NORTH ADAMS -- Do you think you could survive on a weekly food budget of only $31.50?
It's called the SNAP Challenge -- living for seven days on a food budget equivalent to the average weekly per-person SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) benefit. State and federal policy makers around the country have been doing just that to protest some $20 billion in proposed cuts to the federal SNAP, or food stamps, benefits, that most likely would have deprived over 2 million Americans of benefits had the federal Farm Bill passed in June.
On Monday, July 8, the entire Berkshire legislative delegation will begin the seven-day challenge, sharing their meals and thoughts about it daily via social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
"Here in Massachusetts. U.S. Rep. James McGovern, Health and Human Services Commissioner John Polanowicz and Department of Transitional Assistance Commissioner Stacey Monahan all took the challenge. [State] Sen. Benjamin Downing thought that it would be a good learning experience for himself and then he challenged the rest of the delegation," state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said Tuesday during a telephone interview. "We're all very eager to try it out. It's definitely going to be a challenge. I haven't had to restrict my food budget in such a manner, probably since I was in college."
According to the Food Research and Action Center's website, www.frac.org, the purpose of the SNAP Challenge is to help educate the public and opinion leaders about what it means to "make food shopping choices based on a limited budget" and learn how "difficult it is to avoid hunger, afford nutritious foods and stay healthy." The website also outlines the challenge's rules, which limit food that is eaten during the seven days to foods purchased with the $31.50 budget and restricts participants from accepting free food from family, friends or work-related events.
"My participation is to raise awareness as much as it is to educate myself about the types of products and restrictions on purchasing that someone who receives SNAP benefits is required to adhere to," Cariddi said. "The budget, $31.50 for the week, isn't much. Comparatively, the average person spends about $130 on food a week."
She also expects planning meals with a daily budget of $4.50 a day to be a challenge in itself.
"I see myself having to plan out my meals ahead of time -- sitting down at the table on Sunday night with the food-sale fliers to figure out what the best buys are," Cariddi said. "It's going to be an organizational challenge, as well as money-management challenge. I going to begin my shopping at Price Chopper in North Adams on Monday, but I don't think I'll spend all of my budget there."
While the state representative doesn't routinely plan her meals ahead of time, she said she does use the United State Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.gov to track what she's eating.
"I'm going to be posting everything on my Facebook page [www.facebook.com/gail.cariddi]. I really encourage people to follow along and to comment," she said. "It's going to be an educational journey for me -- certainly one that I will learn from and will stick with me for a long time."
At the end of the challenge on Monday, July 15, the Berkshire legislative delegation plans to visit the Pittsfield Department of Transitional Assistance office, where they will have a roundtable discussion.
Berkshire delegation members participating in the challenge include Downing, Cariddi, state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox; state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, D-Pittsfield, and state Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru.
To reach Jennifer Huberdeau, email