Between May 15 and May 21 members of the USA congress were challenged to eat only what they could afford on about $3 a day which is the average food stamp benefit. Some of the representatives that participated are Jim McGovern (D-Mass. ), Eric Gioia (D-NY), Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), Jan Schakowsky, and Jo Ann Emerson (R-Missouri). McGovern and Emerson head the House Hunger Caucus and were the ones that put out this challenge, which few took up. All were faced with the crude reality of living on such a low food income.

Gioia commented that every day he woke up hungry and irritable. On one of the challenge days a single mother of two who lives on food stamps accompanies him to the store and introduced him to stuff like ramen noodles and the store’s discount coupons. Nearing the end of his week he had to go to a food pantry to get some extra food to hold him for the last couple of days.

When Ryan was traveling, security guard took away his jar of peanut butter and jelly, leaving him with hardly any food for the next few days. This made him aware that for people really living on such a limited income a simple mistake, such as dropping and breaking a container of food can result in going hungry.

This challenge was directly linked to the upcoming Federal Farm Bill, which has often been blamed for tipping the agricultural landscape in favor of cash crops instead of promoting balanced agriculture, which will lead to balanced diets. As these representatives discovered, living on such a limited food income is not only a problem because of the very small amounts of food they could access, but so was quality. Many end up eating foods high in starch, which provide a sensation of fullness, but little nutritional value. This group also commented on either gaining or loosing weight, and feeling lethargic on this diet, and they only had to do it for a week. Imagine a lifetime of bad nutrition, and the consequences; high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. As of December 2006, 26.3 million people in the USA rely on food stamps.

McGovern kept a blog about his experience which can be found here. You can read about Gioia’s experience here.