Food stamp challenge
A food stamp or SNAP challenge is a trend in the United States popularized by religious groups, community activists and food pantries, in which a family of means chooses to purchase food using only the monetary equivalent of what a family that size would receive in the US federal government Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), colloquially called food stamps. In 2015, this amounted to US$194.00 per person per month, or $6.37 per day.
CNN reporter Sean Callebs did an experiment where he spent the month of February 2009 eating only as much food as what a person could get with the maximum possible amount of food stamps. Since he was living in New Orleans, Louisiana, this amounted to $176. At the end of the experiment, he said that he had eaten pretty well, and that the biggest drawback was a social one, not a nutritional one, because he could not go out to eat at restaurants with friends.
In St. Louis, Missouri, Food Outreach executive director Greg Lukeman has led a food stamp challenge since 2008, during September "Hunger Action Month" to bring awareness of the nonprofit organization's clients. Community members, Food Outreach staff and supporters, area politicians, and members of the local media have participated and blog about the experience.
In June 2013, Donny Ferguson, the communications director for Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX), attempted to counter the popular opinion that food stamp funds were not enough to survive on. He spent $27.68 without a shopping list or coupons or discounts, and argued that at such rates, the government could afford cuts to the SNAP program as deep as 12%. He further argued that savings could be made by buying vegetables instead of rice and beans, advanced planning, and pooling of resources with a larger family stipend. Ferguson failed the challenge when he went 14% over budget. The items he purchased were highly processed, high in sugar and sodium, and included no fresh fruits or vegetables.
In April 2015, actress Gwyneth Paltrow purchased $29 of food for one week, and posted a picture of the food on her Twitter account. Rebecca Vipond Brink, a nutrition writer for the Frisky, said of Paltrow's food choices, "Nutritionally speaking, this is a vitamin bonanza. But people who live on SNAP benefits don’t just have to get nutrients, they have to get actual calories, because they tend to have very physical lives, doing service labor and taking care of children and not necessarily being able to afford a car and so forth." It was estimated that Paltrow's food totaled 7,059 calories, or only about 1,000 calories per day. It was also pointed out that instead of the seven limes that she bought, she could have gotten four pounds of pasta for less money, and that such a substitution would have provided her with substantially more calories. Brink also suggested a completely different set of food items for the same amount of money, which would have yielded 2,530 calories per day: five pounds of potatoes, two dozen eggs, five pounds of flash-frozen chicken breasts, a block of cheese, a gallon of whole milk, four pounds of apples, three pounds of oatmeal, a bag of celery, 16 ounces of peanut butter, 15 ounces of raisins, one pound of carrots, and 28 ounces of rice. Brink also pointed out that such a shopping list was only realistic for someone who did not live in a food desert.
The Food Stamp Challenge ignores the supplemental portion of the SNAP program, which does not intend for SNAP benefits to be the only source of food. 75% of SNAP participants use their own money to purchase some of their food, and the remaining 25% would receive benefits larger than the average employed in the food stamp challenge. Only 20% of SNAP beneficiaries have no income; for those with income, families are expected to contribute 30% of income to their food budget. Therefore, SNAP benefits and the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) always equal the maximum benefit ($668 for a family of four). Food Stamp Challenges challenges therefore result in menus bearing little resemblance to the USDA official food plans calculated on the maximum benefit because they ignore the effect of the Expected Family Contribution.
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- Emily Goodin (May 24, 2013). "Sen. Murphy loses 6 pounds on food stamp challenge". Capital Living. The Hill. Archived from the original on 2013-06-06. Retrieved June 5, 2013.
The lawmaker has been tweeting about it, writing about his weight loss on Friday morning.
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- Gwyneth Paltrow vows to live on just $29 worth of food for a week as part of a charity challenge - but is already under fire from critics for her 1,000 calorie-per-day menu, Daily Mail, April 10, 2015
- What $29 A Week For Food Looks Like For Actual Low-Income People (And Not Gwyneth Paltrow), The Frisky, April 12, 2015
- Kessler, Glen. "the 'SNAP Challenge". Washington Post.
- (PDF) http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/sites/default/files/usda_food_plans_cost_of_food/FoodPlansRecipeBook.pdf. Missing or empty
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