Monday, November 19, 2012

The Challenge: Day Five

According to, hunger is the world’s number one health risk. Going into the challenge I knew this was a huge issue worldwide, however the fact that it kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis is shocking.

Depending on several different factors, such as if you’re healthy to begin with or if you’re drinking water, the human body can go up to eight weeks without food. Today was the first day that I was starving. It hadn’t even been 24hrs since I’d last eaten but I felt miserable and I could tell it was effecting my entire day. I can’t imagine the pain of eight weeks without food. At first this might seem like an issue that only 3rd world countries might face (it did to me) but when I start looking more in depth about child hunger in America I was horrified. “More than 16 million, or almost one in five, American children are at risk of hunger. Each child facing hunger potentially goes to bed hungry at some point in the year due to a lack of household resources to secure an adequate food supply.” Our country focuses on so many other issues and even worldwide hunger itself so in my eyes it seems like our own nation’s children are being overlooked.  I have sympathy for children in general since a lot of what happens to them isn’t in their control. That’s why I’m glad that at least our country is on the road to combating this issue with the SNAP program, however there is a lot of progress and improvement to be made. 


Today was the last full day of the challenge. This week I have noticed a couple different repeating thoughts each day. For one, the lack of options has been hard. I open our pantry or refrigerator and see that 80% of the things in there I can't have this week because my roommate and I bought them before the challenge started. I've also noticed that with the limited budget I had to shop with on Monday, I was not able to buy things other than staples like rice, beans, eggs, and pasta. This may sound silly, but my inability to prepare for long days by bringing snacks with me has been rather difficult. There are days where I have class 9:00am-3:30 pm (every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) and I usually pack a lunch or if I forget I can buy one. After my afternoon class I usually go straight to the library, snacks in hand to keep me going until I elide I can take a break for some real, substantive dinner. I had a long, hungry evening in the library tonight because I didn't want to take a break to go home for dinner, I had not been home since 7:30 this morning and also was not able to bring any sort of snack foods with me today. This 5-day simulation obviously differs in many ways from what it would be like to actually need assistance from programs like SNAP, but even in this week I have grown somewhat unenthused with the options in my refrigerator. It's a shame, because food is something so valuable and under appreciated in our society, and I do not think it's fair that limited monetary resources may be one cause for such disinterest. I mean, truly, when I glance at the rice and beans dish that I have eaten for 2/3 of my meals for the lat few days, it's very unexciting. I lose interest in eating and food. I don't know if this is realistic, because food stamps are allotted on a monthly basis, not weekly, and therefore may allow for more purchasing flexibility than I was able to get with my $20, but the lack of variety is frustrating. Or, maybe, in reality living off of a food stamp-like budget is even more difficult than this one week simulation. I cannot say, and I'm sure it depend on each individual's experience as t how they feel about programs like SNAP. Despite it's imperfections, this week has given me insight to some of the feelings and limitations that exist for people who, undeservingly, are robbed of the luxury to have variety in their cabinets and colorful selection of tens of kinds of vegetables, etc. Food deserves to be appreciated, and people deserve to appreciate it! 


Today I started off eating the normal oatmeal and made a thermos of coffee for class. Unfortunately, the oatmeal was not enough to last me through 5 hours of class and I had a hard time focusing. I had three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches again which is plenty of food. For dinner I had pasta again. I eat a lot of food and carbs a day on this diet, but the only healthy meal is the oatmeal. People say America has a lot of diet and health issues, as well as a large amount of obese people. I can’t imagine what our nations health would be like if everyone was on a $4.40 budget. The food I bought is also healthier than the other options I had from the frozen food isle, which is probably where a lot of other people would go on this diet. One thing I predict in the future though, is how much money I spend on foods that I would consider cheap prior to doing this challenge. Our current economy is not in good shape, and will take years to bring it back to what it once was. That being said, it is really important that a better, healthy, SNAP program be made to compensate for the growing rate of financially insecure Americans. The program works OKAY right now.. But if more people need to go on the program then the cost per day per person will fall below $4.40 and the price of food is only inflating. The SNAP program is not leaving me hungry by any means, but I’m definitely feeling the malnutrition of this diet.


Ohhhh SNAP. I also got to be a part of the Oxfam Hunger banquet Wednesday night. According to their website, “At this interactive event, the place where you sit and the meal that you eat are determined by the luck of the draw—just as in real life some of us are born into relative prosperity and others into poverty.” I definitely showed up hungry, and then drew a low income card along with the majority of the people there. This put me on the floor with rice to eat and dirty water to drink. Not gonna lie, I tried to put back that card and draw again. That somehow the odds should be in my favor; that—after 4 days of a tiny amount of self-deprivation—I deserved a better meal than the other people around me. There was that entitlement coming out in me. Often we feel like we are where we are entirely because of ourselves and our actions. That we created success or stability all on our own. And that those “beneath” us don’t work as hard or made stupid decision, because otherwise they’d be right alongside us, right? And “life’s fair” would be the common phrase.
Last night reminded me that it’s not. I sat on the floor and ate all my rice and most of my kind neighbor’s, and realized that most of the other people simulating the low income majority (those that make less than $987 a year) were not even touching the rice. Don’t get me wrong— if I had been eating normally this week I might not have either. But wow, how lucky are we to have the opportunity to turn down food that we haven’t worked for on a daily basis??
I learned that hunger comes back to power. It stems from the inequality that exists in access to opportunity or resources. Ironically, last night I heard that 1 in 7 people in the world go hungry every day—after learning this week that 1 in 7 Americans utilize SNAP. I was well reminded that we all have the same basic needs (food, water, shelter); it’s our circumstances that differ. And if you’re reading this, you have power. Power to share, power to think of other’s needs and not just your wants, power to defend injustice. That looks different for each one of us, but we don’t have to watch Spiderman to remember that with it comes responsibility.


Friday, November 16, 2012

Shopping on Food Stamps

Check out the video from the student's shopping trip to Piggly Wiggly where they each had approximately $20 to spend for the week. We get to hear their initial thoughts and reactions to living off of Food Stamps for a week before actually having to survive off of those groceries alone.

How are they doing now? Be sure to read their thoughts below to find out, and keep following as the week wraps up and everyone gives their closing remarks.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Challenge: Day Four

Last night I attended the Oxfam Hunger Banquet, and my reflection group made some interesting observations that I wanted to share.  

  1. You aren’t normally forced to come into contact with others from different social classes. In America, you can choose to avoid the poor or the rich depending on the places you choose to go. At the banquet, the three levels of income are juxtaposed into one room, which made those more fortunate (middle and high income classes) more aware of the lower income group. 
  2. You are more likely to empathize with those who have less than you if you ever been in their situation. This observation was made by a student who was originally in the low-income class and moved up to the middle-income class due to chance.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I chose to do this challenge. I am lucky enough to have never truly been hungry that I didn’t know where my next meal would come from. I want to gain perspective by living with less, so I can experience a taste of the emotions, frustrations, assumptions that the hungry have to encounter every day.
If I were truly hungry, I would have a disadvantage to my old self. Already I have less energy and my cognitive abilities have decreased. I spend more time thinking about being hungry than anything else. Along with being physically and mentally set-back, I would have the stigma of being hungry, which could lead to low self-esteem and poor mental health. Hunger really is a problem that creates more problems that affects everyone.
"We know that a peaceful world cannot long exist, one-third rich and two-thirds hungry."
 Jimmy Carter


All I could feel my body craving today was something, anything warm. I immediately resorted to making coffee and cheese toast once I was back from my classes. Unfortunately, with the recent change in weather I wasn't satisfied with the mere 250 calories I had for lunch. So I made another trip to the grocery store to spend $1.50 on soup since I didn't spend my full budget at original grocery store shopping trip. The soup did silence my growling stomach but even with its addition I have had ~500 calories today. 
I know there's no possibility I even have enough food to ration out today to eat another 1500 calories. Unless you make a diet of eating ramen throughout the day I think it's going to be a huge challenge to get the proper amount of calories you need. Let alone the daily nutrition that you need. I reviewed the servings of wheats, vegetables, fruits, etc that I've been getting from the food pyramid today. In every section besides grains I'm lacking...substantially. Being a vegetarian, I rely heavily on getting certain vegetables to substitute the nutrients I would normally acquire from meat. If I were living on food stamps being a vegetarian wouldn't be an option for me due to the price of fresh vegetables. Even the vitamins I buy cost around $15 and that's close to what we have budgeted for the entire week. I can't imagine the kind of malnutrition that the SNAP program must foster in it's recipients.  
I am so thankful that there are only two days left of our challenge so that I can begin spoiling myself with my favorite juice, vegetables, ice cream, etc. I can't imagine worrying about what I'm supposed to eat indefinitely like many Americans are every day.


Attending the Center for Civic Engagement’s Hunger Banquet tonight was a wonderful complement to the food stamp challenge this week. For those of you who don’t know, the Oxfam Hunger Banquet is an event in which participants show up and are handed a card at random assigning them to a social class. If I remember correctly, 15% go to upper class, 35% to middle, and 50% to lower, or something close to that. These classifications are based upon worldwide statistics. I began in the middle class but, due to simulated chance event, lost my source of income and moved to the lower class. I ate in a circle on the floor with a group of about 25 others out of a large pan of warm rice and some not-so-clean water. I passed on the water, which I am fortunate enough to be able to do, knowing there is more appealing water waiting for me in the nearby drinking fountains for after the event. Many seem to be criticizing this week’s events for not being realistic; however, realism is not the point. The point is exposure, and openness to questioning. I think that college students, especially in the Charleston area, are able to block out signs of hunger and homelessness in the nearby downtown area because they can simply turn away, with their rather unlimited budgets, and continue on buying and consuming food without ever questioning things like the SNAP program. I have given some thought to the SNAP program, trying to figure out the positive and negative aspects of it. Part of this analysis is based upon my own experience, but also from the varying opinions I have been hearing from friends and commenters on the news webpage who have current or past experience on food stamps. I think it is a shame when economic privilege gives people a sense of justification to ignore the concerns or struggles of others. Being able to think critically and DO something about these issues that we are fortunate enough to not be in is a privilege in itself. I am glad that exposing experiences like this week’s activities are here to simply confront those who may usually turn away from difficult questions or situations.


Since the economic crisis in 2008, so much reporting is focused on unemployment numbers. We hear much less about people who are employed but are “barely clinging to a decent lifestyle,” as writer Nona Willis Aronowitz points out. Employment numbers may be going up finally, but having a job doesn’t mean you’re set. If you’re working a low wage job, you’re definitely not—that’s the reality for many Americans. Consider this: “In 2010, one in five American adults worked for poverty-level wages, 4.4 million of whom earned wages at or below the federal minimum.” Federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, but it can vary with where you live.  

In March, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released their annual housing report which documents the disparity between what minimum wage workers can afford to pay for rent and how much rent costs. While it’s not surprising that these workers have trouble paying their rent, it is shocking to see just how big the gap is in many states. The map below shows how many hours minimum wage earners would have to work to afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment in all 50 states. (An apartment is considered affordable if rent and utilities cost under 30 percent of a person’s income.)

Making minimum wage, paying rent and still having money for food for the whole month isn’t plausible with this unaffordable housing market.