I believe that part of the point of the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge is to challenge our thinking and to start conversations. This happened to me as I participated in the challenge during the week of November 17. I talked to a number of people about the challenge, the SNAP program, and working to end poverty. I had Twitter exchanges including one with Meagan Dosher Hansen who reminded me of the importance of access to fresh and local food and an exchange with Leanne Masters who raised the obvious and important question of “Why aren’t the lived experiences of others enough to foster conversation?” I continue to ponder that question. I also read a number of blogs and some articles. These included material from people who participated in the challenge and people who did not; people who supported participating in the challenge and people who did not.
Sharon Astyk wrote a post that stays with me as well: Why I Won’t Do the Food Stamp Challenge. The experience of two of her former foster sons who lived on food stamps for their family’s primary source of income informs her writing. She observes:
I know for a fact that the reality of living on food stamps is rather different than making a week or a month long shift.
She notes the compound challenges that people who depend on food stamps face: such as the stamps not lasting until the end of the month and the deficit that creates as the next month begins and what food stamps do not purchase and what one has to do to obtain some of those items: “tampons, soap, shoes, toilet paper, cleaning fluid, roach killer, school supplies”.
She also highlights the privileges, advantages, and resources that those who choose to take the challenge have. I had all these and more:
- A kitchen
- Spices and seasonings to make food palatable (although some who take the challenge do so without using what is on hand, the reality is that we have many things on hand already)
- A bathroom full of supplies
- Ways to cover other expenses and emergencies
- A very different starting point – as Ms. Astyk points I, I did not start with “a week or two of hunger, depression and misery behind [me] in which there was not food”
- Access to free coffee at work and in meetings
- Friends who had the resources to buy me snacks or drinks (I did decline all but one cup of coffee at a cold football game but my reality is that I have friends who can easily help me without stretching their resources and I have the means to attend a football game)
Ms Astyk rightly identifies other limits of the challenge:
Doing the food stamp diet for a week or a month won’t give you a sense of how depressing, humiliating, exhausting and frustrating it is to be poor in our society. It won’t let you experience the ways poor diet and the grinding suffering of poverty degrade your health and your energy to keep going. It won’t give you a sense of what it is like to live on food stamps month after month, what it is like to be ashamed of yourself and your inability to give your children and family what they need. It won’t let you experience what it is like to feel that you can never catch up, so what’s the point of even trying?
Not everyone who receives food stamps starts as far back as my kids do – but the truth is for the one in four children in America who depends on food stamps for their family’s basic food security, the conversations we are having about cutting the food stamp budget, about the farm bill and about poverty don’t even begin to cover critical ground.
Doing the SNAP/Food Stamp Challenge opened me to voices and questions and conversations in new ways. I am grateful for that. But I recognize that there are many voices I need to hear, the questions still remain, and the conversations I had only opened the topics of providing food security and ending poverty. I will have to go deeper. We all will have to go deeper. May we do so. May I do so.
See you along the Trail.