The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly and colloquially known as “food stamps” — helps feed 47 million Americans a year.
The program provides an average of $US31 a week to help an individual pay for food, which breaks down to $US4.40 a day.
You may remember now-Senator Cory Booker underwent a similar experience in 2012 while he was the mayor Newark, New Jersey.
Rothschild, who has an interest in public health through his work with Vitals, an online resource for patients to find doctors and medical facilities, had a few insights to share after two weeks of living on an extremely limited food budget.
1. Fresh produce is practically out of the question.
The first inkling of how difficult the next two weeks would be occurred when I set foot in the grocery store. Organic? Forget it. The 20% to 30% premium makes it completely unattainable. More surprising, was not being able to afford conventional fruits and vegetables. During my first week shopping in the Bronx, NY, I couldn’t buy carrots, bananas or cucumbers.
2. Eating this cheaply takes serious planning ahead …
Living on a low budget makes you really plan, and think about, every single meal. What you’ll eat. Making sure the food lasts. It takes time, which might otherwise be spent composing symphonies, writing novels or doing hostile takeovers.
3. And changing up his schedule left him in danger of going hungry.
I found that on days where I went from work to home, adjusting to my new eating habits was relatively easily, if not exciting. But a simple shift of schedule could cause panic. With $US0.59 left in my food budget after my first week, I had no margin for error. And yet, on day four, I left my food at home. Should I go back and get it (extra fare)? Go hungry for the day? Buy a day’s worth of food at a higher-priced location and have a tight budget?
4. Health goals take a backseat to just feeling full.
When operating on a SNAP budget, the overriding goal is to not be hungry. Other eating priorities — balanced diet, nutrition, calorie control — count for way less.
Nutritionists often advise to “eat a rainbow” of food, but the bulk of what can be bought with food assistance is brown. In other words, it’s heavy on carbs and low on nutrition.
5. Eating foods he could afford made him feel unhealthy.
On $US4 a day, I didn’t feel much like myself. After three days, I noticed a distinct loss of energy. I was heavier, groggier. Worse, by day 10, I felt the start of winter sickness. Sore throat. Sniffles. Weaker constitution. And while it may be hard to prove, it certainly is plausible that 10 days of high carbs, low protein, and virtually no fresh fruits and vegetables has a health impact.
“In a land of plenty, eating well shouldn’t be reserved for the elite,” Rothschild concludes. “Expanding the double-dollar program to supermarkets, bringing farmers markets into inner cities and restricting highly processed foods are ways we can prioritise nutrition in government funded food programs. Because in the end, cheap foods aren’t so cheap.”