Failing to Spice it Up

Each day I’ve been eating a bagel, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, a banana, a second fruit, ramen, cheese, and eggs, rice, and beans.  Yesterday was the last day of bagels and ramen.  I’m hungry, like a hippo.  A hungry hungry hippo.  Possibly the green one, if you want specifics.  I have more than enough eggs, beans, and rice.  I should have bought less of those things.  I’ll remember that for the next time we do this challenge (Wait, What?  #SNAPChallengeOkanogan will live on?  Why yes, yes it will.  Not only in our empty stomachs, but in our county).

It is much easier to go without adequate food during the week while you’re at work.  Today was my first real day off and all I wanted to do was stuff my face!  One more day.  And, during this day, I shall be reduced to eating quite a bit of rice and beans and the rest of my eggs.

The biggest thing that I have learned so far is that cooking skills are necessary if you want to do this right, and don’t want to fail The Challenge because of a boring flavorless menu.  My cooking skills are nonexistent.  I mean, what I’ve been eating has been bland.  I think I’ve added salt once or twice to the bean and rice mixture.  All I know for certain is that Tapatio has kept me from the brink of madness.

The cool thing is that there is lots you can do with rice and beans without having restaurant-worthy skills!  In fact, I have discovered skillet meals!  There’s a cast iron in my kitchen, and it will become my new best friend.  The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services publishes this neat little booklet that helps you eat well within your SNAP benefit allotment:  Page 10, the Master Skillet Recipe page, is my favorite.  All you have to do is add beans, veggies, sauce, and rice to the skillet.  I obviously needed to look at a diagram to understand the importance of the sauce.  It is, after all, one of the main Master Skillet Recipe categories!

There are plenty of organizations that publish materials to help people spend their SNAP benefits wisely.  Most of them recommend buying in bulk, buying canned items, and using sauces and spices to liven things up.  Of course, one must have a kitchen to do these things.  Not everyone has access to a kitchen, nor the time it takes to cook a healthy meal.  The question then becomes, how do you survive on such a small budget while not being able to cook in a kitchen?




Food Bank Day

Friends!  Friends!  Remember that $0.11 that I had leftover from my grocery shopping trips?  Last night I was in a meeting at Whistler’s Family Restaurant in Tonasket, WA, completely surrounded by plates of fries, sandwiches, and salads drenched in ranch dressing, when I pulled out this:


Yes, that’s right!  I bought a yummy ginger candy for $0.12 from the Tonasket Co-Op right before the meeting.  Of course, it was discounted because I was a Co-Op member, but still, I only went $0.01 over the budget.  I have to say, that was the most delicious candy I have ever eaten in my life.  It was also a magical candy!  All of that greasy temptation melted away as I chewed it, knowing that I had kept to my budget and shown a bit of self-control.

On that note, the first thing that I shall be eating Sunday morning is pancakes.  I am just saying.

Today was our Food Bank Day.  The Okanogan Food Bank is open Monday and Thursday mornings from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.   I usually get a bag of food, but not today!  If you have ever wondered about what people get at a food bank, here’s a picture of the kinds of items that were handed out today!


One of the big issues with Food Banks is that they don’t get a lot of fresh produce.  Living in Okanogan County, we are surrounded by farms and orchards with an excess of produce, but often times it just goes to waste.  You see, there is a grading system of sorts.  If you have a few rows of pear trees, and during their development, the weather gets really funky, it can affect how the fruit grows.  If the pear looks funny, say, oblong instead of what you might think of as “pear-shaped,” then the orchardist cannot sell it.  It isn’t even worth picking because the orchardist is losing money.  The interesting thing is that those funny-looking pears are perfectly tasty and healthy!

This is where gleaning comes in.  OCCAC has a project called Food For All that is dedicated to bringing fresh produce into the Food Banks of Okanogan County and into people’s homes.  Gleaning is one of our biggest programs.  Our volunteers go out into orchards and farms and collect this superficially damaged (ugly but tasty) produce and bring it back to the Food Bank!

Also, Food Bank Facts brought to you by Esther Pomerantz, yet another AmeriCorps homie:


OCCAC, 424 2nd Ave. S., Okanogan, WA

Open Mondays-Thursdays 9am-11am

 (Except Holidays) 

Food Bank Fact Sheet

  • The Okanogan Food Bank is a non-profit organization that receives food donations to distribute to those who can’t purchase enough food to avoid hunger.
  • Food Banks work very hard to provide their clients food that is edible and within expiration date.  For example:  Protein, Dairy, Fruit, Grains and Vegetables.

Community Support

  • Volunteers are a vital part of our Food Bank’s success!  Food Banks rely on volunteers to carry out day to day operations like sorting and packing food, stocking shelves, rotating stock, and distribution.
  • The Okanogan Food Bank relies on the generosity of thousands of people who donate time, money, and food throughout the year to help feed the hungry.  Thank you!
    • Walmart:  Donates 10,000-20,000lbs of food a month!
    •  Safeway:  Donates baked goods & holds periodic food drives!
    • Farmers & volunteers who participate in gleaning programs:  Donated 9,000lbs so far this year!
    • Northwest Harvest:  Donated 74,025lbs over the past year!
    • Members of the community/local organizational food drives:  Yes!  Every donation makes a difference!
    • Monetary donations!
    • Government  agencies/grants:  WSFP, CSFP,  EFAP, & EFSP!

Community Need

  • On a monthly basis, the Okanogan Food Bank alone feeds approximately 3,500 people!
  • Many people live so close to the poverty line that when an emergency occurs – a car breaks down or a family members becomes ill – they need food assistance.
  • Sometimes people become homeless and need emergency food assistance.

Distribution Facts

  • The OCCAC houses not only the Okanogan Food Bank but also serves as the distribution center for all of the food banks in Okanogan County!  Please visit the food bank nearest your home.  (For a list of Okanogan County Food Banks, please visit

Contact Us:  For more information on how you can help, call OCCAC 509-422-4041.

Day Four of Snap Challege

I wasn’t feeling all that well 9/11/13, but I stuck to my guns and kept the challenge going forcing myself to eat what I could. So here’s the skinny of what I ate today!

DAY FOUR of SNAP CHALLENGE ($3.51 carryover)



Overnight oatmeal (recipe on day two) $0.70

Coffee  $2.50


Apple Free from Neighbor



Ground Turkey=$4.48

Spaghetti Sauce=$1.50

Penne Pasta=$1.28 x 2=$2.56


Garlic bread=$1.50

Total Meal=$11.52 /3=$3.84 per person


Total for the day=$7.04 ($4.22 + $3.51=$7.73-$7.04=$0.69 left over!)

 There it is! Happy Challenging!

Supplementing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

As I sit here at my desk sipping plain hot water from a mug, I cannot help but feel the absence of a tea bag.  My tea stash is calling out to me, telling me that the problem can be easily remedied, but, I must resist!  Besides, I have found that the best way for me to deal with being hungry this week is to drink lots of water and spend extra time in the ladies room.  I should get a magazine or a word puzzle of some kind.

I’m also quite lucky that my coworkers are so supportive of my Challenge.  It isn’t like they are waving free food in my face, or taunting me with pastries.  No, those things never happened.

So let’s talk about the details of this SNAP Challenge in comparison to reality.  My food and beverage budget was $29.56 for the week and I am not allowed to accept food from other sources (other participants have chosen to do The Challenge differently, and that works just fine!).  In the end, I’m hungry, and rationing my food out is getting harder and harder to do.

Some necessary background information or, a long-winded introduction, you be the judge:  I am an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) that works here, in sunny Okanogan, WA.  Being a VISTA means that I work with an non-profit to increase its capacity to manage volunteers and follow through with projects.  We are kinda like the trainers’ trainer, if you get my jist.  We develop programs and train volunteer leaders.  It is super fun, by the way!  I do love my job!  Here’s the thing though, we are paid a stipend that matches the poverty level of our location, we are eligible for SNAP benefits, and WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE ANY ADDITIONAL INCOME.  This means that we can’t have a second job or make stuff and sell it on Etsy!  In short, being a VISTA is an experience in poverty, not just a job working to fight it.

In reality, I already receive SNAP benefits because being a VISTA makes me eligible, but I am also blessed because I work at a food bank and live with wonderful people who garden and are willing to share their bounty.  My diet is supplemented by what the Okanogan Food Bank hands out twice a week and by gardening and generous people.  Most of that expensive fresh produce comes to me free of charge which really helps me stretch my SNAP benefits each month.  SNAPChallengeOkanogan is making me value these other sources of food tremendously.  The question is, how do people get enough to eat in situations where there are no food banks nor avid gardeners, farmers, or orchardists?  Without these other programs, it is very difficult, especially for children, who are less likely to succeed in school and in life when suffering from malnourishment.  We’ve got to support programs that get food to hungry people, and teach them how to grow their own!

And on the fun side of things, I bet you didn’t know that SNAP benefits could be used to buy some of this stuff!  How cool is Alaska?  This neat diagram was copied from The Christian Science Monitor because I thought it was pretty.


How much free food do you normally get from different sources during your week?

Day Three of SNAP Challenge- A Day of Remembrance

Today is 9/11, and although this challenge is an eye opener for many and important for communication of hunger issues in America, it is also important to take a moment and remember those who fell victim to the terrible events of 9/11/01.In a sense all of us were victims that day, whether we were biological family or friends of those fallen or not we were all one family that day. In a strange way our pain as a nation was beautiful, because for a short moment in time there was no color, religious affiliation, or class ism, we all were the same, all in mourning, as one. So today on the anniversary of that tragic event please take a moment of silence and remember those lost.

Here is what I ate yesterday….
September 10, 2013
DAY THREE of SNAP Challenge $6.53 carried over

Overnight oatmeal (recipe on day two) $0.70
Coffee $2.50 My splurge!

Mid-Morning Snack
Instant Oatmeal (4 packages) $1.72 for box of 10=$0.69
Apple Free from Neighbor

2 ham sandwiches =$2.32
Apple Free from Neighbor

Pancakes and Sausage
Bisquick $3.28 for entire box of 40oz I used 1 cup (8 oz)=$0.66
2 turkey sausage patties $0.37

Apple Free From Neighbor
Total Cost Today $7.24 (6.53 + 4.22=10.75-7.24=$3.51 left over!)

The Necessity of Ramen

I have to tell you that yesterday got a little hairy.  I didn’t really have anything for lunch, and when I got home, I was so hungry that I binged on 3 eggs, beans, and rice.  That’s when I decided to take the advice of a fellow challenger, and buy me some ramen.

Yes, ramen!  It isn’t something that I would normally consider a meal, but my goal was to fill my tummy with savory goodness for cheap, not eat only healthful foods.  My stomach was rumbling most of the day yesterday, and it was incredibly distracting at work and at home.  I just needed calories; 190 calories, to be exact.

Actually, after having consulted a number of community members who have lived on an even smaller food budget in the past, ramen was the number 1 recommendation.

With $0.91 left in my weekly budget, I went to Walmart and bought 4 packages of Maruchan Ramen for $0.20 each.  With 2 Oriental Flavor packages, 1 Shrimp Flavor package, and 1 Creamy Chicken Flavor package, I am now confident that I can make it through the work week!  They fill you up just enough to be considered a hearty lunch.  Oh, and I’ve only got $0.11 left!  I don’t think that I can buy anything edible for that much…not even ramen.

At the very least, Maruchan is honest about what you get.  They do specify that the creamy chicken is a “flavor.”  How they arrive at that flavor is a mystery to me, but hey, it lived up to my very low expectations.

All of that aside, I think it would be interesting to mention an article I found:

There are articles all over the internet about people who have failed SNAP Challenges and what they learned.  This one is my favorite so far, especially since I made 2 of the mistakes that the author did.   In his article, Jared Bennett concludes that “seasoning is key, fresh isn’t always best, and there are many more barriers to healthy eating than cost alone.”  Perhaps I should not have spent all that money on fresh fruit?  Perhaps I should add something to my bland rice and bean mixture…

Have you hit any bumps in the road during your Challenge?

Was ramen already on your menu?  If not, what did you buy as cheap calories?


Sept 9, 2013


DAY TWO of the SNAP Challenge

Drank a cup of tea at work, from the community cabinet-FREE

Went to the Food Bank this morning as well


I ate overnight oatmeal

¼ c oatmeal-from food bank

¾ c  (2 oz) yogurt from a 32oz container that cost $2.48=.16

Frozen raspberries from my yard=FREE

1 tsp of Chia seeds= spice Does not Count

2 sausage patties from a bag of 32 each patty represents an ounce=.37

2 slices of bread of a loaf of 24 slices costing $1.98= .17

Total Breakfast Cost=$0.70



Leftover Potato Soup-Does not count again

2 slices of bread= .17

4 slices of ham of a 16 oz package =.99

Mustard does not count

Apple from neighbor FREE

Total Lunch Cost= $1.16





Chicken Enchiladas

3 cans of chicken $5.82;

Cilantro=.44 for whole bunch I will use ¼ so=.11

Onion=Free from food bank

Flour Tortillas 10 total of a 30 count package $4.58=$1.53

Enchilada Sauce $1.75

Cheese Soup 2 cans $2.50

Shredded Cheese ½ bag $1.09

Rice-Free from Food Bank

Total Dinner Cost= $ 1.28 per serving I ate one serving

Total Cost Today= DAY TWO I have $2.94 left over plus the $3.59 from DAY ONE!!!