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Food Stamp Challenge: Insights from a Philadelphia Physician and her Family

Posted by Cheryl Bettigole, MD, MPH, NPA Immediate Past-President December 6, 2011 at 10:04 PM

This week, my husband, our three sons aged 15, 13, and 11, and I are doing the Food Stamp Challenge as part of an effort led by a group of faith-based groups to bring attention to the importance of food stamps and the dire consequences of cutting this safety net.  This means that we have $31.50 per person for food for the week, or a whopping $157.50 for our family of five.

We’re in our second full day of the challenge and I’m surprised by how much I hear the kids talking about it. They ask before they eat anything, to make sure we don’t need it, and seem to be thinking a lot about what it would mean to live like this all the time. I’ve tried hard to make it work without the boys being hungry — baked both whole wheat bread and peanut butter cookies — but they still seem very worried.

Grocery shopping was a revelation. Whole wheat flour cost us $2.50 more than white and we simply couldn’t afford enough fruit for even one piece a day for each of us, despite looking for sales and shopping where fruit is pretty cheap. The biggest difference though is time. Because I wanted to avoid junk food, I pretty much need to make anything we eat from scratch, everything from bread to anything we want to munch, otherwise we would have been over budget.

I think the biggest impression on all of us so far, though, is the knowledge that we’ve used our food budget and can’t go back to the store until the week is up. It affects every bite we eat and every meal we plan.  I’m a family doctor at an inner-city clinic where many of my patients rely on SNAP (the supplemental nutrition assistance program, or food stamps) to feed their families not for a week but for months or years.  I can’t imagine what they will do and how they will manage to feed their hungry children the nutritious food they need if this program is cut even a fraction.

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