#TulsaSNAP Challenge (revisited)

In preparation for tomorrow’s dissertation defense I decided to dust off the following posts regarding the Tulsa SNAP Challenge that occurred in December 2012.


#TulsaSNAP challenge

For two days, Monday, December 17th and Tuesday, December 18th, Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard and community leader Randy Macon will live on the Oklahoma Department of Human Services guideline of $4.23 a day, the allocation for Oklahomans qualifying for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP, formerly known as food stamps)… During the 48-hour period, Ballard and Macon will post updates to Twitter and Instagram recounting their experiences.  Based on recent efforts by Mayor Cory Booker, the goal of this Tulsa-based project is to raise awareness about the struggles of low-income Oklahomans who depend on food stamps.

16 DEC 2012

$8.46 for six nutritious meals over two days… is it possible?  This morning I spent almost two hours shopping for the challenge.  In preparation, my Twitter friends offered recipes and advice about which stores offer low-cost foodstuff.

A few tidbits before I share my receipts…

  • Like Mayor Booker, I’m a caffeine junky with coffee being my preferred source of intake.  If possible, I need to budget for at least one cup over the two-day period so that I can (hopefully) stave off the dreaded withdrawal headache.
  •  I’m not a great cook.  I’m not even a decent cook.  My repertoire is limited to things I can microwave, boil or throw into a slow cooker.
  •  My schedule keeps me busy.  Usually, I drink coffee en route to campus or wherever my first meeting of the day is being held.  If I remember to grab a yogurt from home I’ll have that mid-morning while checking email.  I typically think about food approximately 15 minutes before I consume it… in other words, I do a horrible job planning ahead.  This means I usually eat at restaurants or grab something on the go.  Recently, I swore off drive-thru fast food and I’m committed to honoring that through this challenge (if possible).

So… what did I purchase for the challenge?

items purchased for #TulsaSNAP challenge

From Dollar General Store:
  • instant oatmeal, $1.00 for six servings ($0.17 per serving)
    • I won’t eat the entire box in two days but I couldn’t buy just two packets.  Also, I opted for the flavored option since I won’t be able to add fresh berries.
  • traditional pasta sauce, $1.00 for 24 oz can, approx 5 servings ($0.20 per serving)
    • Spaghetti is one of the few things I can make somewhat successfully.  I typically add meat, but not this time.  In preparing for this challenge I heard a story about a woman who accidently dropped a glass jar of sauce and was brought to tears when it shattered on the kitchen floor – she cried because she couldn’t afford to replace it.
  • Enriched spaghetti, $1.00 for 1 lb box, suggested 8 servings but I’ll make it 5 to match the sauce ($0.20 per serving)
    • The box reads “enriched spaghetti product,” whatever that means.  I typically buy whole-wheat noodles but they weren’t available at either store and, even if they had been, I probably couldn’t have afforded them.

Total spent at Dollar General, including tax, $3.25

From ALDI:
  • bananas, $0.83 for 1.88 lbs, 7 bananas ($0.12 per serving)
    • I buy bananas for grab-and-go convenience and I try to eat one before and a second one after each workout.  As it happens, I’ve planned two workouts during the challenge so I knew I would need to include bananas in my menu.  At ALDI they come in a sealed plastic bag marked with the weight.  I dug through the bin to find the least expensive bag.
  • baby carrots, $0.99 for 1 lb, suggested 5 servings ($0.20 per serving)
    • I’m a HUGE snacker… I like to keep baby carrots on hand for afternoon cravings as I’m working at my desk.
  • Pinto beans, $1.19 for 29 oz can, suggested 6 servings ($0.20 per serving)
    • Several tweeps reminded me that unprepared food is always more affordable so my plan was to prepare dry beans using my slow cooker this afternoon.  Unfortunately the store only had 2 lb packages that cost more than my budget could bear so I had to go with this pre-cooked option.  I plan to rinse and divide them into separate containers before consuming.

Total spent at ALDI, including tax, $3.26

Grand total:  $6.51

(This leaves $1.95 for a cup of coffee on Tuesday morning.)

Whew!  It took the better part of my Sunday morning to shop and prep for the next two days.  INSIGHT #1: extreme diligence is required to exist on such a tight budget. Several tweeps suggested I make a detailed list before hitting the stores. Because I wasn’t sure what items would be on the shelves, and which would be on sale, I was only able to make a general plan.  @beekaytulsa reminded me that most individuals aren’t able to visit multiple stores (due to limited time and/or transportation challenges) and therefore face an added obstacle to making this work.  And, my guess is that most rural communities have limited options for obtaining groceries.  INSIGHT #2: selecting nutritious foods is difficult… and organic is simply out of the question.  Excluding the high sodium content, I think I did a decent job selecting nutritious items… and least relatively speaking.  For breakfast I could have purchased individually packaged pastry items for less than $0.50 each but decided that instant oatmeal would be a slightly healthier option.

As I gear up for the next two days I’m already realizing just how difficult this is for the 891,555 Oklahomans who depend on SNAP dollars to ensure their basic needs are met.


Several folks have graciously offered to treat me to lunch tomorrow.  While I certainly appreciate the generosity, I’ve declined the offers because the spirit of the initiative is to truly engage in the reality of consuming only food and beverage I can purchase with my daily allocation.  Here are the rules established by my friends at the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma:

Challenge Guidelines:

  1. Each person should spend a set amount for food and beverages during the Challenge week. That amount is $4.23 for all food and beverage (per day, $8.46 total).
  2. All food purchased and eaten during the Challenge week, including fast food and dining out, must be included in the total spending.
  3. During the Challenge, only eat food that you purchase for the project. Do not eat food that you already own (this does not include spices and condiments).
  4. Avoid accepting free food from friends, family, or at work, including at receptions, briefings, or other events where food is served.
  5. Keep track of receipts on food spending and take note of your experiences throughout the week.
  6. Invite others to join you, including co-workers, reporters, chefs, or other elected officials.

17 DEC 2012

I woke up thinking about the 891,555 fellow Oklahomans I mentioned in yesterday’s post… those that depend on the SNAP subsidy each and every day…

While chatting with a reporter yesterday I joked that my primary goal was to figure out how to buy at least one cup of coffee over the next 48 hours.  Almost immediately I realized how insensitive this comment was… and I sincerely apologize.  For me, life resumes on Wednesday with lunch meetings, dinners with friends, and the absurd amount of caffeine that I’ve come to depend on to fuel my days.  But for many of my neighbors in this great state, the $4.23 daily reality will continue.

Organizations like the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma are vital.  Since its founding in 1981, CFBEO has grown to be one of largest, private hunger-relief organizations in Oklahoma. They distribute donated grocery items to 450 Partner Programs in 24 counties in Eastern Oklahoma. These programs include food pantries, soup kitchens, emergency shelters, after school programs, shelters and senior centers. In turn, those programs collectively feed more than 70,000 people each week, the equivalent of nearly 1.1 million meals per month. Through efforts like the Tulsa SNAP challenge, the Food Bank helps raise public awareness about hunger and the role of food banking in alleviating hunger.

As we go about our day lets all be mindful of our friends, family and neighbors who started the morning with the added burden of having to stretch $4.23 into three nutritious meals today.

my food supply for the next 48 hours

my food supply for the next 48 hours


18 DEC 2012

I’d like to start today’s post by thanking everyone for following and supporting the #TulsaSNAP challenge.  Our primary goal is to raise awareness and we appreciate all who have added their voice to this conversation…

The big question folks are asking: How do you feel?  Honestly, not so great.  I’ve consumed mostly carbs on the #TulsaSNAP challenge.  The lack of protein is causing me to be lethargic.  I went to bed extra early last night – partly because of lack of energy but mostly to deal with the massive headache from going an entire 24 hours without caffeine (yep – I’m a power user).  I was able to buy one 16 oz cup of coffee from QuikTrip this morning.  At $1.29 it was indeed a splurge and used up all but $0.66 of my remaining two-day allocation.  I chatted with the friendly QT associate (I love those folks!) about the challenge and am grateful to have her following on social media.

While visiting with Frank Wiley Jr and Erin Winking last night, I was asked a question I couldn’t answer.  How do we fix it?  Sadly, I don’t know.  I hope there are folks out there, smarter than me, working to find a solution to this prevailing issue.  In the meantime, we should thank and support the countless men and women dedicated to getting nutritious meals to those who need them most.

In Tulsa, the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, along with Restore Hope Ministries, Iron Gate, Emergency Infant Services, Youth Services of Tulsa, Family & Children’s Services, Neighbors Along the Line, Catholic Charities Diocese of Tulsa, Broken Arrow Neighbors, John 3:16 Mission, and Christ for Humanity, are forming a co-op to serve up hope to those struggling to find their next meal.

Mother Teresa is quoted as saying “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”  Perhaps the call to action for all of us is to ensure that those in our daily sphere of influence don’t have to contend with the all-consuming stress of figuring out how to acquire their next meal.