Low-Budget Food Challenge


Last night on the way home from work, I stopped by Target and the pet food store to pick up a few things. I had to stop because my dogs completely ran out of food that morning. There was a family outside of Target with a sign indicating they were struggling to feed their family. There I was, worrying about my dogs being out of their almost $70 bag of dog food, and this family was struggling to feed their kids. Of course some will argue that they were just looking for money for other things, need to work harder, get jobs, or whatever. Regardless of one’s assumptions about someone who is asking for assistance, food security is a real concern. 4.9 percent (6.1 million) of U.S. households had very low food security at some time during 2016 (source: USDA Economic Research Service).  The USDA defines very low food security as a household in which “normal eating patterns of one or more household members were disrupted and food intake was reduced at times during the year because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.”

The problem with the argument that one just need to find employment or work harder to find a better job is that there are always going to be jobs that pay more than others, and there are numerous jobs that we depend on people to perform that do not pay much. Please don’t interpret this to mean I support a system where everyone earns the same, or that I think people deserve to earn less than a living wage (neither statement is true). I’m just pointing this out to say the hunger problem is not as simple as “get a job” or “work harder.”

So back to my Target and pet food store excursion. I went into the Target, picked up what I needed, and got a bag of groceries for the family outside. After I gave the family the groceries, I started thinking about my own grocery budget, which I have to admit is high for one person. I decided to try a low-budget food challenge. According to the USDA’s Cost of Food Report (October 2017), I would be spending $38 per week for a “thrifty plan” market basket. The Cost of Food Report is based on the Thrifty Food Plan, and adjusts the costs to current dollars using the Consumer Price Index. According to its abstract, the Thrifty Food Plan, “provides a representative healthful and minimal cost meal plan that shows how a nutritious diet may be achieved with limited resources.”

The purpose of the SNAP Challenge people were doing a few years ago seemed to be primarily to build awareness. That’s great, and I’m glad people did it, but I don’t want to build awareness, and then just go back to my regular lifestyle without doing anything else. I don’t feel like that’s very impactful, nor is it respectful to those who struggle with hunger on a regular basis.

This week, I’m going to try to get by entirely on a $38 food budget (the amount from the “thrifty plan” in the USDA’s Cost of Food Report referenced above). I’m going to donate the difference between the $38 and my normal food budget to Feeding America. If I cheat, I’m going to add $5 to the donation amount (each time). I’ll blog what I buy, and I’ll show the nutritional value of what I eat each day. I’m considering this to be a starting point, and will be looking for other ways to make a difference.

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