Building on Chris’s recap, I wanted to share my reflections from the Welfare Food Challenge. Organized by Raise the Rates, the challenge is to live off a food budget of $21 per person for 7 days – what the average single person on welfare has after housing and transportation costs. And we did it! Our food was boring, we lacked certain nutrients, and we put off a number of social activities, but we survived for one week doing part of what many do for a lifetime.
We spent a lot time planning and cooking. Prior to the start of the week, we scouted out the cheapest items at the cheapest stores. We meticulously wrote down the cost by weight and made a spreadsheet when we got home. (Details of our shopping trip here.) Since most meals involved dried beans, we had to plan at least 24 hours in advance to soak and then cook the beans before making the meal. We’d often come home from work, make dinner, eat, and then make lunch for the next day. This was particularly difficult when we had things to do in the evening.
In some ways we had a very different diet than most people on welfare. I think this is mostly attributes to the differences in our lives. I live in a nice two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen. I have a day job and middle class friends. I enjoy food and planning meals. All of this means I’m willing to take the time to plan out how to stretch $21 over a week. If I was forced to eat one meal out, even if it was fast food, I would have blown my budget. Or if I had given in to stress and, say, had a drink or ate some chocolate, no eating for 2 days.
I definitely felt low energy and grumpy at times. After did Chris the nutritional breakdown, we realized how low our fat and calcium intake was. We were probably also missing vitamins like B12 which doesn’t effect us right away, but can cause permanent damage in the long term. Nutrition and mood are so closely linked. And our mood effects what we’re able to do in a day.
Mostly I found that this challenge changed my relationship with food. I spent a lot of my time thinking about or preparing food, and yet it brought me no enjoyment, it was a chore, it caused me stress, I ate so that I wasn’t hungry. We usually cook a fair bit, but also enjoy eating out. We like having friends over and showing how good vegan food can be. The one think that didn’t bother me, but seemed to come up for others, was social isolation. Maybe I’m just used to eating different food than everybody else. I found it a good excuse to talk about welfare rates (as opposed to my usual, why being vegan is awesome).