Along this Lenten journey, some of the comments I’ve received on Facebook have made me realize that I probably need to make some things clear about my voluntary participation in the Food Stamp Challenge for Lent, as opposed to the actual reality of people who depend on supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP).
The biggest difference is obviously that this is a choice. Despite the change in my shopping and eating habits, it is abundantly clear to me at all times that I could at any time throw it all out the window and cheat with a giant plate of sashimi or a juicy steak (which sounds amazing in comparison to the lentils I am currently eating, by the way). The only consequences if I run over budget will be my own (well-deserved) feelings of guilt. I’m doing this for the discipline of it, and for a small piece of perspective on what it might be like to depend on government assistance to eat. As a secondary purpose, I’m hoping to raise awareness of hunger issues among my friends and contacts. Every time I make a choice to buy something within this budget rather than splurging on something I would prefer to eat, I am painfully conscious of the privilege it is to have the choice.
Because I am economically privileged and the need for SNAP is not truly my life situation, my Food Stamp Challenge is also lacking one of the most, well, challenging parts of being on SNAP: I do not have to deal with the crappiness of the system. While I am experiencing some of the realities of purchasing and consuming food on this limited budget, I am spared the paperwork, the days spent in lines and traveling between government offices, the confusion, the indignity, the complete unpredictability about how much you will receive in benefits, and the gap time between when you apply for aid and when it actually arrives.
And then you have to deal with all the people who think you should just go get a job and stop “abusing the system.” On that note, I found this video about the real beneficiaries of welfare, which is pretty enlightening.