The SNAP Challenge

What is the S.N.A.P. Challenge?

The SNAP Challenge is a week-long or month-long (depending on which you would prefer) period in which you attempt to experience life in the way that more than 47 million Americans live every day.

Food stamps are utilized more and more across the US, but what does this actually mean?
It means that these individuals are often living on food stamps alone, even if they have a job, often minimum wage, that is used to pay for shelter and other needs besides food. SNAP is what food stamps are called, and it is in the form of a card instead of a book of stamps.

SNAP provides $4.20 per person per day or $29.40 a week.

This amount, $4.20 per day, is what you are challenged to live off of for your decided allotment of time.
This blog is documentation throughout my experience through the week starting Sunday, November 6th 2016 at 12:00am and ending the following Saturday, November 12th 2016 at 11:59pm.

Sticked

In Preparation – Nov. 4th

After learning about the SNAP challenge and coming to the understanding that we, as a class, were going to do the challenge, I was excited and confident that I would be fine with this challenge. I have already been pinching pennies ever since I spent over 400 dollars within 2 months when I first began college. I didn’t have a job for a while and was more than accustomed to spending my parents money, but when I was cut off it was a drastic change for me and so I was awoken to the reality of money or there the lack of. Thus going into this challenge I have confidence that not only will I be able to live off of $4.20 a day, but I expect that I will be able to come in under budget too.

During my initial assessment of the challenge and my first plan was to buy 2 McChickens at McDonald’s for 2.50 for two at a time, coming to 17.50 for the week. I would use the extra money to buy eggs or something else for breakfast as well as coffee but I would have to do research and crunch numbers to see what I could afford. I also am planning on living like I was without anything except enough to keep my apartment and the things I already have, including clothes, books and school supplies, and the dishes and basic health supplies that I already have with me. If I was living on an income that needed food stamps, paying for things like paper-towels and toilet paper, plates, bowls, my phone, and even college with its tuition and books, would be at the very least a struggle.

And so in conclusion, I am excited to be participating in this challenge and understand that there will be difficult times in the next few days, but I am sure I will learn much through doing this.

A Trip on SNAP – Nov. 7th

Friday evening I took the greyhound bus from Fredericksburg Virginia to Atlanta Georgia to visit my boyfriend. I started my journey home last night and being on this SNAP challenge has proven it’s difficulty already as well as shown me things I would never have thought of.

I will begin with Sunday during the day. My plan at the start of this challenge was and still is to buy two McChiken’s and a breakfast burrito from McDonald which totals out to about 3.50 per day. This leaves a handful of dollars left over for the week for drinks and other unaccounted things. Sunday morning I had my boyfriend drive me to the nearest McDonald’s which happened to be around 5 miles away from where he was staying. This amount of distance is nothing in a car, but I could not imagine walking this distance, especially without food in me to begin with. Of course my boyfriend was not keen on the idea of eating two of his least favorite foods and so we had to drive to Duncan donuts and I watched him eat a bacon biscuit something that smelled delicious, but at this point it was not hard to dismiss this unnecessary expenditure.

Through out the day I found myself more hungry when I thought about how I could not buy anything to eat. This makes me think that part of the issue that we, non-needing of SNAP individuals, have when we attempt this challenge is of psychological origin. As we are used to buying food when we are hungry, when we tell ourselves that we cannot buy food, even if we are not actually hungry, we find ourselves craving food. ((I’ll have to look this up and I will post any findings on this.))

Around dinner time my boyfriend decided that he wanted to go to a sit-down restaurant before I left (even though I had explicitly told him how the SNAP challenge worked). And so I found myself sitting at an Apple-bee’s table without having eaten my last Chicken sandwich because I was saving it for later when I knew I would be more hungry. Watching Justin eat a steak in front of me while I could not even order an appetizer size simple salad because it was 4.95, that was difficult and it made me realize just how limited individuals that rely on SNAP are when it comes to social gatherings. I won’t lie, the thought of getting that salad and not eating another day this week did cross my mind, multiple times.

After this it was time for me to head back to Fredericksburg. I ate my last Chicken Sandwich on the way to the bus stop and slept pretty much the whole ride on the first bus which was a direct shot to Richmond. Before I got on the bus however, the bus stop that I was at in Atlanta was in a more run down area of the city. I saw rats in person for the first time in my life, and hobos scattered the parking lot. One particular sight caught my eye that I fear if I was not doing this SNAP challenge I would have most certainly overlooked. In the parking lot there was a small family of about 2 or 3 children and a mother and another older woman. What caught me in particular was that they had a single plastic bottle of water that obviously looked used more than once and they were taking turns using this water to brush their teeth in the parking lot. Now this does not necessarily mean that this family is in need of SNAP, but it brings to attention some of the less thought of difficulties that may very well come with the need of SNAP, such as running water, appliances that work, even hygiene. This SNAP challenge is obviously not as black and white as when I first thought.

After arriving in Richmond close to around 9am, I was starving. When I went to the cafe within the bus station however, even a simple muffin would have meant that I would not have eaten another meal that day. And so I began the trek of close to a mile to get my single breakfast burrito for the morning. And this is where I am now, sitting in the closest McDonalds to the bus station, writing this blog post and trying to not look too homeless so I don’t get mugged. Unfortunately I need this sucky tiny laptop too  much to give it to another less-fortunate soul.

Also… Thank goodness for free water!!!

Until next time – JBE

A New Plan Needed – Nov. 8th

Today was unfortunately the last day of which my Micky D’s plan will be implemented. As I spoke to my classmates that are also doing this challenge it was brought to my attention that SNAP does not cover hot meals which include any fast food places. However the SNAP challenge does specifically say “All food purchased and eaten in this time must be counted in total spending – this includes dining out.” (SNAP Challenge) Due to this I believe that the challenge itself was created to tailor the experience for an individual who is not reliant on SNAP to more dramatically stress the limits of food with the need of government assistance.

Now knowing that those in need of this government assistance can not utilize fast food restaurants brings to light an array of different issues that are bound to complicate an individual or family’s lifestyle. The most prominent issue that came up with this discovery I witnessed today. As my plan for McDonald’s relied on me getting the two sandwiches and breakfast at the beginning of the day, waking up today later than I had expected, made me not have time to stop before classes to eat. Because of this, one I was groggy and extremely irritable all day, and two after my last class, despite now knowing that fast food was not available to SNAP reliant individuals I was so hungry that I simply needed to eat something, and so two McChickens it was. This brought to my attention that individuals that support families reliant on SNAP are often tired and not at all in the mood to prepare food for themselves much less their family.

After reflecting upon this discovery, both technical and experiential, it is obvious that I need a new plan of action. So tomorrow I plan on going to Walmart and using what money I have left to buy food for the rest of the week.

Until tomorrow – JBE

A Day of Starvation…? – Nov. 9th

So it is now 6:45pm and I have yet to go to Walmart to buy food… I haven’t eaten yet today but I have been surfing the web and watching a show marathon. I woke up around noon and was hungry-ish but didn’t feel like going to the store – or anywhere for that matter. This blog post will be shorter because I feel like a slug but I believe that I feel this way because the nutrition value of McDonald’s for the past three days is setting in to my body and my energy levels. It also doesn’t help that I don’t have anything to eat to give me a kick-start to go get food….

Off to get food… eventually… – JBE

Late Night Shopping – Nov. 9th

Finally went to Walmart. And bought a bag of payday’s for like 2 dollars and some change… I needed this.

In all seriousness though, I did buy just under 15 dollars worth of food for the rest of the week which included a large pack of ramen and two cans of Vienna sausages among a few other items. I do feel as though my choices were not the healthiest in any way but without the proper planning and organizing it was a fairly good buy. Everything excluding the two liter tea that I bought was also non-refrigerated which I consciously decided sense I will be driving to Richmond later this week. Even though I bought non-perishable items because of travel, I did reflect that SNAP participants may not have access to a reliable fridge and therefore may have to buy non-perishable items. As I was in the store I did think to myself that the non-perishable items, although cheaper, were not as healthy as say fresh then prepared foods like fruits and vegetables. So not only are people living in poverty limited by food costs, they are often also limited by what they can store and prepare.

Therefore I feel even though my organization and preparation for this shopping trip may not have been what I would have preferred, which by the way most people supporting a family wouldn’t really have time to prepare before shopping, what I bought may be very similar to the food that those on snap buy every week. This brings to light the nutrition value, or lack thereof, of the food that SNAP often gets an individual or family.

Now I’m going to go pass out,

until next time – JBE

To Drive or Not To Drive – Nov. 10th

I had a test today. I think I failed it.

Focusing on a topic, academically at that, was more than difficult today… I ate peanut butter and crackers for breakfast and took peanut butter with me to eat throughout the day but every time I came close to pulling it out I decided against it based on what others around me would think. I didn’t want to be odd, and in management, the class this challenge was for, I simply wasn’t thinking about how hungry I was because I was talking to my friends about the challenge so far and then I was pulled into the discussion about the presidential election. (Politics have always been on my “do not comment but listen carefully” list.) It was as always interesting to hear Professor Gower’s opinions and reasoning, and it was also interesting to hear reactions of the students as well. I think that the election and the emotions of the students in this class were magnified by our current state of nutrition, but regardless the conversation was interesting and enlightening.

But this blog is not about politics, or is it?

SNAP is a government funded program that aids many people across the nation. Sure it is abused, and sure it isn’t a perfect system, but it does help. Doing this challenge, living on the same value of food as those who require SNAP, has made me see that without government assistance the world that we live in would most definitely change for the worse. How long would the decline be before it would stabilize or increase, no one can know for sure, but it would undoubtedly decline. During such a decline the death rate would increase, the potential for war would increase, and America would certainly not be “great” again. Simply based on my individual experience I have been increasingly more irritable and disagreeable. Now think about all the people on SNAP currently not being able to get any food or whatever they were scamming out of SNAP, millions of individuals would be irritable to say the least.

Now on the flip side, historically it is proven that things typically get worse before they get better. Either way your political views are, it is very likely that with either candidate the nation as a whole would have been destined to have some sort of awakening. (I am specifically not talking about a LOT of political issues because, frankly, they do not have such an impact on this blog that they must be addressed.)

Anyways, I was supposed to go to my parents house tonight (I am preparing to move back into their house) but honestly that political talk is all I have left tonight.

I’m going to bed. – JBE

I’m a slug – Nov. 11th

It’s nearly 2pm and I still haven’t left to go to my parents…

Eating ramen and peanut-butter really makes you think about what it would be like to be a slug, or a sloth, or a turtle… Whichever, I wish the world would just slow down to wait for me…

I suppose I should go now…

Until tonight – JBE

#Cheater – Nov. 11th

I get home and the first thing I do is drop everything and take a shower. That shower, I’m being dead serious, was the best shower I have EVER taken in my entire life. It was so easy to find the perfect temperature, the pressure was just hard enough to lightly massage my muscles, and the width of the spray was just right so that if the center was on my neck my entire body was warm. Legit, The. Best. Shower. Ever.

Anyways, after I showered, I come into the kitchen and my mom has bought the huge family box of chicken from Bojangles. After an hour of trying to explain to her and her friend that came down for the weekend what this SNAP challenge is all about and repeating that I only had about 30 dollars to spend on food for the week and that no I shouldn’t have other people pay for my meal, my mom declared that this was nonsense and that I was eating chicken tonight.

This utterly shocked me.

On Tuesday, in class, some students were saying that their parents were not necessarily supportive of the challenge. I sat there thinking to myself “I’m so lucky to have my mom. She’s going to say ‘good! its about time you learn money management.’ or something along those lines.” But no, my mom was just like most of the other parents… Looking back, and I think that someone else mentioned it in class, but I think the natural instinct to nurture your child is stronger than I previously thought. The woman I call mom is actually not related to me but this does not stifle her fierce motherly instincts to protect and nurture me. I knew this prior to this challenge but she had also been very supportive of independence, and having a disability independence was almost more important to stress because she nor I want to have others coddling me once I was out of my parent’s care. Now my ‘disability’ is not rehabilitating or really disabling in drastic ways. For me, I simply take a little bit longer or a little bit different strategy to do the same things anyone else would do. I am also anemic but I don’t take the medicine I should to balance that out… Which has been apparent with me not eating as much while doing this challenge.

Needless to say I ate the chicken… but even then I only had a biscuit and three chicken strips. I found that even this, which is definitely less than a meal that I typically would have eaten, filled me up more than I had been all week. This made me think of the idea that when there is a chance to eat as much as you want those that are used to smaller portions will not require much more than the portion that they are used to in order to achieve satisfaction that others would get with a larger portion. This made me think of empathy because I wouldn’t have understood this without the experience that the SNAP challenge has given me.

Tomorrow is the last day. :)

Till then – JBE

 

Reflection – Nov. 12

Today marks the end of this SNAP challenge. All week I have lived off of less than $4.20 per day, and yes it was at times difficult, and most definitely this experience was enlightening, but if I had to boil it down to one thing to take away from this it would have to be my personal outlook on managing life.

When I say managing life I don’t necessarily mean just time management or financial, but both as well as emotional and social. See what it means to be a healthy individual to me is a balance of physical health, social health, faith, emotional health, and financial stability.

Physical health definitely differs from individual to individual. For me personally, I know I need to eat often to keep my focus sharp. Now I’m not a doctor and I don’t know the technicalities of what this is, but for my body I know that I don’t necessarily have to eat pure meat and veggie diet in order to feel healthy. I know that if I eat nothing but McDonald I wont feel very active, but I won’t feel sick from not eating enough or eating too much. I know that because I don’t like to drink plain water I need to drink teas and juice more than one would drink water. But these choices may not work for everyone, and the SNAP program is not very accommodating to each individual’s physical needs.

Social health comes with a certain psychological safety with the people you surround yourself with. If you have a certain trust in the people around you, your social actions are not going to differ too much from being who you are. Of course, just like we talked about in class a few weeks ago, we as humans do put on a social front in certain groups. In each different social group we behave and present ourselves differently. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The problem arises when we adjust our social face to appeal to the specified social group but our fundamental beliefs clash with this social face. This is what happened when I did not want to eat peanut-butter in my classes but I was starving.

Faith is the religious expansion of one’s mind, but unfortunately has little to do with this particular challenge. One could make the case that hunger and faith are related in the sense of whether you have no food and are undoubtedly hungry do you still have faith in yourself or your religion or do you lose this faith? but this is not helpful in this particular discussion.

I put emotional health in this because as a female I could not write about eating without addressing my personal emotional state while this happened. I also found during my experience that my hunger may have been ignited by an emotional moment or time. It was difficult to not eat while emotionally upset or distraught or stressed or angry. And the hungrier I got the more emotionally upset I got which just increased the hunger. My conclusion for this emotional relation to food is that food is the top reason for emotional turmoil in my life.

And finally I find myself back where I started, financial planning. To live off of $4.20 for food comfortably is definitely do-able. However, it requires constant control of your urges and portioning of meals, as well as organization and planing to get the most valuable meal foods for the little financial aid that you are provided.

In all, this challenge is not impossible and everyone should try it at least once if for no other reason than to better understand those less fortunate than yourself.

Signing off for the last time on this SNAP Challenge Blog,

– JBE