Monday, November 21, 2011

SNAP Challenge: After all...this is America

By Samantha Nelson

Wow. What an experience this challenge has been so far. I have certainly been busy to say the least. With Thanksgiving on Thursday, my professors have deemed it necessary to cram in exams before everyone heads home for the holiday. As a result, my blogging has fallen by the wayside the past few days. I apologize. Organic Chemistry, Advanced Human Nutrition and Biochemistry have consumed my every waking hour.

So here is a quick recap of my week thus far:

I ventured out in the cold, snowy weather to buy my groceries at Festival Foods. Due to lack of time to head to the grocery store (from the endless hours of studying), I started my challenge on Saturday morning. I factored this into my budget calculations, resolving that I had approximately $21.65 to spend. With my phone in hand, calculator app up, I was ready to roll. I had the preconceived notion walking in that because I had a list and a budget, shopping would be easy. In all actuality I quickly became anxious about whether or not I was making the most nutritious decisions with every dollar.

As I weighed my food, calculated the price, put back a potato and started the process over again, I found myself wondering what the people around me were thinking. Were they judging me? I most certainly got some interesting looks. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I actually saw someone use the scale in the produce aisle. I suppose I would give myself a strange look as well.

My anxiety hit its peak when I ventured down the coffee aisle. With the potent aroma of the fragrant whole beans, I knew I simply had to make room in my budget. After all, how am I supposed to pull all-nighters without a little caffeine? So out went two packets of ramen and in went one sample size of vanilla hazelnut blend coffee. It certainly isn't Starbucks, but I have no complaints. Coffee is coffee.

I headed for the checkout and, $20.77 later, I had my food for the next 5 days. I was on my way home, relieved to be out of the store, to make my muffin and coffee for the morning. Oh yeah, with one more minor pit stop along the way. My boyfriend, Troy, put in a request for Chipotle, you know, since I would be out and about. So after the adventure of debating whether to buy one green pepper or two, I picked him up a chicken burrito bowl. $8.00 was spent on one meal, for one day. After spending $20.77 on 5 days, 15 meals, I was floored. I felt a bit ashamed at how often I, without thought, have dropped $8.00 on a single meal.

"The Spread"

Array of coffee choices

With two exams down and one to go, my body is begging me for rest. This got me thinking how those on SNAP can thrive at school and work on such little food. My biggest worry going into this week was how a reduced intake of energy and nutrients would effect my school work. As I mentioned in my first post, I have never known hunger. Not truly at least. And while I am still consuming enough energy to get me through the day, anything beyond that has become a strain. I wake up and go to bed with my stomach hurting, a feeling that is certainly not conducive to studying. I have had a total of about four hours of sleep the past two nights, something that in and of itself is not healthy, but when combined with the challenge has left me completely run down.

While walking in between classes this morning, I turned to Troy and said, "For the first time I can honestly say I am hungry. I am really hungry. All I have been thinking about is food and right now nothing else matters." He looked a bit surprised and replied that this was first time he had ever heard me crave food, and not in a 'Gosh, a Potbelly sandwich sure sounds good right now' kind of way, but rather in a 'I would seriously eat anything you put in front of me right now' kind of way. Talk about an eye-opening moment. So this is what hunger feels like. I slightly feared this moment going into the challenge. I was afraid to be hungry. I was afraid that it would make me vulnerable.

In the midst of my day, focused on food rather than Organic Chemistry, I thought back to the research I had done for this SNAP Challenge. In my quest to find information on challenges other organizations had done, I came across the Congressional Food Stamp Challenge. Four brave Congressmen took the week long challenge, and much like ours, tracked their experience through blogging. While it was interesting to read their daily tales, the powerful response comments posted by those living on SNAP truly captured my attention. One man posted that he would often go several days with out food to ensure that his children had something to eat. He proclaimed that their allotted amount just was not enough to make ends meet so he made necessary sacrifices. He was a proud man and felt ashamed that it had come to this. I am sure to this man, the decision to give up his food was one that required little to no thought. He was protecting the ones he loved. For me this SNAP challenge is about bringing to light the fact that millions of Americans are making sacrifices, much like this man, every day. In comparison, I have been hungry for a blink of the eye. I can not fathom living a life where hunger is the only reality.

This is the United States of America. The land of opportunity. Where we have the freedom to pursue our dreams, express ourselves freely and prosper through hard work and commitment. These are just a few fundamental freedoms we have as citizens, and just part of what attracts so many to our land. Yet my question is this: How are we to prosper if we lack the basic necessity of life, nutritious food? How can that man successfully provide for his family if he himself goes without? The United States, the most powerful country in the world, is in a food crisis. And what many fail to realize is that it is in our own backyard.

If there is one thing I have realized thus far from the challenge, it is how truly blessed I am. My family has always provided a loving and safe environment for me to grow and prosper. It is because of my Mom and Dad that I have never experienced hunger. I have never had to live without. I have never had to worry or be afraid. Not all Americans can say that. And for that I am humbled and thankful.

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