A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

One family's experiment living on a food-stamp budget

Ash Wednesday—Why this isn’t quite fair

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Our family’s discipline for Lent is to live on a SNAP budget. We want to experience what hunger in America feels like.  But in many ways this experiment isn’t at all authentic or representative of the experience of America’s hungry. Here are just a few reasons why:

1. We live in a food oasis.  Many hungry people in this country live in food deserts—places where you cannot easily buy healthy, diverse and reasonably priced food. We are lucky to have two fully stocked supermarkets within a mile of our home, and they brim fresh, frozen and store brand (less expensive) food all year round.  During the growing season—and despite the winter we’ve had there will be a growing season—we also have access to our little garden, a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and farmers’ market within walking distance. Those sources of fresh food probably won’t come into play during Lent, but they are real and our food resources include things that we canned and froze from last year’s growing season.

2. I have a fully stocked kitchen with stove, fridge and a big collection of pots, pans and an array of other gadgets—everything I need to easily prepare everything I can get my hands on.

3. I’ve learned how to cook. I know how to prepare lots of things from scratch so that we can have a diverse diet without relying on expensive prepared foods.

4. I know a bit about nutrition. That is a big advantage if I’m trying to keep my active family healthy and well nourished.

So, this is not an authentic experience of walking in the shoes of America’s hungry. Is it worth doing? Everyone tells me that it will be a challenge. And it will allow us, as a family, talk in more concrete terms about what poverty in the richest country in the world really means. I need to try to walk in the shoes of the mom who isn’t sure how she will feed her kids. I need to learn just how meager our social safety net really is. So here we go.

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