I Don’t Have a Clue | Cupcake Project

I Don’t Have a Clue

Last night, I received the following comment on my Facebook page (it’s no longer up, so don’t look for it) and I wanted to publicly respond:

If a family receives food stamps then I doubt that they have the means to access a Whole Foods store. Buying organic is usually not at the top of the priority list. I work with this population daily. You don’t have a clue, despite your good intentions. No need for comment, I am opting out of your FB page.

She’s right.  I don’t have a clue – which is exactly why I am participating in the Hunger Challenge (read my intro post on the Hunger Challenge for all of the details).

Everyone who is participating in the challenge is free to interpret the rules how they’d like.  Several people have asked me whether I’ll be using items already in my pantry during the week.  The answer is no.  The only items in my pantry that I am using this week are salt and pepper.  Yes, I could have taken the challenge one step further and relied on public transit or only visited grocery stores within a certain radius of my home.  Admittedly, that would have been more of a challenge.  But, I wanted to use the week to explore – to really think about what food costs and how those costs differ from place to place.

What would it be like to eat on food stamp dollars at Whole Foods, the normal store where I shop?  What if I shopped at a less expensive grocery store like Shop ‘n Save?  How much cheaper would it be?  What would the experience be like shopping in a bargain basement store like Aldi?  Would I save money by shopping at bread outlets?  How much would I rely on coupons?  If I just went to one store, I feel like I would have missed out on an education.

That being said, let’s talk about my first few shopping trips.  And yes, the first one was at Whole Foods.  You’ll see that I was able to get some good values, but it wasn’t easy.


Whole Foods

I never walk out of Whole Foods spending under $25 – usually the bill is $50 or more.  So, I knew that if I were going to shop for the Hunger Challenge at Whole Foods, I would need to call in an expert.  My friend, Jennifer, writes the blog Healthy Life Deals.  Using the the power of extreme couponing, she regularly gets a whole cart of groceries for just a few dollars and sometimes even for free.  I asked her if she would be willing to come shopping with my family to give us some pointers.

The night before our shopping trip, emails starting coming in from Jennifer fast and furious.  She had pages and pages of links to coupons that I needed to print out so that we could get our good deals.  As I printed my thick stack of coupons, I wondered, “Would someone on food stamps have a computer?  Would they have a printer?  Would they have time to print these out or would they be at their second or third job trying to make some money?  They certainly wouldn’t have the help of shopping with Jennifer.”  But, like a model student, I dutifully printed and prepared to learn from the best.

When we got to Whole Foods, Jennifer whipped out her portfolio of coupons.  The ones I had printed were only meant to supplement the coupons that she had brought with her.

My son was a total trooper while Jennifer and I discussed
what to buy.  When he wasn’t photographing us, Jonathan
took our son for walks around the store and outside to
keep him from going too stir crazy.

We spent two hours in the store matching coupons to products and deciding what we would really use and how we would use it.  Is the peanut butter worth the money?  Which pasta would save us a quarter?

In the end, we got $60 worth of groceries for $17!  Jennifer has the entire breakdown on her blog.  Did I mention that she’s amazing?!

In Short:

  • You can get good deals at Whole Foods, but you need lots of time and lots of organization.  Access to a printer also helps, and printing (which costs money even at most libraries) would eat into the coupon savings.
  • Not surprisingly, Whole Foods is not the place to buy any fresh fruits and vegetables if you are on a tight budget.

ALDI

 

Image from $uburbian Dollar

Our second shopping trip was to ALDI – the self-proclaimed “Nation’s Low-Price Leader”.  The first thing that I noticed was that the shopping carts were all locked up.  How was I supposed to get a cart?  A nice man handed me a quarter and stuck his own quarter into the cart in the next row.  “You get it back when you return the cart,” he told me.  I never would have figured it out without him.

I headed inside in search of cheap produce.  We found cantaloupes for $0.99, seven bananas for $1.09, and a bag of carrots for $1.39.  The produce looked fresh, but it all had my produce pet peeve – packaging (which, by the way, even Whole Foods has a lot more of now).  Most items were bagged or shrink wrapped.  If I were a single person on Food Stamps, I’d want to come to ALDI to save money, but I wouldn’t want to buy a big thing of broccoli or a whole bag of potatoes.  On the plus side, bagged produce makes budgeting easier.  I didn’t need to weigh my onions and then do the per pound math to know how much my onions would cost.

In Short:

  • ALDI is a great place to go for cheap produce for a family, but any thoughts of organic need to go out the window.
  • At Whole Foods, it’s taken for granted that you will be given shopping bags.  People bring their own bags to be nice to the environment and you are even given $0.10 of off your purchase for each bag you bring.  At ALDI, if you want bags, you have to bring them – and don’t think someone is going to do your bagging for you.  You are shopping for bargains, so you’ve got to work.

Companion Outlet

We knew that one of our favorite local bread shops, Companion, has a bread outlet where bread is available at 35-40% off retail prices.  Since we happen to be friends with the owners of Companion, we asked them directly for more information about the outlet.  We were told that the best time to go is between 7am and 9am.  I was still sleeping when my husband and son made the trip to the outlet.  They came home with a loaf of delicious looking bread for $3.16.

In Short:

  • Good bread still costs more than mass-produced bread, even if it’s discounted.  We could have bought a loaf of bread at ALDI for half that price.  We’re happy to have the bread we love as part of our week’s food, but understand that those couple of dollars might have been better spent.

Shop ‘n Save

There’s a Shop ‘n Save near our house and we’d been in there before, but it’s not some place that we regularly visit.  At Shop ‘n Save, the deals are posted in red throughout the store.  We bought some pasta and pasta sauce (Jonathan always makes his own, but it’s cheaper to buy prepared stuff than to buy all of the ingredients).  We also got a pound of chicken for $1.96 (it said “natural” on the package – I’m never sure exactly what that marketing term means, but it sounded good).

In Short:

  • Dry beans are cheaper than canned beans, but they take a long time to cook.  We were hungry last night and our dry beans from Shop ‘n Save were a bit chewy because we lost patience.
  • The Shop n’ Save jingle, “The more you shop, the more you save – every day at Shop ‘n Save,” simply isn’t true.  You have to be really careful how much you shop or you’ll go over your budget.  But, there are a lot of good deals to be found.

Summary

I don’t have a clue what it would really be like to live on Food Stamps (thankfully) and I know that I still won’t after the week is over, but I’ll have taken a small step towards understanding.

What I’m Eating

I’m going to start an album on Facebook showing some of the meals that we’ve eaten and how much they cost.  Look for it there in the near future.

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55 Responses to I Don’t Have a Clue

  1. Every Little Thing September 12, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    It’s great you tried a few different stores! I was thinking about the Companion outlet but if bread is still $3+, I’ll get our all natural stand-by at the grocery store (usually 2 for $4). I think we’ll need two loaves.

    I’m trying to stick with my “food morals” and somehow fit grass-fed beef, local eggs & veg, and good milk into our budget. The farmer’s markets help a LOT.

    I usually shop at Dierberg’s and can get some good deals there (esp from the bulk bins) but will probably hit up Shop-n-Save for staples like pasta and peanut butter I guess. I’m still gunning for all natural everything though!

    Like I said, I’m glad you went to a few stores – it helps me prep :) I am conflicted about using coupons. As a social worker, the clients I’ve seen on food stamps would not even consider coupons b/c they can’t even afford a newspaper and don’t have an internet connection. That said, there are plenty of people on food stamps that have internet and clip some coupons. Like you said, certainly very few people on stamps do any extreme couponing, but I’m struggling to find it fair just to use 1 or 2 coupons, so I may not use any :/

    Good luck with the rest of the week!

  2. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    actually, your local Walmart may be doing more to promote and sell local produce than your WF. Ever do the math on the percentage of what’s available at WF that’s ‘local’ as they’re so proud of advertising. Local Walmart managers have the leeway to buy local, and often do, because there’s less transportation to get it there. My local Grocery store has as much, if not more, organic produce, and I almost exclusively go to Sunflower if I can’t find what I need, because it’s much cheaper for the same thing. WF is a large corporation, with the intent of making money, just like everyplace else that sells food to consumers. It’s not your friend, or healthier, or even expert in nutrition.

  3. Renee September 12, 2011 at 5:21 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your challenge, and giving such an in-depth view of what it takes to make it happen.

    I think it’s kind of sad that the person who posted the question wouldn’t stick around to see how you do with the challenge. Seems to me she is judging you negatively for how you live your life and are willing to learn about new perspectives, but he/she certainly isn’t willing to learn about any other perspectives. His/her loss, not yours.

    Looking forward to seeing the facebook gallery of meals you’ve made.

    Good luck with the rest of the challenge. And I’d love to hear back in a few months if/how doing this effects your grocery and food habits down the line.

  4. Bryna September 12, 2011 at 5:23 pm #

    THis was a really great pOst! I liked that you lived a day in different shoes. But even I who am counting every penny, can’t figure out how to do the couponing thing.

  5. Heather September 12, 2011 at 5:26 pm #

    I’m in central Virginia and we have Wal-mart Super Centers for the lowest priced groceries. They have also added quite a bit of organic produce. They have started carrying locally grown produce and even have a board that tells you the name and location of the farm that certain produce came from. We also have about 7 or 8 green markets in the area where you can fresh veggies cheap. The local berry farm also has a stand and carries grass-fed beef cheaper than any store. They also offer great deals on surplus produce. Flour is cheaper than buying bread and we have no outlets near us. A bread machine purchased at a yard sale or Good Will store can be your best friend (and you know exactly what is in the bread, no HFCS!) I had to laugh at your comment about the spaghetti sauce. After reading ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ by Barbara Kingsolver and adopting a more locavore/simplified diet, I have discovered the joy of tomato paste. Yes, for approximately $.49 a can for the good stuff, you can saute your onion, grate a little carrot and add your seasoning to a couple of reconstituted cans of paste. It doesn’t get much cheaper than that. While I admire your commitment to the organic lifestyle, my sister is committed to it as well,it’s great that you recognize it is not affordable for a lot of even middle-income folks. Congrats for taking your blinders off and getting out of your comfort zone and endeavoring to help others! Tikun Olam is something we should practice every day!

  6. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

    great post….love your response back….
    connie

  7. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    Thank you for your classy response to what seems to me to be undeserved criticism. Kudos to you for attempting to understand and empathize with someone else’s situation. NONE of us “have a clue” what it’s like to be someone else or to live a substantially different life. But I think you (and your children) will be better people for making an effort.

  8. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    I recognize what you were trying to do with this post. Empathize. But it came across as highly condescending to the FB fan who is obviously struggling to make ends meet. But to read this post, with all respect, you come across as someone who has never had to choose between groceries or a utility bill. It feels like you got more offended at her response than really understand what she was trying to say. And the fact that you deleted her post kind of proves that.

    She is probably like me. A woman who loves to bake. Who follows blogs and FB posts to dream of what she could do someday to better the lives of those in her family. Your blog and pages are a diversion.

    I love Whole Foods. I would love to shop there. A few years ago, my hubby and I went there one time to try to buy healthy items for our meals. We spent our entire grocery budget for 2 weeks ($100) and we still didn’t buy milk or meat.

    I don’t know what kind of money your husband makes or what you bring home in cupcakes and events, but there are a lot of people struggling out there. I really do love your pictures and recipes, but I think maybe you should stick to what you know and not try to understand something that you can’t.

  9. Brandi September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    You are doing more than a lot of people and I applaud that. I work for a non profit that works with homeless and low income families. One of my duties there is to work in our food pantry distributing food to our clients. It’s run almost like a store so.It’s much more personal than just handing over pre made boxes. I myself am on food stamps even though I work serving those in my same situation. Shopping on food stamps is hard but it can be done. I still use coupons and eat as healthy as possible. I think if more people tried eating on a very slim food budget, more would donate to their local pantries.

  10. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    I think it’s awesome you’re doing this. =)

    Also, in response to “Anonymous” saying deleting her post was a sign you were offended, I disagree. I would have deleted the post as well, not for my own benefit, but to protect the identity of the one who made it. A comment like this is bound to result in a wide range of responses, and I think it was a kind thing of her to delete the post.

  11. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm #

    I completely disagree with the person who said you should not try to understand what you don’t know. When I was a mom of several young children with a deployed military husband…and then later, a mom of 2 adult deployed military sons and a deployed daughter-in-law, I knew that non-military people didn’t “get” my situation. But when they offered advice, condolences, heartfelt wishes…I APPRECIATED their effort to come alongside me and try to put themselves in my shoes. I think that is just showing humanity.

  12. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    I think it it great that you’re “trying on” a different way of shopping and surviving. Maybe some people are sore because they must live with it and unfortunately it’s not just a weeklong study, it’s a struggle… AND it doesn’t feel good to have to depend on it. I agree that most people on foodstamps are not shopping organic ( but I DO know some do personally). It is way cheaper to cook from scratch than from all those cans and mixes! It is a matter of preplanning meals and your time. Maybe try it for a month so you can really get the feel for what it is kind of like!I think a books could be written about this ( hint hint) and maybe has already… In this vein “‘Nickled and Dimed”.

  13. Naomi September 12, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    Just another thought, many people on food stamps don’t always live close to grocery stores…aka south LA (south central). Just another reason why we’re so lucky. Good post. Though I don’t love Walmart, they exist for a reason and offer good deals to those who really can’t afford good produce.

  14. Anonymous September 12, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    I’m not sure where you ladies are from, but your view of food stamps recipients is a bit skewed. And I have to agree with Anonymous (comment #8) your post did come off as condescending. (Food Stamp recipients have no computers or printers, really?) We are just like you. We have homes, and cars. We have mortgages and kids at soccer practice. We may even be on your kids’ teams because we live in your neighborhoods too.

    I think your challenge is a wonderful thing; knowledge will always equal to power. However, your approach and your blatant stereotyping is a bit offensive.

  15. sadie76 September 12, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    I think it’s great you’re trying this, it never hurts to try to understand someone else’s position, even if you by nature will fall short of the reality of walking in their shoes.

    I know lots and lots of food stamps recipients that do not have internet, or mortgages, they can’t afford them, so I don’t think it’s ‘blatantly stereotypical’. These are also the folks who need help with things like school supplies, a lot of areas have ‘backpack programs’ to supply the kids with backpacks full of school supplies because their families can’t even afford *that*, never mind things like internet.

    There is also a sharp uptick in the number of families who are on food stamps because of a job loss or similar situation, who still have all the ‘trappings’ of their former income (cars and mortgages and such), they are in a tight spot at the moment and therefore qualify for help.

    I actually think the only real problem I have with your method of doing the experiment is your enlistment of a coupon professional. You should have found the links yourself, printed what you could find, like anyone else would have to. Most food stamp recipients are the working poor, despite working they still are poor enough to qualify for food stamps.
    I have never met anyone in that situation who had two hours to spend in the grocery store comparing peanut butters.
    If you really want to see what it’s like, don’t let your friend the coupon queen help you or send you links next week. You can still use coupons, but find them yourself like most people have to do…because getting those huge discounts is HIGHLY unusual and certainly NOT the experience of a typical food stamps recipient.

  16. Carol September 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    In case of dry beans, if you have it planned it onto your menu, soak it overnight (or the entire morning, if you are planning it for dinner), and cook it in salted water in a pressure cooker. Just takes about a quarter of the time. Savings in terms of gas, and not buying canned beans

  17. Ellen September 13, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    I just have to comment, this was a bit of a surprise for me:
    Does someone actually put your food in shopping bags for you???

    I live in Sweden, and that’s not something we have here… I guess it’s good to create a few extra jobs for teenagers – but isn’t it very very lazy to not pack your bags yourself?
    I really don’t want to sound like I think you’re doing something wrong, I don’t, but I hope you’re taking this challenge as an opportunity to think about how most people in the world live their lives.

    • Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Most stores bag your groceries for you. Some cheaper stores do not to keep the costs down. It’s not necessarily lazy, but keeps the grocery lines moving and gives jobs. I prefer to save money and bag my own. Besides, when I bag my own, I can organize how I want, and fit alot more and waste less.

  18. Flora House September 13, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    This is great news about your pictures of meals on Facebook. Thank God, I have ever been able to have good food on my table but may be we should take this challenge as you did to feel what it is not to have this ability!

  19. Robyn September 13, 2011 at 4:37 am #

    Girl, I love what you are doing. …and the food stamp thing. It never bothers me when I see people using food stamps when the cart is full of healthy food. On the other hand, when I see chips, cookies, and junk food – I am bothered. I appreciate you showing that you can eat healthy on a very low budget. We are with Convoy of Hope and feed people all over the country …and the world and I see Hunger all the time. I appreciate what you are doing!

  20. Andrew Mark Veety September 13, 2011 at 4:42 am #

    We live in a world where the mayor of NYC can’t ban the use of Food Stamps for the purchase of SODA.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/20/nyregion/ban-on-using-food-stamps-to-buy-soda-rejected-by-usda.html.

    We live in a world where the purveyors of FAST FOOD want to accept food stamps for their products.

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/story/2011-09-05/More-restaurants-are-targeting-customers-who-use-food-stamps/50267864/1

    The idea that someone can’t explore ways to stretch $5 a day to feed a family with actual food without being jumped on for her actions is insane.

    Yes Stef and her family are lucky to have good food on the table. Yes Stef interpreted the rules of this challenge to see how far she could push it. Yes Stef is trying to show that with effort (some that is reasonable and some that might be a stretch), you can buy food that nourishes the body vs food that makes us sick and unhealthy in the long run.

    By all means, let’s ridicule Stef for showing her readers how to shop at Whole Foods at a 71.6% discount, that kind of information is useless, right?

    And while we are at it, let’s ignore the real issue – that real, busy families are trying to survive on $5 per person, per day in this country – I mean, it’s easier to jump in the shit of a lady who usually writes about cupcakes than deal with that.

    Good day.

    amv

  21. Christy @ scrink.com September 13, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    I just want to tell you that this post and YOU (and your friend Jennifer) amaze me. While I would not have deleted the FB comment I would have responded with this very well written piece via a link. You went above and beyond in a very sincere and genuine way to explain and and to try to understand a different point of view. I applaud you!

  22. Anonymous September 13, 2011 at 5:42 am #

    A lot of bloggers and I were exchanging emails about your post yesterday, to be honest, some of us were sick to out stomach reading it.
    I am bless to have food on my table for my family, but me like other families out there sometimes struggle to strech our budgets every month.

    -Do you realize that some families don’t even have one type of cereal to feed their children breakfast before sending them to school every day?
    -Are chain restaurants too cheap for you?
    -Are you some type of hero just because your son’s favorite food is sushi?
    -a $7 bar of chocolate? are you serious, when some families can hardly affort $1 bars as a treat for their kids
    -Is it necesary to point how expensive is the fish and meat that you get at WF? who cares? can you just say we buy at WF?

    Do not try to understand something that you won’t practice in your daily life.

    It seems that you just feel pitty for low income people while feeding your child sushi.

  23. Andrew Mark Veety September 13, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    Good deeds go punished.

    Drive by comments are anonymous.

  24. Johnna September 13, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    Thank you so much for doing this. Even though I occasionally shop at ALDI, I am still having a really hard time wrapping my head around how I am going to eat for a week on $29. Like you, I’ve enlisted the help of a coupon-savvy friend (nothing wrong with that, use the resources at hand as we all should) and will give this a try next week.

    Someone commented on chain restaurants. I am not a fan of chain restaurants and instead choose to support my locally-owned restaurants whenever possible. I also think I get a better value for my dollar at many local establishments, not to mention better food.

  25. Chuck Friedhoff September 13, 2011 at 10:14 am #

    The sad thing is that, its just not enough money- period. Weather your buying bulk, organic, or discount groceries. It’s not enough! I can not explain the stress and anxiety I felt yesterday over food. I cant imagine having the stress of bills or worse a life threatening illness to add to that stress. Im not quite sure of the intended outcome of the challenge, but I am sure we failed yesterday. We failed in planning, purchasing and execution. Yesterday was tough, today seems easier. Easier, because I work in the restaurant industry, where a hungry cook is a dumb cook! To everyone participating : Good Luck!

  26. Kamaile September 13, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    Looks like you started quite the discussion which I think is a good thing. Your efforts are commendable and you have good intentions. Cultivating empathy is something that should be encouraged. Just because you’re not doing it exactly as so-and-so on food stamps doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Hopefully at the end of your experiment, it’s given you a different perspective and steered you to make changes to your life. Maybe this is harsh, but I think if you go back to doing exactly what you were doing before this experiment- that would be the real tragedy here.

  27. Diana September 13, 2011 at 11:31 am #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. Diana September 13, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    Holy Schmoley! This has been quite the post to read. A little about myself-
    1: My family of three has lived on Food Stamps for a little over two years.
    2: We just got off and I’m still exploring how I can even fit grocery into our budget (considering our wages went up JUST enough to kick us off fs).
    3: I LOVE to bake cupcakes.
    4: I like to eat as many organic and whole foods as possible
    5: I am an couponer. So to Sadie76–now you can say you’ve “met” someone “who had two hours to spend in the grocery store comparing peanut butters.” (although, that’s not how it is).
    On that note, I think it’s excellent that she had a friend she could take to the store and took the time to research the deals with her. Even FS users have friends that coupon, or access to the coupon sites that do the research for you. They’re everywhere!

    In my opinion, whether on FS or not, YOU CREATE TIME FOR THE THINGS THAT MATTER MOST TO YOU. That’s how I was able to live off lots of organics while on FS. That’s how I was still able to bake cupcakes. And I love how couponing helped me stretch that dollar further. But, I also stop myself from judging others who don’t choose to spend their FS or dollar in that way. It’s not my place. I’d rather make an effort to attack the advertising of it, rather than the individual who is buying the junk food.

  29. PLEPOMA September 13, 2011 at 11:39 am #

    I volunteer at one of the local food banks on a regular basis. Most of the people who come in for food are grateful for the things that they receive. With that said there are many who comment “my kids won’t eat that” or “don’t you have thus and such?” Like many have said here, there are all kinds of people out there. I think it is good that you are trying to somewhat understand other people circumstances. We all need to be more open minded and realize all people live differently. A ittle tolerance will go a long way. God bless you for at least looking into this situation of not enough money for food.

  30. Lola September 13, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    A year and a half ago, my husband and my combined incomes were close to $180K per year. As of this month, we make $12K per year. I walked away from a career in which I was belittled for being a woman, threatened if I reported the sexual harassment (by the head of North American Operations, no less), and had a coworker knocking on my hotel room door at all hours of the night. While I don’t regret walking away from my job, Whole Foods taste on a food stamp budget is tough. For us, it comes down to what’s nutritious, how do we get the freshest foods, and how do we keep enough money in our pockets to pay our mortgage and insurance.
    Of course you don’t have a clue – none of us do until we’re there. I still don’t have a clue and we’re living it. I’m terrified right now and not used to this sort of fear. The best we can do is research and try to find ways to live healthily, sensibly, and cheaply…until such time as we can return to “normal.” This person who “works with people like me” shouldn’t judge. People like me are so varied and come from all different walks of life. Some of them have lived like this for years. Some of us are just discovering what it’s like. But we’re all going to do the best we can and hopefully learn about life along the way. There is no type of person on food stamps, I now know. Glad you’re trying this.

  31. Aja September 13, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    I love what you are doing! We aren’t on food stamps but we are always trying to save as much as possble when we shop. I don’t like to feed my family crap so I shop at multiple stores to get organic, in season produce, meats that are on sale that week and healthy snacks that are on sale. Hopefully those that do shuse food stamps can put your strategies and recipes to use. Great job!!

  32. Kittie September 13, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

    I can understand why people would choose to be negative – it’s much easier than being positive sometimes. I am greatly appreciative of how honest you’ve been through this process. To start out admitting you are privileged enough to eat well, and then decide to see if you can continue to eat well on a very limited budget, has to be difficult. I congratulate you for being open to criticism, and persisting.

  33. Anonymous September 13, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    As a former employee of a vegetable farm, let me give you an explanation of how selling vegetables to Wal-Mart works.
    First you make an agreement with Wal-Mart to sell them X bushels of produce at Y price/bushel. You spend the entire week ramping up production, bringing in more pickers and hiring more packers to ensure you get your X bushels of product. You are especially picky about the quality of your product, because Wal-Mart’s business represents a dynamic increase in sales and you want to impress them. You have everything picked, packed and prepped for Wal-Mart’s pick-up (they always want to make the pick-up, rather than pay you to deliver) on Friday.
    Next, Friday comes and goes, Wal-Marts truck never shows up. In fact, it doesn’t show up for 4 days, all the while your fresh produce, which Wal-Mart has signed an agreement to buy and pick up on Friday, is rotting in the box. Nobody at Wal-Mart knows why the truck hasn’t arrived, but they’re rerouting to you immediately, assuring you that you will not be held responsible for the losses. Tuesday roles around and the Wal-Mart truck shows up at 6pm and hour after you usually close up and go home. You’ve now paid your entire company for an extra hour of work, as you wait for the promised truck to arrive. It finally does arrive, and it comes with a Wal-Mart inspector.
    Now the fun begins. The Wal-Mart inspector starts going through the produce that you picked and prepped for a Friday pick-up, at 6:30pm Tuesday. He/she immediately begins marking crates as below agreed upon quality, assuring you that you will be compensated full-price for these crates, and that he/she is just marking them so that the produce that is below grade is sent to Mexico or something. Finally, the inspector allows the fruit to be packed into Wal-Mart’s non-refrigerated truck at about 8 o’clock. Again, you’re paying your employees to wait to do this the whole time. They close up the truck, and tell you that you should receive your payment in a few weeks, and have you sign a receipt.
    This is where it gets fun. The truck doesn’t take the fruit to the nearest refrigerated Wal-Mart Distribution Center. Instead, it goes another day out of its way, to unload. When it gets there, the unrefrigerated fruit is inspected again. It’s now been 5 or 6 days since it was supposed to be delivered to the refrigerated distributorship and there’s been about a 30% loss of product. You’re contacted by Wal-Mart and told that the product was not in the agreed upon condition and that they will be deducting a loss-penalty of 50% to your agreed upon price and will not be paying for the 30% of lost product. However, they will keep that lost product and use it in some sort of paste or juice or other form of private label Great Value product that can use the product. You protest Wal-Mart’s unilateral negotiation and they tell you that they can refuse delivery of the product and have it shipped back to you, but you’ll pay for the shipping (Pay Wal-Mart’s trucks, not yours). You threaten to sue, and they remind you that they have a 100millon dollar retainer with the very best lawyers money can buy, and that while you will probably win the case, you’ll be in litigation for at least 10 years (because Wal-Mart’s already paying these guys anyways) and at best you’ll get your agreed upon price, while paying your own lawyers $400/hour for 10 years to sue them for what amounts to $50,000.
    So you swallow your pride, you take your 75% loss on the signed contract and then they ask you if you’ll be able to make your next shipment, as per your contract, Wal-Mart has the ability to extend, however, because China is selling them Lead contaminated produce at 10% what you’re selling, they’re renegotiating the prices for “market value”
    And thats when you send them the stuff you throw out when you sell to Krogers.

  34. Ivy September 13, 2011 at 3:11 pm #

    Wow! You blow me away!
    Very impressive post.
    And your little one is so big now-What a cutie.

  35. Anonymous September 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    Hey there,

    I just wanted to encourage you about this latest project. You may not be able to relate entirely to someone living off of food stamps, but your intentions seem to be good, and your open-mindedness and willingness to actually put action behind your beliefs is inspiring.

    In my current situation, I admit that $29 dollars a week for groceries would be pretty nice. I enjoy your blog a lot, though, and I have never been offended by it in that way. It’s true that I can’t really afford any of your recipes right now, but they’re really fun to read, and I always save my favorite ones in case I can afford them someday. If I’m having a really bad day, or going to bed hungry or something, I just don’t visit food blogs. My situation is different (and a lot better, thank the Lord) than that of others, but my point is that its your not responsibility to adjust your recipes to provide for every situation that might arise in someone else’s life, you know? That said, what you are doing here seems to be coming more from compassion than condescending pity. Arrogant pity likes its perceived “high” position too much to “lower” itself to the condition of others.

    So I hope that might encourage you a little bit! :) I really love this blog — keep up the good work! :)

    ~Nance

    P.S. — Dried lentils are really awesome: they’re filling, fairly cheap, and they don’t have to soak the way that beans do! :)

  36. Jennifer September 13, 2011 at 8:21 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  37. Jennifer September 13, 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  38. Kimberly September 13, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I’m on food stamps right now due to illness and we get $85 a week for food. I buy a lot of organics. There are two of us, me and my daughter. $29 a week? Holy crap, I’m glad I don’t live there.

  39. Kittish September 14, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    I love this blog, it’s one that has managed to stay on my check daily list for several months now, and I’ve gotten some seriously terrific ideas from it. Keep up the good work!

    I have to say that the whole ‘extreme couponing’ thing doesn’t work for everyone. Even if (like me) you do have access to internet and even a printer, more and more places are refusing to accept the print them out yourself coupons due to fraud and abuse by others. None of the local grocery stores in my area accept printed out coupons. Don’t forget to look around for ‘surplus’ or ‘scratch and dent’ grocery stores in your area, they almost always have at least a few useful things in stock at HUGE discounts. I get my tahini from one in my area, at something like a quarter of regular retail, and often my flour (King Arthur whole wheat at half normal retail). Ok, yes, they’ll run out eventually, but I’ll cope with that when it happens.

    I feed my family (myself and my SO) on $200 a month. Break that down and it works out to $25 per person per week. It really isn’t all that tough to do as long as you don’t insist on lots of name brand gourmet and premade stuff. I’ve learned to make 90% or more of what we eat from scratch (including our bread), and I must say mostly it’s FAR better than any boxed premade stuff. I also do a fair bit of buying in bulk where possible, on meats especially, and break it down into serving sized portions to repackage and freeze. Organic veggies really aren’t much of an option here; the very limited selection available in the grocery stores is significantly higher priced than non organics, and there aren’t a lot of local growers (we’re in a small town in high altitude desert).

    Store brands are also often another good way to save money on groceries, but you do have to be kind of careful there. For simple things like raw materials (flour, sugar, eggs, butter, and so forth) they almost always are as good as a name brand and frequently a LOT less expensive.

    I’ve found that I can do quite a bit of truly gourmet cookery with a selection of raw materials that fits quite easily within my budget, and the bonus is that most of the items I buy are useful in a wide range of items.

  40. Anonymous September 14, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    Hi there,

    I have been following your blog for a while, and I appreciate you doing this. To be honest, even though I love to check out your new inventive ideas, I have sometimes been “turned off” by your blog, in the sense that what you make and ingredients you use are just things that are way too expensive for me to obtain. But I still love your blog at the same time. Weird I know.

    You are lucky with the life you are living. But honestly, you and your husband have probably worked hard for it, and you deserve it! I think a lot of the comments here are purely coming from envy. Being able to eat at fancy restaurants, and shopping at stores such as whole foods sounds like heaven.

    Now I don’t hate my life, yes, it can be rough sometimes. After all the bills each month, I calculate a rough estimate of $50 a week for groceries between me and my husband. Not just food, but things like laundry detergent, toilet paper etc. I’m not going to get into WHY, but I do not even qualify for food stamps. And I work at a grocery store as well (our 15% off store brand discount has saved me over and over again), and we have a lot of people with food stamps. I don’t know where this $29 a week is coming from, because honestly, I see people ALL THE TIME that has food stamps and eat 10 times more and better than most people who pay for their food themselves.

    I do realize it’s not that way for everyone, but when I see people on food stamps buying meat from the deli, crab and lobster, NY strip/porter house steaks, it disgusts me. Oh, and not to mention, though not covered for Food stamps, it is really important for them all to get their ALCOHOL for their real money they could have bought food for instead.

    Anyway, I’m going to stop the rants right here, and tell you to keep up the good work. I appreciate what you are doing, though I feel for a better look at how some people have it, an additional week might be good. ^^

    /end rant

    - Jolisa

  41. Courtney September 15, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    stumbled across your blog today via your roasted chickpea recipe and i just wanted to say that this post was very interesting.

    i know it’s hard to, but please ignore the negative comments about you and your family. you shouldn’t be made to feel guilty about exposing your child to varied foods, regardless of their cost. if you are able to provide them, you should. it is ridiculous to imply that you should live simpler just because others do, you are just trying to give the best to you and yours. nothing wrong with that!

    i was really interested to see the whole foods portion of your post because i frequently avoid them due to cost. i’ll try another shop there soon and see if i can get some of the deals you do.

    thanks for this!

  42. Angela September 15, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    Just a tip and I do not know if it works for all areas, but our local farmers market does accept food stamps so for your experiment that might not be completely out.

  43. Beth September 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    What an interesting experiment. Those of us who don’t have to rely on food stamps are very fortunate that we don’t have to make some really tough choices.

  44. Lola September 15, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

    I just got our approval for food stamps today. $29 per week for a family of four doesn’t go far. How in the world do you shop for four people on $29 per week? We usually spend close to $100 per week. We don’t have the time to do the extreme coupling that some others do…we have to try to work whenever and wherever we can – and not let on to those around us that we are completely destitute.

    How do we choose between food and medical care? Our friends won’t understand how we can live in a nice home (which would be a huge loss if we sold in this economy) and own nice cars (which we paid for and aren’t worth much) but can’t do anything.
    I’m afraid…

  45. Morrison McGee September 16, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Hi firstly I just want to say I love what you do in general but especially for raising awareness for things like this. Secondly I was interested in what you said about buying bread and pasta sauces, when I was a young teenager my dad left us and I had to look after my mum who is mentally ill.
    Most of our money went into paying the mortgage and legal fees so our weekly food budget wound up being around £15 (about $23) per week. As such I got really good at budgeting and spotting deals and like you found that coupons where an absolute boon however I personally found that things are much cheaper when cooked from scratch if you use the right ingredients. For instance I started baking my own bread at the start of each week and found that a loaf that will last two people a week cost around 25p (about $0.37) similarly making a simple tomato sauce from tinned rather than fresh tomatoes costs 45p ($0.70), both far cheaper and much nicer than their store bought counterparts.
    Things also got a lot easier when we started growing our own food especially herbs, garlic and chillies which are all extortionately priced in supermarkets.
    Another tip for pet owners is to stop shelling out on tinned food and use raw meat and vegetable off cuts, we started doing this with our cat and not only did she prefer the bits of offal and tips of chicken wings we gave her but it saved us a lot of money too.
    Good luck to anyone out there struggling, I know how hard it can be to live healthily on so little.

  46. Anonymous September 16, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    The bigger question should be how can the richest Nation in the world have so much hunger? 1 in 6 Americans don’t have enough food to eat. That’s over 50 million people and most are children. How did we get to this place and how do we start to turn things around?

  47. Jane September 18, 2011 at 3:32 am #

    Good on you for trying this. One thing that none of your correspondents seems to have mentioned is planning in advance the week’s meals. It takes a bit of discipline, but really reaps rewards in terms of keeping costs down. I’ve been doing this with my family of 3 for several years now – our latest grocery bill was £50 (and never usually goes over), but that included replenishing most of our herbs and buying dried fruits and rosewater for my partner’s turn at cakebaking at playgroup next week. We very rarely buy meat or fish (I’m vegetarian but my partner and daughter are not) as it really bumps up the cost. This week’s menu? Aloo gobi, lentil dahl, rice & naan, penne arrabiatta, sausages & boulangere potatoes (in the slow cooker), risotto, butterbean stew & dumplings and a butternut squash and parmesan soup. Nothing wrong with Aldi, we check before shopping what their bargains on fruit and veg are and plan our menus around what’s in season and cheap. Plus we grow a few bits and bobs in the garden. As the plastic bag tax arrives in Wales in a couple of weeks, we certainly won’t be looking for anyone to bag our goods when it’ll add to the bill! Thanks for the recipes, always good to get inspiration for new dishes on a budget.

  48. Faye September 18, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    Honestly, I’m a little peeved by the whole “hunger challenge” in general.

    Up until very recently, I’ve mostly been on government assistance of some form or another since I was a child, and I agree with the anonymous poster. Most of the people on the Hunger Challenge have no idea at all.

    Then again, I think that allowing them $33/person is a lot of money. I’ve never gotten more than $26/person, and that was at the most when we had three people (my boyfriend and I, and a roommate) in the house with zero income. To be perfectly honest, the only reason why we let the roommate stay with no rent is because he boosted the food stamps up high enough for us to get a balanced diet.

    Growing up, we did a lot of shopping at Walmart (there was no Aldi, and the organic food stores are still prohibitively expensive), and we did extensive coupon clipping, but there were many, many times when we were still short.

    There were also times when the state would refuse to renew the food stamps, leaving us with no budget for food, and forcing us to visit soup kitchens, food banks, and to steal and go digging through grocery outlet dumpsters in search of food. We learned how to cut locks on dumpsters, how to talk to the cops so we didn’t get arrested for it. I was nine or ten at the time, so I was small enough to crawl inside to get to the stuff, despite the dangers of broken glass and god-knows-what.

    This was the only place where the organic store was useful, since they threw away the most variety of food and didn’t have a compactor. We could get entire flats of wheat grass that had gone to seed, cardboard boxes full of bottled and canned goods because one had ruptured during shipping, even things like cheese and yogurt that had gone slightly beyond it’s expiration date.

    Other stores threw out other equally edible items. For example, most commercial lunch meat is so packed with preservatives that it’s still perfectly fine after it’s expiration date, even if it’s been sitting in a dumpster all day.

    So, yeah. The hunger challenge is pretty much worthless in terms of “raising awareness”, and it’s really nothing more than a bunch of rich folks doing something slightly uncomfortable so they can go “Oh, those poor people, not being able to afford only organic food. How sad.”

  49. Joelen September 19, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    ALDI usually gets a bad rap because of it’s low prices or perhaps how they were put up in various neighborhoods targeting certain demographics. With the economy today, ALDI has boomed to put up stores in all areas regardless of demographic. What folks may not know is that many of the well known brands at national grocery stores often have a private label brand of the same exact product that is packaged similarly and sold only at stores like Aldi/Trader Joes. If one pays attention, you can see and taste the similarities and in the end, folks pay much less for ALDI version of products compared to the same exact products with more popular packaging. Another thing to note is that shopping at corporate grocery stores will generally cost more than independent or even ethnic grocery stores.

  50. Anonymous September 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm #

    first of all, hi from austria/europe!

    i’ve just come across your blog and have to say that i am still wondering about the cultural differences concerning food (usa-middle europe).

    the awareness here in austria about organic and local food seems to be so much higher than in the states… i really was kind of surprised to see that aldi does not offer any organic food in the us.

    (just as an info: what most nations (such as germany) call aldi is called hofer in austria. anyways, the logo (and of course the products they offer) are the same.)

    hofer (sorry, i’m not at all used to calling it ‘aldi’) is one of the supermarkets that has low prices, very good quality and a huuuge range of organic food (some are fairtrade as well, such as bananas, coffee, chocolate,…). local products are numerous as well.

    here are two links to the organic products hofer offers (concerning the currency: 1€ must be around ~0,75$ right now)

    http://www.hofer.at/at/html/product_range/sortiment_ursprung.htm

    http://www.hofer.at/at/html/product_range/15149_15154.htm

    (please excuse my english, it’s 4:51 am here (i can’t sleep) and i’m obviously not a native speaker…)

    best wishes
    jasmin

  51. Mary Ellen September 23, 2011 at 6:31 pm #

    I buy my produce from our local co-op. It is http://www.communityhelpingscoop.com and saves me tons of money. $21 buys almost 40 lbs of produce. I don’t get to choose it – but it is whatever is local and in season with the exception of bananas which are included but obviously not local. Check them out and if you don’t have a local pickup, you could start one in your area.

  52. Marie March 12, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    I am very late on this post but I wanted to put in my two cents.

    I was a food stamp family for 5 years. While we made about $2500 a month we still had 4 mouths to feed and that is not enough money to pay the bills and feed a family where I live.

    I learned to set a montly menu which dropped the food bill dramatically. I do not have a WF but have had the privelege of going to one. I would find a way to buy from them if we had one. Until then, I grow my own tomatoes and herbs in my basement. I buy in bulk as much as possible. I coupon when I can. I make most foods from scratch. We take advantage of cereal sales, baking sales, meat sales, etc.

    We are still poor but off food stamps. I do not believe in using them if you can manage on your own.

    We did have cell phones (cheaper than house phone believe it or not), and internet (I’m in school), and cars etc. Some do not.

    The amount you get depends on your state, your income, your resources, and how many children and whether or not someone is pregnant or in school.

    I don’t care how much people spend on their food, or whether they are not learned in the ways of others. We should educate, not criticize.

  53. Anna March 28, 2012 at 9:02 am #

    I admit right away that I didn’t read every comment. I would like to say, however, that I spend less money on groceries now than I did when we were on food stamps. No, I can’t afford Whole Foods without coupons (which I use in small numbers). I shop at WalMart Market and Aldi. I don’t buy prepared foods, or boxed foods very often. I’m sure its different in other states, but the sheer amount of money we were given each month was absurd.
    I think your experiment was interesting, but I dont think you really don’t have a clue – you come across as an intelligent human being and the comment you responded to was uncalled for.

  54. Jen September 30, 2012 at 11:51 am #

    Our family is on a very tight budget. Though not on foodstamps, I know that we currently would qualify for assistance. We simply aren’t deprived, though. We are very fortunate to live in a rural area where we are capable of growing almost all of our produce. We never use prepared foods because I love to cook and they are so expensive. I’m also a total tightwad, so where as many families would be struggling much more than we are, we aren’t doing all that bad. We throw away nothing. We always eat leftovers. If I have extra rice, I make a dish that I can use it in. When we have meats with bones, I use them to make stock for a soup and freeze it. We strictly adhere to the old adage “Use it up. Wear it out. Make do or do without.”

    I’m not saying this to brag. I’m just pointing out that even at different income levels, people can have drastically different situations. We are very fortunate to have the skills and resources to make our life work despite our budget. Sometimes we have to get creative, but I don’t mind.

    That being said, I wanted to mention that I used to coupon like crazy. I still use coupons here and there, but I have to point out that it is generally NOT cheaper to use coupons than to make things from scratch unless you live in an area where there are grocery stores that double dollar coupons. (We used to, and it was worth it then.) Now, it is often times cheaper to make things from scratch and grow/raise our own foods.

    Understandably, most people with proportionately small incomes aren’t able to do this for many different reasons. But, while the coupon craze rages on, it is important for people to understand that it is not always the cheapest or healthiest way to stretch your food budget!

    I think it’s great that you did this challenge, if for no other reason than I wish more people would make an attempt to be more frugal.

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