In the U.S. right now, some people are attempting to eat for a week on $25. This challenge is meant to simulate the lifestyle of a person living on food stamps who has to feed a family on $3 per person, per day. I learned about this challenge via the web site The Kitchn and read some of the blog entries by people accepting the challenge. If you read the linked posts, you'll note that many Kitchn readers smugly assert they can do it nutritiously with no problem and that they have already done this because of their judicious shopping at "farmer's markets" and great cooking skills. I'm sure one could do it for one week with luck and shopping coincidentally with harvest seasons and good sales resulting from said harvests, but I don't think it'd be so easy to manage year-round.
If you're not American and don't know what food stamps are, they are the means by which the U.S. government helps people on public assistance ("welfare", "the dole") while ensuring that they spend the meager amounts of money they're given on food rather than on ale, whores, and crack. I add that last bit sarcastically. Food stamps can only be used to buy food while cash can buy anything, so food stamps are a way of controlling behavior. Note that they can't buy other necessities. If you're on welfare and need toilet paper, over-the-counter medication, or new underpants, you can't use food stamps.
I grew up around people who lived on food stamps and my family spent one exceptionally painful Reagan-era year on them. That year was due to my father getting kicked off of his disability payments as his situation was "reassessed" by the fine Republicans who thought he was faking partial left side paralysis, left eye near blindness, crippling headaches, and a blood clot that could kill him at any moment.
Using food stamps is a humiliating experience. Clerks at the markets treat you differently than people who pay in cash. One of the CH's and my friends used to work as a cashier at a supermarket and she made scathing remarks about people who used food stamps to buy soda or junk food. She felt that, if she were assisting in footing their food bill, she had a right to judge how and what they ate. Never mind that she had lived with her parents all her life and never worked any job but low-paying dead end ones. If she weren't getting free rent and subsidized food, she'd find her perspective on life rather different. I daresay she'd need some public assistance herself if she were to live on her own.
My grandmother worked for many years of her life at a tree nursery. After she could no longer work there, she lived on public assistance because she wasn't strong enough, skilled enough or able-bodied enough to do more work. She lived in a trailer with no running water and used food stamps. The amount of cash people receive on welfare is paltry and she was "lucky" to own a plot of land and not have to pay rent. You can't live on welfare and afford real rent. You have to live in special low income housing or have your rent subsidized. You can imagine the wonderful quality of home you're likely to get as a part of that deal.
To get by, my grandmother worked "under the table" for a well-to-do woman who lived on a large plot of land and couldn't care for her own property. Sometimes my grandmother would pay one of her 8 grandchildren (my sister and I plus 6 cousins who were lying, thieving, drug-using hellions) to pick up sticks or rake leaves for her on this woman's huge property. The woman paid her in cash so the welfare people didn't know about the money. We'd also sometimes go with her to pick strawberries for 25 cents a quart. It was hot, hard work for pocket change. These were the only ways she could get by, though I didn't realize her hardship at the time.
Getting back to the challenge though, I found myself wondering what an equivalent amount of money would be for dealing with such a challenge in Tokyo. I have wondered in the past about the lowest amount of money you could spend and eat healthily in Japan. When you're forking over at least $1 per bit of fresh fruit in many cases, and sometimes more, it'd be awful difficult to keep numbers down. For Tokyo, I think 500 yen a day would be a doable, but difficult challenge. That would be about $35 a week, though I don't think that would be too hard if it was "per person". Covering one person alone would be much harder than doing 1000 yen a day for two people or scaling upwards for more.
It's a little harder for me to get a good handle though on what a reasonable low amount is for someone in Tokyo for two reasons. First of all, my husband and I buy in bulk and are drawing food from our stores of items bought from Costco or the FBC. We have determined that we probably are "spending" between 5000-6000 yen a week because of food we're using from the freezer or pantry. I spend another 4,000-8,000 per week on fresh food purchases from around the neighborhood depending on prices and eating habits. That means I'm spending about 12,000 a week in general for two people. The other reason I can't easily conclude anything about food prices in Tokyo is that our diet is pretty Westernized. Neither of us is much of a seafood fan and I'm not about to make tofu or beans for one. My husband is decidedly a meat-eating person.
If anyone who reads this post is eating a more Japanese-style diet and has some input on the type of numbers it requires, I'd appreciate hearing their thoughts. Sometimes I think a Japanese diet would be cheaper, but I'm not entirely sure. Rice is certainly a good buy (and I do make dishes with rice on occasion), but other things less so. I'd especially like input on whether or not 500 yen a day is an equivalent challenge to the U.S. $3 per day challenge or if it's too much or too little.