A few members of Congress have recently taken a challenge to see if they can subsist on $21 a week, the average amount a food stamp recipient receives.

Reps. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo. — co-sponsors of legislation that would add $4 billion annually to the $33 billion food stamp program that feeds 26 million low-income Americans — challenged their colleagues to join them in trying to eat for just $1 a meal.

McGovern conceded it was a struggle. “No organic foods, no fresh vegetables, we were looking for the cheapest of everything,” he said as a food stamp recipient helped him shop. “We got spaghetti and hamburger meat that was high in fat — the fattiest meat on the shelf. I have high cholesterol and always try to get the leanest, but it’s expensive. It’s almost impossible to make healthy choices on a food stamp diet.”

Is it?

Just ask Tom Wolfe, a longtime owner of a natural foods store in Takoma Park, Md. In a recent op-ed article for the Washington Post, Wolfe noted that most of the people he meets on his frequent travels in the developing world eat a simple diet of grains, beans and vegetables.

Inspired by their example, he began in April to spend just $25 a week for food. “I have been able, through careful planning, to feed myself well — with enough left over to prepare lunch four days a week for the five people on the staff of my store,” he wrote. “Virtually my entire diet since April has been grains and beans grown certified-organic and a mix of organic and cheaper non-organic vegetables…”

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