Did you know that June is National Hunger Awareness Month? The month of June is a notoriously slow month for food banks, but one of the highest months of neediness. Kids who relied on free school lunches are out of school and not able to depend on those meals anymore. But those of us who are not in need are going on vacations, spending time at the pool… we don’t tend to think of donating to our local food banks outside of the holiday times.
My church is participating by holding one of our twice-annual food drives supporting local DFW food banks (North Texas Food Bank and Brother Bill’s Helping Hand), and also showing the documentary film “Food Stamped” at 7PM on Tuesday, June 7. I’d love to attend but we don’t have childcare available. Hopefully the film will be on Netflix soon. I’d encourage everyone to attend this movie screening if you can! View the trailer here.
In addition to those activities, many families are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge. The Challenge is to commit to only spend $3.70 per person per day on all food and beverage for at least one week – the same amount of money given to a family of 4 on food stamps.
When I heard about the challenge, I wanted to try it. I spent time over the last week trying to find recipes I could make and food we could buy that both met our family’s ethical and nutritional guidelines and was within the limits. The result was, we couldn’t do it.
Here are the rough guidelines we typically follow when purchasing our food:
- Avoid “The Dirty Dozen” – the 12 fruits and vegetables that absorb the most toxic pesticides when not grown organically
- Avoid any processed food that contains partially- or fully-hydrogenated oils (trans fats)
- Avoid any processed food that contains high fructose corn syrup (read more on my reasons for avoiding HFCS)
- Buy whole grains
- Eat vegetarian except for fish
- Only nitrate-free hot dogs and lunch meat (for Little Sir, who keeps refusing to eat meat but needs the protein)
- Only organic dairy products, therefore avoiding the artificial hormones given to conventional cattle and poultry
I could not make even one meal – breakfast – without going over the $3.70 limit and still keep to our family’s nutritional commitments.
Here is an example of a normal breakfast for us:
Regular whole wheat bread (not organic but does not contain HFCS) – $1.99/loaf = 9 cents a slice
Banana, conventional (non-organic) – $.49/lb = 15 cents for 5 oz banana
Organic free-range eggs – $2.99/dozen = 25 cents apiece
Orange juice (not organic, no sweeteners, not from concentrate) – $2.83/2 quarts = 35 cents a glass
Little Sir’s YoBaby Organic yogurt – $3 for 4 containers = 75 cents
Fruitful O’s Organic cereal – $3.50/box = 18 cents for Little Sir’s serving
Organic free trade coffee – $9/bag = ?? 50 cents?
Organic half-and-half for coffee – $3/carton = 20 cents
4 slices of toast, 1 banana, 4 eggs, 2 glasses of juice, yogurt, cereal, banana, coffee = $3.84
This isn’t including the organic peanut butter or organic jelly I put on our toast some days, or the lowfat yogurt Christian eats sometimes, or the occasional addition of oatmeal with brown sugar and organic raisins that I have instead of toast because I wake up STARVING every day!
I was really bummed about not being able to participate in this challenge after I did the math, but we talked about it and we are not comfortable giving our kids non-organic dairy or processed foods with trans fats and HFCS or any of the other toxins that we know are in the things we would need to purchase, even for a week. Little Lady isn’t even 4 months old and I’m breastfeeding. At 19 months, Little Sir isn’t old enough for his body to be able to handle those toxins. If either of them choose to eat differently when they’re old enough to leave the house and purchase their own food, that’s fine. But while their little bodies are forming and we are feeding them, we cannot bring ourselves to damage their health for a week just to make a point about which we are already convinced.
While I was bemoaning the fact that we couldn’t do this and therefore I would never get to blog about it, Christian pointed out that we’ve already experienced the point of this challenge.
Points to ponder as a result of this exercise:
- We may feel sometimes like we can’t afford some of the things we want, but in reality, we have FAR more than many people even a few miles from our own home.
- We are blessed, in our abundance, to be able to make food choices that are healthy.
- Our country and our agri-food industry is severely messed up to make healthy food so expensive. (see also Food, Inc.)
- Regardless of your political affiliation, pretending that people CAN eat healthfully on food stamps is unrealistic. What we are doing is making poor people unhealthy and at risk for a variety of obesity- and toxin-related illnesses with these laughably low supplements. Then again, if you fix #3, you fix this point too.
- What are we doing on a personal level to help “fill the gap” that the government and big agri-food are leaving for the poor?
An additional step our family takes when we donate to food banks is that we buy only products we would use ourselves. Meaning, I don’t buy food with trans fats just because it’s cheaper. I don’t buy canned goods with high fructose corn syrup.
Obviously not everyone is going to donate to a food bank as a result of this post…
Then again, why not?
Would you consider contacting your local food bank via FeedAmerica.org and helping them out in this month of low supply?
Who can you call in your community to help you with this effort?
Food for thought.