Table stakes

With one sentence, my mother shaped who I am today, setting in stone my views on wealth, happiness and food security.

She said, “All I ever dreamed of was having enough money to walk into a grocery store and buy whatever I wanted.”

That statement had a profound effect on a child who could hardly grasp what it was like to grow up in the wake of The Great Depression, to scratch together meals for three siblings using the barest of ingredients while your parents worked in the mill, or to pick a hundred pounds of cotton a day to put your husband through college.

It became my standard for success. Not a big house. Not fancy clothes. But the ability to feed the people I love, and feed them well.

It became my standard for success. Not a big house. Not fancy clothes. But the ability to feed the people I love, and feed them well.

To this day, if you want to render me a helpless, sobbing mess, show me someone who’s hungry. I mean hungry in a way that — mercifully — you and I will probably never be.

That’s why I was caught off-guard this afternoon by a Bill Moyers interview with the documentarian behind “A Place at the Table,” a film that shines a light on the 50 million Americans — one in four of whom are children — who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

One of the most powerful segments featured U.S. Representative Jim McGovern, who tried to live healthy for a week on his state’s $3-a-day SNAP budget. (That’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.) Needless to say, it was difficult thanks to the Big Ag subsidies that make processed food so much cheaper than fresh.

The average daily SNAP benefit per person in Georgia is $3.36, and I can’t help but wonder if Brad and I could live on that.

We’re lucky because, unlike many Americans, we don’t live in a food desert. We have access to farmers markets and fresh food. But could the two of us buy it on $6.72 a day?

We’re about to find out.

Our CSA begins a three-week hiatus later this month, and beginning Sept. 14, we’re going to perform an experiment. As food advocates, we want to be able to make informed decisions about what policies to support. So we’re going to live on Georgia’s SNAP allotment for one week to determine if it’s realistic or if we need to join the fight for change.

Here are the rules:

  • No eating free meals during working lunches that week.
  • Food from our garden is acceptable.
  • Food I’ve canned is allowed, but we have to calculate the actual cost per jar.
  • Staples like milk and butter have to be purchased that week. No cheating, using leftovers in the fridge.

The goal is to eat as nutritiously as possible, and we’ll document our meals along with the cost.

Incidentally, “A Place at the Table” is now available for streaming for a $3.99 rental fee on I have a feeling I know what this week’s Monday Night at the Movies will be.

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