Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, New Jersey, spent last week living on food stamps. He had $33 for food for the week.
Some people think it’s a publicity stunt because he announced he is considering running for governor. However, I think it is still a legitimate question. Could you live off of $33 for a week of food, and what would you buy?
Here is how Booker did it, and I don’t think he chose very wisely.
“Booker’s experiment, launched Dec. 4, got off to a rocky start when he spent most of his $33 budget on several cans of beans, a large bottle of olive oil, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and bags of salad. Posting a picture of his food for the week on Instagram, he admitted he could have spent his money better.”
” ‘I am regretting not thinking through some of my food choices for the week. In hindsight, investing more of my SNAP budget in eggs, and perhaps some coffee might have helped me later in the week. I am growing concerned about running out of food before this is over–especially as I try to resist the urge now to have another sweet potato before I go to bed tonight,’ Booker wrote on LinkedIn.”
“Throughout the week, Booker has written about his empty stomach. On his third day, he opted to eat his dinner of peas, black beans, cauliflower and broccoli in small bites late in the day to “allay some of his hunger pains.” Over the weekend, as his food supply dwindled, Booker lamented accidentally burning one of his last sweet potatoes—making an already meal even smaller….”
“I’ll be honest with you. I take so much for granted, even going to Starbucks and buying a cup of coffee is more than my daily food allowance right now. And so we really need to expose the problems on a national level by denigrating programs that actually empower our economy in the long run,” Booker said.”
My family has never had to live on food stamps (thank God) and I don’t ever want to. I think it would be terribly stressful trying to make the money stretch and buy nutritious foods and interesting foods. But as someone who shops for groceries every week, here’s what I think I would have chosen.
I think you have to focus on foods with lots of fiber to help you feel full, and I think you have to look for inexpensive proteins like milk and eggs. I think you also need to focus on non-processed foods because they will be cheaper. But you definitely won’t be getting anything that is organic, and it will be a very bland, repetitive diet. I think you have to be careful about getting enough protein and not getting an upset stomach from vegetables. (The homeless guys that lived on our block in New York never wanted vegetables or fruit. They said it would upset their stomachs.)
I think you buy a dozen eggs. If you don’t buy organic or free range, you can get them fairly cheap. You would have almost two eggs a day. I also think you buy a big bag of rice, big container of oatmeal, dried beans (cheaper than canned), apples and bananas. I guess margarine for your fat (or butter if you could find a good price). You could cook with it and use it in you food.
I think you would also buy milk – again not organic – you could probably get it for less than $4 for a gallon, and it is very filling.
And maybe a can of instant coffee for caffeine? (I am going to look for at prices when I go to the grocery store.)
Before I would have said peanut butter and a loaf of bead but peanut butter has gotten so expensive. Maybe I would had in peanut butter and jelly and a loaf of wheat bread.
I’m not sure you could buy any meat. I guess the chicken would the be least expensive but would still take a hefty chuck of the $33.
UPDATE TO MY POST: So I went to the grocery store after I wrote my post and took some notes on prices. I shopped at a Safeway, which they don’t have in Georgia to my knowledge but I think it’s probably comparable to a Publix. I could probably have found some of this stuff for less at the Kroger or Walmart. With that said, here is what I found:
Eggs — basic eggs, not organic or free-range – $1.99 for large dozen
Wheat bread- brand name was on sale for $2 a loaf.
Margarine -- 99 cents (Butter was on sale for $2)
Gallon of Milk — $3.39 is the one I would have chosen. It was not organic but does say no steroids, hormones or antibiotics for the cows. There was a cheaper brand at $2.77 but does not have the pledge about hormones on it so that makes me nervous.
Rice — 5 lb bag was $4.49. You might choose to save some money at go with the 2 lb. bag for the week at $3.19. (The brown rice was $4.99 for a 5 lb bag and should be more filling.)
Black beans (dry) 1 lb. bag $1.49
Peanut butter store brand 28 oz. jar $4.99
Jelly store brand 18 oz. $2.39
apples 3 lbs $3.99
bananas $1.62 bunch of bananas
I forgot to look up oatmeal and the instant coffee.
If I add up all the bolded items, I’m at approximately $26.08 without my oatmeal or coffee and I am not sure if I need to leave money over for taxes. Do they tax food stamps? Those items would feed you but it would be a sparse and very boring week of meals. (I would say oatmeal and fruit for breakfast. PB&J and fruit for lunch. Rice and beans for dinner. Could swap the eggs in for dinner or breakfast to change things up.)
The other quandary here is you can save by buying in bulk but it cost more at the time. Also then you have to distribute the bulk out over time.
I mentioned the idea to the young woman cashier and high school bagger and they were very interested in what the mayor chose. The young cashier told me that he chose horribly and that she was emancipated from her parents at 15 and that would have chosen much better than that. The young man who was bagging my groceries told me that he would buy protein bars. He said he knows they sell them for 99 cents each and that would fill you up. I told him I thought it was interesting that he went for a processed food instead of an all-natural food. So it was interesting to hear young people’s opinions on it.
So what would you buy if you only had $33 for a week of food for one person?