The Challenges of Scarcity and Abundance
I participated in the Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge a few weeks ago. The concept is simple: Participants voluntarily limit the amount of money they spend on food each day to $5, the average allotment for an adult who depends on food stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) to try to understand the modern-day struggle of food insecurity that affects over 44 million Americans. I went to a local supermarket with the idea that I would try to spend half of the weekly allotment of $35 to purchase bread, peanut butter, jam, beans, rice, tortillas, bananas, eggs, pasta, tuna fish, coffee and cheese. I thought that these staples would carry me mostly through the week and that I could spend the remainder of the money as needed. I ended up spending two-thirds of the money right off the bat and eating most of this food in the first four days.
The biggest struggle I had during the Food Stamp Challenge was trying to avoid eating food I encountered in various places throughout the week (a no-no according to the rules). Between the pizza served during religious school and the spread put out at a shiva house, I found myself having to control the urge to nibble on what I thought was an abundant amount of extra food. For those who eat only on what they buy with SNAP, there is a tremendous problem of food scarcity, while those of us who are used to being able to afford whatever food we want often overeat or over-order. Acknowledging this contradiction was the most important thing I took away from my experience. The point of the Food Stamp Challenge is to create deeper awareness for the struggles the most vulnerable members of our society endure to feed themselves and their families. My experience showed me that it simply isn’t possible to eat the proper amount of healthy food on the assistance provided by SNAP, and even that meager $5 a day for one adult is at risk of being decreased in the 2012 Farm Bill currently being debated in Congress. This would cause a severe blow to those who already know all too well the pangs of hunger. To learn more and take action in support of a just Farm Bill, visit the Religious Action Center’s Chai Impact Action Center. Rabbi Kevin Kleinman is assistant rabbi at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, PA, and a 2012-2013 Brickner fellow. Photo courtesy of Greater Philadelphia Food Stamp Challenge.