Taking the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), other members of Congress, and national religious leaders are participating in a week-long national Fighting Poverty with Faith Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness about the challenges for Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients and the realities of hunger in America. For a week Rep. Schakowsky has lived on $31.50 worth of food (about $4.50 a day), the average weekly benefit for a food stamp recipient.

SNAP, formerly called Food Stamps, provides an essential safety net for American families and more than half of SNAP recipients are children.

At 10 a.m., I joined Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Delegates Eleanor Holmes Norton and Donna Christiansen, and representatives of religious organizations in front of Safeway supermarket in Washington, D.C. to announce the Food Stamp Challenge and our focus on widespread hunger in America. My plan was to go into the store and shop for my food along with an expert -- a woman who relies on the SNAP program (formerly food stamps). Instead, I had to rush back to the Capitol where a vote was called, and as a result had no food, even for the day. I was going to wait until I got home that evening to shop, but hunger got me, so I had 2 pieces of whole wheat bread that we had in my D.C. office (I pro-rated the cost at $.25) and bought a $1.00 apple from the cafeteria.

I finally was able to go shopping at the Jewel store down the street from my home in Evanston, Illinois, at about 7:30 p.m. I spent $29.93, which means I have $.32 remaining once I subtract what I already spent. I got some good buys. Big chicken breasts were on sale for $.99/lb and I bought a package of five for $4.62. Three pounds of apples were $3.49 and bananas were $.39/lb.

It took me significantly longer to shop. I added up the cost as I went. I weighed the produce before I put it in the cart. I checked out the sodium in canned veggies and soups. Yikes! I have high blood pressure, so I put them back. I forgot to calculate the tax so I had to pull some things out when the checker finished tabulating. We'll see how well I shopped as the week goes on.

Here's what I bought:

  • 1 can 29 oz can of yams
  • 1 box of rotini pasta
  • 1 wheat bread
  • 5 bananas
  • Dozen large eggs
  • 3 yogurts
  • Bag of fresh whole carrots
  • 5 plum tomatoes
  • 1 head of lettuce
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 2 cans of tuna in water
  • 1 box of spaghetti
  • 1 jar of spaghetti sauce
  • .90 pounds of broccoli crowns
  • Very small bag of coffee (1.75 splurge)
  • 1 frozen dinner
  • 5 chicken breasts
  • 3 lbs of Gala apples

Using my Jewel discount card, I saved $6.58. I relied heavily on the house brands and items that were on sale. I have basil that I grow in my yard to add to the salad.

DINNER: 1 baked chicken breast, yams, salad. Apple for dessert.

DAY 2, OCTOBER 28: Took part in a listening tour being conducted by the Illinois Commission to End Hunger at Saint Ignatius Church in my district.

1 piece of whole wheat toast

Tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat with lettuce, carrot sticks and apple. I was attending an event at a fancy hotel, and asked the waiter to just bring me an empty plate. Less awkward than I had anticipated.

DINNER: Spaghetti and sauce, salad and apple

Lots and lots of water. I really miss my Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi. (I know. I know! Really bad for me.) I carry my cool water bottle with me everywhere.


DAY 5, October 31, 2011

BREAKFAST: Yogurt and a banana

LUNCH: Tuna salad sandwich, carrot sticks, and an apple

DINNER: Chicken breast, noodles, pasta sauce

Before I went trick or treating with my four grandchildren, I put a chicken breast in water in my slow cooker with 1/2 an onion, one carrot, one plum tomato and some seasoning. I also had a weak cup of coffee made from the little packet I had bought for a treat. By the time I came home, the chicken was done but the broth was really watery and boring. I added the half jar of my left over pasta sauce and half a box of noodles, diced some of the chicken into it, and it tasted pretty good. (I've never been much of a cook.) I confess I took a couple of candies from my daughter's trick or treat offerings

Tonight I also baked the remaining two chicken breasts and will take them to Washington for my last 2 days. In my suitcase will also be what's left of my loaf of bread, 3 apples, 2 carrots, 1/2 a head of lettuce, broccoli, 1/2 a box of noodles, 1 can of tuna, two plum tomatoes and two bananas. I hope they don't ask me to open my suitcase at security.

I went to the grocery store today to buy dog treats for Lucky and Buddy, my golden retrievers. I was very aware of walking by many aisles filled with items I would have loved to buy. I miss cereal and milk, cheese, frozen fruit bars, good coffee, Coke Zero and Diet Pepsi (no lectures please!). I wanted some oranges, and mushrooms for my salad, 100-calorie Cheetos packs, and a nice piece of salmon. I never think about wanting something at the store that I can't get, except maybe for the reason that it's too fattening, but never because I can't afford it. That, of course, is the whole point of the Food Stamp Challenge -- to get a small glimpse into what the 48 million Americans who are "food insecure" experience day in and day out.

I also thought how lucky I was today to have a job, a slow cooker, a fridge and freezer and stove, and to have grandchildren to trick or treat with on Halloween.


DAY 6, November 1, 2011

BREAKFAST: 2 fried eggs, 2 pieces of toast, one cup of coffee

LUNCH: 1 banana and 1 apple

I threw those items into my purse before I left the house. I didn't want to be late for my meeting with 200 hundred 8th graders at Lincoln School in Park Ridge so I didn't prepare anything more substantial. Afterward I dashed to the airport for my trip back to D.C. and ate the fruit there. I was glad that TSA didn't check my suitcase in which I had my food, including two chicken breasts. I also had a number of baby gifts for the new son of a former staffer. Unfortunately, the baby clothes smelled a bit of roasted chicken.

DINNER: Warmed up chicken breast, noodles, small lettuce, tomato and carrot salad, last of the broccoli, cooked.

I didn't get to cook until about 8 p.m. I was named as Legislator of the Year by the American Public Health Association as the Legislator of the Year - a tremendous honor - at their reception. I told them about the Food Stamp Challenge and the number of Americans whose health is compromised because they cannot afford or have access to a nutritious diet. The fact that one out of four children in this the richest country in the history of the planet is considered "food insecure" is not only a public health issue, but a moral issue as well.


DAY 7, November 2, 2011

This is the last full day for me, but not for the 45 million Americans, about 15% of the population, who today rely on the SNAP program to eat. And they are the lucky ones. There are many others who suffer hunger with little or no government assistance. I want to thank the Chicago Food Depository and the network of Food Pantries and Meal Sites that alleviate the hunger pangs of many who are on and off the SNAP program. They do wonderful work! But they can't solve the problem. There is no excuse for hunger in America, and after this enlightening week, I will continue to do all I can to eradicate it.

BREAKFAST: Yogurt and a banana

LUNCH: Tuna salad sandwich on toast.

DINNER: My last chicken breast and an apple.

SNACK: Another apple. (I am planning on adding breakfast tomorrow on the program, yogurt, banana and coffee) to compensate for the wedding dinner that I ate, though sparingly, on Sunday.)