Bagel Rescues Senator On Food Stamps

On his first day of trying to eat for under $5, Chris Murphy found the first sustenance he could afford en route to a flight at 1 p.m.—and he had to forgo the schmear.

Murphy, Connecticut’s freshman U.S. senator, has decided to restrict himself to the daily $4.80 food budget of the average American on food stamps (under “SNAP,” the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which covers 427,000 people in Connecticut) to get a “firsthand look at the realities of maintaining a balanced and nutritious diet on an extremely limited budget.”

Day One proved a challenge. He began the day at home in the district, met a local reporter at Cheshire’s Main Street Cafe, then hopped a flight to D.C. from Bradley. Murphy described the day to the Independent as he prepared a Ramen-noodles dinner at 9:15 p.m.:

I didn’t have anything to eat [at home] at breakfast. We had run out of fruit. Everything else was going to cost too much. Even having an English muffin, which was in the fridge at the time, would have broken my budget for the day. It’s going to be upwards of 50 cents or so.

Normally in the morning I have an iced tea or a diet soda on the way to work. Clearly I couldn’t afford that. If I had bought my normal iced tea at the Main Street Cafe, I would have spent half my budget for the day. So I just politely answered questions as the reporter sipped coffee. And I drank nothing.

You get into your habits. One of my habits is to have caffeine in the morning. I generally have a diet soda. [But] a diet soda will cost you $1.50 to $2. I’ve had a little bit of a lingering headache today without caffeine.

I didn’t eat anything until got the airport at 1 o’clock. By that point I was absolutely starving. I was not interested in sitting in a hot plane for an hour with my stomach screaming for me. So I searched the airport for whatever I could find for a dollar. The only option was a bagel. Adding cream cheese and or butter would have almost doubled the price. I got the “everything bagel,” plain, for $1.11. I got a little extra flavor [from the everything toppings]. But it was still a pretty meager lunch.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoI got down to Washington around 3:30. I was in meetings up until about 7:30, which was the first opportunity I had to go to the grocery store. I just got back from the grocery store with the cheapest chicken I could find, which was chicken legs. It was $1.99 a pound. So right now I’m cooking six chicken legs for the week, which approximates to about $4 of food. I’m going to try to stretch the chicken legs out over three days for lunch. And I’m cooking some rice now as well. I’m trying to have chicken and rice for lunch the next couple of days.

I’m think I’m probably going to have some ramen noodles for dinner [tonight]. When you have to have a meal on a budget, you revert to things you bought at 19. Because it’s already 9 o’clock at night and I haven’t eaten, I’m going to take time to make healthier food for the next couple of days and just throw down some ramen tonight. I think I can eat two packets of ramen for a dollar. I might have enough money left over to have a banana.

I’m starving! It’s absolutely amazing to me that people have to go through this every day. I realized in the supermarket today how price-unconscious I really am. I don’t do a lot of the family’s grocery shopping. But when I’m in the store I do pay attention to price—just not to the extent I have to today. I try to buy less expensive food, but not the least expensive. I didn’t buy apples today because they seemed a little pricey. Bananas at 69 cents a pound seemed the cheapest way to get calories from fruit. Apples were over a buck-twenty five a pound. That seems a little excessive.

I had dinner scheduled with [U.S. Sen.] Chuck Schumer for tomorrow night. But I am going to reschedule the dinner. I wasn’t real excited about having to sit across Chuck as he ate a nice dinner or I merely watched or alternatively chomped on a bread stick. He was glad to reschedule; I’m not sure he wanted to eat while I wasn’t either.

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posted by: Noteworthy on May 21, 2013  8:29am

I’m confused about the rationale for this gimmick. Does Murphy really not know what you can eat on a limited food stamp budget?

posted by: Tessa Marquis on May 21, 2013  9:08am

Tips for the Senator:

Buy bulk (for your apples especially). Get your Ramen at “asian” stores. “Ethnic” shops are usually cheaper for fresh vegetables. Homemade is always cheaper than anything in an airport!

Fortunately for you, the search for affordable food will not impact your travel budget since gas and bus fares are not included in this experiment.

And, last but not least: Go to the Food Pantry.

posted by: J A Moore on May 21, 2013  11:26am

While this article does not include how long Senator Murphy plans to stick with this test, I offer first hand experience:
After time, the body gets used to smaller portions.
And even if I am seemingly fine with smaller rations of food, unfortunately I cannot afford the healthy foods which would both better sustain me and would more likely have prevented some dental and health problems that I have.
However, and pricing aside, dictating to SNAP recipients which foods they can or cannot buy is a whole other slippery slope.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 21, 2013  11:27am

The point of the gimmick is to call out the people who are always so hell bent on wanting to cut SNAP and other programs because apparently people have a dependency to eating, yet refuse to even for a week live on aspect of your life like you’re actually that poor.

posted by: Noteworthy on May 21, 2013  12:32pm

Just something to think about…Food stamps were never meant to pay for 100% of a person’s food supply. It was always a supplement and most people I’ve known over the years, fit that use directly. Meanwhile the food stamp program has exploded in terms of cost by $50 billion/year so while you may think some are in rush to cut it, there is no rush, but you have to pay for it. That it should be concerning, and worthy of time along with how the hell you lower the number of food stamp families because they are making enough money to care for themselves.

My other advice for the gimmicky senator - green beans and green peppers, cut and soak in ice cold water. They hold more water, don’t rot and make you feel full. Add cheese and saltines. Now go think about the real issues.

posted by: parejkoj on May 21, 2013  1:32pm

Beans and rice, black bean soup, lentils. Soups and legumes are both great ways to make 4-5 days worth of food for a couple bucks. But it takes a bit of pre-planning.

Politicians trying to put themselves in their constituents shoes seems like a good thing to me.

posted by: Tessa Marquis on May 21, 2013  1:42pm

Agree that this is a good plunge. The Senator is trying to go in feet first.

He is a novice and operating without the net or network most people tend to have.

Murphy is in the position of those who suddenly find themselves homeless and without a well-stocked pantry, no existing supplies of rice, beans, soups, sugar, oil, etc.

This experiment is good so that he can tell others who are not willing to do the experiment themselves: Republicans Take Note.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 21, 2013  2:08pm

4 Things Politicians Will Never Understand About Poor People

He needs to read this report.

Soaring Suburban Poverty Catches Communities Unprepared

posted by: cedarhillresident! on May 21, 2013  2:23pm

Poor person with out food stamps on $5.00 a day. or $35.00 a week. It is done every day by more and more people! Why because our paychecks are consumed by taxes and High deductible health care!

Remember Dollar stores and bargain shop. But you can have a full belly like us working poor and lower

*Bag of potatoes   3.00 or rice depending on your liking

*Box of pasta 1.00 (Hot with butter or cold with salad dressing or a can of diced tomato) can be a few lunches or dinners or a side dish

*Salad dressing 1.50
*Head of lettuce 1.50
*Onion .50
*Can of tomatoes diced 1.00 make a marinara for pasta (and save a spoon or two of the chunks pre cooking and mix with salad)

*Chicken thighs (tastier and more meat than legs about same price) 5.00

*Package of cheese 2.50 (on sale at most stores)
*teabags and a bag of sugar (for hot and cold drinks) 3.50
*Cheap cookies (1.00)
*Bag of peppers of in season veggie’s 3.00
*Package of hotdogs 3.00
*Dozen eggs 1.50
Loaf of bread 1.50
*Peanut butter 3.00
*Jelly 1.50
*Margin 1.00

Reality is a week on $5.00 is an insult. Trying a year and trying to keep a roof over your head. Working 2 three jobs just to do all that! Then say you have an understanding. A week long diet is not even going to give you a clue what it is like. I feel like is this more of a look at me thing than a I want to understand thing. (cory copycat)

posted by: cedarhillresident! on May 21, 2013  2:32pm

Sorry got a bit harsh there. But the truth is a year! I will respect the politician that does it for a month or a year. While paying for electric and gas deciding if you can eat or lose your home because the taxes and spending in this state are out of control.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 21, 2013  3:00pm

Food stamps, much like Social Security, may have been created with the idea of being supplemental, but that’s pretty irrelevant to the current situation. Anyone with income low enough for food stamps most likely needs as much of their disposable cash not going to food as possible.

posted by: formerNhresident on May 21, 2013  4:29pm

SNAP= Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Key words - supplemental and assistance.

posted by: Josiah Brown on May 21, 2013  8:22pm

Readers may be interested in the documentary film “A Place at the Table,” which the United Way of Greater New Haven screened at Criterion on May 13, followed by a panel discussion that included Chris Murphy’s colleague Rosa DeLauro.  In the film, U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts argues on behalf of SNAP funding.

Organizations such as Oxfam have long used symbolic fasts and basic “banquets” to raise both funds and awareness about hunger around the world.  Locally, the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project (YHHAP) has done the same for more than twenty years; students may choose to give up their meal plans for a day, with dollars donated to soup kitchens, food pantries, shelters, etc. 

“A Place at the Table” raises questions about the interplay of personal and public responsibility and private charity, and social welfare versus “corporate welfare.”

posted by: lkulmann on May 21, 2013  10:09pm

Ok, he felt the culture shock. Hurts doesn’t it. Going from comfortable to uncomfortable. Now bagel boy, throw a disabled kid in the mix and feed him. We’ll talk about meds, diapers, supplements, education, the special kind and so much more. Are we having fun yet? Oh..idk if your parents are still with us, but toss them into the mix because you are going to take care of them too’ll get about 10.00/day by then :)

posted by: OES on May 22, 2013  7:58am

I applaud Murphy for using the Food Stamp Challenge to call attention to food insecurity.  For those who want to help end childhood hunger in New Haven, there is a fundrasing event for Share Our Strength occuring at the Omni Hotel tonight that supports programs in New Haven.  All ticket proceeds go to the CT Food Bank, End Hunger CT, Christian Community Action and the No Kid Hungry Campaign.