This City Smells : eating on $5 a day


Breakfast Day One

I usually love my walk to work. I pass two bakeries on the way to my subway stop. Both of which have arguably the best croissants in Brooklyn. One definitely has the best baguettes.  I am barely out of the West 4th Street Station in Manhattan, when I am passing the Chinese Bakery with plump and golden roast pork buns, then Joe’s Pizza where both tourists and locals eat their crispy, tangy, cheesy triangles right on the street, then Bagels on the Square where they know to toast my cinnamon raisin bagel twice before covering it with ‘not too much please’ cream cheese. But, for me, it’s next to impossible to walk by Prodigy Coffee without stopping in for a perfectly made latte that actually tastes as good as it smells. And herein lies the problem, this city smells amazing….which is great for someone with money or a credit card in their wallet. It stinks for people who don’t. And this week that includes me.

Monday, the first day of my SNAP Challenge was not so hard, but I kind of expected that due to its newness. I started cooking some brown rice while my oatmeal was on the stove. I like oatmeal, but I’m also kind of an oatmeal snob. I like the Scottish steel cut stuff that takes longer to cook and costs close to three times the store brand rolled oats variety. At least it does here, maybe not in Scotland. The upside is that the rolled oats cooks up in just a few minutes. I’m glad I bought some yogurt to top it with and I try to think of it as an oatmeal sundae….

Brown rice and sauteed vegetables

Brown rice and sauteed vegetables

After my sundae, I saute some onion in a pan and then add some of the frozen broccoli and cauliflower, along with some salt and tumeric. No I didn’t buy the tumeric, but the ‘rules’ state that condiments are gratis, so I’m considering it a condiment.  When the rice is done, I put some in a tupperware container with some of the vegetables to bring to work. The rest I put in the fridge for the next day. I also make a peanut butter and jam sandwich, think twice, and make another as I’m playing squash that evening and won’t be home til late. I put the tupperware of rice and sandwiches in a bag and add a hard-boiled egg I’d made the night before, as well as half a grapefruit I didn’t eat at b’fast. And that’s my food for day one.

Day 2's meals to go

Day 2’s meals to go

Day two was much harder. I had a ‘breakfast meeting’ in the morning, so I couldn’t linger in the kitchen whipping up delicacies  the way I had the day before. Instead, I pretty much repeated my meal plan for the day, and was thankful that I had the leftover rice and vegetables to bring with me, along with two more pb&j sandwiches. Boring, I know, but if you don’t have a lot of time or money, you can’t be too picky. And a lot of SNAP recipients are in that same boat. However, I’m sure many plan better than me!

What made day two hard was my schedule….and a lot of temptation. My breakfast meeting included a smorgasbord of muffins and pastries and fruit and coffee, all from one of my favorite cafes, Grey Dog. I was still semi-full from my one-minute oatmeal, but a blueberry bran muffin was calling to me and I had to pretend that my plain cup of tea was all I really wanted. Already people keep asking me why I can’t eat ‘free food’, but when I looked up the rules of this challenge online, it reasonably explains that a SNAP recipient probably wouldn’t be at a ‘breakfast meeting’, or any catered events. One might argue that if they were faced with a blueberry bran muffin that they’d be a lot smarter than me, gobble it up and take a few for the road. But I guess I’m a rule follower.

the breakfast i didn't have

the breakfast i didn’t have

The rest of my day went something like this: go back to desk, scarf, I mean savor first pb&j. Stare at computer and try not to think about blueberry muffins. Head up to a book jacket photo shoot and smartly remember to put rice and vegetables back in bag for later. Dumbly forget to add ‘free condiment’ hot sauce. Feel weird eating rice in front of fancy photographer and waif-like model, but finally breakdown and sneak out the second pb&j. Drink tap water while everyone else has a bottle of Poland Springs in front of them. Run out the door by 5:30 and take train to CityView for squash game, followed by holiday party. Consider eating bootleg apple, but don’t. Squash game definitely suffers, which makes me think 1)who on SNAP is going to play squash? and 2)plenty of people on SNAP probably have very physical jobs, a lot longer than a 45 minute squash game. Shower, dress, and head up to party with my rice and vegetables because I’m now so hungry I don’t care who sees me. And it’s part of the point of this challenge, to talk about it with others. Which I do, as platter after platter of the most delicious looking pulled pork sliders and tiny grilled cheese sandwiches and some sort of glistening marinated meat sate wanders by; it is suitably fated that the one night I am not eating that all the appetizers come my way, as if I am an hors d’oeuvres magnet. I am not drinking either, so my take-away for the evening is rice and water are not great party foods, unless everyone else is consuming them, too. I go home, nursing the beginning of a caffeine-withdrawal headache and make a quick batch of pasta with tomato sauce. Would like to say it tastes better than a pulled pork slider, but it doesn’t.

spinach chilaquiles

spinach chilaquiles

It’s now early hours on day three and I’m going to try to be a little smarter today, break into my protein stash and have chilaquiles for breakfast. Yes.

See my earlier post: SNAP is not a game for my inspiration to do this challenge and how I spent my $$. And for how I fared and reflections on the entire week, see thinking twice: seven days on $33.29


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7 Responses to This City Smells : eating on $5 a day

  1. Aubrey Waddy says:

    beautifully written, Tracy, and what a tale; I won’t list what I’ve eaten today so far (squash match this evening; hope I haven’t overdone it!); remind me to tell you my tale of the aromas of Rennes some time

  2. Kathy says:

    Tracy, your self-control last night was extraordinary! But you’ve given all of us ‘food for thought’ – thank you, and good luck with the rest of the week.

  3. Rob says:

    Tracy!go to trader joes and get their frozen steel cut oatmeal that comes shaped like hockey pucks! 80 cents per serving and delish!

  4. Ooh Tracy, why did you stop writing? I have been enjoying this until now that I see there’s no more 😦 Did you finish the week? We don’t have SNAP here but I get the idea. I would certainly try it!

    • Hi Liberator! What a fantastic name…it may be better than Squeakyfeet 🙂
      Thanks so much for your comment. I did finish the week, and your comment inspired me to finish my article about it (see next post). I learned so much, but one thing I will say that it’s very U.S. specific. It would be interesting to know how food programs work in other countries — very differently, I’m sure, and I’m not sure I would survive (very well) on some of them. If you care to shed any light on what it’s like in your country, or if you try a challenge of your own, do let me/this blog know!

      • Liberator Mallya says:

        Hunting for the next batch! I come from Tanzania (although currently living in Botswana) and there is no food programs there unfortunately 😐 I guess it’s a case of too much stuff to take care of with a small budget, and priorities. I know here they try to help the unfortunate by offering food vouchers and such, which can be used to buy from supermarkets. I have a feeling that it is on the low side although it is much better than leaving them to fend for themselves/starve.
        I would love to give that a try, live on that budget. But I don’t think they’d let me….
        I pictured you going for a game with nothing much in the stomach.. Man! I skipped lunch once and played squash later on, it was not fun!

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