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I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

#SNAP Challenge - final thoughts and revelations



I have just completed four weeks of the @Feeding America #SNAPChallenge where I meal planned, shopped, prepared and ate for $120 total. I normally share my thoughts and revelations at the end of the post but there a few things on my mind now that the challenge is over that I want to share in a separate post.
First and foremost, I know my challenge was not perfect. I used staples that I previously had. I used meats purchased from a CSA. More often than not my daily meal budget exceeded the $4.20 and I went slightly over budget for the month by a few dollars. I used free food.

I wanted to prove this challenge could be done with a real food lifestyle, and if you look at the details of each week, I failed the challenge.

However…

I have food in my freezer saved from previous weeks and I still have some staples left over that were purchased during these four weeks, so I think there is a rollover effect and a gradual building of pantry staples. I don’t feel as though using the staples caused me to fail.

Farm-raised meats were my exception in this challenge. I had saved money earlier in the year and purchased ½ share from Windy Hill Farms. For six months I was allotted a certain amount of meats and my freezer was stocked and I intended to use them because I did not wish to use factory processed meats for this challenge. This exception did cause me to fail - if I had purchased conventional meat from the grocery store, my costs would have been more in line.

There were no sodas, cookies, hot dogs, chips, boxes or cans of processed food in my cart for this entire month. There were no chemicals or preservatives. What was in my cart were ingredients to make meals. There were fruits and vegetables. There were some indulgences. I used the total money that I had available and shopped for two weeks at a time to better utilize and stretch what I could. I didn’t starve and I didn’t go hungry.

My overall feeling is that having a real food lifestyle on a SNAP budget can be done. Maybe not absolutely 100%, but to a close degree. It requires education, planning, dedication, and persistence – things that everyone, including myself, could benefit from having more of when it comes to deciding what to put into our bodies for food. I can see that it would be a tiresome and stressful thing to endlessly deal with on a very limited budget as I grew tired of putting so much effort into my meals after just three weeks.

For those who genuinely need assistance, I’m glad there are programs like SNAP to help. I understand the unfortunate circumstances of food deserts and under-privileged communities where fresh food is not readily available. I understand transportation issues and job and stress factors that prevent people from having time to dedicate to nutrition. I also understand educational and possible mental deficits and issues with the elderly and young who cannot care for themselves. I do believe there is some abuse and excuse within the system.

How do we fix the problem?

I have no answer for that. For all of these situations, our system fails and there needs to be more awareness and sensitivity to those issues.

Before this challenge I might have been quick to judge someone using an EBT card in the grocery line. If they can’t afford food, why are they buying dog food? A bottle of wine? Why is there junk food in their cart? Oh look, they’re driving a Mercedes too. But why should anyone be denied the joy of having a four-legged companion or the indulgence of wine and candy simply because they cannot make ends meet? We do not know everyone’s plight.

Even though the challenge is over, I plan to keep my grocery budget as close to $120 per month as I can and doing a better job of meal planning. I’ve just proved to myself that I can do it if I try really hard. Even though my disposable income is small, I am thankful for the ability to afford real food.

Read the #SNAPChallenge recaps for week 1, week 2, and week 3 and the final and hardest week 4 then ask yourself if you could manage 3 meals a day for 28 days for only $120. That’s 84 meals at a cost of $1.43 each!

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