Feeding America CEO Bob Aiken & the SNAP Challenge

Reposted from Feeding America

#SNAPChallenge by CEO Bob Aiken

SEPTEMBER 12, 2013

Feeding America CEO Bob AikenAs a leader of a domestic hunger relief organization, I know a lot about hunger by the numbers: the 49 million people in America that face food insecurity, the 3.9 billion pounds of groceries the Feeding America network distributes to 37 million people each year, the more than 60,000 agency locations where our clients can receive groceries.

There is also 48 million, the number of individuals who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to help put food on the table for their families. And $1.50, the average SNAP benefit per meal—the number that will be the center of my personal challenge next week.

Getting beyond the numbers this Hunger Action Month, I will take the SNAP Challenge September 15-21 and feed myself on a budget reflecting today’s average SNAP benefit, which is $31.50 for one week. Other leaders and advocates in the hunger-relief world will be engaging in this experience with me, including Ron Shaich, founder and CEO of Panera, Matt Knott, Feeding America’s president, and many food bank CEOs across the nation.

The SNAP Challenge originated as a way to bring attention to the value of this essential federal program in helping feed those facing hunger, and to show the limits of the benefits. With cuts already in place to bring the per-meal benefit under $1.40 effective in November, it is truly alarming that Congress is now considering additional cuts that could total $40 billion.

Cuts in any amount would be devastating to those who are already struggling to feed their family. The charitable hunger relief system would simply not be able to make up for the number of meals that would be lost through the proposed SNAP cuts.

The SNAP Challenge is not just about staying on the budget; it is about attempting to budget for healthy meals that can sustain a person throughout the day. My experience with the SNAP Challenge won’t replicate the challenges many SNAP participants face, such as lack of transportation, health issues or dietary restrictions, and the strain of raising a family on limited resources. But by participating, I hope to better understand a few of the burdens faced by our clients and inspire others to take action.

Join me in creating conversation about SNAP benefits by taking the SNAP Challenge, or by following and sharing my experience with the challenge here and on twitter at@Bob_Aiken.

Together, we can help educate people about SNAP, fight stigma associated with the program and ultimately help feed our neighbors in need. Together, we can solve hunger!

Almost Impossible

Posted by Ben

The SNAP challenge was one of the hardest things I have tried. Only living on $4 worth of food a day is almost impossible, in my eyes at least.

Day 1 meal – I bought bread for $1.69, tuna for 0.99, and an apple for 0.99 (I cheated and had two slices of pizza).

Day 2 meal – I bought peanut butter and jelly for a total of $3.34 and a pear for 0.99, and used left over bread from day one (I was still starving so I made more food that exceeded well past 4.00).

Day 3 meal – I still had left over bread so I made grilled cheese sandwiches (Cheese was 2.50), and I got a broccoli on sale for $2.00.

Day 4 meal – I ran out of bread so I just went to wendy’s and got dollar items (Which I read later, you were not allowed to do).

As you see above, these are not nutritious meals and it was extremely difficult to eat fruits and veggies for four days on only four dollars. I had to cheat on everyday because I was still starving.

Challenges that others may face

Posted by M. Curran

I took on the SNAP Challenge, living on 4 dollars a day, and it was definitely a challenge. I was very unsuccessful at developing a balanced diet with the use of such small funds. My food purchases consisted of peanut butter, chicken, ramen, a huge bag of cereal and milk. The food was so repetitive and bland. Looking back now, I should have budgeted better to purchase some vegetables and fruit. Additionally, something to eat with the peanut butter would have been nice, rather then just eating spoonfuls. I ate cereal for breakfast everyday and peanut butter for snacks. The chicken was cooked the first night and I did my best to portion it out to eat nightly with ramen. One night I skipped my ramen and chicken dinner and just went to bed.

This has opened my eyes to how other people live. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the food, however I did appreciate the opportunity to experience the challenges that others may face.

Hunger is a basic need

Posted by Jacob Collins

Upon finishing the SNAP challenge, I have realized several things:

1. Living off of $4.00 per day, while possible, is extremely difficult.
2. Expanding on that, living a healthy lifestyle and consuming the nationally recommended diet is (in my opinion) impossible.
3. Hunger is a basic need that, if unsatiated, begins to overshadow every other aspect of life, making it difficult to perform even the most basic tasks.

I’m thankful that I don’t have to continue to try to make due on such a small budget, but now I am even more concerned with trying to make sure that no one should have to do that.

Share more of what I have with others

Posted by Pat Barnes-Cannon

I realized I had purchased food prior to this and decided to use these days a little differently.  I did not go the store but used only what was in my home
already.  I cut everything in half including fruit.  What I am finding is for many of us, we take what we have for granted.  By cutting my meal in half each time I have enough for another meal.  So my plan is to continue until I run out of most fresh/frozen and canned foods.  I am learning I need to cut back, not waste, and share more of what I have with others.

I also believe that if more people could use gardens and share it would definitely provide healthier meals at a fraction of the cost.

Left over Lentil Soup

posted by Fran Stach

As I noted in my first blog, I went over my allotted $16.00 for the 4 days by $.96, but I decided to follow my menu for the 4 days to see if I would 1) be able to, 2) feel hungry or deprived, and 3) experience anxiety or resentment not having more to spend or to eat. I found my menu more than adequate to meet my hunger, probably because of the bulky foods I chose (see the following list), but I definitely felt deprived as I missed my morning coffee, sweets, and the variety I usually have in my weekly eating.  I found it took more of my time to portion out my foods, so I could be sure to last the 4 days.  Here are the foods I had purchased and used in my 4 days:

1/2 # oats  $.55
4 lg. bananas $.55
1 gal. FF milk $1.89
WW spaghetti $.75
32 oz. jar marinara sauce $1.00
1 onion $.25
1 # bulk carrots $.33
3 oranges $.65
1 lg. potato $.65
3 sm. lemons $ .36
Olive oil $1.99
Bunch cilantro $50.
Bunch organic chard $1.99
Head Romaine lettuce $.99
2 Roma tomatoes $.26
1 sm. avocado $.25
1 chicken thigh $1.14
1 can black beans $.69
1 c. dry lentils $.65
2 cans light tuna $1.54
TOTAL:  $16.96

As I mentioned in my earlier blog, I met my nutritional needs for all but calories, fat and Vitamin D.   I had food left over: lentil soup with potato, chard, cilantro, and lemon; 4 cups of milk, 1/2 # of carrots, 1/2 pint olive oil, half the spaghetti, 2/3 jar of marinara, and 1 orange.

I was so focused on food!  I would not want to spend so much time thinking about food.  I am beginning to have an inkling of what SNAP recipients deal with in providing food for themselves.

Just barely a quarter left

Posted by Minh Le

Tonight ended the four day challenge for myself and admittedly I cut it pretty close. $15. 72 spent, just barely a quarter left. I had opted for a strategy of buying all of my food on the first day. I scoured for sales (among the hoard of grocery store ads that I receive in the mail).  I must say that I have missed the variety. The difficulty was certainly trying to get as much nutrition as possible; it would be simple to just sit around and eat hot dogs for 3 meals a day for all 4 days. That being said, I did decide to include hot dogs in my rotation of food (a dollar for a dozen ten hot dogs seemed like such a steal). In
the end, I ended up going with a carton of eggs, pasta noodles, the hot dogs, a gallon of milk, a bag of rice and as many greens as I could buy (2 bags of assorted greens is what I ended up with). I assumed that I would be allowed to use my previous baking goods (such as oil, pots and my rice cooker) and the water I used would be from the tap when cooking. Though I felt that I had a decent amount of options, there were really only two things I could do with the materials I had: various forms of eggs with rice (you can get more mileage with the eggs if you just add milk to them when scrambled) and hot dogs with the pasta (interesting note: you can poke the solid noodles through cut up hot dogs and then cook them together). Greens were eaten sparingly as a measly attempt to balance my diet. In spite of this plan, I struggled to ration through the days; I am not what you would call a conservative eater and on top of a workout regiment (which I called it quits on day 2 because it was too straining) I found that the quantity was lacking. By “cutting it close” near the end, I certainly meant it as my last meal was almost entirely rice with one egg. I would certainly say that this is an experience that I would not voluntarily conduct again (as educating as it was). It was exceptionally difficult to stomach (pun intended), and I certainly understand that living on a daily basis like this could be exceedingly stressful.

More grateful with every passing SNAP Challenge that our community has the Food Bank.

Posted by Donna Vinning

I think the etiquette of the challenge is to donate to the food bank the difference between what we normally would have spent on food for four days, and the pittance we spent on the challenge. I can do better- I’ll donate what I am GOING to spend in the next week as I enjoy with new appreciation getting whatever I want to eat. Hannah and others said it so well- being in the grocery and looking for something affordable. Not tasty, nutritious, or interesting. Something affordable. Hopefully filling. More grateful with every passing SNAP Challenge that our community has the Food Bank. Please keep up the good work.


Posted by Alec


I tried eating on four dollars a day and unfortunately could only last two days. It was probably one of the hardest things to do ever! I can do diets and make diet restrictions but just trying to spend only four dollars a day was very difficult. I would snack on little foods that I would buy on campus such as a bagel for about 1.80 and a snack bar which cost about a dollar. I was starving by the end of the first day but wanted to try for the second.

Even though I failed at trying to live off four dollars each day, it was an experience that I will definitely tell people about. 

It helped me realize that people are actually trying to eat off that much a day and I think people need to come up with ways to combat poverty and hunger

I noticed that the variety was very limited

Posted by Natalie Marciales

Four Days and Four Nights

natalieTonight officially marks the end of the SNAP challenge! I celebrated by going out to eat and spending almost as much money on one meal as I have over the past four days. Over the course of this challenge I have definitely become more aware of the day-to-day struggles that many people face.

When grocery shopping for this challenge I had to spend time planning out my budget before I got to the store, something that I usually don’t put much effort into. I also noticed that some foods I buy for convenience were much more expensive. For example, I usually buy small prepackaged tuna kits for just over two dollars; however, I opted for buying cans of tuna for just under a dollar. Even though SNAP does not cover fast food and pre-made foods, I can definitely see that when looking for convenience and trying to stay on a budget it is much more cost effective for a family to order off a drive-thru dollar menu than buy pre-made 6 dollar salads from the store.  This observation leads into my next point…

When trying to select healthy, cost-effective options from the grocery store I noticed that the variety was very limited. Finding cheap, lean proteins proved to be the hardest struggle. Tuna seemed to be the only lean protein I could eat and still stay on budget. Bananas were a good fruit option but most berries were off limits. However, as I entered the junk food aisle I was greeted with various family-size snack bags costing around two dollars each. I did not get tired of the foods I ate after four days but I could definitely see how keeping an interesting and balanced diet could prove as a challenge over longer periods of time.

Overall, this was a hard but great experience! It has definitely made me more aware of the things I take for granted. No one should have to constantly struggle to provide their families with enough nutritious food.