Taking the Food Stamp Challenge

(First in a series. Second & Third available.)

In April 2013, a group of organizations that included Atlanta Community Food Bank, HEALing Community Center, Georgia Organics, GA Tech, AUC Center Consortium, The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, and others came together to explore the topic of improving fresh and healthy food access to underserved communities in Georgia.  We reconvened in September under the name Georgia Food Oasis - as a counter to the “food desert” label often pinned on these communities - with the goal of supporting communities as they develop innovative and affordable ways for residents to discover, taste and learn about fresh and healthy foods. By working together, neighbors, nonprofits and community leaders can provide opportunities for community members to shop smarter, eat healthier and feel better. Rather than focus on what is not currently present in a community, through an Eat – Cook – Grow strategy, the Georgia Food Oasis will create opportunities for residents to come together to harness current assets into a collective and plant the seeds that will grow their own food future.

The first initiative of the Georgia Food Oasis will be the Westside Food Oasis. The Westside Food Oasis will focus on improving access to fresh and healthy food in the Atlanta neighborhoods of English Avenue and Vine City. In order to develop a sustainable, comprehensive plan of what could be, we will invite residents and stakeholders to provide significant input and feedback from these neighborhoods, letting them be the ones to design their Westside Food Oasis. I’m starting this learning process myself in my own Westside Atlanta community by embarking on a Westside Food Challenge. Each week, my blogs will explore the challenges and opportunities to living and eating healthy, fresh foods within Vine city and English Avenue.

On November 1, 2013 all recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, or food stamps, saw a cut in the monthly amount they receive due to the expiration of a temporary boost included as a provision in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). For a family of four in Georgia, the cut will mean a reduction of $36 a month, or nearly 21 meals.  On average, these families will now receive less than $1.40 per person per meal. Due to the timeliness of this issue, I decided to focus my first week of the Westside Food Challenge on attempting to eat healthy and fresh on an average weekly SNAP budget of $33.98.

I began my week on the “SNAP Challenge” yesterday, and indeed it was quite challenging to stay under budget and choose healthy and fresh foods.  Despite that I was able to put together what I hope is a week’s worth of meals from a new grocery store located in Vine City. Even after carefully selecting my items and calculating my spending along the way, I still had to put back a can of soup at the check-out counter  because I was over-charged for bread by .$50 and forgot to factor in the sales tax. (I did not notice the over-charge for sale-priced bread and sales tax until I had left the store. Typically those using SNAP do not incur sales tax so technically I was not over budget with the base grocery price.) As I left the store feeling somewhat accomplished, I realized my biggest challenge was not just  making sure I had healthy and fresh foods, but that  I could make that food last 7 days on a limited budget.

Interested to see how my community might differ from others when it came to eating healthy on a SNAP budget, I went to another major grocery store chain in an adjacent more affluent neighborhood to compare prices.  While the more affluent neighborhood had a better selection of fresh items, the prices for a comparable grocery list was significantly higher without the special price cuts or incentives.  It is never easy to eat healthy with limited choices and access to transportation, but some places are harder than others.  We hope to be a part of the solution to change the landscape of choices.

Cicely Garrett
Food Systems Innovation Manager

Check out the videos from Cicely's shopping trip: Intro & Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner & Checkout.

Could you feed your family on $1.51 per person per meal? Two Atlanta-based organizations, Community Farmers Markets and Wholesome Wave Georgia, are giving you a week to find out. The Community Farmers Market SNAP Challenge, Nov. 10 to Nov. 16, asks participants to feed themselves on $33.98 for the entire week — that comes out to a generous $1.62 per meal.

Interested in learning more about the GA Food Oasis? Contact Cicely Garrett, Food Systems Innovation Manager at cicely.garrett@acfb.org.