The Realities of a Limited SNAP Diet During Finals

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Stephanie Margelowsky

I went grocery shopping on Sunday morning with the intention of spending as close as possible to the $29.40 limit I had for the week. I spent about an hour typing prices into my calculator while walking my cart back and forth through the aisles attempting to plan meals that would last me the week without losing all nutritional value, variety, or flavor. I checked out with the total after tax coming to $29.10. I was satisfied with the extra thirty cents allowing me to use salt and pepper on my eggs in the morning. As I unloaded my few bags, I took note of the store brand names that adorned almost all my products. I was also crushed to realize that although I had bought eggs and two sweet potatoes, I had forgotten butter. No way was thirty cents going to cover that deficit. Frustrated I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with the softest white bread I’ve eaten since I was a child and decided to deal with it later.  

Monday: I was already frustrated with my limited options. I microwaved my egg in a bowl with a little water to give myself a scrambled egg with a dusting of pepper. With no milk, cheese, or peppers, it was a disappointing morning. I did manage to budget a rotisserie chicken and had some of that for lunch with some white rice. For dinner I had a PB&J and a handful of grapes.  I’m not sure if I’m not hungry or if I just don’t want food that is this remarkably bland.  

Tuesday: I decided to skip the egg debacle for a cup of coffee. I had gotten one of those single-pot packets of coffee, so I brewed it, and stored it in the fridge for the remainder of the week: no sugar or milk, just a single cup of black coffee to get me through my morning. By noon I was legitimately hungry. I opened one of my two cans of soup and savored the saltiness. I downed a big glass of water, a few more grapes and I was feeling pretty good. With another simple sandwich for dinner, I was not looking forward to tomorrow.  

Wednesday: This has been a mixed bag of emotions. I started off my morning with a reheated cup of black coffee. I had packed myself another PB&J and forgotten it on my kitchen counter along with my water bottle. Not having eaten anything, only able to drink water from a bubbler, and having class until 1:00 pm, I was on edge as I walked past the vending machines and saw all those neatly organized rows of processed sugars and carbs. When I got home, I munched right through my sandwich as I boiled a big pot of noodles and made myself spaghetti. The canned meat sauce I bought was bland but honestly, not bad. Had I had my pantry at my disposal, it would have been even better. A half a can of peaches for dessert and I was content.  

Thursday: Inspiration had hit, and I decided to hard boil eggs for breakfast. This was an improvement to my morning. I had two of those little guys with a piece of jelly toast and my cup of coffee. Now, I still had to basically chug the coffee, as three-day old coffee isn’t great, but necessary. For lunch I made a bunch of rice and had half of my other can of soup. It wasn’t amazing, but I have had worse. I had some leftover spaghetti for dinner. This was a pretty good day.  

Friday: I cheated. I started off my day with two hardboiled eggs and decided to skip the coffee. I took ibuprofen for the caffeine headache I hadn’t really been able to shake. Work was busy so I accidentally skipped lunch. My mom surprised me by visiting from Georgia for this night only. It was expected that I join my family out for dinner. Not having seen my mom in about six months, there was no way I wasn’t going. After much back and forth over the dinner table, I decided to eat with them. It is hard to tell your mom no when you’re hungry, and the budgeted food was all at home. The surprising thing was how guilty I felt the entire time.  

Saturday: Disappointed in myself, I decided to go back to the challenge for the day and finish my week out. I ate my eggs, popped another ibuprofen, and while doing my homework managed to finish off the bag of grapes. I cleaned the remainder of meat from the rotisserie chicken, boiled and smashed a sweet potato, and added a side of rice for a healthier but incredibly bland dinner. The lack of seasoning was extremely disappointing throughout the week, but tonight was worse. I think this had to do with both eating out the night before and knowing that a sweet potato is not good without anything on it.  

I can’t help but say that that I am glad to be done with this week. It was not easy and everyday day more unenjoyable with the lack of selection, fresh produce, and general seasoning. There was a loss of quality and self-identity each day. While I may love sugar and carbs, I enjoy a varied diet throughout my week. I didn’t eat any vegetables other than from Campbell’s soup and half of my fruit came from a syrup filled can. This shows a serious food industry problem. Fresh produce should not be a privilege. Could I survive off this long term, yes, but no one should have to.