In Vermont, the program is called 3SquaresVt. During my office hours, I help individuals and families from all over the state apply for 3SquaresVT. During my off hours, I pay for groceries using my own 3SquaresVT benefits.
I am not new to the concept of frugal eating; I was really good at it before I got SNAP benefits. After enrolling in the program, I have much more freedom as to what I eat. I can use my SNAP benefits plus some money from my paycheck for my grocery budget. I can afford to eat things I think are better for me, like less processed foods and more fresh produce.
The SNAP challenge is not an accurate picture of what its like to live in poverty. Other things besides money factor into our food choices, like time, skill, access to tools, access to food education, where a person can buy food (whether convenience store or grocery store) and how they get to that store (via a car, bus, or walking). Sometimes when people take the SNAP challenge, they don’t acknowledge this. I tried the SNAP challenge for 5 days and used my actual benefit amount that I really get, which is about $6.46 per day. I posted my experiences for all 5 days and tried to be intentional about deconstructing some of the ways I’m really privileged when it comes to eating, despite the fact that I pay for most of my food with SNAP.
By the time I was ready to check out, I added up everything I had in my cart. My total put me over the allotted $6.46 per day. Far over.
I put back all the apples. They were on sale that week.
Still over budget.
I put back the celery.
Still over budget.
I swapped the Greek yogurt for the regular yogurt, put back the oranges, and traded the whole grain flour for the less expensive white flour.
Finally, I could afford my groceries.
I was standing on the side of an aisle, Sunday afternoon shoppers passing me, doing calculations in my phone and scribbling figures in my notebook. I felt self-conscious of how I looked, trying to balance the numbers. I wondered how single parents do it, especially if they have to take their kids shopping with them.
After spending twice as long in the store as I normally do, I made it to the cashier. Id done the math and I knew should be under budget. But just in case, I knew I could put back a couple of the bananas to save money. Contingency plan in place, I watched the total steadily rise. I felt a wave of relief when the clerk gave me a total that was $0.03 under my budget.
So here are my groceries for the week. I will do my best to make them stretch into the healthiest and tastiest meals that I am able to create. I feel both a surge of creativity to make the best of the challenge, but also a strong awareness that this isn’t just an exercise designed for me to draw inspiration from. For 1 in 7 Americans, SNAP is a crucial resource to help alleviate some of the stresses of poverty. My story is just one of 46 million narratives of food insecurity in the United States.