Open Arms of Minnesota

SNAP Challenge: Food revelations

By Mark Sauerbrey and Dennis Taylor

So we are one day away from finishing the SNAP challenge and we have to say it went quite well. Aside from spending more time and energy fretting, planning and strategizing before the challenge ever started, the challenge was very eye-opening about our habits of how we eat as a couple and as a society. I worried that Dennis was going to be grumpy because he would be hungry all the time and I worried that I, as a vegetarian, wasn’t going to get enough protein to keep my energy levels up.

Another fear was going to the grocery store and what would our choices be. It was interesting to see how we strategized what we wanted, what we could afford and what we had coupons for. After two hours in the grocery store with coupons in hand, we still had to swap out can of beans for a bag of tortillas, exchange a smaller jar of peanut butter for a potato, and skip the milk for another dozen eggs. We ended up with a $1.78 left over for “emergency” supplies and splurged on coffee with the $5.00 off coupon for any purchase of $50.00 or more at Cub that week.

A little dread set in when we left the grocery store with three small bags of food and the thought of being hungry all the time. Then we both looked at each other and shrugged, “Ehh, we’ve both been poor before, had to skip a meal or two and learned how to stretch one meal into the next … and not just during our college days.” I remember on some Friday nights the kids asking what’s for dinner and my response would be LOSMTWT (leftover from Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). We participated in the Fare Share program, gardened, canned and froze just about everything. Old and bruised fruit went in the freezer for smoothies and stale bread made for some great egg bakes (a recipe Abbey and I have perfected). Questionable yogurt went into the banana bread and all vegetable trimmings became vegetable broth. We both said we could do this and it would be okay.

We determined if we made a big pot of veggie soup, we could take the veggie trimmings and make broth for a bean soup the next day and that could be come chili at the end of the week. Chicken with rice became red beans and rice, which became breakfast burritos (see, putting that can of beans back on the shelf and getting more tortillas was a good choice). Carrots and mini shredded wheat have become snacks and — who knew? — Raisin Bran mixed well with yogurt. Frozen veggies are quite nice as roasted veggies and those left over went back into the soup or could have been an egg bake if we needed. Most days we started off with a hard-boiled egg, toast and cereal or yogurt and cereal. For lunch, we had soup, beans and rice or chili and for dinner we had chicken or beans, rice of some sort and veggies. Our meals have been simple, nutritious, hearty and plentiful. We are recycling one meal to create another, thus eliminating any and all waste.

So, Dennis and I are thinking, we must have done something wrong. We do realize and are grateful that we have the luxury of preparing our own meals. Because of our past hunger experiences, we know how to capitalize on a working stove and oven, ample refrigerator/freezer space, abundance of cooking utensils and the skill set to prepare the food. But we still have food left over in our pantry and refrigerator!

Honestly, we have put off blogging about our SNAP Challenge experience because this has been a positive experience for us and we didn’t want to come off as not truly understanding the challenge or coming only from a place of privilege.

We both recognized how food has become a habit and how we don’t always eat for nutritional purposes. We eat because we have an abundance of food around us, we eat because think we are hungry, we eat because we came home from work, it’s morning, movie time or we’re bored.

This awareness of how the two of us eat, the amount of food we eat, how we view food, as well as how society views food has been the most rewarding part of the challenge. We like to eat, eating makes us feel good and we have to eat to survive. Also, food is a social activity. We eat together, we share our meals with our family, friends and co-workers, and we share in the distribution of food to help those in need, parent to child, visitors or strangers. We have become more aware of how food is a symbolic activity for us and our society, and how food affects society. Also, we have become more mindful of the choices we make.

Awareness can be translated into mindfulness. Being mindful in one’s day-to-day life and maintaining as much calm as possible. Being mindful of one’s body, mindful of others and mindful of the connections between the nourishment we want and the nourishment we need. We now have a better understanding and are more mindful of how hunger affects our lives and the lives of those around us. Becoming mindful of all that food has to offer has been the best reward of this challenge. Now the challenge will be to remain mindful of all that we have to offer around food.

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