Home » Public Health Rambles » {Brief} Follow-up: #surviveon35 Final Thoughts

{Brief} Follow-up: #surviveon35 Final Thoughts

Thank you all for your incredibly thoughtful comments on my last post. I know it’s sort of lame to just give a blanket response to everyone who took the time to share their thoughts, but I don’t know how many times you all would appreciate hearing me say “excellent point!”.  Because people really did make some great points — many that I didn’t think of myself — and it was encouraging to see so many of you taking the time to reflect on this challenge and all its implications. If you haven’t done so already (and find yourself with a little free time), I would highly recommend reading through all the comments. Who knows — maybe they will help you think about the challenge a little differently.

As a quick aside, I can tell you all that during these past few months I’ve thought a lot about giving up blogging (this may not come as a surprise, given how infrequently I was posting for awhile). Sometimes I feel as though I’ve outgrown Health on the Run and no longer have anything of value to add. So when people react to something that I write — something that I clearly feel very passionate about — it means the world to me. And it makes me grateful to have this outlet.

Anyway, I promise I’ll get off my soapbox and move on to other things, but as this #surviveon35 challenge comes to a close, I just have a few final thoughts.

1.) I recognize that the intentions of some of these bloggers are good. I don’t want to discount the fact that this is an issue that hits close to home for some individuals, and that these same people truly are participating because they hope to win money for the food pantry of their choice. This post by Mama Dweeb about her experience as a child is very moving. I honestly do hope that she is able to raise money for the same food pantry that fed her family.

However, that doesn’t change my overall opinion. Whatever the intentions of the individuals participating may be, the poor execution has made for a very condescending challenge…and this has worsened as the week has gone on.

2.) You cannot say that this is a challenge to simply “show that it’s possible to eat healthy on a budget!” I’ve seen this response several times over the past week and it bothers me every single time. Because it’s just not true. When you bring words like “food stamps” and “government assistance” into the challenge, it becomes a lot more than an experiment in budgeting. I don’t care if you are just a healthy living blogger with no real experience or knowledge about the food system — you are still responsible for what you write and the message that it sends. A little more research and a bit more empathy for the segment of our population who live under these circumstances every day would have served everyone participating well.

3.) Unfortunately, many of the meals that I have seen highlighted during the challenge are unrealistic for someone who is actually receiving government assistance, which (in my mind) only furthers the point that this whole thing has missed the mark. Sure, some families may have time to spend a day prepping meals and finding the cheapest prices at local grocery stores. But for many others, this is a luxury they can’t afford. Not to mention the fact that products like Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and bulk bin grains are not easy to come by if you live in a food desert.

Additionally, a lot of the meals I have seen appear minuscule in size. You might be able to survive eating that little for a week, but I can’t imagine feeding a family on so few calories over the long term.

4.) Many of the attitudes that I have seen surrounding this challenge have only continued to disappoint. I can’t imagine that surviving on such a small budget for a week is easy. But if you read a lot of the posts and tweets, you would think the only resulting difficulty has been spending more time planning meals and having to give up fun treats like going out to eat or having a drink at the end of the night. More than anything else, I’ve seen posts that seem to imply how awesome individuals are doing with their super cheap meals.

And I’m not the only observer who has apparently gotten that message. When you read tweets like the ones below from individuals who are “inspired” by those participating, you know there is a major problem with misinformation.

Following the #surviveon35 challenge.  Such a great way to show everyone it is possible to eat real and nutritious food.


“Super inspired seeing what people are getting for #surviveon35! Maybe they should start calling it #thriveon35!!” AGREED

Yes, those are actual quotes from real people (whose names have been removed out of respect for privacy). So please don’t tell me I am being too hard on those participating. While I don’t expect them to be able to control everything everyone says about what they write (obviously that’s impossible), I do expect a little more effort to make sure the wrong message isn’t getting across.

So in conclusion, I will reiterate — this challenge proves nothing…except that there is a lot of ignorance about the state of our food system.

And I suppose it also shows us all that these bloggers are good at budgeting (particularly when several do not have full time jobs and/or a family to feed and are being compensated for their participation). While I hope that those who participate do end up getting a little more out of this week than we’ve seen so far, I can honestly say that I would be happy if I never saw a “challenge” like this again.

Oh, and just an interesting observation that I can’t help but share….

Recently I’ve seen a lot of talk about how the organizers are “upping the ante” by raising money for a charity that helps teach low income families how to prepare healthy meals (which, although admirable, still seems to miss the point…but that’s another topic for another day). The goal is to raise $10,000. Every single person in support of the #surviveon35 challenge has been tweeting and re-tweeting the link to the fundraising page, yet last time I checked (this morning), only $255 had been donated. I’m honestly not judging, just observing. I haven’t donated anything to the charity either, and ultimately I know any amount of money is a good thing.

But I have to wonder — who is the target audience for this fundraiser? And if so many people believe so strongly in the mission of the organization, why have so few donated?*

Just some food for thought…


*These are actual questions that I really want to know the answer to. So if you can enlighten me, please do! I am happy to admit when I’m wrong about something.

17 Responses to {Brief} Follow-up: #surviveon35 Final Thoughts

  1. Thanks again for writing more on this topic, Lauren. Your analysis of this whole thing has been spot-on, in my opinion. I too saw the “upping the ante” thing and it seems to me to be a lame, half-hearted response to all the criticism they’ve been receiving. So now anyone who says anything negative about the challenge will be hit with “How dare you not support helping the poor!” when that’s clearly not what the criticism is aimed toward.

    Keep posting please! I love your posts, even if they’re infrequent.


  2. “this challenge proves nothing…except that there is a lot of ignorance about the state of our food system.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for your insightful thoughts on the subject.

    Also yes, keep posting. It’s good to have your voice in the blogging community! :)

  3. I found your blog when another blogger linked to your other entry on #surviveon35 and I’m so glad I did, as a fellow M(S)PH student in health policy. For the large number of healthy living bloggers, there don’t seem to be many people in non-clinical public health fields (or maybe I’m missing them?).

    Anyway, great post again. Very articulate. I think what bothers me most is the name. The concept of “surviving.” While I don’t have any stats to back me up, it seems like most people who use food stamps would not be in imminent danger of starving to death. It’s more the secondary effects (emotional / mental / etc. in addition to physical) of chronic malnourishment and low income over time that pose the greatest threat to individuals in this situation. And certainly, no long-term conclusions can be drawn from a month of eating in this manner (to your point in #3). The only “surviving” a blogger can show in a week is that they didn’t drop dead or experience a major physical illness. Well congrats, I’m pretty sure people have fasted for longer than that without issue.

  4. I missed your last post, but just went back to read it. I could not have agreed more. As I read about bloggers (especially the ones who make a full time living out of blogging) I was angered. We hit a rough patch this past spring with both of our jobs and it soon became my job to feed the two of us for about $40/week. We just learned to do with out for a while. However, I am educated and live in an affluent area-not a food desert. I also knew that where we were was temporary and was trying to keep us out of debt. I have spent the last 7 years teaching underprivileged high schoolers and have watched hunger and poverty first hand. This challenge disgusted me for all the reasons that you stated in the last post and this post. Thank you for standing up to the marketing and media hype.
    Kaitlyn´s last post ..A pain free butt while riding

  5. I am so happy this week has come to an end. I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing. I think what still bothers me the most is the challenge framr. Ironically, I am doing a high level analysis of SNAP (and using SNAP…way to understand the policy/program I guess) and struggle a lot with the common assumption that low-income people don’t know how to budget and eat healthy. Many (most?) do but they don’t have the time (3 jobs?!!?) or access to healthy foods and food storage. There is a problem in the United States that is SO MUCH DEEPER than the ability to choose healthy foods on a budget.
    Emily´s last post ..All hail Rick Bayless

  6. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and a million more yes’s. I didn’t really pay much attention to the challenge since I’ve been ignoring my blog lately (!) but I did see a few picures on Instagram and was completely offended. I chose to do two years of AmeriCorps service when I graduated from college, and as such, my stipend each year (I made 12,000 per year) qualified me for food stamps here in RI. It was the most humbling and frustrating two years of my life. Waiting in line at the Dept. of Health is something I remember vividly to this day, as was taking out my EBT card at the grocery store and having people give me completely disgusted looks. Pretty sure that wasn’t part of the experience…

    I knew that when I was done I would most likely be able to a) find a job due to my college degree and b) no longer need assistance because I would make enough money, all due to my privilege. I think that’s a big missing piece of this campaign – the lack of discussion about privilege (a big missing piece in blogging, too). I do think it’s so important for people to walk in others shoes and learn more about the food system in this country, but let’s not ignore our privilege in the process. Well done, Lauren!!
    Erin´s last post ..Through.

    • priviledge, yes. that’s what this made me think of, tho i don’t think i called it that in my rant! another commenter pointed out that this can hardly benefit any of the people *actually surviving on $35/day*, and i think that’s a hilarious point- are they coming home at then end of 14 hr days with their dollar meals and firing up the computer for a few hours of surfing pinterest for recipes on a budget?? kinda not. so what is the contribution then-? i really think it’s a detriment, giving people the impression that those on assistance aren’t that bad off, bc “i did that for a week and it was totally awesome! i saved so much money and still ate healthy! #thriveon35 yay!”. yikes.
      Tara´s last post ..This box sure is soapy…

  7. After reading about SurviveOn35, I wondered how much money I spend on food on a normal day. So I measured and calculated everything. While I didn’t eat anything special, it ended up being way over $5! So instead of finding out how ‘easy’ it is to eat healthy on a very low bugdet, I realized how hard it is! I also wonder how people get enough calories for so little money. Only eating plain oatmeal, rice, and beans? That sounds neither healthy nor fun.
    Please keep blogging! I love reading your posts!
    Sue´s last post ..What I Ate Wednesday #20 – Real Food Cost

  8. I really haven’t followed the challenge at all, but your initial post prompted me to check out a blogger or two involved in this “challenge.”

    My conclusion was that yes, it is very easy to survive on $35/week if you basically starve yourself. The portions pictured are miniscule. I’m further appalled that one of the bloggers I looked up is an endurance athlete (not super competitive, but an athlete in training nonetheless). Those workouts + those portions? It seems incredibly unrealistic and, frankly, very unhealthy.

    I’m eager to see the final reports from the bloggers participating, though. I’m curious if some of them will say that no, they DIDN’T get by on $35, or that they did but that they were starving all day. I anticipate a lot of “OMG this challenge was so great, now I’m going to be conscious of how I spend my money!” but I hope that’s not the outcome. A realistic evaluation of the project would be a better read, in my opinion, and it would be far more effective.

    You make good, educated points as always. Thanks for sharing!
    Ali´s last post ..No News Is Great News

  9. Oh my goodness. I just agree with you. And I know that most of the people who participated were not trying to be mean or insensitive, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. It just doesn’t make sense to me to say, “Hey, let’s see if we can do this in a healthy way…” I mean, why? Did any aspect of this experience actual benefit people who must survive on $35? I can’t figure out any way that it did.
    Becky @ RunFunDone´s last post ..Drunk Puppet

  10. I’ve only read this post and your last post about this project. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked in community health centers and nutrition was just a small part of the issue for our patient populations. And what a complex “small” issue it was.

    Keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for your write up about this.

  11. Both this post and the original one were so well-written and well-thought out. I think, unfortunately, many bloggers just jump on the bandwagon for the opportunity to shine or get their name out there without giving the actual “challenge” or the premises behind it much thought. On a totally smaller level, it’s the same reasoning that irkes me when bloggers review products just because someone sent them something, and give a review of this great! healthy! food! when in actuality it might not be that healthy or furthermore, it might just taste terrible (soyjoy anyone!?). I truly hope that in the end, at least one blogger is brave enough to address the issues you mentioned and say that this challenge was too hard to be sustainable or accurate. Thanks for making such great points!

  12. Just more thanks for a healthy living blogger (you) who actually is educated and has studied Public Health.

  13. Never heard of this challenge until I found your blog & read these last two posts, but I would say you NAILED IT and good on you for putting it out there. 100% agree with everything.
    Angela´s last post ..Week in Review: July 16 – 21

  14. Always love your well constructed and thought out posts. Thanks, Lauren!
    Meggie´s last post ..22:22, Palindromic Time

  15. Please come back, I miss you.
    Lauren´s last post ..I live in Louisiana!

  16. I’m usually not much of a commenter, but I came across this post (as well as the previous one) and it hit home with me a bit. I absolutely believe you can get by and eat well on a limited budget, because I do it every day. As a full-time graduate student, my husband is the real breadwinner in our home until I graduate/get a job, so our budget is limited. We budget $80 a week for groceries for the two of us, but this number also includes all the pet food we buy for our dog and two cats, as well as all of our toiletries and paper products. That means our $80 has to stretch further than just food items. All of that to say: Yes, it can be done. BUT it’s not a game, and it certainly takes work. I also work as a freelance artist, but I have enough free time to cut coupons and plan our meals around sales. We are very careful with our budget, frankly, so that we can live debt free and without assistance. Our feeling is that assistance is absolutely necessary for lots of people, but it should definitely be reserved for those who need it, not people like us who can get by without it (though we don’t qualify now thanks to a recent raise, we did until recently).Thank you for being at least one blogger who is aware of the situation in the real world!

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