$2.57 a day buys food, perspective

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$2.57 a day buys food, perspective

by Ari Armstrong

The following article was originally published by the Rocky Mountain News on September 14, 2007.

A two-person household can receive as much as $284 per month in food stamps, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nevertheless, my wife and I spent the month of August eating for $159.04, or $2.57 per person per day.

We wanted to best the "Food Stamp Challenge" of three months ago, in which public figures spent a week on the "average" food-stamp budget of $3.57 per day -- less than the resources recipients have available for food -- and promoted more tax spending on the program ("'I couldn't afford an onion'/Food stamp test leaves city exec hungry and tired," June 11).

We ate a fairly regular diet, preparing dishes such as soup, baked chicken, burritos, meatloaf, salads, cookies and flan (my specialty).

We didn't accept free food, buy food at Costco, or even eat our home-grown tomatoes.

We didn't go out to eat.

Our purchases included fresh and frozen vegetables, brown rice, organic milk, real butter and flax. And the total bill included $6.64 for taxes.

I said we could eat for less than $3 per person per day. I was right.

I bragged that it would be easy ("Food Stamp Challenge will be a snap," Speakout, June 22). On that score I was wrong, so I accept my portion of humble pie.

The diet would have been far easier had I paid more attention to our counts of calories, fat and protein from the start.

We both lost around five pounds over the first nine days. My wife felt great throughout, but I started to feel fatigued. The lesson, regardless of your budget, is to learn your nutritional guidelines and stick to them. We corrected our balance of foods for the rest of the month and regained weight. I learned more about the nutrition of different foods, and our diet henceforth will be better than it was before August. For details, please see the Web site FreeColorado.com.

We said we'd donate whatever we came in under budget to the Ayn Rand Institute, and others agreed to match our donation. Instead we wrote a check for $180 and encouraged others to do likewise.

I was reminded at a very personal level of the importance of a free-market system of capitalism, in which the rights of the individual to control his own life, resources and property -- as consistent with the equal rights of others -- are fully protected by law. It is because of that system of liberty -- and to the extent that we maintain it -- that we prosper and thrive. We can rejoice that most of us have to worry about eating too much food, not too little, and that we have ample resources to save for emergencies.

Welfare -- the forcible transfer of wealth -- should be phased out and replaced with voluntary charity such as food banks, even as political controls that hamper economic opportunities are repealed.

Voluntary charity is consistent with individual rights, and it is more likely to promote responsible giving, administration and consumption of resources for the poor. The goal should be to help people become independent rather than dependent on politicians and bureaucrats.

Something I didn't expect was for the diet to become a catalyst for me to rethink my priorities. As my wife and I spent time together discussing our diet, we talked more about the broader course of our lives. And I will be making some changes, not only to my daily diet, but to my daily use of time. Food is the substance with which we build our bodies, and time is the substance with which we build our lives. And I will try to stop taking both things for granted.

We are what we eat, and we are what we do. I will strive to hold every morsel of food, and every minute of time, as precious.

Ari Armstrong, a resident of Westminster, edits the Colorado Freedom Report (freecolorado.com).

The Colorado Freedom Report--www.FreeColorado.com