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. 


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