My “Tiny Peek through a Window of What it’s Like”

WordPress Love

When I write my blog posts, I imagine that I am telling my stories to a friend.  I like my tone to be conversational, which is a nice break for me from doing academic writing in my student life, and it helps keep things lighthearted and fun.  And in essence, I’d like to think that I am correct.  I like to think that all my readers–regular and passers-by–are friends of a sort, like facebook friends who are willing to read really long status updates.

I started my blog on tumblr initially, until I realized that I couldn’t handle not being able to have people comment.  That drove me nuts!  So I transferred all the posts over here to WordPress and continued writing.  And my new community “liked” some of my posts, followed my blog, and commented on my posts!   You guys kicked tumblr’s tushie.

WordPress Pushes Me to Ponder

In addition to making me feel loved, your comments have made me think.  In particular, Fox from Trailer Park Unschoolers recently commented on most of the daily entries through the SNAP challenge, and really got me thinking about the challenge and how it relates to reality.

Fox pointed out parts of the challenge or other advantages that made it easier for me to make it through the week through comments on my posts, and her own post– What It’s Really Like.  For example:

  • My farmers’ market offers $10 in “Bonus Bucks” when customers spend at least $10 off their EBT card at the market, so I could afford some vegetables there, which are otherwise really hard to afford (Day -2).
  • Condiments and spices were not counted in our budget, so our use of them was unlimited, which is not realistic  (Day 1)
  • I had $30 per person.  According to Fox, the average in her state is closer to $20 (Day 6)  [Want to know how your state ranks?  USDA’s Average SNAP benefits by state]
  • I already knew quite a bit about eating healthy on a budget (Day 6)
  • I was already accustomed to taking the time to plan out a week’s worth of meals (What It’s Really Like)
  • We knew that the challenge would end at the end of the week (Day After)
  • We knew we could go back to our normal diet and go out to eat once the week was over (What It’s Really Like)
  • I had digital coupons from my grocery store (Day After)
  • I had a home computer to access those coupons (Day After)
  • I had the time to download digital coupons (Day After)
  • I had the time to plan out the week to incorporate coupon items (Day After)
  • I didn’t have kids to feed/listen to complain about being hungry (Day After)
  • I didn’t have kids that might eat everything in sight instead of rationing food out over the week (Day After)
  • I had reliable transportation to the grocery store (What It’s Really Like)
  • I had a microwave, stove, and oven (What It’s Really Like)

First of all, I agree.  I had a lot of advantages that made this challenge easier for me than maybe the average Joe or the average SNAP participant.  Many of these my husband and I realized throughout the week, but some were new learnings, thanks to Fox.  I never thought about what I would do if I only had a hot plate or a microwave to cook with.

Failed Good Intentions

I have to say that after I read all of the comments and Fox’s post “What It’s Really Like,” I felt bad.  I couldn’t respond right away.  I felt guilty that I had these advantages.  It was an internal struggle for me to understand that what I did out of good intentions, upset someone else and made it seem like I might be making light of another’s serious struggle.  I took this challenge to try to better understand something that I knew I was ignorant of.  I certainly didn’t plan on hurting or offending anyone.

But Fox is correct when she says that a one-week challenge does not really teach someone what it is like to live on SNAP benefits.  A one-month challenge won’t do it either.  I could vow to eat on $30 a week for the rest of my life, and I’m still quite certain I wouldn’t get it.  Partly because I would always know that I could stop if I really wanted to.  Partly because I would still probably have most of the advantages listed above.  And because no one can ever truly understand the life and struggles of another.  Even if life’s twists and turns bring me to a place where I am also living in poverty and eating off food stamps, I won’t understand Fox’s life.

A Glimpse of Hope?

But I would understand it better than I am able to today.  And today I can understand it a little better than I did a month ago.  Or as Fox eloquently put it, ” Unless you live it, you’ve really got nothing more than a tiny peek through a window of what it’s like.”

In one of her comments on my blog, Fox said, “I kind of wish everyone would take on a challenge like this. I know all too many people who don’t understand what it’s like not to be able to stop in and grab something quick when you’re hungry, no matter how badly you want it. Maybe policies would change if more people had to experience it.”  (This was in response to the day my husband and I went on a day trip and couldn’t stop for a snack when we were getting really hungry and cranky).

I agree.  Most people don’t understand what it’s like, and many people don’t want to understand what it’s like.

And then in her “What It’s Really Like” post, she said, “It’s hard to hear people play around with the idea [of eating on a SNAP budget] and how relieved they are at the end of it all when I know the end is nowhere in my near future.”

Guilty as charged.  I was relieved to wake up the day after and know that I could have coffee and fresh fruit again.  My husband was thrilled that he could buy bad pizza if he wanted to.  Which brings me back to my bad feelings (that haven’t gone away).  I can’t solve this national issue of food insecurity, hunger, and lack of healthy food.  Not alone, not today, not tomorrow.  I can’t make life for Fox and her family (or any of the other 47 million Americans in the same boat) better just by taking a one week challenge.

But darn it, I peeked through the window!  I volunteered to do something that was hard for me (and even harder for my husband) in the hopes that it would make some kind of difference, someday.  And I am not sorry that I did.  If nothing else is ever gained for the experience, I am more humble for the experience.   And who knows?  Maybe someday I will make a difference, and this experience will have been part of my inspiration and motivation.


Readers, what do you think?  Are challenges like this, or other immersions into different lives, worthwhile in the pursuit of a better, more just world?  Or do they just trivialize the issues?


One comment on “My “Tiny Peek through a Window of What it’s Like””
  1. Fox says:

    Here’s what I think. You shouldn’t feel guilty. You’re becoming a part of the conversation. You want to become a part of finding help for the people who are forced to live in these conditions. You know from experience it’s not easy, and as you’ve said, it humbled you. It made you want to do something about it. You might not know what to do, but you’ve expressed wanting to start the conversation.

    I think it was your last post on the subject where you pointed out that just about everyone knows or interacts with someone on food stamps, but it’s something no one really talks about. Maybe it’s time that people do talk about it. Maybe recognizing that you had a lot of advantages that other people don’t is a part of that.

    More importantly, as much as I was frustrated by the whole idea at the time, it got me to write. It got me to share what it’s like for someone who actually has to live on SNAP benefits. I kind of wish more families in my situation would write about their experiences. If everyone who was living on SNAP benefits would stand up and tell their stories, maybe more of the world couldn’t ignore it.

    I have to admit, I feel a little like I was an angst-filled teen crying, “You just don’t understand me!” I guess it’s a good thing, in a way, because it’s about time someone who lives on SNAP steps up to represent what it’s like. At the same time, I feel a little guilty too. For families in my situation, those who try these challenges should be our greatest allies. These are people who aren’t afraid to open up the conversation. These are the people who will stand up and fight for cuts in funding to the SNAP program when proposed. They might just be listened to because their opinion isn’t biased by relying on these programs.

    This is an issue that really needs to be talked about, and I should really be thanking you for opening up that door. You may never know what it’s like to live like me, but at the very least you’re trying to understand. You want to make other people aware. That’s exactly what we need to happen.

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