Many anti-hunger advocates are taking the SNAP Challenge this week as part of Hunger Action Month. The Challenge? Living on a $4.50 a day budget for food. The following guest blog entry is by Rachel Cohen, a high school senior from Westport, CT, who took the SNAP Challenge along with her mother this summer.
If you are like me, you could drop $4.45 at Starbucks in a snap. That amount of cash took on a new meaning for me this summer as I participated in a SNAP challenge. For those of you who don’t know, SNAP is this country’s food stamp program, and it has been in the news a lot this year as its fate has been debated in Congress. After working this summer at a farmers’ market that lets its customers use their food stamps, I became interested in understanding how people who rely on SNAP are able to eat on $4.45 per person each day, and so I did my own SNAP challenge.
My mother and I thought of some low-cost meal ideas, made a shopping list, grabbed our coupons and a calculator, and set off to the food store. Our shopping trip took much longer than usual because we were evaluating each and every purchase. We had to walk past a lot of the fresh fruit that was in season and organic vegetables that we would normally buy. We bought their distant relatives in cans instead. Coffee and chocolate were also out of our price range, as were many of the well-known name brands. We left the store with less food and a lower bill than ever before.
What followed was several days of eating three carefully planned meals a day. I often left the table just shy of hungry, and before the next meal I was often ravenous. The only snacks we had budgeted for were popcorn made in a pot and homemade popsicles made out of juice. I had to turn down invitations to go out to eat with my friends because even the cheapest meal would have blown the entire day’s budget.
After my challenge was complete, I was definitely glad it was over. Still, I knew I had gotten much out of it. I realized how difficult it must be to live like that all of the time. For just the short time we were living on the food stamps amount, it required a lot of thought, planning and eating the same foods over and over. Also, it didn’t always lead to the healthier choices. I was lucky to have our family garden to dip into, but not everyone has access to one or to one of the farmers markets that takes food stamps. I guess I knew when we walked out of the store with only two partially filled bags of groceries that I might experience some hunger, it never occurred to me how hard it would be to function. I was glad to not be in school because at least I could distract myself more easily than I would have been able to in class. But even paying full attention at work or doing simple tasks was challenging.
Doing this challenge made me much more aware just how the millions of Americans – about 47 million of them – who participate in this program must feel, day in and day out. In Connecticut, about 15% of our neighbors struggle to get food on the table. With that many people out there who have a hard time getting food, chances are if it’s not you and your family, it’s someone you know. I know I tended to think of hunger being a problem only in other parts of the world, but it’s not true. Even we teens have the power to help – especially now, since September is Hunger Action Month. We can collect food for shelters and food banks, we can participate in walks and other fundraisers, and we can raise awareness of the issue of hunger so politicians remember how critical it is to address the issue here in our country.