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Letter to the editor

Food stamp challenge

December 13, 2012

About a week before Thanksgiving my family and I took the Food Stamp Challenge. We tried to live on the average food stamp benefit of $31.50 a person for a week. In the Twin Cities, Jewish, Christian and Muslim organizations and congregations took part in the challenge that week. The goal of the challenge was to help folks understand what it is like to live without food security. For those of us who can easily budget for three meals each day, in addition to extra treats when the mood strikes, this was an eye opening experience.

I have been aware of poverty issues from a very young age. My mother was a social worker. She and my father instilled in me a respect for all people regardless of their economic status. They also made it clear that hard working people may end up in poverty through no fault of their own. As a high school debater I learned many more facts about poverty and hunger in America, and have continued educating myself on the topic ever since.

The Food Stamp Challenge, however, gave me a more visceral understanding of the difficulties of living in poverty. It was not that the experience could ever replicate the actual experience of someone facing issues of food security. I knew it was only for a week. Still, when the week was over I realized how much I take food and economic security for granted. Usually, my partner and I don’t need to go to the dollar store to make our food budget last. We can get the special items our kids (10 & 15) like to take in their lunches which are yummy and also nutritious. I don’t limit my intake of food to make sure we don’t run out of an item by the end of the week. It was different during the food stamp challenge week. Less money meant fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, more starch, much closer attention to every dime spent at the grocery store, and much more thinking (and dreaming) about food. In one of my dreams I ate three bananas in one day, felt extremely guilty and profusely apologized to my family, promising to have no more bananas that week. I am glad I took the challenge and I am more appreciative for the abundance my family and I have since taking the challenge. I also am more committed than ever to trying to work for solutions to the problem of poverty.

For more information about the Food Stamp Challenge and how you can organize such a challenge in your community, go to the website of the Food Research Action Center and look under initiatives.

Davida Alperin
Political Science Professor