Wrapping Up

It is hard to believe that Lent is nearly over.  But here it is:  Wednesday of Holy Week, with only a handful of days left of this experiment.  The last 36 days we have explored together what it means to live within the limits imposed by the federal SNAP program.  And while I cannot say that we aren’t looking forward to its end, what I can tell you is that this experience has deeply shaped our experience of food.  A few reflections on the experience so far:

1) Healthful eating is not just a moral issue, but a justice issue. When your ability to buy food is limited to 3.85 a person a day, your moral and ethical commitments to eating a certain way are put to the test.  And it is one thing to say you like to eat local, but it means another thing entirely to choose to forgo meat because you cannot afford the local stuff. Organic is great, but not if you can’t afford enough to feed your family.  Our family had to make decisions like: would we rather eat meat ethically, or go vegetarian? Is organic milk important?  What about eggs?  The experiment was a reminder that for many folks, these ethical struggles are real, but they get far more complicated when you have less to work with.

2) SNAP may seem generous, but only if you have time. As I mentioned in a previous reflection, our family was able to eat fairly well on this experiment, but that was due in large part to the fact that we enjoy the luxury of time to plan and cook, and access to affordable, good grocery options. Two parents with good jobs and flexible schedules can afford to cook their meals at home, can take turns, can plan out the meals so that we stay within our budget.  Given that there is evidence to support the notion that people experiencing poverty are locked into a scarcity mindset, it is fair to assume that the luxury of time that my spouse and I were able to utilize in this experiment likely paid a huge role in our success.

3) SNAP can make a huge difference in the quality of a person’s life.  It was recently revealed that the proposed Congressional Budget would strip SNAP recipients of, on average, 220 meals a year. Add to that the reality that many states are electing not to extend SNAP benefits through the waiver to work program, and we face a reality in which millions of people struggling to rise out of poverty might fall right back into it. Given that SNAP may be one of the most important anti-hunger initiatives in the country, it strikes me as a grave injustice that the proposed national budget seeks to strip it of its effectiveness. SNAP, when readily available to families in crisis, provides a safety net in the form of access to decent, healthful food for families.  As a resident living in the metro area of Philadelphia,  these programs are a matter of life and death.  Philadelphia enjoys the dubious honor amongst the ten biggest cities in the country of having the highest rate of citizens living in deep poverty, which is defined as an income at half the poverty line, or roughly $10,000.  Our number of residents living in deep poverty hovers around 12%, which amounts to twice the national average.  That would be distressing enough, but it turns out that nearly a third of those living in deep poverty are children.  Cutting SNAP benefits by 220 meals per person in a city where most children reliably receive 2 meals a day during the week from their school lunch program is a recipe for disaster.  Given that hunger is linked to school drop out rates, community incidence of crime, and even prison populations, this is bigger than public health.  Feeding children and their families is not only cheaper, but it is more effective and better for the economy than the austerity that proponents of cuts declare is necessary to balance the budget.

*steps off the soap box*

Now, clearly this has given me a great deal of food for thought.  It has also made me more engaged in food justice issues.  Because of our experience with SNAP, I found myself more politically engaged–writing letters to my congress person about the proposed cut in SNAP benefits, for example.  And the more I think about it, the more that I realize that this experience was helpful for me and my family perhaps because it helped us to grow in empathy. In the greek, empathy  can be translated generally as “to suffer with,” which implies a relationship.   And the more I think about it, the more I come to realize that this experiment was about relationship for me.  As a pastor, I have been trained to care about the poor, but how often do I suffer with the vulnerable? How often do I put myself in the position of those with less than myself, and try to understand?  I don’t think of myself as a heartless person, but I know that I have not always gone out of my way to understand the experience of people unlike myself.

And yet that is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus calls us to.  “Pick up your cross and follow me,” he says.  In other words, die to yourself, and join me on this journey of healing and justice and peacemaking, not on behalf of the comfortable, but on behalf of those who are sick, who are suffering, who cry out from war zones and from the margins of society. Stand with them, suffer with them, and see if you don’t discover that Christ is there with you.  See if you don’t find your LIFE when you let go of YOURSELF.

Don’t get me wrong, I can’t wait to eat candy bars with abandon.  But I also can’t help but think that it won’t truly be Easter, Resurrection won’t feel real to me, until the hungry are fed, the poor are lifted up, and those who yearn for justice find peace in the land.

Talkers and Doers

holyclothIf there is one thing that the Lenten Season does for us as Christians, it is this: it puts in stark relief the difference between talking and doing.  Over the course of the season, we are asked to reflect on what it means to be not just hearers of the Word, but doers as well, to work on becoming the sort of people who nod their heads at Jesus and then pick up their cross (whatever that means) and follow Him.

That is what our family had in mind when we decided to spend Lent 2015 living on SNAP benefits.  As a progressive-minded Christian, I knew lots of facts about hunger in the United States.  I knew, for example, that children are inordinately likely to bear the burden of hunger in this country.  I knew that the recession has resulted in a sharp increase in families who must depend on welfare to eat reasonably well.  And I knew that SNAP benefits had been declining on average throughout the recession as lawmakers in cities and states (and our nation) passed on the burden of deficit budgets to the poor.

But knowing doesn’t necessarily translate into doing. I knew all of this, but I wasn’t engaged in actions that would have a tangible impact on hunger issues.  Our church generously donates to the Warminster Food Pantry, a local cupboard for folks who fall between the cracks, but I often forgot to put a can in the basket.  And our youth group travels down to a local ministry in the city that serves the homeless on a regular basis, but I don’t always go.

Sure, I have my reasons  excuses (do two kids under 4, with all the chaos that includes, get me a little sympathy?), but at the end of the day, I knew that I had the time to make a difference.  The reality was just that it was easier to talk about the importance of hospitality and compassion and justice while doing very little to change anything on my own.

All of this is to say that the past few weeks have been an interesting lesson for me.  As I have mentioned before, this experiment isn’t so much about trying to replicate food-insecurity as it is about creating space for greater understanding and compassion about the challenges inherent to the struggle.  Our goal isn’t to say that we know what it is like to be one of the 15% of US households who were food insecure as of the last national estimates in 2013.  Our goal is to be in solidarity, and to support programs like the One Great Hour of Sharing that address food insecurity in the process.

And we have learned a lot so far, although not always what we expected.  For example:

  • when you have a hard and fast limit on food spending, you spend a great deal more time thinking about food, planning your meals, researching options.  Not only do we spend a good chunk of the weekend planning meals for the week, but both my husband and I have found that we are constantly weighing whether a snack or a food-related choice is worth the cost.  My husband told me that he stopped snacking all together because he didn’t know if we could afford it; for myself, it has meant eating far fewer empty calories, because I know that they will cost me something more filling.  Add in a few kids who don’t know that you are limited, and it gets even more complicated–I have found myself going without a snack so that we can afford to let our daughter enjoy fruit and other snacks that she needs as a growing child.
  • that being said, when we plan our weeks out, it isn’t very difficult to stay within the limits of our SNAP allotment.  This surprised me at first–I figured that we would be cutting it close at the end of every day, but instead we have found ourselves banking dollars and cents.  But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that our upper-middle-class family takes for granted a number of conditions that allow us to save more money on our food.  First of all, we have the time and the ability to make all of our meals from scratch.  Both of us enjoy flexible work environments that allow us to be home in the evening for dinner.  We enjoy access to a fully functioning kitchen, and are able to make large quantities of more cost-effective foods that can be enjoyed for days afterwards.  We can afford to spend our time doing things like baking bread and muffins and making quiche and chili.  And lastly, we have the benefit of a partner to rely on for help.
  • Some of our dietary choices are made far easier by the knowledge that this experience has a hard and fast end date.  One of the decisions that has made this project far easier was the communal decision to go more or less vegetarian for Lent.  Why did we do it?  A couple reasons. Firstly, I find the meat production system that results in cheap, affordable beef, poultry, and pork morally objectionable. The rest of the year our family tends to purchase local and organic meat, and I wasn’t willing to buy the cheaper and more affordable meat in order to be able to enjoy it.  Second, even if we bought the cheap meat, it would have meant making sacrifices in other areas, and most likely we would have had to have given up fresh fruit or vegetables (or both).  Neither of us was up for the trade. And while this has been financially easier, it hasn’t been easy.  Our kids love meat, and they have noticed its absence.  Heck, I love meat, and I can’t wait to eat a big juicy steak when this is over.  But I have a feeling that I will look at that steak with different eyes when I do.

Ultimately, I am learning as much about myself as I am about hunger.  I am recognizing that I  participate in a system, and that so much of what I take for granted in my life is precisely what makes this project bearable. I am paying more attention to national policy choices that make it harder for families at the poverty line to provide for one another, and I have a heck of a lot more compassion for folks who make these choices day in and day out.  I am realizing that it takes a lot of energy to think this much about food, and I am wondering how I might be called to walk alongside folks for whom my project is a lifestyle.

Which makes me wonder: what sorts of systems and benefits do you take for granted?  In what ways do you take your production and consumption of food for granted?  And what would you do if you were faced with a choice like meat or broccoli?  Is that even the sort of choice a person should have to make?

Not Enough Hours In the Day….

“Eight Hours” by Ricardo Levins Morales http://www.rlmartstudio.com/products/note-cards/justice/nc083.html

There is this wonderful woodcut that I came across a while back called “8 Hours.”*  It is a triptych, really, and there are three images with the following captions: 8 hours for work, 8 hours for rest, 8 hours for what we will.  I love this woodcut, in part because it resonated with my own feelings about the importance of rest and of Sabbath time.  But I always found myself wondering–where did it come from?

It turns out that this woodcut has its origins in the Industrial Revolution, and in particular, in the fight for the 40-hour work week in Britain.  A man by the name of Robert Owen came up with the slogan during a campaign in 1817 for workers rights.

Long before Robert Owen, however, laborers in America were agitating for a 10 hour work week. As early as 1791, Philadelphia carpenters were organizing for a shorter work day. By 1835, Irish “coal heavers” from Philadelphia had joined them with their modest proposal for limiting the work day to the hours of 6am to 6pm, with 2 hours for meals. By 1846, the 8 hour day had gained traction, but it wasn’t until the 1880s that workers began to organize in force to demand a limit to permissible work hours.

Despite an organized movement for workers rights, many laborers didn’t see the results of the 8-hour-day campaign until well into the 20th Century.  Until the Adamson Act in 1916, which established a universal 8-hour work day with provision for overtime pay, the 8-hour day was applied piece-meal at best. The Adamson Act was further strengthened under the New Deal provisions, and has become more or less standard practice today.

Personally, I find this fascinating, not the least because I had never truly appreciated or even understood the point of Labor Day until I started reading about the Labor movement. But it also got me thinking–despite the hard-won fight for the right to a 40-hour work week, how many people living in our country today truly experience the gift of rest from labor?

Because like many middle-class families, ours depends on two salaries to get by, which means that the housework that keeps our family going is squeezed into the hours that would otherwise go towards rest.  All of the cleaning, cooking, washing, straightening–like many families, these chores, which truly are a full-time job in themselves–are held over, to be done on a day or at a time that otherwise would be devoted to family or to rest.

And my family is pretty lucky as far as these things go.  We can afford to have someone come and help us keep our house clean.  We have two very flexible jobs that allow us to juggle our schedules when the kids are sick or an evening meeting comes up.  We are able to cover what needs being covered, and sometimes even have a little time to rest together in.  We have enough time to plan our meals for the week, to drive to a reputable shopping center in order to make sure that there is good, healthful food on the dinner table every night. Which means we don’t have to rely on the cheap prepackaged food that would save us time if we didn’t have it.

For folks living on SNAP benefits out of necessity, these kinds of intangible benefits make the difference.  A single mom on one salary has to work that much harder to provide the same meal that we have for dinner, not only because she is working with less, but because she likely doesn’t have the same flexibility and support at home. She likely can’t share the chore list with someone else, or take a break from her child when she needs a minute.  The time she takes to make dinner, to go shopping, to plan the week is more expensive than my time, because her time is all that she has.

In their book, Scarcity: Why having too little means so much, author Sendhil Mullainathan explores the ways in which insufficient resources (time, money, food, and more) create systems that serve to keep people poor, stressed, and inefficient. And I find myself reflecting on this reality as our family continues with this experiment.  Because while our family may be choosing to limit our monetary resources, we still benefit from the abundance of time, flexibility, support, and other resources that the middle-class takes for granted.  The longer this experiment continues, the more evident it is that there is more to poverty, more to hunger, than access to food.  This is less an issue of resources than it is an issue of morals.  And in particular, the same question that motivated the labor movement of the Industrial Revolution: do all people have a right to rest, a right to fair pay, a right to conditions that allow for abundance?

I continue to find myself reflecting on Isaiah 58, which was read on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
    the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
    and your gloom be like the noonday.

-Isaiah 58:9-10

God requires much more of us than empty platitudes and promises of solidarity with those who experience insecurity–God calls us to lift our hands and do the work of justice.  God calls us to lift up the cry of the poor, until all people hear it and respond with the mind of Christ. Then, and only then, can we begin to honestly address the disparities that leave so many good and hardworking people struggling to keep up in a world that is increasingly leaving them behind.


*Update 9/1/2016 I have since learned that this woodcut was created by Ricardo Levins Morales, whose amazing work can be found here: http://www.rlmartstudio.com 

Free Food and other Amenities


What am I doing right now? Drinking a (free) cup of coffee at IKEA, of course (and two little coconut chocolate oat balls, which at .49 each represent quite the splurge on my part!)

One of the things that is difficult about working and committing to living on SNAP benefits for a season is planning.  So far, we have found that it is more than possible to live within the constraints of our SNAP benefits, as long as you have the luxury of time to plan out and prepare your every meal.

My family is blessed with two working parents that have the luxury of flexible work arrangements, which means that we have more time than many to plan our meals.  It is a luxury that I often take for granted, and one that I am increasingly aware of as we continue this experiment.  Even my best laid plans fall to the wayside if (read: when) I forget to pick up an ingredient (like, say, dried chickpeas for your curry, or eggs for breakfast).

Which brings me to IKEA.  One of the inevitabilities of my work as a pastor is that I do not always work in an office.  I am often on the road, traveling to visit parishioners and shut-ins, out and about in the community, or participating in clergy groups that help me improve myself and my work as a pastor.  In practice, this means that I am not always in a position to pop on over to the manse and heat up leftovers, nor am I always in a location where I can heat something up that I have brought with me.  Most difficult of all, very often the people I am visiting want to meet over a meal. I have already had a few people ask me whether I can get lunch with them during this experiment, or whether it will count if they pay for the meal.

After a good deal of thought, I have come to the following set of conclusions that (I hope) will guide my decisions about food on the road without becoming so legalistic that I miss the point of this whole process:

1) If free food is available to anyone, I can eat it without counting the cost too.  So the coffee at IKEA, which is free for anyone with a Family Card, is free for me, as is coffee hour at church on Sunday.

2) Speaking of Sundays, did you know that the 40 days of Lent technically do not count Sundays?  According to my Liturgical Year Professor, Mary Luti, this is because “each Sunday during Lent is like a mini-Easter.” If Mary Luti says Sundays in Lent don’t count, we won’t count them either.  This amounts to a small and gracious reprieve for our family once a week, which takes on an added significance when you consider that our kids didn’t choose this Lenten discipline, and don’t understand why we suddenly aren’t eating dessert every night.

3) I will still go out with folks within the context of my work.  As a Christian, meals and hospitality are intimately connected, and it would be bullish of me to isolate myself for the sake of purity. At the same time, I will try as much as possible to capture the cost. This will mean sacrifice in other areas.  It may sometimes mean that I enjoy my “Sunday reprieve” on a different day of the week.  But I believe this discipline is important enough that it is worth suffering a little bit for.

So that is where we are with this.  As a side note, IKEA coffee tastes simply delightful after a week without it!

Monday, Feb 23
Breakfast Monster: 1 piece toast, 1 egg water $0.37
Alex: Oatmeal, 4 dried apricots $0.43
Sarah: 1c Oatmeal, half banana, tsp honey, tea $0.46
lunch Monsters: leftover pasta with peas, yogurt, milk $1.23
Sarah: potatoes, leftovers, tea $2.81
Alex: free lunch at office 0
Dinner Calypso Beans, cornbread and greens from the garden $3.57
Snack Peanut Butter, Cookie $0.49
Total $9.36
Tuesday, Feb 24
Breakfast Monsters: leftover pancakes $0.68
Sarah: leftover pancakes, Peanut Butter $0.98
Alex: toast with jam $0.27
Lunch: Monsters: leftover rice, beans, cornbread, dried apple (already accounted for) 0
Alex: Chana Masala with rice (already accounted for) 0
Sarah: leftover rice, beans 0
Dinner Pasta with mushrooms, home dried tomatoes, canellini beans $5.18
Monsters: Milk $0.24
Snack: tea, two lindt truffles, grapes, peanut butter $1.56
Total $8.90

Total spent on food in Week 1: $58.01

Total saved (for donation): $96.13

Beans, Beans! The Magical Fruit….

We have a serious bean problem in our house…

If there were one food item that my family seems to universally adore, it would probably be beans (steak *might* be a close second for the kiddos).  My partner in crime has never, at least to my knowledge, met a bean he didn’t like, and as a result, prominent shelf space in our kitchen is devoted to his favorite legume.  There are beans in our cupboard that I have never heard of, beans whose names I have forgotten, and beans who are like dear friends at our dinner table.

But here’s the problem with beans–if you want to make something tasty with them, you have to plan ahead.  And as much our family loves them, we often aren’t thinking about tomorrow’s dinner the night before.  Which is why many of our beans have been sitting on the shelf instead of being put to use.

Well that is about to change. Because we are seeking to live more simply in Lent, beans have automatically taken a prominent position at our table.  They are hearty, they are healthy, they are tasty (when done right), and most of all, they are cheap.  According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average cost of beef in the Mid-Atlantic (where I live) looks like this:

Type of Meat Price per pound (as of Dec 2014)
Ground beef $4.16
Beef for stew $5.65
Pork Chops $4.05
Whole Chicken $1.54
Chicken Breast (boneless) $3.48

These are average prices, which do not factor in our family’s preference for organic and local meat products.  As you can guess, you end up paying a premium for higher quality meat.  In our case, the awesome meat vendor at the local farmer’s market sells mouthwatering sausage for 6.99/pound, which means that we will be saving our appetite for sausage until after Lent is over.

Compare that with the cost of beans, which range in price from $.99/pound to almost $3/pound.  Then factor in the fact that you lose poundage from meat when you cook it, whereas beans gain weight when you prepare them.  A pound of ground meat will yield 4 servings; add any bones and you can end up with as low as two servings per pound of meat purchased. A pound of beans, by contrast, can yield 10 servings! So for us, at least, this question is a no brainer. Beans will allow us to stay well within the limits of our commitment for Lent, while also allowing us some wiggle room for the (inevitable) surprises that come with having two small children in the house.

Which brings me to this evening’s meal, which is simmering pleasantly on the stovetop as I write this.  Tonight we will be liberating one of our older bean companions from its jar: the humble Calypso Bean. Also known as the Yin/Yang bean, the Dalmation Bean, and the Orca bean, Calypso beans have a pleasant black and white pattern, and are a perfect addition to soup, or you can make up a pot (like we did) and allow the beans to shine.

Many thanks to the website Pen and Fork, who created the lovely and simple recipe below:

Calypso beans on their way to becoming dinner...
Calypso beans on their way to becoming dinner…

Calypso Beans 

Serves 6

1 pound dried red or black Calypso beans
2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium)
7 cups cold water
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb mix
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Soak the beans overnight, or use the quick soak method outlined above.

2. Drain the beans and rinse with cool water. Set aside.

3. Heat the bacon fat* in a large sauce pat or small stock pot over medium heat. Stir in the onions and garlic and stir, cooking just until the onions and garlic are fragrant, about 2 minutes.

4. Add the beans to the pan, plus 7 cups of cold water. Turn the heat to high and bring the beans to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer.

5. Stir in dried herbs. Simmer, uncovered, until beans are tender, but not mushy, about 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

6. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. (Don’t be stingy with the salt unless your doctor told you to, in which case, ignore me.) Stir in fresh thyme if using.

And finally, here is our total spending (and eating) for Friday and Saturday:

Friday, Feb 20
Breakfast S: 1 c. cereal, 1/2 c milk, 1 egg, tea $0.70
Alex: 1 c. oatmeal, apricots $0.43
Monsters: egg, 1/2 c oatmeal, apricots, orange, milk $0.81
Lunch Monsters: leftover pasta and broccoli, salami $0.64
Alex: 2 pb sandwiches, 2 carrots $1.04
Sarah: leftover dinner, tea $0.03
Snacks Monsters: cheese crackers, vanilla grahams, Hummus and Carrot $0.69
Sarah: 4 cups tea, 2 girl scout cookies $0.33
Dinner 4 Baked Potatoes (SC, Cheese, Broccoli and 2 slices bacon) and salad $5.69
 Total spent  $10.35
Saturday, Feb 21
Breakfast Sarah:tea, cereal, yogurt $0.46
Monsters: Orange, Banana $0.50
Alex: Men’s breakfast ($5 donation) $5.00
Lunch Monsters: leftover pasta with butter, carrot, hummus, milk, frozen corn $0.64
Alex: peanut buter sandwich $0.46
Sarah: 5 carrots, hummus, peanut butter $0.76
Dinner Chana Masala with Rice $2.44
Snack Popcorn $0.10
 Total spent $10.37

This brings our total spending for the first week (beginning with Ash Wednesday) to $39.76, which means that we have saved $48.24 to date!

The Day After Ashes

UnknownWhen I was in seminary, a group of friends who were interested in the emergent church movement got together for a Bible Study called “Lazarus at the Gate.”  Put together by the Massachusetts Bible Society, Lazarus At the Gate the mission of the study was to “promote simplicity for the sake of generosity.”  The original site has since been taken down, but I have loaded the Leader’s Guide here: Lazarus at the Gate – Economic Discipleship.  It is also available through World Vision and the Boston Faith and Justice Network.

The Study gets its name from a parable in the Gospel according to Luke, in Chapter 16:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

In our group, we studied Scripture and researched issues impacting the world’s poor like access to safe drinking water, sustainable farming practices, and disaster aid. We covenanted to a communal review of our own personal finances, and ultimately we all pledged to give a significant portion of money away to organizations that made an impact on world poverty.

41ZMLqghO-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_One of those organizations was the Mennonite Central Committee.  If you have ever visited a “10,000 Villages” store, then you have encountered just one of the myriad ways in which the MCC pursues justice and fairness in the world.  Much of the work of the MCC focuses on addressing world poverty and injustice, and they do an incredible job of it.  But they also encourage those of us who live in the first world to tread more lightly on God’s creation.  One of the ways that I encountered them doing this during my time in seminary was through a popular cookbook called “More with Less.” Written in 1979, the cookbook had a novel approach to mealtime– why not encourage mealtime practices that minimized our impact on creation by sharing recipes for meals that most of the world relies on?  The cookbook is as much educational in terms of world poverty and eating practices as it is a tool for making your own dinner.

Because we were embarking on this journey, I figured it might be time to break out the cookbook.  Sure enough, we found some recipes that will help us stay within our budget but eat well at the same time. Our first recipe from the cookbook was “Caribbean Beans and Rice,” and it was delicious! We made just a few amendments: we halved the recipe, and used a can of tomatoes in place of a fresh tomato.  Enjoy!

Caribbean Rice and Beans

Soak overnight:
2 c. pinto beans or kidney beans
6 c. water
1 T. salt

In the morning:
Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer just until tender about 40 minutes. Drain beans, reserving liquid.

Heat in large covered skillet:
2 T. oil or butter
3-4 cloves garlic
2 green onions, chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped
1 T. lime juice
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1 T. chopped parsley
1/4t. pepper
Saute’ for about 5 minutes.

Drained beans
2 c. rice
4 ½ c. reserved bean liquid (add water to complete measurement)

Thursday, Feb 19
Breakfast S: 1 c. oatmeal, 1/2 tbsp butter, tbsp b sugar, tea, egg $0.61
Mini Me: egg, 1/2 c oatmeal, apricots, orange, milk $0.81
Alex: 1 c. oatmeal, apricots $0.78
Lunch Alex: peanut butter sandwich $0.63
Mini Me: Chicken Nuggets (4), broccoli, leftover pasta, pretzel,1 c. milk $1.01
Sarah:cheese and salami sandwich $0.75
Dinner Caribbean Rice and Beans, leftover salad greens (4 servings total) $4.96

Total Spent Today


 Total Spent in Lent

Amount Saved (for One Great Hour of Sharing)



Shalom, Sarah

O, For a Cup of Coffee…


Ash Wednesday marked the first day of our family’s commitment to stick to the limits of the average SNAP benefit in PA  ($3.85 a person a day in 2014).  And for most of the day, it went remarkably well.  Except, that is, for a few tiny things.

I had been particularly concerned about the reality that I was going to be giving up coffee for this experiment. Every morning I make myself a french press full of coffee that I drink throughout the morning.  I’m the only coffee drinker in the house, so I don’t ever worry about someone taking my last cup.  I use about 3 Tablespoons of coffee every day, and not the cheap stuff, either.  At least since the end of college, I have stuck to Fair Trade coffee, and I was unwilling to give that up just to save a few bucks.  Which means that each 12 oz bag of coffee I buy is going to cost me somewhere in the neighborhood of $8-12.  A 12 oz bag will make you 62 9-oz servings of coffee, which means that each time I fill my cup up, I am drinking anywhere from $0.13 to $0.19 of my daily allotment.

And then there is the way I prefer to drink coffee.  My grandpa used to tell me that only people who don’t like coffee mess it up with milk and sugar.  Well I enjoy my coffee (A LOT), but what I really like is a cafe au lait, and that milk adds up.  On SNAP benefits, the coffee I like to drink suddenly became a luxury.  Every cup was going to cost me nearly $0.50, compared to $0.03 for a bag of tea.  The decision was easy.

So I bid farewell to my delicious coffee and put away my beloved french press. And I took advantage of a free drink loaded on my Starbucks card to enjoy one final delicious, ridiculously overpriced coffee.

So that’s where I am.  In the place of coffee, I have armed myself with a box of Tetley’s and, by God’s grace, I have yet to experience a caffeine headache. I haven’t snarked at my family in the morning, and, surprisingly, I haven’t missed coffee all that much (then again, ask me in a week).

For the rest of the family, things have been going pretty well.  Mini-me doesn’t seem to notice anything has changed, and Baby is just along for the ride.  As for the adults in the house, our plan is to eat mostly vegetarian, and to focus as much on whole grains, legumes, and dairy to make a balanced diet.

Wednesday, Feb 18th

Breakfast Sarah: 1c Oatmeal, half banana, tsp honey, tea $0.46
Mini-Me: Egg, Orange, blueberries $1.20
Alex: Oatmeal, 4 dried apricots $0.43
Lunch Sarah: Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich $0.73
Mini-Me: Salami, Cheese, Peanut Butter and bread $0.81
Alex: Peanut Butter Sandwich, Leftovers $0.63
Dinner Shell Pasta, Broccoli and Cheese $4.38
Snack homemade Pretzels $1.32

Total Saved So Far: $12.04