From Nov. 18 to 22, students across Charleston’s campus took on the SNAP Challenge. They could only spend $4.01 a day for all their food, equivalent to the new expenditures allowed to those on the national Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Formerly referred to as the food stamps program, SNAP is the largest public food supplier for those in need. In South Carolina alone, over 873,803 people make use of the supplemental funds.
However, with the expiration of the national Farm Bill on Nov. 1, all household benefits have been reduced. For a family of four, twenty meals a month have been cut compared to last year’s benefits.
In response to this, College of Charleston created the SNAP Challenge, where students get a taste of living at the poverty level. For five days, participants can spend up to $4.01 a day on their food. They receive funds at the beginning and must budget for the week.
Students approached the challenge with different attitudes.
Aaron Holly, a graduate student at the College and SNAP Challenge participant, said, “Being a student, it is often joked that our budget restraints lead to a less than nutritionist approved diet of too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches… But if we are honest with ourselves, most of us are fortunate enough to eat substantially better than that, and to not have ever had to worry about where our next meal is coming from. The challenge… was a tangible way to connect, on some level, with an issue that exists within our community and is more prevalent than many of us care to admit or realize.”
Student David Hester also took on the challenge, approaching it from a different angle. “I feel there’s a common misconception about people on SNAP… People feel we’ll have to compromise, but [I] wanted to show that you can still be healthy. Sure, there’s no luxury items, but you can still buy staples: brown rice; good hearty, whole grain breads; cabbage.”
Senior Lexa Keane took the challenge with a friend, combining their funds to take a “collectivist approach… and see if it would be any easier.” Both vegetarians, they “wanted to explore the food system by delving into the notion of accessibility of fresh quality produce for individuals on SNAP benefits.” They shopped at the local farmer’s market to, not only, explore price availability, but also to “reinforce community relationships,” and investigate how living at the poverty line affects them.
Keane’s SNAP experience raised some interesting points. “Evidence has shown that families or individuals on food stamps or supplemental programs have less access to quality nutrients for a variety of factors such as geographic, economic or transportation limitations,” Keane said. “After speaking with a few of the farmers, I found that most of the them had intentions of accepting EBT cards [provided by the government], but have yet to fill out the paperwork for them… The notion of accessibility of lower socioeconomic communities to vegetables pervaded my mind.”
Keane also worries about the perception of impoverished Charlestonians within the business community. “As privileged individuals who dwell in an urban setting, it is considered ‘the norm’ to spend $4-5 on coffee or tea… They [the impoverished] are considered ‘worthless’ or as a ‘nuisance’ because they do not have a day’s worth of meals to spend on one coffee with a cute, little foamy design on the top… Perhaps capitalist exchanges have come to define our relationships in society, determining who is ‘of value’ based on the amount of cash you have in your wallet.”