Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Challenge: Day Three

It's day three of the challenge and I would say I am at a better place than yesterday. Its as if my stomach is getting used to the feeling of hunger. This morning I woke up and had a banana for breakfast. Then I went off to my 4-hour studio class. Usually, the class gets a coffee break and I would run to Starbucks, which is literally next-door. Obviously I wouldn’t be able to buy a cup of coffee because I had already spent my week’s allotment on groceries. I opted to bring a coffee mug and a packet of instant coffee with me to class and use the microwave at work to make my coffee.

It’s been about six hours since I’ve consumed that cup of coffee, and I’m dying for more caffeine. I’m tempted to drink another packet of the instant coffee, but I’ve been trying to ration it for emergencies, like when I have to study for my huge test on Friday.

As I was making pasta with peas and Parmesan cheese for lunch, I dug into my ice cream to raise my blood sugar. I honestly don’t need ice cream every week, but I know I require sugar when I don’t get enough calories to keep from shaking, so the ice cream was a good call. I don’t think I’m consuming anywhere near the recommended 2,000 calories a day, but without the ice cream to increase my caloric intake, I think I would fall over.

Yesterday, Live5News interviewed me and followed me as I did my shopping, and the story was put online last night. I was reading through some of the comments that were left under the story and was appalled at how people could be so judgmental and assume so many things concerning those who are assisted by the SNAP program. There are a few positive comments, but overall the article was met with a lot of negativity. For example, people focused on the abuse in the system, insisted the article was “liberal propaganda”, and suggested that the government (and taxpayers) should not be responsible for assisting others. 


Today was a wake up call for me. I had no idea what to bring to eat for lunch at work today. Almost everything I bought had to be cooked or combined together to make a meal so I ended up bringing a cold cheese sandwich. Needless to say my co-workers thought it was really odd so I explained the challenge I’m participating in. After I finished one of them announced they were looking into applying for it. She is recently out of college and has a full time job but she explained that what made it so hard for her to afford her groceries was the fact that she had to pay back so much in student loans.  Reviewing the statistics and hearing my co-workers story has really brought to light the variety of people that this program does aid.

Going into the challenge I expected most individuals that I would talk to would have negative opinions about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); I expected this because it was along the lines of my own view. I believed in the stereotype that most of the recipients were unemployed and just not trying hard enough to find a job. Obviously every program will have it’s flaws but once I learned that 30% had their own earnings and nearly 40% lived in a household of earnings I couldn’t believe how they could have a job and still not earn enough for a basic standard of living.

To finish up I’ll review what I’ve eaten for the day! I used my coffee and orange juice for breakfast this morning—the coffee really made a difference in my day compared to yesterday haha. For lunch I obviously had my cold cheese sandwich but for dinner tonight I made a cheese omelet with mushrooms leftover from yesterday.


Today was not as bad when it came to thinking of meals since we went grocery shopping the day before. I woke up at 8 AM, and knew I was eating oatmeal with cinnamon. It sounds a lot better than it actually is. My lack of ingredients(sugar and milk) made the oatmeal taste like paper with a hint of cinnamon. It was nice to have any sort of food in my stomach for the day though. For lunch I made 2 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and I am currently making pasta and meat sauce as I write this. I am most excited for dinner every night, but I feel like by day 4 I’m going to get sick of eating the same thing everyday. Right now my main thoughts are when I can eat food next, which is probably what people think everyday when they are actually on food stamps. If the budget allowed at least 50 more cents a day this week would actually be a lot easier. This unhealthy lifestyle hasn’t gotten to me quite yet… but then again it’s only been 3 days.


Thanks to Channel 5 News for doing a segment on this week’s “challenge”, it has been especially interesting reading the comments posted by Internet users from outside the College of Charleston about the challenge. After reading these remarks and talking with a friend of mine who benefits from the SNAP program, I have heard various criticisms about this challenge. The comments on the online news article I find somewhat insulting, however. I think and hope that the students, like myself, understand that this 6 days of living with $4.40 per day for food does not give us much real or deep insight into what it would be like to have this sort of budget. It seems people who saw the news segment are perhaps offended by the challenge, making a game out of SNAP benefits. I am sad that people interpret this effort that way. It definitely could be that, yes, if participants, like myself, misunderstand the purpose. The purpose of this week’s “challenge” is up to the individual and what he or she hopes to get out of it. Like I said, the purpose should not be to leave this challenge Friday thinking we now have true experience living on a lower food budget. We are doing this challenge for one week, that is hardly enough time to even get bored of alternating between only two meals (for me that would be rice and beans and pasta with red sauce), a common worry of some participants. The purpose is exposure, being open to questions and critical analysis of the current food system and its many capacities, not to gain some sense of authority on the issue. IT is only temporary. And I will admit it is not easy, my rice and beans tonight ere rather bland. I didn’t have money in my budget yesterday to buy any sort of snack so during my 5 hours at the library this evening I got a tad hungry. For me, this experience is allowing me to appreciate food in an even greater way, reminding me that it is not at all something to take for granted, but it something extremely valuable, potentially delicious, etc. In my opinion, our food distribution (and don’t even get me started on production) system needs to majorly change. For this reason I wish more people would be willing to expose themselves to experiences like these so they would get motivated to help make that change happen.


Today is a tough day. I slept less than six hours, and all I can think about is how desperately I need to make it to the grocery store. I was in lab yesterday when the rest of the group went shopping for the food challenge, so I’m still eating eggs and bread. Amidst the chaos of life, work, and school, feeling hungry and broke makes concentrating or being positive difficult. Not to say I haven’t felt this way many times before, but I usually have a safety net of friends or family that catch me.
Giving up caffeine or a couple extra bucks is no big deal. What have I really given up this week that’s making it so hard? Privilege. I was born into a family that loved me and met my basic needs. I have friends that can support me. I’ve never been unemployed or unable to find a decent job (in fact, I work in an office where people begged me to eat their food when they heard how little I had today). I’ve never been debilitated by an injury, illness or disease. I don’t have children or anyone else depending on my income for their livelihood. I’ve had incredible educational opportunities and scholarships that help pay for my college experience. How did I get so lucky?

Then I get to work and read the comments posted on the news article. I imagine that the people making such staggeringly harsh posts have experienced many of the same privileges I have. They likely have a safety net that they don’t deserve. People cannot change their public school system just because it is among the worst in the nation; they cannot change genetics because they are sick. We cannot control all aspects of our life. If you’ve ever been unable to escape poverty & hunger and hate that in society’s eyes that classifies you as lazy & selfish, I doubt you would be so empty of compassion and full of concern for the exceptions.
What am I gaining this week? Perspective. I understand that SNAP is meant to assist, but I assure you many people in South Carolina, in America—our land of privilege—have eaten far less than I have in the past three days. I understand that people abuse the system; people abuse every system. Yes, let’s find a way to do things better. But as a biology student, I know the importance of research and experimentation. It’s how new discoveries are made. It’s how ignorance is dispelled. And that’s why I’m doing this challenge.


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