Written By Samantha Aaronson
From November 13th to 19th, I participated in the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program where those eligible receive a national average of approximately $4.10 a day to spend on food. This challenge simulated living off of this program and I chose to take it on for a week.
Being a part of this challenge meant I would have to ration my food and money. At $4.10 per day for allowance, I had $28.70 to spend on food for a full seven days. With this set amount, I went to the supermarket and bought an array of foods that I figured I would need to sustain myself for a week. Some of these things included waffles, butter, a loaf of bread, a can of soup, a box of pasta, and some pieces of fruit.
On day one I brought a cheese sandwich with only two slices of cheese on it, half an apple, and some pasta to school for lunch. That night I took out pasta to eat for dinner. I took a measuring cup and put ⅔ of a cup into my bowl. Unfortunately, I did not have enough money to buy salt or pepper so I ate my pasta without anything on it. By that night I already began to feel a deep hunger growing.
One thing I did not think about going into the challenge was what happens in between meals. I was so focused on buying food for three meals a day that I disregarded all the other times in the day that I was hungry. I ended up with nothing to snack on when I was hungry in the middle of the afternoon.
The second day I went over to my friend’s house. Realizing I could not eat any of his food, I brought my own and had yet another bowl of pasta for dinner.. But as I said before, I lacked any snacks. A jar of peanut butter became my go to. It was quite a sight! For the entirety of the week I would bring a jar of peanut butter with a spoon everywhere I went. I ended up hanging out with all my friends as they were eating all kinds of food and I had my peanut butter. It was filling but not as filling as a bowl of buttery popcorn would’ve been.
The rest of the week continued in the same way. I would have fruit, toast, or waffles with butter in the morning for breakfast. My lunches consisted of small amount of pasta, pretzels, carrots, and a scoop or two of peanut butter (Wasn’t kidding about that peanut butter thing). At night I would switch off between ramen noodles, regular plain pasta, chicken without seasoning (again I didn’t have enough money for condiments), and half a can of soup every few nights.
Eating basically the same foods for seven days straight became old quickly. There was no variety and nothing with an exceptional amount of flavor in it either. Many of my meals were bland and boring. I realized there was no color to almost all of my meals and no real nutritional value.
I faced many comments from my friends telling me I wasn’t eating enough for lunch or questioning why I refused a cookie they offered me (something I would normally gladly accept). It became tedious to explain to each one of my friends what I was doing. Many of them did not understand why I would subject myself to eating significantly less food for a full week. However, I found the whole experience eye opening. When looking at the big picture, a week living off the SNAP program isn’t much, but some families rely on programs such as these for years at a time.
I began to understand the difference between appetite and hunger. Appetite is when you want to eat a certain food to satisfy a desire, but hunger is when you crave food because your body needs it. I became hungry during the week.
People say you never know how it feels until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes; during my participation in the SNAP challenge, I was able to for a week. Now, I understand how much of a privilege it is to have an abundance of food in my cabinet whenever I’m looking for something to eat.
Samantha Aaronson is a sophomore at Hendrick Hudson High School in Montrose, NY. She is a member at Temple Beth Am in Yorktown Heights, NY and serves on the NFTY NY Area Regional Cabinet.