Mitch Rothschild, CEO of the health information service Vitals, is just the latest in a series of prominent people to attempt to feed himself for just $4.32 a day, the amount allocated per person for SNAP, the poverty assistance program previously known as food stamps. He wrote about his experience this week in Fortune magazine.
Rothschild wanted to find out if he could eat a healthy diet on a SNAP budget.
“The irony is that the while the government spends $80 billion a year on SNAP, we spend more than 15 times that ($1.3 trillion) on health care,” Rothschild wrote. "If SNAP can’t provide proper nutrition, those billions might actually contribute to an increase in long-term healthcare costs.”
Rothschild found that for $4 a day, he couldn’t afford organic food, or many fresh fruits or vegetables. He found himself buying a lot of foods based on corn and soybeans, crops that are heavily subsidized by the federal government.
“The bulk of what can be bought with food assistance is brown. In other words, it’s heavy on carbs and low on nutrition,” Rothschild wrote.
The relative cost of food in the United States has fallen dramatically over the past 40 years but has remained steady since about 2007, the Deseret News recently reported.
Protein-rich and vitamin-rich foods, such as beef, pork, eggs and fresh fruit, have increased in price by more than 6 percent since 2013, while cereals, bakery items, nonalcoholic beverages, fats and oils have decreased in price, according to an FDA report. A healthy diet has actually gotten slightly more expensive in the past two years.
Alli Sosna founded the nonprofit MicroGreens to help families learn to cook healthy, tasty meals on a small budget. Sosna compiled a list of her favorite ingredients for cheap, healthy meals for the Huffington Post:
- Brown rice
- Soy sauce
- Whole chicken
- Frozen veggie medley
- Garlic salt
“I'm not going to lie," Sosna wrote. "It's tough no matter how you make your budget stretch. … But what food stamp recipients can and must do to get the most out of their dollar is to purchase food in bulk."
“When you buy a 15-pound bag of rice, your per serving cost drops to about 15 cents. When you buy 5 pounds of carrots, you get each carrot down to 20 cents. This is how a family can eat healthfully on a SNAP budget and it's what we teach at MicroGreens.”
Buying groceries with SNAP can be easier for a family than for a single person. A family of four receives a maximum of $668 per month, The Post reported.
The Post pointed out that more than 80 percent of families that receive SNAP do not rely on it for its entire food budget. The full name of the program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and it is supplemental for most families.
The USDA found that “the diets of SNAP participants, as measured by the Healthy Eating Index, are similar to that of higher-income Americans.” This is in part because the diets of most Americans score low on the Healthy Eating Index, The Post reported.