, they can become sick and unable to work with the best alternative becoming disabled.  (And as one blogger wrote, that doesn’t necessarily help the problem.)  If they do follow their dietary restrictions, they’ll still likely end up starving.  This whole issue is a reflection of a series of larger problems from inadequate health care to having a living wage.

I thought about trying to do a SNAP challenge and eating this way for a week.  I’ve decided I’m not going to, though.  I spent a good chunk of my childhood doing that, so I already know what it’s like.  I have the utmost empathy for anyone going through this.

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