The $46 Diet

With 3.7 million people on food stamps, Texas has the second highest hunger rate in the nation. This Thanksgiving, I kicked off a personal challenge to live on the food stamp allowance total of $46 a week.

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  1. The makings of just one holiday feast exceed well over what almost 3.7 million Texans on food stamps can afford to spend on food for the week. Food Stamp allowance for an individual in Texas allots up to $200 a month, breaking down to an average of $46 a week, and $6.67 a day. During the holidays, just one meal can eat up the week's allotment, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

    The bureau also says that prices for Thanksgiving meal mainstays went up 13% this year.
  2. This year I decided to rethink my family's traditional holiday meal (though vegetarian, still delicious) and take on the challenge of living on just $46 for food for the week. 
  3. According to the 2010 US Department of Agriculture report, Texas received $5.5 billion in food stamps for the 2010 fiscal year. But as the recession still looms, food stamp use in Texas continues to rise. 

    According the USDA, nearly 46 million Americans use food stamps. Texas has the second highest hunger rate in the nation with 15% of the population, or 3.7 million, on food stamps, half of which are children. The Census bureau reports that 19% of Texans have trouble getting food, which exceeds the nation's 15%. The USDA defines food accessibility as the measure of participation among people eligible for membership, and Texas ranks in as 39th. 

    The interactive map below from The Wall Street Journal, allows you to compare food stamp use state by state. Last updated this past May, this map is fairly recent. 
  4. For more information on food stamp use in Texas, and how it fits into the bigger picture of our economy, check out the Texas Tribune's excellent and thorough coverage below.
  5. Because the closest I've ever come to having to budget my spending on groceries is nowhere near as extreme as the maximum allotment for food stamps, I researched ways to take on the challenge. This story on CNN, was a great guide to establishing my ground rules for this challenge. The rules coincided with actual parameters for those on federal food assistance. 
  6. The rules for my challenge:
    1. Only eat and drink items purchased for this project this week. 
    2. No eating food you already had before the challenge.
    3. Avoid complimentary food from friends, family, or your work. 
  7. Shopping with the tight budget looming over me made me second guess every thing I put in my cart at the grocery store. With each item, I carefully compared generic and name brands and scoured the aisles for coupons, spending almost double the time I typically spend grocery shopping. Not to mention with every item I put in my cart, I couldn't help but feel a pang of disappointment thinking about how it would be one my only things I could eat that week.

    Since I'm a vegetarian, I didn't purchase any meat which is one of the most expensive items on the typical grocery list. Not spending on meat, allowed a little wiggle room for me to purchase more name brand items on my list. You can see some of the items I purchases in the slideshow below.
  8. My normal eating habits fall in line with that of typical college student, so it goes without saying that I rarely ever eat three balanced meals a day. I tend to grab breakfast and lunch on my way out of my place and come home prepared to cook a dinner that hopefully takes no longer than 30 minutes to cook and eat. This week, that dinner was almost always pasta. Not shown in the slideshow above is the store-brand loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread that I used to make sandwiches for lunch almost everyday of the challenge. 

    Here is a food log of my week. Prepare yourself, it's sort of depressing if you're used to a big Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. I, however, grew up in a family of vegetarians, and wasn't so repulsed by the idea of pasta for Thanksgiving dinner. Though I have to admit I really missed the pumpkin pie.
  9. After a week of stepping out of my comfort zone and abandoning my normal comfort foods, which include but are not limited to Starbucks' lattes, Greek yogurt, and sporadic trips to my favorite Ethiopian restaurant, I couldn't help but dread each meal of my day. 

    This experience was transformative, like a hearty slice of humble pie (without the actual pie), or a boot camp for walking in the shoes of those less fortunate than myself. During the week, some research on social media showed me that this challenge is a simple way to spread awareness about the importance of resolving the hunger crisis. 

    This Storify story below chronicles the experiences of the "Live Below The Line" hunger awareness project in New Zealand about three months ago. The tweets in this story make an example of the power social media has on an awareness project. 
  10. While some of the tweets from New Zealand used the hashtag, "#livebelow," I clicked on the hashtag I used, "#hungerawareness," and found out that my challenge was just following Austin's own Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. 
  11. Following "#hungerawareness" on Twitter also informed me of Canada's University of Alberta's Hunger Awareness Week. 
  12. Alberta's Campus Food Bank is committed to banishing hunger on their campus and every November hosts a hunger awareness challenge. Campus Food Bank does a great job of spreading the word about hunger awareness by not limiting themselves to a single physical event but complimenting it with a multitude of social media platforms that also spread the message to those beyond their campus, including myself. 

    With social media, awareness for any issue is possible now more than ever before. An individual's challenge, mine included, can become a movement when they start talking about it on social media. And as the issues become more and more severe, just as food stamp use in Texas has increased every year for the last four years, we need as much awareness as we can get.