As detailed by the California Department of Social Services, food stamp usage has increased dramatically in recent years (see graph below from January of 2003 to April 2009 in California). About 7 years ago, I distinctly remember my Public Health Nutrition professor predicting this trend "Food stamps are a barometer of the economy; 'unemployment' statistics only indicate the people who are receiving unemployment benefits. Food stamps usage indicate the number of people who are struggling with food insecurity."To give students some sense of what it may feel like to deal with food insecurity, the GW Office of Community Service issued the "Food Stamp Challenge." The details of the challenge read as follows:
"The average person living on food stamps receives $28.75 per week. Could you live on that? The Office of Community Service challenges YOU, the GW community, to experience what it is like to live on food stamps throughout Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week, November 16-21.
You must limit you meal to what can be purchased with $4.11 a day or 28.75 per week and/or what you can secure for free."
Students who participated in the challenge echoed a lot of the same complaints "fruits and vegetables are possible to include on this budget; I had to live off of pasta and Ramen."
In light of these challenges, I attempted to make my own plan, while staying true to the challenge guidelines. I spent within the $28.75 allotted for the week and obtained prices from a food delivery service, operated by a local grocery store in Washington, DC. The associated meal plans provide about 1780 kcal, 100g protein, 295g carbohydrate, 35g fiber, 40g fat (4% of total kcal from saturated fats), and contain about 5 servings of fruits and vegetables on average (including beans). There are only 3 days presented here, but each day could be repeated (total of 6 days covered) with extra food to cover the final day. If benefits are dispersed monthly, more dietary variety can be integrated day to day because a greater variety of foods could be purchased at one time.
Living on food stamps is no small feat. In order to create healthy and adequate meals, more time must be taken to prepare foods and plan meals. Further, cooking and nutrition knowledge is a barrier to creating cheap, healthy meals. Though my plans met national dietary guidelines for macronutrient distribution (AMDR; the amount of proteins, carbohydrates and fats that should be in one's diet) and daily fiber intake, Vitamin E was critically deficient (only 40% of the RDA for the first day of the meal plan).