Confession: F&W's assistant photo editor, Lisa Kim, and I have fallen off the Lunch Club wagon, which we started in November in part to curb our lunchtime spending by bringing meals from home. We weren't really beating ourselves up over it, though, because, well, sometimes we just didn't have the time to prepare healthy brown-bag lunches.
But a recent New York Times editorial, which states that some 26 million Americans depend on our federal food stamp program, spending an average of $1.05 a meal, helped put our measly attempt to save money—and our consequent failure—in perspective. So did reading this New Yorker article about Queens councilman Eric Gioia's Food Stamp Challenge, for which he ate only what he could afford on a week's worth of food stamps (a few fruits and vegetables, some pasta, ramen, canned tuna fish and a tub of pre-mixed peanut butter and jelly). Ted Kulongoski, Oregon's governor, took the same challenge in April (though he eschewed the pre-mixed pb & j and bought separate containers of each).
Another confession: I can't remember the last time I ate a pb & j sandwich; luckily, money concerns have never forced me to do so. But there aren't too many options when you only have $1.05 to spend on a meal. For healthier alternatives, the food stamp program—up for reauthorization this year—will need massive retinkering. Increasing benefits would be a good first step.