Okay, let’s be honest. Making it to half-way point, I admit some relief as I notice we still have enough basic supplies and I know basically what to make for the next few nights’ dinner. This is crazy, though, right? Because my half-way point of one tiny week of life within a restrictive food budget, is only to get a tiny glance, a shred of experience, at what it might be like to live only on SNAP/Food Stamps and all the surrounding complex issues surrounding hunger and poverty in the United States.
It is embarrassing really, to admit my relief. It is real, my relief. I feel it in my body. I have been hungry this week. Anxious. Grumpy. Resentful at times. Passing over extras to give my kids more. But this is Only. One. Week. And, I made a choice to participate, and I could undo it any minute. Heck, even my cupboard at work is stock full of provisions as my work colleagues know! My relief at being half-way through is real. It is also chock full of privilege.
So, just what about privilege? Here are my thoughts, today:
1) The Food Stamp Challenge isn’t a game. It’s not winnable. It shouldn’t be used, by those of us with full cupboards and freezers and the possibility to go “back to normal” tomorrow, to congratulate ourselves even if we can possibly eek through the week. Being on a SNAP benefit food budget is challenging, absolutely. But the goal is not to see if I can get enough to eat this week. The Challenge is actually to advocate for the benefits available to people in our nation. The Challenge is to transform my own heart and mind enough and hope that I can then use my own power and privilege and experience to change myself. To re-invigorate my advocacy. And maybe, somehow, affect the systems of economic injustice because I will keep trying with my words, my vote, and my privilege, to get the message across: there is something really wrong with the income disparity, wage inequality, lack of access to food, and massive economic injustice in our nation and it must change.
2) Privilege and wealth begets privilege and wealth. Here’s the thing: I get free calories because of my position in society. Perks spring up all around me. I don’t actually need free, most of the time, and yet it is steadily offered in the circles in which I live. Already having the blessing of a supportive church community and a good, steady job at a caring workplace, I reaped huge benefits this week that might not be typical if I truly lived in the economic bracket to be a recipient of SNAP. Because it is harder to build social nets and spiritual nourishment and community, I suspect, when living poor and hungry in this country. Hunger and poverty are socially isolating and time consuming. Here’s an honest look of all the “free” I got:
- My first day of the SNAP Challenge? I got to eat a small portion of free food and have a cup of desperately needed coffee because I’m a member of a local church, and because I have a history of being in leadership positions there, so no one would question my being in line or helping prepare coffee (it would be assumed I was doing it to be generous, not because I myself actually needed it).
- My second day of the SNAP Challenge? In the morning, a colleague brought in delicious homemade pumpkin bread (from his SNAP budget), and yes, I hungrily gobbled some up. Then, in the afternoon, my work area hosted a reception and I got to leave my desk for 30 minutes, mingle with colleagues, and there was plenty of healthy, kindly prepared mid-afternoon food.
- My third day of the SNAP Challenge? Another colleague dropped by with popcorn and I drank a LOT of my workplace’s free coffee. Most people on SNAP budgets could not rely on so much free.
3) My health is a privilege. This week I’m consuming a lot of peanut butter, and wheat products. I have two different friends who have deadly allergies, one to nuts of all kinds and the other to gluten. My reliance on these foods this week? Another privilege, that I’m not trying to evaluate my own foods (and the free options around me) for whether it will send me to the hospital, mess with my medicine, or spike an ongoing health condition.
4) Hunger is a part of poverty, and this week hasn’t made me any poorer. In fact, I saved money on groceries this week, so guess what—that money will be there, come Sunday, and I can do something else with it. So I really have participated in understanding only a fraction of what someone with a really restricted income would have to deal with: lack of food choices, lack of healthiest calories. But, I haven’t had to draw down savings, and I don’t have the anxiety that my utilities will go out or rent monies will run dry. In an emergency, if our power went out and all my food spoiled, I could go get more. I have a working stove, oven, toaster oven, microwave and refrigerator—all helping me make and store food this week. I know I can go a week without using my SNAP equivalent budget on toothpaste and tissues and children’s cold medicines. I even know that I can provide Christmas presents for my children, without a lot of planning ahead. Having a larger sense of economic security is a huge part of being food secure.
5) I have not been shamed for living on limits this week. I am well aware that being a part of a Food Stamp Challenge actually has the danger of being both self-congratulatory and well-supported by family and friends. Would I blog about being poor or hungry, if I really, actually, was? If it was the reality of my life day in, day out? Yeah, probably not. I would have a lot more times of being quiet when volunteers are asked to cover food for a program at church. I would blush when asked if I could contribute to something at work. I would try to disappear when the time came to see who wanted to organize, or even come to, a community-wide potluck. Last night, I actually pretended I couldn’t read my sweet girl’s pantomime of wanting a drink from the snackbar, during her second game of the evening for which she was working hard as a cheerleader. I thought, I should have made her take a water bottle. I should have planned better, even though earlier she said no, she didn’t want to take her water bottle. I can’t afford to go buy her a drink. But, she’s standing there, thirsty, and I’m looking away. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch. This was one fleeting moment in time, one crumb of shame, to not be able to provide. We quickly remedied the situation upon returning home. I can only imagine the ongoing shame of being in this position on a more regular basis.