$4.60 per day.
This is the amount that the American government has deemed acceptable to give to those in need to spend on food. In a country where more than one in six Americans has reported that they do not have enough money to afford food for themselves or their families (Food Research and Action Center, 2013), how can we possibly let this stand?
In doing research about food stamps and looking at what foods my roommate and I buy, I’ve realized that there are so many things in my kitchen that are way over the allotted amount. My roommate and I also had a moment this week in which my social justice ideas conflicted with the ideas behind this challenge. Barilla pasta recently came under fire for its views on homosexuality and gay marriage. As we were walking down the pasta aisle, we stopped to get some for dinner. My roommate looked at the pasta and said, “We can’t get barilla, they don’t support homosexuality”. So instead of buying the box of barilla pasta for about $1.50, she grabbed the more expensive, organic, multigrain pasta that was priced at around $3.50. And I stood there, not knowing what to say. In my head, I was thinking, “Okay, we’re boycotting a company that’s doing something bad” but I was also thinking, “If I were on food stamps, I couldn’t even think about that”. It was a very disturbing thought for my sociological mind.
Many of my friends and classmates are doing the challenge and, while I am not participating, I have seen firsthand what it is like for them. These are healthy college students and professors who are surviving on $4.60 per day. When I see them in class, they are tired and often unable to think straight. And these are people who are doing this for one week. Imagine what it is like for someone who does this all the time.
And there are people who often struggle even more, such as those with specific dietary needs. On the CalFresh application (the application for those in California to receive Food Assistance), the only specifications that are listed are whether someone in the household is disabled, elderly, without money for food, homeless, or a migrant/seasonal farmworker. If someone has celiac disease, they are unable to put that on the application. For someone with celiac disease, finding gluten free foods can not only be difficult but also far more expensive. Many of our STEP students have been talking about the kinds of foods that are helping them to keep their food within budget and many of these foods include gluten. If someone with celiac disease does not have enough food, it can result in malnutrition very easily.
There is also another problem: immigration status. The Food Stamp program does not help those without legal permanent residency in the United States. According to the CalFresh application, “immigrant parents may apply for CalFresh benefits for their U.S. citizen or qualified immigrant children, even though the parents may not be eligible for benefits”. While this is good news for immigrants who need to use food stamps to feed their children, they may not apply for themselves. At $4.60 per person, with only their children (possibly) eligible, it is not possible for them to feed their entire families. There is also a part of the application that says that the information on this application “may be shared with federal, state, and local agencies”. And while it says that Immigration Services “cannot use the information for anything else except cases of fraud”, this still may deter immigrants from filling out the application, even if it is for their legal citizen children.
How can we help with ensuring that all people who live in our country have enough food to put on the table? For one thing, food stamp challenges call attention to the problem of the money allotted for food stamps and why cuts to this money cannot happen. $4.60 per person, per day is in no way enough for anyone in this country. Add to that the problems with dietary needs and for those without citizenship status and we are looking at large numbers of people who are not even being assisted by food stamps.
If you are not participating in the food stamp challenge but want to help, here are a few things you can do:
- Something I’ve recently thought of is looking in those old coupon circulars that are probably sitting in your mailbox right now. If those are things you throw out every time you see them, maybe pick it up and browse through it. Look at coupons for food items (think fruits and vegetables, maybe canned goods, or other simple meal bases) and cut them out. Search online for places that need coupons or call your local homeless shelter. Churches and religious groups will often take them as well to donate to parishioners.
- Head to your local grocery store and buy a gift card in any amount. Give it to someone in need.
- With cuts to food stamps, food banks are in high demand, meaning they need more donations and volunteers. Go through your kitchen and find food to donate, go on a grocery shopping spree for canned goods, or even volunteer some time! Make sure you check with the local food bank to see what kinds of food they need. Canned goods are often best but always ask first! And if you work in an office or at a school, organize a food drive or a day of service to help. More people means more of an impact!
There are so many ways to make an impact, and you don’t have to stop at just one!