Could you make it on food stamps alone? New York City Council member Eric Gioia drops by to talk to Dr. Oz about spending $28 a week on food while participating in a "food stamp challenge."
Politicians across the country, including Eric, spent a week using just $28 as their food budget—the same amount of money the average food stamp recipient is given every week. The effort is part of the nationwide "food stamp challenge," whose hope it is to raise awareness and push the Department of Agriculture to increase funding for the federal program in the 2007 Farm Bill. Eric says he struggled on the meager budget. "I thought it was going to be tough, but it was so much more difficult than I thought it was going to be," he says. "It is really virtually impossible to eat a healthy, satisfying diet on just $28 [a week]."
For his trip to the grocery store, Eric says he sought the help of a mother of two, who has been feeding her family off of food stamps for years. "We walked in and looked at the fresh produce aisle, and she said, 'Turn your head—you can't even look at that aisle, you can't afford anything there,'" he says. While there was some fresh fruit and produce on sale, Eric says he only bought a few pieces and that whole grain bread and milk were too expensive to buy. "What I immediately found out was that the only things you can buy is what is on sale—so the choices have been made for you before you even walk through the door." With pasta, white bread and peanut butter as his staple foods for the week, Eric says he gained three pounds and felt awful. "The diet was so terrible—I was cranky, I was hungry, I was obsessed with food," he says.
On the fifth day of the challenge, Eric says he ran out of food and had to visit a food pantry so he could eat. "I was so thankful for it that I actually made a [monetary] contribution to the food pantry—not to take food away from somebody who is desperately needy." Eric discovered that going to the food pantry is something many people on food stamps do frequently, because most people run out of food stamps by the third week of the month.
Eric says he ended his week of the challenge by lobbying members of Congress to raise the minimum allotment for food stamps by $5 per person, per week. He also says the program should be indexed for inflation—the amount given to participants has not changed since 1996. Eric says he hopes the government takes action and betters the program, especially for the sake of the children who have to live off of it. "A boy or girl who doesn't eat right doesn't learn as well, doesn't grow as well and will face a lifetime of poor health and a shorter life at that," he says.