Tuesday, December 9, 2014

One week down, 51 weeks of awareness to go....

On Saturday night, Peter and I were invited to a friend's home in another part of New Jersey for dinner. They knew I would bring my own food, which I did.  Leftover pasta with leftover sautéed cabbage with cheese on top - all in a dish that I warmed in their microwave.  For dessert, my apple in slices with peanut butter.  Satisfying enough that I was not really hungry until mid-morning on Sunday, when I had a yogurt and banana.

Sunday night ended with a quick omelette with the last of the shredded cheese and two pieces of toast. Looking over the fridge and pantry at the food purchased for my week of living on $29.40, I had the following left: 1/2 cabbage, 1/3 small bag uncooked black beans, box of pasta, 2 pieces of bread, three carrots, a couple of tablespoons of peanut butter.

What I ate and when I ate it and how much was leftover is not really the point.  I was never really hungry.  If I had needed more calories, they were right in the cupboard waiting.  I had a kitchen to store and prepare food. I am immensely blessed.

Those who live this way every day, feed their children on limited incomes, lack nutritional education, and have poor access to healthy inexpensive foods -- they should be utmost in our thoughts.  How do we help them?

One way is monetary.  Monthly donations - automatic is best - to one's local food bank. Here in New Jersey that is Community Food Bank of New Jersey. You can find them at https://community.cfbnj.org   If you live near their location (Hillside, NJ) you can volunteer and sort food and do other tasks there.  Awesome place - collects and redistributes food to food pantries around NJ.    You can also give to MAZON: The Jewish Response to Hunger.   They give grants to food banks and food pantries and soup kitchens and such.  And they do advocacy. Find them at http://mazon.org

Locally here in Jersey City there are so many wonderful food pantries and programs.  If you are doing a canned food drive, two of the excellent places to drop your donations are The Sharing Place at St. Paul Lutheran Church http://stpauljerseycity.org/stpaul/social-ministries/sharing-place/  or Old Bergen Church on Highland Avenue.

Advocacy is also critical.  Read about SNAP (the Food Stamp program).  Check out what is happening on the state level. For example, read about the dangerously slow review of SNAP applicants here in NJ that threatens federal funding to NJ for food stamps then write to Gov. Christie and voice your concern.    http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/08/letter_slow_snap_application_review_distresses_new_jersey_families.html

There are issues beyond how much money is needed to purchase food if you are living on limited income.  There are also access issues and food inflation issues.

Our mayor, Steve Fulop, just wrote an excellent opinion piece published on nj.com on food inflation and what the Jersey City administration is doing about it.  Right on, Mr. Mayor. Read it here:
My experience on the Food Stamp Challenge for the second time has taught me to count my blessings. My ability to go out and put down $25 for a restaurant meal is not something I earned through my hard work - I was born into a family that was not rich, but was always comfortable. The education and opportunities that flowed from that mean that so far in life I have not suffered from food insecurity.

Our Jewish tradition is replete with teachings of sharing one's food - from Abraham preparing a meal for the strangers to Isaiah's demand to feed the hungry to the Jewish custom in the "old country" of setting a table for the poor of the community at one's celebrations.

Yes, I feel guilty when I indulge in an expensive meal knowing the same dollars could feed someone for a week (and in some parts of the world for a month).  Here's my new thought:  each time one goes to leave a tip at a restaurant, donate another "tip" to the hungry.  If it's $5 for the waiter, then it's another $5 to the Food Bank or to buy cans for a food drive. Put the $5 in a separate place in your wallet.  It can even be done right at the table by donating quickly online. And encourage the others at your table to do the same as you educate them on this issue.

If you try this, let me know how it goes.

Friday, December 5, 2014


It's potluck at temple tonight.  Always delicious, but I'll be eating ahead of time for this Shabbat on Food Stamp Challenge.

Last night was Italian Turkey Sausage.  Three pieces.  That leaves three for another night - Sunday probably. Had a big chunk of cabbage sautéed, too.  With toast.  It was filling and just right.

Today had to run out early without breakfast - took bag of cereal in the car.  Not so great, followed by can of tuna between two pieces of bread for lunch. Got my protein and carbs. Tonight - steamed broccoli, more pasta, sauce and some cheese on top.

The good news is I bought two bananas and an apple and a plain yogurt today.  Total price: $1.35. The store brand yogurt was 50 cents.  Bad news, I forgot to use my discount card so the bananas were 59 cents a pound instead of 49. Wasted 10 cents.

I still have a leftover batch of rice and beans in the fridge - but just can't face eating them again unless I have to.  Between the uneaten eggs, sausage, cheese, rice, pasta and can of green beans - hopefully won't have to.  If the stomach grumbles, I'll do it.  Refried perhaps with tomato sauce on top!

When I read those stories of how Jewish families would save up all week to have fish or chicken on Shabbat, I now really get how it was such a treat.

Shabbat Shalom to all, especially those out in the cold and rain on the streets of Jersey City tonight without a stove to warm up the few cans of food in their backpacks.  (Gave out a few cans to a needy person who came by the temple today - homeless obviously as he asked for items with pop tops. Gave him three cans of hearty soups.  I think I have the better dinner tonight.)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


I brought back a beautiful two pound cabbage from Massachusetts over Thanksgiving weekend and did not have time to cook and eat it before starting the Food Stamp Challenge on Monday. So, went to store today to see what it costs locally - and guess what? Cabbage was on sale! 2 lb. for 99 cents. Instead of the regular $1.98 per pound.  Of course, my cabbage from my friend's farm is probably healthier - but anyway, I am charging myself 99 cents against my budget.

Decided I should pick up some eggs. Only half dozen - more expensive per egg that way, but can't afford the full dozen. If I did this for two weeks, could save a bit buying in normal sizes. Also needed something green - and there were broccoli crowns and canned green beans on sale. Wanted two cans of the green beans but getting close to the budget.  Added an onion, another box of pasta on sale for only 88 cents this time, and one more "on sale" cheese. This time shredded mozzarella. Going to make a pasta baked dish tomorrow to last a few meals.  Picked up two more bananas still on sale - but thought better of it and put them back.  I'm up to $26.76.  Better to set aside the last $2 for final days in case I run out of milk or something I bought gets spoiled.

Just had lunch - leftover rice and beans with a few bits of cheddar cheese melted in. Not bad. I might add rice and beans to my normal weekly meal rotation - but with some green pepper and other goodies I can't afford this week.

Being on this food stamp challenge not only raises awareness about cost of food and the inflated prices of brand names, it makes me more aware of all the little ways I spend money throughout the day.  From Dunkin Donuts decaf a few mornings a week (not this week), to the PATH fare to get in to New York today to hear our student cantor's recital. (Yes, it was awesome!)  Then taking the PATH back to city tonight.  That's about $10 on PATH today - 1/3 of my week's food budget.  Something to be said for living within walking distance of one's work, supermarket, etc.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


Yummy. Belly full of rice and beans. With two portions leftover for later in the week.

So far have had two breakfasts - both a bowl of store brand "cheerios" with milk.  Had two bananas for snacks.  A batch of pasta with tuna and cheese that made two meals.  A peanut butter sandwich with store peanut butter cause could not afford natural/no added sugar kind.  And rice and beans tonight.  Attended a meeting at a diner and brought along my water bottle - but ate my lunch early before I got there. Not so bad.  Skipped the holiday party for our condo tonight but Peter went and had a good time.

Tomorrow will be an interesting day. On the run during lunch time and no where to really eat from about 10 to 5.  I think that means taking along some carrot sticks and another peanut butter sandwich. Oh well.  

Thinking about all the children who missed their school breakfasts and lunches last week with school out 4 days in a row for the long weekend.  Plus it was end of the month when families run out of food. Glad they are back getting school meals this week.  

Sunday, November 30, 2014


Tomorrow I start my second time around on the Food Stamp Challenge.  First time was two years ago. Not much has changed: there are still too many hungry people in the U.S.   Especially children.

One change: the weekly food stamp allowance for an adult has dropped to $29.40.  I'll miss that extra couple of dollars, but for those who live on this all year round it's a much bigger hit. Yes, food stamps are meant to be supplemental but too many live on the much. Then they run out of food around the middle of the month. That's why many food pantries are only open the last two weeks of a month.

Why do some of us who have plenty to eat do this challenge? To remind ourselves of those in need, to experience a taste of the difficulties of eating this way, and to motivate ourselves to advocate more forcefully for a better SNAP/Food Stamp policy in the United States.

You are welcome to take the challenge too.  Feed yourself for 7 full days on $29.40 per person. No free food. No snacks that are offered to you at a meeting or work. No free coffee. No getting extras from a local food pantry.

In preparation I bought my first batch of food for the week. Here's the receipts.  I spent 20.19.

I have two cans tuna, pound pasta, loaf bread, quart milk, some turkey sausages, dry black beans, rice, cheese, peanut butter, 2 bananas, carrots, jar of pasta sauce and a box of cereal.  Later in week I'll make some chicken if I find some on sale. Probably will add an onion and the cheapest frozen green veggie I can find unless a fresh green veggie is way on sale.

The good thing is I have a fridge to store leftovers and a stove to cook on. Not like my homeless friends.

If you aren't sure about doing this for a whole week, try just a day at $4.20.  For three meals plus snacks. And let me know how that goes. You can write in the comment section.

Learn more by going to this website.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Final Lessons from the Food Stamp Challenge

Stopped in the supermarket today to pick up something for my husband Peter who is not on the Food Stamp Challenge.  Since I still had 50 cents of my $31.50 budget to spend, I gave in and walked through the fruit aisle.  Picked up the smallest apple I could find and weighed it.  Hmmmm.  At $1.29 a pound it would have come to about 50 cents but maybe a bit over. I put it back and looked for something cheaper. Sure enough there were beautiful pears on sale at 99 cents a pound.  Chose one. Turned out it was only 39 cents at checkout. Thank you ShopRite!

And it was delicious.  Arrived home and ate every speck of it except the seeds and the stem.

This Sunday night is the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  At many synagogues, including ours, folks will take home an empty grocery bag and return it ten days later on Yom Kippur with food donations for the hungry.  A few days ago one of the teens asked me to think about how those who cannot afford to donate food must feel when they are handed that bag.  Are they ashamed that they cannot do the good deed for others that most around them seem to be able to afford? How does it feel to return the next week empty handed?  I explained that someone could just recycle the bag at home, and that people do not bring the bags back all at once so no one would notice if someone did not make a donation.  Still, it gave me pause. There is shame in not having the resources other have.

When we make the announcement at services inviting people to take a bag home, we will need to acknowledge that many among us cannot afford to participate so we need others to make an even greater effort this year if they are blessed with financial well-being. And we need to be sure our ushers ask if someone would like a bag - not assume that all will take them. 

After Yom Kippur we will also need to ask ourselves: what are we doing for the food-challenged sitting in our own pews? We Jews think of the hungry as the “other.”  We don’t imagine it in our own well-educated community. 

We are wrong. 

I don’t know the solution yet.  I do know that the greatest impact of taking the Food Stamp Challenge has not been the planning, eating or reading up on the facts about SNAP.  It has been the unplanned conversations that arise as people share their stories of volunteering and donating for the hungry, teaching their children about hunger, or quietly reveal their own situation of food scarcity.  Those stories are more real than the $31.50 worth of food I lived on for the last 7 days.

One challenge is ending, but the challenge we all face - to make sure no child or adult goes to bed hungry -  remains.

P.S. If you are in New Jersey, please consider signing up as an automatic monthly donor at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. Just go to http://www.njfoodbank.org/how-to-help/donate-funds/community-harvesters   

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Eat Your Broccoli. Or Maybe Not.

With only two days to go in the Food Stamp Challenge, it's looking a lot like there will be leftovers. Not for today or tomorrow's meals, but some leftovers after the week of living on $31.50, the average food stamp allotment.

This morning - Wednesday - I still had 3 eggs, can of tuna, 1/3 head of lettuce, 1/2 block of cheddar, 2 8-oz servings of cooked chicken, 1 lovely purple eggplant, 1/2 an onion, can of lentil soup, 6 pieces of wheat bread, leftover broccoli (more on that to come....), 1/4 box of cereal, about 5 oz. of uncooked pasta, almost a full jar of pasta sauce and enough milk for two more breakfasts.

So for my late lunch - after a long and meaningful morning welcoming new converts into Judaism at the mikvah/ritual bath - I returned home to cook up the eggplant, some of the onion, tomato sauce, 1/2 the pasta and grated cheese over the top. Yummy.  Had two bowls of it.

Dinnertime now with some lentil soup with a few small pieces of the cooked chicken mixed in, and two slices of toast.

I was tempted to add the leftover broccoli.  Then I remembered what it tasted like.  When I bought it on sale it looked a little "old." Sure enough two days ago I had to cut out brown spots and gave up and left a few in.  Bitter but ate it anyway. Once was enough even though I saved it just in case I ran low on food.

Found myself changing other little habits.  Usually I clean my mushrooms and cut off the bottom stems. This time, hesitated and only took off a sliver.  Another meal had a few cooked noodles left over and might have tossed them instead of adding them to the next meal.  Put them away in the fridge.

Honestly, I have it too good. Last night at the Temple Board meeting a dad was talking about how it would be impossible to feed his two teenage boys on $31.50 each per week. Their appetites are voracious.  Another parent joked that it's more expensive to feed teenage boys than to buy clothes for girls.  I only had to feed one healthy adult female without a sweet tooth. (Well, I still miss dried cranberries.)

It's also one thing to cut back on fresh fruits and veggies for only a week; to keep up a balanced diet with enough calcium and vitamins over several months would probably be impossible on this budget.  On top of that, I never ate out. This meant planning ahead and sometimes eating at odd times if I was stuck at work longer without food. (I took to carrying a small bag of cereal in my purse.)

What if I was a busy parent with little time to prep a meal? How could I ask little children to go hungry a few hours until we got back home to make a meal? Might I offer a cheap bag of chips rather than offer an apple that might only get half-eaten? I also have new respect for school breakfast and lunch programs (and the schools that serve after-school healthy snacks or suppers).

If you have not already gone online to do some learning around this issue, check out this great website http://www.snaptohealth.org/farm-bill-usda/   The site is aimed at creating ways for the government to increase the impact of food stamps along with educating about nutrition and health. You can read how SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)  - the newer name for Food Stamps - comes up for renewal as part of the Farm Bill every five years.  2012 is one of those years.

Of course it's not so simple to renew the bill since U.S. lawmakers cannot agree on how much to cut support to farmers or food stamps for the poor. Watch for this to heat up in October and November.