The $25 challenge: could you feed yourself on $3.50 a day?


The Illinois Food Bank Association recently concluded an interesting challenge. Volunteers agreed to feed themselves and their families for a week on $25 per person, the average weekly food stamp benefit given to Illinois residents. How would you feed yourself for $25 a week? That wouldn't even pay for my brie.

How did the volunteers fare? Poorly, according to the blog documenting their experiences.

  • Frank Finnegan tried eating a granola bar for breakfast, two hard-boiled eggs for lunch, and for dinner, pasta, chicken nuggets or ham and beans. He declined handouts. He found himself growing grumpy in the hours before a meal, happy after. No wonder the people on the 4 p.m. bus look so glum.

  • He also found it impossible to shop for proper nutrition on such a budget, forced to choose instead foods that were filling. Imagine a child raised on such a budget.

  • Kathy Chaney took a well-planned approach, visiting Aldi's for bulk ingredients for homemade chicken soup and fajitas. Her family balked, though, and although Kathy alone stuck it out to the end, she wrote "Boy, am I starving".

  • Chris Strupp lost five pounds in four days.

  • Barb Shreves found herself counting the obscene number of fast-food restaurants on her trip to the grocery.

  • Dennis noted how carbohydrate-intensive his restricted diet was. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes among the poor is no coincidence.

  • Kate eased a hunger pang with a banana far beyond ripe and three glasses of water.

  • Becky found herself at the end of the week with six boxes of cereal, but no milk.

How well would you eat on $25 a week?

It would rob me of a great deal of time. Time pursuing grocery deals (and I think it would be unfair to squander $100 of gas to chase deals across town; the poor would shop somewhere nearby, on the bus line.), time in preparation.

It would rob me of choice. It would rob me of nutrition. Fruit is damned expensive, as are fresh vegetables, and don't even mention milk to me.

How many Americans dogs are fed more than $25 worth of food a week? A lot, I'd guess.

Is that right?