WFAEats
12:00 am
Fri July 13, 2012

Eating On A Food Stamp Budget: Day Five

Day Five: Rumors and Reasons

It’s not really about the food.

That’s what I’m starting to realize. People are angry, exhausted, frustrated, despondent. Resentful, worried, afraid or annoyed – but no one I’ve talked with in the last five days is blasé on the topic of food stamps and other programs that help feed the hungry.

All week I’ve been taking the SNAP Challenge to learn first-hand what it’s like to feed yourself with no more than $31.50 per week. (You can read back through prior blog entries for more about what’s happened so far.)

The novelty wore off quickly. I didn’t mind restricting my food spending or intake; in fact, it was a good reminder of something I’d been meaning to work on anyway. But I discovered that doing so requires a level of focus and attentiveness I was not prepared to summon. And it suddenly dawned on me that plenty of my fellow grocery shoppers, at any store on any day, were having to do the same: Add and subtract the cost for each food item, weigh its necessity, hope you can manage to make it last.

But most of all, I wasn’t braced for the intensity of people’s reactions. Some posted comments online, others emailed me, and one conveyed his nearly unprintable remarks through a mutual friend.

People respond to what they believe to be true. But when the underlying beliefs are incorrect or “contrary to fact,” so are the conclusions. So let’s set the record straight on a few things right now:

You cannot use SNAP to purchase cigarettes, alcohol or lottery tickets.

You cannot use SNAP to purchase household items, personal care items or vitamins.

You cannot use SNAP to purchase medicines, either prescription or over the counter.

You can use SNAP only to purchase eligible food items.

This is the area where people disagree strongly – and loudly. Say you believe cookies and snacks shouldn’t be eligible. Well, what about fruit rolls, cheese crackers, granola bars or protein breakfast bars? Want to exclude steak from the list? What about low-cost family-sized packs, mark-downs or specials when beef costs less than chicken or cheese? And since we recognize the harm that results from a cheap, fast-food diet, how can we deny people access to the fresh foods that are also more expensive?

There’s an “us vs. them” component to all of this. That shouldn’t be surprising, because as long as we’re pointing fingers at each other, we don’t have to acknowledge the enormity of the problem.

Or the possibility that any of us could find ourselves hungry, sometime soon.

*SNAP is the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps. And for many low-income individuals and families, it’s not a supplement; it’s their only means of buying food.

Amy is documenting her experiences with the SNAP Challenge all this week. Check back daily for updates.