Open Arms of Minnesota

SNAP Challenge: What we learned

By Susan Pagani

There must be a million love songs about the fact that you never really know what you’ve got until it’s gone. It seems the same is true of food: Reading through the round-up of final thoughts on the SNAP Challenge, we have collectively experienced insight into both hunger and our own wealth, be it modest or vast. The comfort of knowing that food — the right food, in the right amounts — will be there when you reach for it is easy to take for granted if you never (or seldom) experience otherwise. As the song goes: how can I miss you if you won’t go away?

Of course, we recognize that a single week of food insecurity doesn’t provide complete insight into the lives of hungry Minnesotans, but it’s a start. Looking back on the conversations we’ve all had this week, the SNAP Challenge has definitely been successful in raising awareness of that hunger.

We are so grateful to everyone who participated in the SNAP Challenge. A special thanks, too, to the folks who shared their thoughts here and their own blogs; you helped to keep the conversation lively and public. The Open Arms blog has so far received around 1,300 page views this week and that’s something we can all feel proud of as we sit down to a turkey dinner tomorrow.

Here are some final thoughts from our SNAP Challenge participants:

“I think food justice is more than that. When I think about the role food plays in my own life — and it’s a big one — I have to believe that when people don’t have access to healthy, nutritious, good tasting food, the result isn’t just poor physical well-being. It’s emotional/social/psychological well-being. More simply, if people struggle to get enough food or the right food, how can they possibly be happy?” — David Plante Read more>>

“You can eat reasonably healthy food, BUT it doesn’t taste of anything, and is time consuming, on a very limited budget the tasty stuff is high in fat, salt and other nasties.” — Martyn Crook

“Continuing on this plan would cause me to be at increased risk for heart disease, cancer, anemia, and a myriad of other diseases. … Food insecurity is horrible … I am more motivated than ever to help others survive with it in my professional life. ” — Gwenda Hill Read more>>

“No matter where you come from, at the end of the day, food security is a human right.” — Ellen Klahn Read more>>

“The SNAP Challenge was a humbling experience. Once I survived the first few days (who knew lack of Diet Coke could impact vision, hearing, and general irritability?) my body adjusted to the lower calorie intake. However, the main thing I noticed was the mental impact, and what I take for granted. When I’m thirsty, I grab a Diet Coke — when I’m hungry, I go grab something to eat. I’m so blessed that I’m able to do that — really makes me thankful for all I have this Thanksgiving.” — Ross Johnson

“I’ve never really been wasteful, but I was extra careful with food this week. I really focused on making the most of the food we had. Our refrigerator is pretty much empty right now. And portion control has been a huge takeaway from the challenge. When you can’t go back for seconds, you really start paying attention to portions. Overeating just isn’t possible!” — Kent Linder

“Our SNAP Challenge experience … has been a positive experience … We both recognized how food has become a habit and how we don’t always eat for nutritional purposes. We eat because we have an abundance of food around us, we eat because think we are hungry, we eat because we came home from work, it’s morning, movie time or we’re bored. This awareness of how the two of us eat, the amount of food we eat, how we view food, as well as how society views food has been the most rewarding part of the challenge. We like to eat, eating makes us feel good and we have to eat to survive. Also, food is a social activity … We have become more aware of how food is a symbolic activity for us and our society, and how food affects society. Also, we have become more mindful of the choices we make.” — Mark Sauerbrey and Dennis Taylor Read more>>

“A week later, we have several pounds lost between the two of us and entire evenings devoted exclusively to the preparation of food. When I was working two jobs, 70 hours a week and still lived on the constant precipice of not having enough food in the kitchen, this was a luxury I could never have afforded.” — Michelle Los Read more>>

“Until this week, I didn’t realize how much I’ve come to prioritize convenience in my food choices … There certainly are cheap, convenient foods available, but not many cheap, convenient, healthy foods. I know there are plenty of people on SNAP who are busier than me working to make ends meet or caring for children. I’m not sure I’d choose to put in the extra time to find healthy food if I had to do this for more than a week.” — Elizabeth Polter Read more>>

“I knew it would be a challenge — and it was — but I was actually surprised how far I could stretch the allowed amount by planning my meals and taking advantage of reduced price produce, bulk bins, sales, etc. It certainly wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t as ‘hard’ as I thought it might be. I have worked with families and individuals using food stamps and food banks etc. around their nutrition and making their dollars truly count to get the most nutrition bang for their buck, so I was able to actually put my own advice to use this past week!” — Courtney Blair

“Our Thanksgiving feast will be haunted by our neighbors who are on the SNAP program every week … do they have a turkey and the fixings from a food shelf? Are they going to a congregate meal at a center or church? And what about tomorrow and the day after that?” — Kay Mitchell Read more>>

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