Next week at this time, we’ll be asking community members in Pennsylvania and around the internet to join The Gleaning Project of South Central PA for a SNAP Challenge. This means that they will attempt to live on only $3.62/day (the average allotment of SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, in Adams County PA as of July 2015) for five days. They may budget, they may go big and eat like a snake, they may invite their household to participate and join forces, they may strategize, whatever they think will get them through til Friday.
The rules are simple:
1. Each person in the household is allotted the average Adams County Food Stamp (July 2015) amount of $3.62/day ($18.10 total) to spend on *all* food and beverages Monday-Friday.
2. Household sending can be combined.
3.All food purchased, including dining out, must be included.
4.During the challenge, eat only food you purchased on your budget, nothing from before.
5.If you accept free food at events, receptions, or parties, be mindful that this resource is not always available to those in need.
6.Share your experiences each day through social media and via our daily “check in” survey.
7. Invite others to join the challenge!
However, the concept is most certainly not simple. The idea of a SNAP Challenge comes especially fraught with complications:
To begin with, we’re only using the *average* SNAP allotment for a household of one, for simplicity’s sake. The actual amount given can vary greatly, given eligibility and income, and is highly dependent on the number of mouths counting on this aid. If you’re interested, you can find a “quick” guide to eligibility here, and more on the minimum and maximum benefit of each state, with cost of living adjustments here. Additionally, the actual SNAP money is available per month, rather than per week or day, which can increase difficulty toward the end of the month, and changes the way a family may budget for their meals.
Furthermore, when we designed this particular SNAP Challenge, we didn’t even begin to take into account healthy eating versus surviving. Hint: it’s super hard to eat healthy (if not impossible) on a “Food Stamp Budget.” If you’d like to know more, I would highly suggest checking out the film “Food Stamped.” Luckily for you (if you live near Gettysburg), we’re showing this film this Sunday, October 11th at 3:30pm and Thursday, October 15th at 6:30pm at Gettysburg College.
The biggest issue, as I’m sure you’re aware, if you followed Gwenyth Paltrow’s recent foibles at a SNAP Challenge, is how woefully inaccurate the SNAP Challenge really is.
The SNAP Challenge cannot encapsulate what it means to be chronically hungry or food insecure. It cannot show participants what eating cheap, calorie rich and nutritionally poor food for years and decades and a lifetime does to your body and your mental health. It doesn’t let you experience hypertension, diabetes, or an increased susceptibility to illnesses and infections. Although short term hunger can very easily cause stress, fatigue, and emotional tension, it cannot show you what this would mean to your job, your relationships, and your sense of hope after weeks, months, or even years of hardship. It cannot encapsulate external factors that so often accompany SNAP recipients’ every day, such as substandard housing, long hours at multiple jobs, or inadequate health care.
However: The SNAP Challenge remains a valuable tool and I urge every. person. reading. this. to take the challenge next week.
Taking the SNAP Challenge is not about fully experiencing hunger in our community. Thinking it could do so trivializes others’ experiences and simplifies a complex and systemic issue. However, by taking the SNAP Challenge, we become better advocates for change. We become emphatic. We develop empathy through a changed perspective. We are motivated. We show solidarity for the 20% of American citizens for whom hunger and food insecurity is an every-day reality. We can use our experience to start conversations and build a more aware and active community. Become an effective agent for a better society.
Take the SNAP Challenge next week, October 12-16 by registering here and joining our online community of supporters here.