Forty Days of SNAP

Our family's Lenten food stamp challenge

“Look! A Free Banana!”

Knowing that fruit is really one of the most expensive parts of our food budget, I took the chance. Nobody was watching. It wasn’t free, exactly, but nobody wanted it. No, I didn’t steal it. It was in the trash bin. Sitting right on top a bed of dry paper (come on people, recycle!), gleaming yellow with light brown freckles. It looked a bit soft on the bottom end, but the peel was unbroken and clean. I reached down and quickly snagged it, hoping nobody would notice. If someone did see, they would think I was retrieving something I dropped accidentally. I quickly made my way out to the parking lot and chucked it into the front seat of the car to save until my meetings were over.

I felt like a hunter-gatherer or a survivalist who isn’t fool enough to pass by an opportunity for nutritious calories that drop in my lap. Low-hanging fruit, one might say. But plucking a someone else’s banana from the top of a trash can isn’t freegan dumpster-diving. I mean, it’s not the same as digging through rubbish bins and scarfing down other people’s half-eaten chicken sandwiches or cold Pad Thai takeaway.

Or is it?

Statistics alert:  More than half of all fruits and vegetables end up rotting in bins, fields, or landfills rather than being eaten.  We lose more than we use!  If, as a nation, we could improve efficiency and reduce just 15% of our food waste per year, we could feed more than 25 million people just on what we save.  As it stands now, it seems I’m more likely to find fruit in the trash than I am to find it in a bowl.

As I watch the budget, I’m aware we’re not half-way through the month, yet we’re two-thirds of the way through our SNAP allotment. We’re cooking quite a bit from scratch (e.g. baking bread, making yogurt).

 The Rye Bread

The Yogurt

We are trying to be frugal, and are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet. Yes, a fair amount of consumable assets still reside in the pantry and fridge, but it’s starting to look like lean times will be upon us.

Perhaps I’ll keep my eyes open and visit the bin again soon.

The Rubbish Bin


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5 thoughts on ““Look! A Free Banana!”

  1. Kathy Norman on said:

    Your blog is blessing me, giving me insight into what it is like to be poor and hungry in America. Thanks for sharing. Hope you write a book about this

  2. Clarification about waste–I think the stats cited above mainly cover pre-consumer waste; that is, food that never makes it to market for one reason or another. Or makes it to the store but the store has to throw out when the expiration date is reached.

    Still, post-consumer waste is significant too.

    Random sad post-consumer waste story: at one point not long ago the cafeteria at our daughter’s school put kiwis in kids’ lunches. What a great thing to give kids! Yay! But kiwi is rather hard to enjoy with its brown fuzzy coat still on. And those plastic sporks don’t work for peeling. So kids were just chucking out those gorgeous whole fruits. Ugh.

  3. Dennis Herman on said:

    When I read this, I thought about seeing workers in Quito on their lunch break. They would eat a banana then carefully eat the inside of the peel as to not waste any edible part.

  4. Laura King on said:

    I don’t know what services there are in your community, but here the folks who receive benefits like this qualify to get food at the food pantry. Ours will give you enough food to make three meals without meat or milk most of the time. Have you factored that in to your “budget”?

  5. Yes, we have, Laura. Stay tuned!

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