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Food bank leaders challenged to eat on $4 a day

Monday, September 17, 2012

Imagine having just $4 a day for food. Believe it or not, but that's the average an individual receives from the SNAP program, formerly known as food stamps.

Houston Food Bank CEO Brian Greene has challenged himself to live on the same food budget for a week.

He said, "The average benefit for food stamp recipients is about $4 per day. So for seven days I am basically going to get by on $28."

Greene and other board members are participating in the SNAP challenge for one week in order to raise awareness.

"Putting yourself truly in not just someone else's shoes, but in this case someone else's stomach," Greene said. "This is what life is like for a large number of Americans."

According to the Houston Food Bank, nearly 3.5 million Texans get assistance from SNAP and 49 percent of those are children. But unfortunately, US House proposals under consideration for the 2012 farm bill could cut nearly $16 billion from the program. That would eliminate approximately 300,000 Texans from participating in SNAP. Those are hard numbers to swallow because many feel $4 a day for food now just isn't enough.

"Unfortunately, I'm told this is not a sustainable diet," Greene said.

Even with help from a food bank dietitian, putting together this $4 a day menu has its challenges.

"It would be easy if I just filled him up on ramen noodles, but I'm not," said registered dietitian Ann Svendson-Sanchez.

Svendson-Sanchez says to eat on this limited budget the right way you have to make compromises.

She said, "I took this as a challenge of what can we do, to do this nutritionally, and balanced. And making sure he can reach the guidelines for Americans on eating healthy."

Some dietary tricks involve using inexpensive substitutes.

"Plain yogurt actually tastes like sour cream," Svendson-Sanchez said. "It's not going to be a lot like mayo (mixed with tuna), but you're going to add some Tabasco to it, you're not going to notice the difference."

So for the next week, tuna and yogurt lunches may not be what Greene had in mind when accepting this challenge but it will give him the nutrition needed to get through to the next meal.

"This was designed to be reasonably nutritionally balanced, without making it so I couldn't stand it," Greene said. "Now I get to see if I could live with it."

There are a few rules Greene has to abide by. He's only allowed to eat the food he purchased, and not accept free food from others. He's also not allowed to eat food already in his home, with the exception of spices and condiments. Next week we'll check back in with Greene to see how he did.

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