Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Day 1

Late Sunday night and early Monday morning I was dealing with an overflowing dishwasher disaster, so didn't get much sleep. Monday morning I had to clean up and arrange for repairs. I was late for work because of this and wanted to run out the door and just grab something on my way in, but I had to stop, cook grits and eggs, and make tea, sit down, and eat it. I'm not sure that living life in a rush is a luxury per se, but I know I couldn't afford it Monday morning.

At lunch I was very grateful for coworkers who originally planned to meet at a restaurant but agreed to meet in a conference room and bring our own lunches because I was taking the challenge. A small act of solidarity. In the evening I had to give a talk to a group of students, and the faculty took me out to dinner after. I explained to them why I would be eating ahead of time, and they were also supportive. One of the faculty members told me about how she lived on very little money as a grad student, and another told me about how she lived on food stamps many years ago, and it was not difficult because she was vegetarian and ate a lot of rice and beans. On Sunday I met a man at a cookout who also said he didn't think it would be difficult if I had just shopped at H-Mart, the large Asian supermarket out in the suburbs.

I tried to explain to each of them how the economics of my challenge worked out in 2014; how i also lived on a shoestring in grad school but prices of food have gone up since then, and most food stamp recipients don't have access to universities' largesse of free food at lectures; how food stamp benefits have been cut; and how my shopping trip went this week, how many Calories I am getting and not getting. It's not that I have a bad shopping strategy, it's that the benefit is too small. And as some of the cookout attendees pointed out, I came at this with a lot of social capital, knowledge and resources to know what would supply balanced nutrition, to bargain hunt, etc.

 Many people have offered to give me food, and when I explain it's not allowed in the challenge, some have posited that lots of people on food stamps have friends that give them food, because they themselves have given food to people receiving food stamps... but I explain how not everyone has access to friends who can or do spare food, and that the challenge isn't about learning exactly "what it's like," to be someone living on food stamps, it's about learning the real limits of the SNAP benefits and how we the American people need to do more, not as individuals generously helping other individuals, but systematically ending hunger through political action.

I am really glad people are engaging so much with the challenge, thinking and talking about SNAP benefits. I hope we all can move from problem solving strategies for saving money and managing tight budgets, and from gestures of individual generosity (however welcome these may be) to organized action that changes the collective political will. 

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