Thursday, February 07, 2013

SNAP the silence on domestic hunger

This week I participated with other residents of Montgomery County, MD in an effort to SNAP the silence on hunger in our community.  The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) supports our neighbors whose wages are too low to lift them out of poverty, helping them to put food on the table. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, this Federal program allows individuals that to purchase food to eat, or to buy seeds and plants which produce food for the household. By taking the SNAP the silence challenge and living on a food budget of $5 a day (the actual average adult food stamp allotment is $4.25) participants are experiencing life on public nutrition assistance, a reality for about 65,000 people in our county.  I am saddened and shamed by that statistic but impressed by community leaders like Councilwoman Valerie Ervin who are building awareness of the need for social safety nets like SNAP.  As it turns out I don't seem to have what it takes to be among the working poor.  .

I expected the toughest part of this challenge to be incorporating my commitment to fair and sustainable trade into the mix.  Last weekend, for example, I tried to purchase free range chicken from a local farmer to add to a stew for dinner this week.  The base for the stew was a fair trade bean mix, costing about $1.90 a serving BEFORE the meat protein.  The chicken locally sourced and humanely raised chicken would cost me $8.99 a pound.  Factory produced poultry available at a supermarket cost $2.99 a pound.  I had to choose the cheaper chicken, although I'd rather support a local farmer, eat chickens that were raised in a setting that doesn't dangerously pollute the environment.  But if I were a SNAP recipient I wouldn't have the luxury of those choices. 

As it turns out what was most difficult was the lifestyle choices I didn't even think about before this week--the cost of my occasional snack and treats, and the ultimate luxury of cheating on this challenge.  Building in the cost of a dessert for dinner really through my budget off.  What was worse, is that I had absolutely no flexibility for snacks at work or even fast food when I was running late for dinner.   Doesn't sound like a struggle,  perhaps, to have to put aside the occasional granola bar or bowl of Ben & Jerry's.  But going without those things made me realize how easy my daily life is.

Working out my budget took a lot of time, shopping for bargains was also a strain. I started this week feeling a bit under stress. To top it off, not having any casual snacks or treats throughout the day made the slight hunger I was experiencing even more irritating. When it turned out I had to travel for a family obligation, I gave up the possibility of eating on $5.00 in an airport. That turned out to be my breaking point. 

Individuals living on SNAP, of course, can't opt out.  They can't use a debit card to sneak a pretzel at a food court.  They can't rationalize a family difficulty as a reason exceed a budget.  I started this week dismayed by hunger in my community because I believe hunger in the United States should be impossible given our resources and our ingenuity.  I end the week with a different kind of sadness and a measure of shame.

No comments:

Post a Comment