Created on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 11:04
During a time of year often focused on food in excess, some Americans struggle to scrape together enough nourishment to survive.
Some Appalachian State University students have attempted to understand hunger up close, through the Food Stamp Challenge.
The Food Stamp Challenge is a nationally-recognized program that challenges participants to eat like they are on food stamps for a week, spending just $21 on food.
This year, around 30 Appalachian students took the challenge.
“My hope is that through taking the challenge, even just taking the week out of your life, that we would look upon people with compassion and without judgment and connect with them on a more human level,” senior English major Caroline Graebe said.
Graebe said the roughest days of the challenge - which asks participants to live on $4.50 per day - helped her understand hunger more clearly.
“I went to make food and I realized I didn’t have any more money left on my $4.50 and I was extremely disturbed by it,” Graebe said. “That was the first time I was really like, ‘Oh, this sucks.’ The feeling of it sucking really drives home that this is a pretty consistent feeling for a lot of people, a lot of kids.”
Senior Sam Williams also participated in the challenge. He said the challenge hit home for him at Wal-Mart, as he was purchasing food for the week.
“I was carrying my jar of applesauce to the car and I threw it in the back of the car and it clinked really hard,” said Williams, who is a senior political science and history double major. “For a moment, I was really stressed because if it broke, I wouldn’t be able to eat it and that would have been money I’d lost.”
For senior social studies education major Marc Gmuca, who also participated in the challenge, the biggest takeaway was an appreciation of the “emotional issues” associated with hunger.
“Ultimately, I know I really can eat if I want,” Gmuca said. “The point of this exercise is to really see the challenges besides it and that’s a hard thought - what is my next meal going to look like? It does pose to be emotionally draining.”
For Graebe, Williams, Gmuca and the other students participating, the challenge only lasted a week.
For senior Georgia Bowen, it’s a daily reality.
Bowen, a senior majoring in international comparative economics, feeds her family of four on food stamps that total $53 monthly. She typically eats one meal daily so her children can get as much food as she can give them.
Bowen said she dreams about “the day you can go to the grocery store and you don’t have to count all the stuff that’s in your buggy.”
“Wouldn’t it be nice just to go and look at something and say, ‘Oh, that looks good. I want it,’” Bowen said.
Bowen said she was impressed by the Appalachian students who took part in the challenge.
“To see students willing to try and put themselves in other people’s shoes and to have that bit of empathy is amazing,” Bowen said. “It’s beautiful and it’s inspiring to us that people do care.”
While doing her reporting for this story, Buie decided to take up the Food Stamp Challenge herself. Here are her thoughts as she lived on $4.50 a day and got up-close and personal with hunger.
Sunday: I decided to combine my money and buy food for the week at Wal-Mart. I managed to buy a loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, oatmeal, rice, beans, chicken noodle soup and ravioli. It was exhausting having to shop and continuously put things back because I couldn’t afford it. But I realized it was easier for me to give up my box of Oreos and my cereal because in the back of my mind, I knew I could afford them next week. People who actually have to deal with food stamps don’t have that thought process - for them, it’s a continuous challenge.
Monday: It’s only the second of the challenge and I’m already in a weird, emotional state of mind. I’m hungry and I’m frustrated with how effortlessly the rest of my friends can eat. They don’t have to carry a can opener around with them all day just in case there isn’t time to run back to their dorm.
Tuesday: I’ve discovered that I hate oatmeal but I bought it, so I have to eat it. I can’t afford to be picky about my food. I was beyond hungry when I got home and ended up dropping globs of peanut butter into my oatmeal just to force myself to eat it and be full.
Wednesday: Today was absolutely, positively the worst. I had five different meetings to attend and didn’t have time to heat up my beans and didn’t have the money to buy something from the cafeteria. I should have just taken the time to be late to one of my meetings because it would have been more beneficial. I was completely listless all day because I was completely zapped out of all my energy.
Thursday: I’m so emotionally drained by this challenge. I’ve reached a point where I’ve labeled all my remaining food because I’m terrified of running out. Realistically, I have plenty of food, but it’s still daunting to look at my shelf and realize that’s all my food for the week. It’s scary to think that if got really hungry and ate all my food that would be it for the week. There’s no room for error.
Friday: My food situation is getting embarrassing, to be honest. I went out to Our Daily Bread with some friends tonight and I had to bring my own can of ravioli because there was no way I could afford to buy anything off the menu. It was also absolutely awful sitting there looking at my unappealing ravioli and comparing it to my friend’s fresh mozzarella sandwich.
Saturday: I’m hitting the end of my rope here. I have no variety in my diet, it’s nasty and it’s so unhealthy for me. I try to eat pretty healthy most of the time and this isn’t cutting it. I feel sluggish and the food just settles in my stomach in the most disgusting way.
Sunday: Sunday was the final day for me but it ended up giving me a completely new perspective. I ended up with a bit of a medical emergency and I was unprepared for it. My insurance covered the visit, but that’s not the point. I realized that living on food stamps doesn’t mean people only have trouble with food; it means they struggle with most of the basic parts of life every day. I didn’t have any qualms about going to the hospital because I knew I could afford it. People in poverty don’t have that luxury. They have to continuously make choices between medical needs and food. That’s not fair and I can’t even fathom trying to make that work. Thanksgiving is coming up and I’m going home to a family that is going to give me more food than I ate in a day last week for one meal. It’s sobering to realize that not everyone has that chance.