I am almost through the weeklong SNAP Challenge. I wanted to wait until I had time to reflect on the experience instead of just writing as things happened. If I had done that, this would have just been a lot of whining!
I really, really miss fresh produce. I feel so much more lethargic not eating it. That really confirmed for me how important it is that we are building our community garden at St Thomas so we have fresh organic produce to give out to our neighbors.
The most obvious thing about the week, though, was that the food is boring. I ate the same thing over and over again. That could be more of an issue of just poor planning rather than SNAP. Although, as I think about my friends and neighbors who come to the food pantry each week, and I think about their lives, how much time and energy do they have to plan creative and interesting meals each week?
My friend and colleague , Rev. Audrey Scanlan, put it best. She, too, tried the SNAP Challenge. Here’s what she had to say in her blog Prayer Kitchen:
“So, I decided to take the SNAP challenge this week and to plan menus for my family and eat food based on the food stamp benefits that folks receive in CT.
I came home feeling pretty smug with a host of good recipes and menus… all for $100.75
And, actually, it’s gone just fine. We’ve had a good variety of healthy meals this week- not too much different than how we usually eat- and other than the surfeit of English Muffins ( a twin pack on sale of 12 muffins) or the abundance of romaine (6 heads for $2.00!) it’s been pretty much business as usual.
Which is to say that a well educated, suburban, middle class woman with a reliable car, full tank of gas, 3 mega grocery stores to choose from, a five burner gas range- 2 refrigerator-dishwasher-disposal-granite counter kitchen, and reasonably good mental health can pull this off with little effort.
I am ashamed.”
Audrey said it all. The fact is that this week, although challenging in its own way, I can’t even come close to really experiencing what our neighbors living on food stamps and struggling with food vulnerability experience everyday. I know this week will end. The fact is I could do anything for a week. But what would it be like if this was really my life — my whole life, for the foreseeable future?
I didn’t starve. That is true. But I did wake up to how much of the joy of my life is surrounding food. Not so much the eating or preparing of food — after all, as many of you know, I’m Irish. Culinary arts is not a strong suit for the Irish. What I noticed more than the food itself this week was that I was lonely. Very lonely. And that is because most of my interactions with people occur around food — meeting for coffee, having lunch together, having dinner. It’s how I connect with parishioners, friends, colleagues. And this week, there was very little of that (except for Jolly and Christine who joined me at the Parish House and brought their own lunches!). I couldn’t afford to go out for meals or coffee. And I didn’t have enough food to invite people to my home for a meal. It was a real limitation to my everyday life.
I realized this after attending a Christmas gathering on Wednesday for my husband’s staff. My mood was completely different that day — I was uplifted! And returning to the SNAP Challenge after that, well — I was just blue. For this extrovert, the real loss this week was human connection over shared food.
It got me thinking about my friends and neighbors at the food pantry — how do they maintain their human connections? Clearly their budgets don’t allow for eating out or entertaining very much. So how do they do it? What activities connect them to each other?
As I said in an earlier post, to get a real experience of what living on SNAP is like, you would have to do this for a month. A week is artificial food-wise. But it still made me realize how much I take for granted. And it helped remind me that I need so much less, especially less food. It really woke me up to the realization that it’s the human connection of shared food that really makes all the difference in my life.
The last few meals of the Challenge are really going to be a challenge! Tomorrow is the electing convention for our Bishop Suffragen at the cathedral in NYC. Due to an impending snowstorm, I need to leave the Hudson Valley this afternoon and stay in the city tonight. Not sure how that fits with the Challenge (Would a person on food stamps be in this situation? Hard to know.), but it is what it is.
Thanks for you prayers and support this week. Please share how the experience has been for you!