Food Stamp Challenge: Day 2

Lauri Lowell, Director, Jewish Community Relations Council     Nov. 15, 11:30am 


Today is day two. Already I’m bored with oatmeal & sliced banana.

So how did the shopping go? First let me acknowledge the artificiality of this situation. I am shopping for myself for one week.  I bought an 18-ounce jar of natural peanut butter for $2.99. That was almost 10% of my entire budget of $31.50. I’m never going to eat that much peanut butter in a week. If this were my real life circumstances, I’d be eating it for several weeks and PB wouldn’t be on next week’s shopping list. So next week I could spend that $2.99 on something else—such as a bag of flour so that I can bake some cookies and not have to eat the cheap, crappy vanilla wafers I found (and bought) at Price Rite for $.99.


Speaking of cheap and crappy, ever wonder why the more processed something is, the less it costs?  This is especially true of dry boxed goods. The processing entails adding preservatives and other ingredients I can’t pronounce to increase the shelf life of the item. That’s good for food manufacturers and grocery stores because it means less waste, less loss, more profit. But by the time they’re done processing, the food tastes like cardboard. You might just as well eat the box.


I’m not just talking about flavor. I’m talking about nutritional quality.

Real food is grown, not manufactured.  Unadulterated food should be less expensive, not more so.


Some of the stuff I see in the supermarket astonishes me. I don’t know what it is. I’ve told my kids that some of the bright, colorful sugary stuff they see isn’t food and they shouldn’t put it in their bodies. They may want to wear it or decorate their walls with it, but they definitely should not eat it. For the most part, they seem to get it. (With some exceptions--my younger son and I have a weakness for Starburst candy. I don’t know why. The artificial colors in there are frightening.)


Back to my shopping experience.  I spent $30.57 in two shopping trips. I have $.93 left. Breyer’s ice cream was on sale at Stop & Shop for $2, but I didn’t have enough to buy any. I thought about putting back the half-pound of cheddar I found on sale for $2.50 so I could get the ice cream. Then I thought better of it. Or the extra-large Hershey bar on sale for $1.50, but who can do without chocolate for a week? No, better to give up the ice cream and keep the cheese and chocolate.


By the way, whole grain bread is expensive. I settled for store-brand whole wheat on sale for $1.50. The bread I really wanted cost three times as much.


When I arrived home, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t afford the ice cream, even on sale. My husband offered to trade me some ice cream from our freezer for my extra brown rice—after all, I wouldn’t be needing two pounds of rice; I only got that size because there wasn’t a smaller bag. If I sell him half my rice and some of my onions and peanut butter, how much ice cream can I get? Our son said this would definitely be cheating, violating the terms of the Food Stamp Challenge. People on food stamps don’t barter or trade food.


Or do they? 



Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.







Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


Tuesday, November 14, 2012     9:45 PM



One down (almost), six to go.  Day 1 has certainly lived up to its name.  Indeed, it’s been a “challenge” for me to stay on the Food Stamp track.  I got home about an hour ago after a long work-filled day, and my stomach is now making a case to my brain that it’s time to unwind and to enjoy a tasty little treat.  Nothing fancy – a little soy yogurt and a banana or even a big Granny Smith apple or a protein shake would be great.  The only problem is that I’ve already expended my daily food allotment of $4.50, and I don’t want to be in deficit mode after just one day!


And so my brain shouts back to my stomach that I’m far from malnourished and that I’ve already had a sufficient amount of food for the day.  And my brain tells the truth.  So why am I complaining?  Because - I’m not proud to say - I’m spoiled!  How lame am I!?


I doubt that the 40-50 people I was watching yesterday morning who were lined up patiently waiting outside of the JFS Food Pantry are whining tonight.  Tonight, for them, is just another night.  And they’ll deal with whatever hardships they are forced to endure and look forward to the next day.  Hopefully they and their children have a place to be tonight that they can call “home.”  Hopefully there’s enough heat and that they have electricity so that they too can relax a little bit, be at peace, do homework, or maybe even watch a little television for fun or go online to check out what’s going on in the world - if they own or have access to a computer or a T.V. 


So maybe I should just buck up, grow up, and just get a good night’s sleep in my warm, comfortable bed next to my warm, beautiful wife.  Breakfast time will be here soon enough.



Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Sydney A. Perry

CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven


Thursday, November 14       


The second day of the Food Stamp Challenge provided some real insights into both the simple ways that one can save money and the much more stark lessons of what it means to be living below the poverty line.

I had a meeting at breakfast time and ordered a black tea with 1 lemon and sugar. $1.58, with tax. At home, with a single tea bag, I could have done a lot better. Lunch was a challah roll, which was filling, and a chocolate taffy bar. Still under the wire as far as my budget. By the time I got home at 10:30, I was literally famished and was grateful for the box of ditalini I purchased for $1.69. Boiling up about a fifth of the box, I was wishing that I could have afforded a little parmesan cheese. Too expensive. The pasta, part of a can of tuna fish and some of the homemade tomato sauce we made this summer from our tomatoes and basil tasted pretty good.

My small sacrifice for a week doesn't really mean much. By itself, it won't help anyone who can't afford a decent meal. What might help is the donations that people will make to Jewish Family Service to help others. CLICK HERE.

Eating on $31.50 a week is simply not manageable without supplementing the meager food that supplies with going to food pantries and soup kitchens.

Today I will be getting ready for Shabbat. It will not be the typical Perry family meal. I really like spicy chili: it's great for a cold night, rich with hamburger and rice and beans, accompanied by a little guacamole and chips. But it's not shabbat fare and I have spent $5.38 of my $31.50 on the one time this week I will have meat. No silver tip roast this week for Sydney. I will say that I look forward to the kiddush after services at shul. I'll be first at the table for some of the famous Westville synagogue oneg shabbat, but I'll still avoid the herring...

Shabbat Shalom,


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.






Jonathan Garfinkle

Executive Director, Jewish Family Service


November 15, 2012            6:53 pm


After giving myself a good dress down last night for acting like a whining “one-percenter”, FSC Day 2 has gone a lot smoother than I’d anticipated.  Mind you, the day is not over and my good cheer undoubtedly is due in part to my eager anticipation of the rice and beans and yucca root dinner that awaits me when I get home this evening.  But all in all, I feel like I’m starting to get into a groove and, for the most part, I’m feeling mentally prepared to carry this through until midnight, 11/20 (but who’s counting?).


Maybe it’s the clear mindedness that can accompany periods of “famine”, or maybe it’s because of the big focus today at JFS on the present challenges of the Food Pantry in general, and on the Herculean operation going on there right now so that we’ll be prepared next week for the Thanksgiving distribution that will provide relative feasts to about 300 families next Tuesday.  That will amount to somewhere between 7-8,000 lbs. of food given out in just one day, and it will require the contributions of some 50 volunteers and staff to pull off.


But I’m definitely in a contemplative state of mind today, thinking a lot about the clients we work with on a daily basis at the Pantry.  If anyone has the right to scream out for justice and expect a little humanity and compassion from the world, it’s these folks.  But what’s amazing is how gracious, how appreciative, how engaging and endearing the vast majority of our Pantry users are with us at JFS.


We are privileged at JFS to have the opportunity to lend a helping hand to these struggling, but wonderful folks, and to share with them a very special and powerful bond.  And if we start to think about the unique relationship we share, there’s a whole lot we can learn from this wise group about living a life of meaning, about coping successfully and leading a life with honor and grace even under adverse and hostile circumstances, about the true meaning of Thanksgiving.


Please click to donate to the JFS Food Assistance program. Thank you very much.



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