My name is Curtis Carpenter. I’m 28 years old and a father of 2 wonderful boys, ages 3 and 4. I have a college degree and I work full-time. I’ve never really thought about my diet too much and I’ve always felt like I was in good shape. I can run a 5k on a whim, I’m usually witty in a jiff, and I never seem to be too tired or lethargic.
For seven days in March, that last statement wasn’t necessarily true. This is because I took the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. SNAP is commonly referred to as “food stamps” and is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net.
The SNAP Challenge is a week long, voluntary event, in which a person or family lives on $4 per day, per person, which is what the average SNAP beneficiary receives. Throughout the challenge, I felt very hungry, tired, and weak.
I lived for one week on $25.25 worth of food. I compiled a daily menu at the beginning of the week and I only consumed the items on that menu. While I was offered, many times, free food on a consistent basis, I declined because I didn’t want to skew the control on my experiment. Therefore, I kept very concise data on cost and nutritional value recorded on a blog I created specifically for this challenge. The website is www.curtissnapchallenge.blogspot.com.
There are obvious arguments over the abuse of the food stamp system. While I have my own opinions on that particular topic, the conclusion I’ve come to has nothing to do with the abuse of the SNAP Program, I’ll let politicians argue over that.
What I’ve learned, with a firsthand account of the diet, is that the people that live on this diet, day in and day out, are the primary cause of a health crisis in this country. These people are eating highly processed, high sodium, high carbohydrate foods that put them at serious risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Much more risk than someone who takes a balanced approach to their everyday diet.
A lot of these people are already in a compromised economic position in which they don’t have health insurance, they don’t get preventive health check-ups, and their primary care physician ends up being the emergency room doctor, which is exponentially more expensive than a standard doctor visit.
It’s not a matter of “if” these people will end up in the emergency room for a legitimate health concern, it is absolutely a question of “when”.My diet over those seven days consisted of mostly canned foods, rice, pasta, beans, and bread. Over the week, I ate over 16 grams of sodium. I consumed almost 1,000 mg more sodium per day than recommended by the American Heart Association, and without ever reaching 2,000 calories in a day, I surpassed the USDA’s recommendations for Carbohydrate intake.
Within three days I became hypertensive. My blood pressure over the week ranged from 144/103 to 156/85 to 158/94…this is from a guy who registers a 120/80 on a regular basis. I had a banana, an apple, and a yogurt every day and I tried to get vegetables in when I could. The contents of cheap, canned food overpowered any positive impact that the healthy foods were able to provide.
With over 47 million Americans on this diet, I can only suggest that we educate our populous on this epidemic and ask the Department of Food and Nutrition Services to supply a healthier option than simply handing these recipients a few nickels and saying “good luck”.
I now believe that the SNAP program should be run more like the Women, Infants, and Children program in which there are vouchers/coupons for specific foods. This may not be the ultimate answer, but it surely provides an alternative to the unhealthy lifestyle that the current program provides.