SNAP Hunger Challenge: Hunger, Poverty and Obesity
Sep. 21, 2010 10:13 pm
Updated: Oct. 16, 2010 3:05 pm
I was recently approached by folks at the Eastern Illinois Foodbank and asked to participate in the SNAP Hunger Challenge. SNAP, the
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a government assistance program to help low-income households pay for food. SNAP used to be called the Food Stamp program. The SNAP Challenge asks people who don't need the program to try to feed their family on
the support SNAP provides, $4.50 per person per day. I immediately agreed.
We are truly in dire straits (see the statistics at Feeding Illinois). But the more I thought about the problems of hunger and poverty
in Illinois, as well as across the country, I kept coming back to one thing, poverty is also a key indicator for obesity and related diseases.
I recalled an incident from a number of years ago when I was visiting a major metropolitan area and an associate and I were approached
by someone who was clearly impoverished, and probably homeless. This person asked us for money and we both said no. As we walked on, my associate turned to me and said something along the lines of, "As fat as she is, she can't be that bad off. It's probably
I wish I had known then what I know now, that science has shown a clear link between poverty, the availability and costs of healthy
foods, education and obesity.
- The least expensive foods are usually the most processed and the highest in fat, sugar and calories.
- Poor neighborhoods have a higher concentration of fast-food restaurants than do their more affluent counterparts.
- Poor neighborhoods have a lower concentration of grocery stores than do their more affluent counterparts.
- Fewer fresh and minimally processed foods are available in the stores in poorer neighborhoods than in the stores in more affluent neighborhoods.
- Obesity and its related health problems are significantly more prevalent in poor communities
For more see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the work of University of Washington Professor Adam Drewnowski.
The SNAP hunger challenge asks you to try to live for a week, or even a day, on what a recipient gets, that $4.50 a day per person
or a meal at $1.50 per person. Instead, I have decided to take one of those meals and compare it nutritionally and in cost to the same meal as I would prepare it in a healthier fashion. I believe recognition of the issue of the quality of food available to
the poor is just as significant as the availability itself.
I decided to assume a family of four and a simple meal of spaghetti with meat sauce as a meal that is both relatively inexpensive,
satisfying and would be considered by most as relatively healthy. I went to our local Meijer grocery store and found:
1 pound Meijer spaghetti (8 servings): $1.09
1 bottle Meijer spaghetti sauce (6 servings) $1.98
1.25 pounds (the smallest package available) 70 percent lean ground beef (5 servings) $2.48
Salt and Pepper to taste
This menu brings us in just under the $6 budget we have for the family and even, potentially, gives us leftovers for lunches. According
to NutritionData.com it also gives us:
- 695 calories, 341 of which are from fat
- 38 grams of fat (58 percent of the recommended daily allowance)
- 4 grams of saturated fat (68 percent of the RDA)
- As well as, 13 grams of sugars, 30 percent of the RDA for cholesterol, 25 percent of the RDA of sodium and 21 percent of the RDA of fiber.
This also assumes that our family will follow the recommended serving sizes. The studies cited earlier show it is more likely that,
because of a lack of education regarding healthy eating habits and serving sizes, that it is more likely that all the ingredients will be consumed. If that's the case, this meal gives us:
- 962 calories, 364 from fat
- 41 grams of fat
- 14 grams of saturated fat
- As well as 20 grams of sugars, 30 percent of the RDA for cholesterol, 36 percent of the RDA of sodium, and 35 percent of the RDA of fiber.
Four years ago, my family would have thrown on some Parmesan cheese and a couple slices of garlic bread.
Today, my sauce would include:
30 ounces crushed tomatoes
Tomato paste (I'd use about a tablespoon)
One half each
8 ounces Mushrooms
3 cloves garlic
Balsamic vinegar (a couple tablespoons)
Red pepper flakes (teaspoon)
12 ounces ground turkey breast
salt and pepper
Whole wheat spaghetti
This dish would be impossible under the rules of the challenge because it requires you to figure in the full cost of seasonings
other than salt and pepper. Not that it matters that much, I exceeded the $6 for my family of four simply with the tomatoes, paste, whole wheat spaghetti and turkey.
This recipe works out to:
- 411 calories, 104 from fat
- 12 grams of fat (18 percent of RDA)
- 3 grams of saturated fat (15 percent of RDA)
- As well as only 3 grams of sugars, 30 percent of the RDA of cholesterol, 5 percent of sodium, and 8 percent of fiber.
There is no doubt that we must find ways to address the issues of poverty and hunger in this country, but it is also clear we must
find ways to improve the affordabilty of and access to healthier foods.