Independence Card

“What the hell are you trying to prove? Living on food stamps sucks? I think we all know that.”

Jan-Michael Sacharko

Jan-Michael Sacharko,

This was said to me a week ago as I explained the #SNAPchallenge concept to a friend and colleague of mine who later explained that she had been on food stamps for a short time some years ago. She now runs another homeless/housing organization and sees what her clients go through everyday so she knows something about this topic.

This challenge and the results aren’t for her; they’re for me and for people who don’t know what it’s like.

But her comment did make me consider why I am doing this. I did not go into it with a preconceived notion of what I would learn. I went into it to learn. Whatever the daily & weekly results, I wanted to learn something.

The challenge question imposed on us externally was

“Can you live as though on food stamps?” I have discovered so far that I can live but only if I change my lifestyle completely.

I need to shop very wisely, prepare meals ahead of time and have them in ready-to-go containers, and really plan out my day. If I don’t have meals pre-planned, I go hungry. My work days – like so many other NPO-ers I know – quickly go from 8-hour days to 14-hour days. Events & emergencies crop up. Meals & food I had with me don’t quite stretch far enough to keep me going and I can’t run home for a quick bite.

I have learned quite a bit. Here are some of my lessons.

Lesson #1: More protein! My body was literally crying out for protein with my carb-loaded diet that first week. By stretching out food from week one, I could make smarter choices for week two, and then week three. My diet is a lot better than it was.

Lesson #2: Food is awesome! That little foodgasm that the Man Vs. Food guy has every week, I have with every bite of food now. Flavors and aromas are much more powerful than they were before. Even simple foods explode with flavor that I hadn’t noticed before. Downside: stinky colognes on fellow Metro riders are also much more noticeable.

Lesson #3: Wasting food is really stupid. When I see the large portions of food ordered at restaurants and then thrown out, I have actually gotten angry. Working with a group of children, making food for the homeless recently, I was upset with every pretzel that hit the ground as they stopped paying attention to what they were doing.

In the past three weeks, I have eaten things that were not quite ready for the trash can and found ways to appreciate them. Before this, I often let produce go bad in my fridge because I forgot I had it. No more.

Lesson #4: Get my act together. I let other things in my life control me, especially my job. I love my job. I have been in homelessness/housing work for almost a decade and I truly love it. But I need to make more time for me to stay healthy: mentally and physically. I need to learn to say “no” a little more often to things requested of me. I need to relax and find my time.

Cooking the past few weeks has helped. I enjoy cooking and it forces me to do just that for a while. (mono-tasking is awesome) It’s also necessary in this challenge: if I don’t prepare meals ahead of time I don’t eat. If I let my work day go from 8 to 14 hours everyday, it will affect me negatively. The SNAP challenge was not a diet plan, but I have lost nearly 15 pounds in the 19 days that I have been doing this due to my poor choices. (I have, however, saved a lot of money. I normally spend over $125 a week on food & drink due to all the events I attend and long work days. In the past 19 days, I have spent less than $90 total.)

This was supposed to be a 14-day challenge but Heather and I decided on day 3 that if we were not physically ill on day 13 we’d go 28. This was in part to answer critics who doubted the realism of the challenge because it was only two weeks, “anyone can do that.” But it was mostly because we were learning and re-learning things about ourselves that are valuable.

I hope that the changes I make in my lifestyle will continue…whenever I decide to give this up.