Three Days In

The June Food Stamp Challenge continues.

I was going to cook something interesting for dinner tonight but when I saw that we still have chicken, corn on the cob, sausage and eggplant parm left over from earlier JFSC dinners, plus a salad I made for Mr. Husband’s lunch that he didn’t take to work, I said heck no. Leftovers it is. The salad may have cost $1 counting the lettuce, tomatoes, green onion (from my garden), celery and radish (from previous week’s trip to the farmers’ market), plus homegrown alfalfa sprouts off my kitchen counter. Cost of the salad: $1. Everything else is already accounted for.

Breakfast: Oatmeal, coffee (from pantry*), hardboiled egg. (I ate a bigger breakfast since I would be busy until a business lunch meeting.) No snack.

Lunch: Business lunch out (receipt saved for tax purposes)**

Snack: Coffee, fresh fruit
Dinner: Leftovers as mentioned above. Tonight there should be four of us, which would make it $0.25 per person.

Look at me doing the math!

*Pantry food

I am using some pantry food and not counting it against part of the expense — basic spices, oatmeal (which I buy in bulk or on sale and have a stock of) and I have a couple of things in the freezer that we are eating through. One of those items was tomato sauce I made last summer and froze, from our own tomatoes. However, I am not counting any meat or other fresh items — my freezer is not fully stocked, just a couple of items we can use. I am not counting the leftover ice cream, for example — partial containers that will be empty by the weekend. I am also not planning to purchase more, on this budget, unless we can “afford” it. Good food first, then treats.
Something I had not considered is that at a food-stamp budget level, I would be totally eligible to get food from our food bank (Alameda Food Bank). In the past (when I was a client), the food bank gave coffee, peanut butter, oatmeal, a bagful of bread/baked goods, a bagful of canned goods and a certain number of meat items per family for 1 month. A large bag of fresh produce is also given, plus additional USDA surplus items like powdered milk, blocks of cheese, frozen pork or sausage, frozen blueberries or pudding cups (weird items, never the same twice). We don’t go to the food bank, but we had some stuff in the pantry. Perhaps it all evens out if you count in my pantry supplies. (Any thoughts? Post a comment below.)

** Business lunch

Should this be counted as part of the food budget or not? Well, I rarely go out for lunch, and in this instance, it was rather last minute. Since this amount is a tax write off, it seems fitting that it not come out of the monthly family food budget. It is, after all, part of prospecting-for-future-business/income. However, since it was food that I ate, and money from my pocket, I will keep it in mind for the month’s total food expenditures. Business lunch: $31 (Again, thoughts on this topic? Should this be a food expense or not?)
Gleaning, or Found Fruit
Last night Mr. Husband and I went for a walk after dinner and found that a house in our neighborhood of rentals had been vacated. The side gate was open and there was a fully laden lemon tree. Since the house will stand empty for 1-2 months (usual in our ‘hood), we helped ourselves to some lemons. We have 10 beautiful, fully ripe Meyer lemons to add to our food and beverages this month, for free.

I firmly believe in gleaning from the neighborhood or environs of town. In recent months I have picked fresh mustard greens from a field, rose hips from the meridian of a city street, and a different kind of mustard greens from another vacant house. We also continued to harvest green garlic and artichokes from an abandoned spring garden in a neighborhood empty rental. This food would have otherwise gone to seed. But we enjoyed these taste treats with abandon.
I think a resourceful person should take advantage of what food is available. As summer comes, there will be fruit literally dropping on the ground in some neighborhoods, from lychees, plums, olives, pears and apples, apricots and almonds. Later in winter, there will be all kinds of citrus fruit. If I really were on food stamps, I wouldn’t miss the obvious opportunities, and further, I would make friends with neighbors with fruit trees or vegetable gardens, if I didn’t have one myself.
No room for a vegetable garden doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy good veggies. Offer to trade pulling weeds or watering for a basket of zucchini and tomatoes. Offer to pick the fruit in exchange for half of it. The seasonal fruits can be made into jam, fruit leather (fruit rollups, they call them at the store, but those are full of HFCS, preservatives and artificial colors); applesauce or other baby food; frozen for later snacking or pies, pickled, and so on. One of the reasons we have a vegetable garden is to help feed our brood. That’s why I have frozen tomatoes in my freezer from last year, as well as green onions and herbs in the garden right now. It feeds us, costs little to nothing except time and energy, and it makes simple food taste better. I like to trade my jams, pickles and produce to others — for computer repair, advice, yarn, fruit from their trees, or for good will, if nothing else. On a food stamp budget, barter and trade is a very good thing.

Just because you’re on food stamps doesn’t mean you are helpless, or a pawn in a dastardly game. I encourage anyone who is hungry to think outside the box, to use a cliche — what else can you eat and how can you get it, at no cost to your food budget? What can you make for yourself, like fruit leather, that is better for you than store-bought and “free”?

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4 Replies to “Three Days In”

  1. Julia, I really like what you say about “just because you’re on food stamps doesn’t mean you are helpless.” I think it is very easy to feel that way and to feel that the “world” wants you to feel that way. In truth, with a little creativity one rise above almost any challenge. You didn’t mention dumpter diving–a staple of the “freegan” school of thought. I know it isn’t for everyone, but the older I get the more I hate food waste. It just seems that someone ought to be able to use what others won’t if so inclined. Thanks for a fine post!

  2. When I was similarly poverty stricken, I did dumpsterdive~at least for some things. And even now I’ve been known to pull something out of a dumpster or two, but not consumables.


  3. PS Julia, good job pointing out about found fresh foods. They make up a considerable amount of my diet.

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