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The Stress of Shopping for the Food Stamp Challenge

By Nicky Goren on October 12th, 2012

NG ShoppingThis week, several members of The Women’s Foundation staff are participating in the Food Stamp Challenge, an exercise organized by D.C. Hunger Solutions that educates the public and raises awareness of the benefits of food stamps and the challenges recipients face while eating on a very limited budget. The staff will be sharing their experiences on this blog.

Yesterday, I took my 12-year-old son with me to my local Safeway to do my shopping for the Food Stamp Challenge.  I had $30 to buy food for an entire week for myself.  Just the process of shopping was highly enlightening and also frustrating.  First thing I realized was how much I take for granted when I am shopping for food in a typical week.  Yes – I always shop from a list, carefully crafted to enable me to prepare meals for my family over the course of the week.  But once the list is made, with only rare exceptions, I don’t really look at the prices of the things I am buying – they are on the list, they are part of the meal plan, so they go in the cart.  That is probably the surest sign of economic security and stability – and the anti-thesis of my shopping experience yesterday.

With only $30, the first thing I realized was I needed to get the maximum amount of food with the money I had.  That meant 1) fewer fresh fruits and vegetables; 2) fewer proteins – I purchased eggs, a five-pack of chicken legs, a can of black beans, a can of garbanzo beans, and peanut butter as my protein quotient; 3) more carbs – bread, pasta, rice; 4) organic was out the window, as were any consideration of sodium, carbs, fat, or nutritional content – it was all about cost.

The second thing I realized was how stressful it was to walk up to the checkout line knowing I had only $30 to spend and no more.  People were lining up behind me, and wondering why I was keeping some items in the cart as I waited to see what the tally would be.  When it came in lower than I expected, I added the items held back.  When all was said and done, I had $2.45 left – there was no way I was leaving that on the table.  So I completed check-out, left the groceries with my son, and went back in to find one or two more items for my $2.45.

The third thing I realized was that I could not afford the luxury of things like chocolate and caffeine.

This is going to be an interesting week.

Nicky Goren is president of Washington Area Women’s Foundation.

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