Living on $42.00 per Week

July 15th, 2007

You may have recently read about a couple of state governors and a congressman or two who have taken up the challenge of living on $21.00 per week for food. That’s the food budget currently available to someone eligible for Federal Food Stamps. We’ve been giving this serious thought and have decided to take up the challenge for ourselves.

For the next week, we’re going to contribute our experiences—what it’s like to live on $21.00 per week. There are two of us, so for this experiment, we’re going to assume that our household is entitled to food stamps and allow ourselves $42.00 for the week.

One of the congressmen, Tim Ryan (D, Ohio), has taken his challenge so far as to eschew lunches at the Capitol—a legitimate perk for all members of Congress. Rep. Ryan’s self-imposed austerity means he will also forgo the comestibles at the fundraisers and cocktail parties that are part of his weekly Washington beat.

We confess we’re less likely to turn down a meal or snack, should we be invited. But we will remember that most people dependent on food stamps do not receive the invitations we get for art gallery openings and wine tastings, where the hors d’oeuvres can be substantial.

We begin this social experiment with an advantage over many food stamp recipients who live with the real threat of hunger and malnutrition. Food is our métier. We’re cooks and we both grew up in families that sat down together for meals virtually every night. We watched our parents and grandparents grow and prepare food. Today, we are self-employed writers who focus on food and culture. We conduct cooking classes, and one of us has worked in a professional kitchen.

The pleasure of food—the buying, preparing, and sharing—is a focal point in our lives. And because we work from home, we try to make time to sit down together for a meal twice per day. We may take breakfast on the run, but lunch and dinner are sacrosanct—times to enjoy conversation as much as the food prepared, however simple the meal may be. And sometimes, it’s very simple—avocado mashed on toast…a hard-boiled egg and tomato salad…

Our everyday meals tend to be what popular media would term “Mediterranean”—in our case, mostly Middle Eastern and Italian. But because we’re both omnivores without food allergies, virtually nothing is off-limits for us. We make frequent forays into Indian, Chinese, and Caribbean cooking as well. And while one of us can inflict serious damage on the dessert bar at an all-you-can eat buffet, neither of us eats a lot of sweets.

Nevertheless, we’ll do our best to stay within the guidelines, and we’ll post our results frequently—at least every other day. Included in our posts, will be recipes for some of what we’ve prepared. We’ll also report any trips for food shopping.

We have a few other advantages over most in real need. As foodies, we begin with a well-stocked larder. For a week’s cooking, we won’t need to buy olive oil, garlic, spices, dried herbs, mustard, vinegar, flour, or many other common pantry items. We already have coffee and tea. Some 1% milk, eggs, and cheese are already in the fridge, and we’ll try to account for those within our $42.00.

Another favorable factor: we own cars. They give us a huge advantage over someone who needs to seek alternative transportation for grocery shopping. As drivers, we can shop at the Red Barn in Bradenton, where a week’s supply of fresh produce can cost less than $10.00. And although it may not be very significant for this short-term challenge, we have a membership at BJ’s. We note it here, because it’s where we bought that 3-litre bottle of Spanish extra-virgin olive oil and the 4 lbs of day-old Ecce Panis ciabatta bread, now in our freezer.

Finally, we have a kitchen—the refrigerator, stove, oven, toaster-oven, and microwave all work. Though we can always pay our bill with FPL, we are frugal with our use of energy.

Links to the rest of the posts in our series:

Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 1
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 2
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 3
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 4
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 5
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 6
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Day 7
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Summary
Living on $42.00 Per Week—Redux

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