The Town of Cary runs a Gallery Walk on the Final Friday of every month where galleries and town offices and businesses that display art (such as several restaurants and a local winery) stay open late to allow people to drop by and see the latest exhibitions. Since my son is an artist, we have been attending these things regularly since he was about 8 or 10. It is one of the reasons that I really enjoy living in Cary. We will be heading out there this evening.
Today also happens to be the final day of our SNAP Challenge. I had planned to just eat up leftovers today, which makes it a nice not-cooking day for me, so YAY!
I’m going to do a post tomorrow summarizing my lessons and experiences from undertaking this Challenge. Today, though, I wanted to list all the ways (that I know about) that doing this project was much, MUCH easier than it is for people who actually have to survive on the SNAP program.
- For our family, it was a choice, not a necessity.
Obviously, everything is easier when you choose to do it rather than having it forced upon you. I didn’t have the stress of knowing that if I messed up my planning, we didn’t have any option other than going to bed without food that day. If I messed up, I knew I had money to buy more if I needed. So that is so much easier than life is for people who don’t have other resources.
- I didn’t have to go through the pain involved with using Food Stamps.
I have never used Food Stamps myself. However, some of my friends have, and they uniformly describe it as a miserable process. There is all the bureaucracy they have to go through in applying at the WIC offices, and being required to bring all their children under 5 to wait for their monthly check-in so that staff could weigh them. They all felt a sense of shame for having to rely on the so-called “government hand-out” because they were unable to feed themselves and/or their family on their own money. They described seeing the judgement in some check-out clerk’s eyes, or hearing murmurs of disapproval or impatience behind them in the check-out line when the Food Stamp process seemed to take longer than a regular check out. They were embarrassed when clerks announced their use of Food Stamps over the store PA system when seeking a supervisor.So again, I had none of that emotional cost of living on SNAP.
- I have a car, which makes buying food much easier.
Many SNAP recipients can’t afford a car. Therefore, either they have to get rides from friends, take public transport, pay for Uber or something, or just walk to and from the grocery store.This I do have experience with, because when I lived in downtown Washington DC, I didn’t have a car. So while I had friends with cars who would take me grocery shopping when I was doing something big or special, my basic shopping was done at a Safeway that was about 6 blocks from my apartment. I got very good at calculating just how much I could carry home. I do remember many times having to put down my bags on the sidewalk and rest a bit before making it all the way home. And all I was shopping for was myself.
SNAP recipients who have to walk to the store not only get more tired from shopping, but may have to shop more frequently, which takes precious time. They can’t easily check 3 different grocery stores when looking for a sale item that is sold out at their local store. And they are more likely to shop at where ever is closest, even if that is a gas station with higher prices and lower quality food options.
- I live not only in a food oasis, but in a food PARADISE.
I knew I had it good, but until this Challenge, I never realized HOW good!A huge issue for lower-income families is the problem of living in what is called a “food desert.” A food desert is defined by the USDA as a residential area in which the closest supermarket is over a mile away in urban or suburban settings, or more than 10 miles away in a rural setting. According to the USDA, 23.5 million people lived in food deserts in 2010.
Wikipedia describes the problems associated with food deserts in this way:
Food deserts tend to be more populated by low-income residents, who are not as attractive a market for large supermarkets, and have reduced mobility. Food deserts lack suppliers of fresh protein sources such as poultry, fish and meat, along with fresh fruit and vegetables, instead, relying on convenience stores, which provide processed and sugar- and fat-laden foods, which are known contributors to the United States’ obesity epidemic.
In a previous post, I mentioned how I checked several stores looking for my natural bacon on sale. I knew I lived in supermarket-rich area, but hadn’t really thought about how fortunate I was in that regard until I took on this Challenge.
I checked Google Maps to see exactly how many groceries there were within about a mile from my home, and this is what it told me:
So there are nearly 24 million Americans who don’t live within a mile of ONE grocery store, and I live within a mile of A DOZEN. Plus there are a couple of speciality stores (like Trader Joes) that are a mile and a half or so, which would be walking distance for me if I really wanted to shop there.
And if I double my distance to groceries within 3 miles, look what I got:
So now, 3 miles from my house, I have 44 stores, including virtually any speciality chain or ethnicity you can think of, with 3 more on the way!
This really opened my eyes to the discrepancy in food availability and how it plays into the issues of food differences between the poor and the more well-to-do communities.
- I also live in a kitchen technology oasis.
Due to our relative affluence, I am blessed to own many kitchen devices that makes cooking much easier. I had an immersion blender to make my soup. I used our grill to roast our chicken without heating up the house. I had an Instant Pot, which allowed me to make my bone broth for the Chipotle Corn Chowder in 90 minutes instead of it taking 24 hours like it used to do. All these things helped me cook healthy food from scratch while saving time and labor. Preparing all these meals without such devices would have increased my stress around feeding my family on limited funds.
So believe me, I am under no illusion that now I know what it is like to try to live on SNAP benefits. This was always meant to be an activity that would raise my awareness and my consciousness around the issue of hunger and food scarcity in a country when so many of us have so much (like I do). Whatever difficulties I have encountered, I know things are 10 times worse for actual SNAP recipients. Now I am more aware of issues I hadn’t considered before when thinking about this topic.
Check in tomorrow for my final ruminations about this project.