My name is Sean Alexander and I am a Youth Ambassador for Share our Strength at the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. Yesterday, the Youth Ambassadors in Arkansas started the SNAP challenge. This means that, for the next week, I will be living off the $4.50 a day that an average SNAP beneficiary lives off of during a given week (SNAP is the new name for what used to be called food stamps).
You may be asking yourself (right along with me), “what on earth can a person buy with $4.50 cents a day”. Well, as it turns out, $4.50 a day doesn’t yield a whole of variety in the food you can afford. For $20, I found that I was able to buy five bananas, one box of oatmeal, honey, two ears of corn, two sweet potatoes, four pork chops, one 24oz jar of crunchy peanut butter and a loaf of whole wheat bread. This left around $0.23 out of my original twenty; startling when you consider that what I bought was by no means prodigal. These are contents of my meals for the next week of my life--a life that in terms of diet contains very little variety and even less flexibility.
I’m blown away when I think about the fact that, for so many people, living on these meager means isn’t some sort of “challenge.” In fact, I almost feel bad calling the SNAP challenge a challenge. For me, this is a temporary exercise that we get to put into my memory, and hopefully further solidify my commitment to this work.
As for reflections on the experience thus far, I have now been on SNAP for a little over 24 hours and I can honestly say that going to grocery stores, restaurants, and public places is different—not bad, but different. Prices seem higher, services seem unnecessary and what I would normally spend my money on has changed significantly. It makes one think whether we are really able to justify even the smallest dietary extravagance- I didn’t even buy any dairy! In all, this past day or so has taught me that we are ultimately at the will of powers outside of our grasp, and as another day comes to an end on SNAP, another rises- a day that millions of Americans will see not as a challenge but as the reality of their life.