A Spiritual Journey into SNAP

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

The Kid Perspective

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Laurel is my ten-year-old. She is an introvert like most of the rest of the family. She’s introspective, thoughtful and an old soul. She has a dry sense of humor and is a master of irony. She will read anything that has words on it but prefers fantasy and science fiction, preferably laced with pre-teen angst. She is in fifth grade at SFSS and is ambivalent about middle school. But she does like drawing and drama. She is a dancer who has appeared in the Rochester City Ballet’s Nutcracker for the last three seasons. She has also performed on the HWS campus in pieces for the Faculty Dance Concert (2012) and Senior Choreographers Concert (2014). She is a synchronized swimmer who currently competes solo and is working on a duet with her new partner.

Ariel Rose is my seven-year-old. She the family extrovert—everybody knows Rose and everybody loves Rose. She is always in motion, with about half of that motion being with her feet off the ground. She has little patience for reading but likes to solve quantitative and spatial problems. She’s a Minecraft addict and has recently discovered Sudoku. She is in second grade at SFSS where she goes by Ariel. Her favorite subjects are math and science. Her passion is gymnastics (where she goes by Shamoo). She finished this competitive season in USA Gymnastics Level 4, flipping for Team Eagle in Canandaigua. She won the NY State L4 championship on balance beam, and she finished her season with a 9.925 (out of 10) on beam. However, L4 is in the rear view mirror and she’s working on her back handspring on beam, back tuck and layout on floor, and baby giant and fly away on bars to get ready for the next level. The most exciting thing in her life right now is the possibility of earning her grips (hand supports worn by the “big girls” on bars).

I recently interviewed Laurel and Rose for their take on the Lenten SNAP Challenge.

Both girls understand that Lent is the 40 days preceding Easter when we prepare with prayer, fasting and sometimes doing extra good works. They also understand the goal of the SNAP Challenge.

“We give up stuff and this year we’re giving up—well, we’re not giving up. We’re only using some amount of money that someone said we have to use for food,” says Rose.

Laurel adds, “Our family is seeing if we can live on the amount of money the government thinks poor people should have for food.”

“Should” being a relative term, of course.

I asked both girls whether they had noticed changes in our diet.

“We eat a lot of leftovers,” they answered in chorus. They also commented that leftovers were okay but it depended on whether they liked the meal the first time around. Laurel believed that I was making bigger batches than usual of most meals, although I’m not sure whether that is actually true. What might be true is that we’re using more of our leftovers. Reducing waste has been a priority in stepping up to the SNAP Challenge.

Both girls also commented—again—that they don’t like the milk.  “I wish the milk tasted better,” noted Laurel. They are responding to the fact that we’ve switched brands to one packaged in plastic and they just don’t like the plastic aftertaste. I honestly thought they would get used to it over 40 days, but this one seems to be embedded in their experience.

I asked the girls if there was anything they missed. Laurel wished for more cold cereal. We’ve largely moved to hot cereal partly because it’s been darn cold, but partly because we can get a lot of breakfast out of a cylinder of oats. Rose wished for spaghetti and meatballs. Certainly, the spaghetti isn’t a problem, but we’ve been trying to not to do the all-pasta-all-the-time strategy to dealing with our budget. Meat was one of the first things that dropped off of our shopping list, though, and so meatballs haven’t been on the horizon.

Both girls reckoned that we had enough good food during the SNAP challenge, but Laurel reported that she had felt hungry some of the time. Then again, she reports being hungry most of the time, particularly when she decides to be picky and refuse the available meals and snacks. That one will continue well beyond Easter, I’m pretty sure. What might return is the option to choose, which I’ve speculated may help the I-don’t-likes.

When I asked Laurel and Rose if they thought that our budget was enough for a family of four like us then reckoned that it was.

“Maybe a little more,” added Rose after a moment’s reflection, “because we might have to get a lot of milk or something, or maybe some rice sometimes.”

Basically, it seems, that despite frequent conversations at dinner about our limitations and our periodic dependence on free food to keep three meals on the table each day, I seem to have insulated them from any sense that we don’t quite have what we might want. Part of this might be that I’ve tried to sprinkle in a few treats with some regularity. For example, tonight we had (grass fed) hamburgers. That’s a big splurge ($10.45) but it sure made everyone feel fat and happy. They’ve certainly grumbled about meal choices that they don’t like, but they do that anyway…with increasing frequency.

I concluded my interview by asking each girl what they thought it would be like not to have enough to eat. Laurel clammed up. After a minute’s thought, Rose responded, “I think I would drive Mommy and Daddy berserk because I would be saying ‘I’m hungry’ all the time. I don’t think I could do gymnastics and school and stuff if I was hungry all the time.”

Got that right.

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