by Rev. Meghan Davis
Last fall I participated in the SNAP Challenge. SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps. The idea is to spend a week spending only the amount of money of an average “food stamp” benefit for a person in your state. This includes everything we consume: every meal, snack, beverage and seasoning. According to the most recent statistics I was able to find, the average per person, per week benefit in the state of Washington was $29.56. But, as you probably know, funding for SNAP was recently cut meaning approximately $2 less per person, per week. Since then, it’s been cut again.
I planned a monotonous menu for the week. Oatmeal for breakfast, lentils and rice for lunch, beans and rice for dinner. An apple for snack. In my initial shopping excursion I was able to buy ingredients for all the meals I’d planned. I had $12.60 left over so the next day I went on a second shopping trip and got a bag of oranges, a bag of spinach, and some carrots.
As I shopped I felt like I was playing a game. And it really bothered me that what is everyday reality for so many, was a game for me. I worried, was my participation in this challenge simply a modern form of “slumming”? Granted, I had not entered into the challenge seeking to be entertained by pretending to be on food stamps, and yet… and yet…
I wondered, what was the purpose? I couldn’t shake this nagging feeling that the SNAP challenge is a fruitless exercise to alleviate the guilt of privilege.
I suppose the primary purpose is to raise awareness. But did my awareness really need to be raised? I mean, it’s not like I advocated for cuts to the benefits. I already support all our social safety nets. We should be doing more, not less, to help those in need in our country. I already consider the rates of homelessness, poverty, hunger and malnutrition in this—the wealthiest of countries—to be a shameful scandal. And even if I did need my awareness raised, I don’t have the power to make the difference.
But I accepted the challenge, without knowing exactly why. And I was hungry all week. I would eat a meal and I was still hungry. I ate every grain of rice out of the dish. Literally. Every grain. I lost 4.5 pounds. Actually, I was only hungry until Friday night. I still had $5.13 left to spend so I bought some quinoa and popcorn in bulk and a small bottle of vegetable oil. That night I had a batch of popcorn and for the first time all week, I didn’t feel hungry.
I was thinking about food all week: When do I get to eat next? What will I eat next? I’m hungry… How do people live this way?
Can you imagine trying to work, trying to take care of everyday life, trying to be a productive member of society when you can barely get your mind off your stomach? Can you imagine trying to concentrate on your school work if the growling of your tummy is drowning out your teacher’s voice? Can you imagine being a parent and having to worry about where your child’s next meal is coming from or whether it will be enough or having to send your child to school hungry? Can you imagine?
I have a pretty good imagination. Yet, I cannot imagine these things. After one week living on a food stamp budget, I still can’t imagine it. Because it was all by choice. I chose to eat less than $27.56 worth of food that week. And while it certainly wasn’t easy and it wasn’t pleasant, while I grew tired of the same food day in and day out, while I longed for some delicious organic produce, while I heard the siren call of junk food that normally doesn’t hold any appeal for me—it was all by choice. I knew it was only for a week. I knew that if I blew it, if for any reason I chose to throw in the towel, I could go to the store and go crazy. I could fill my cart with anything my little heart desired. If I wanted to buy more than I could technically afford, I could just put it on my credit card.
Back to my initial question: what’s the point of doing the SNAP Challenge? The SNAP Challenge got me thinking about it. It got me talking about it. And I’m going to keep talking about it, with God’s help. And I will be in solidarity, not just in my thoughts, not just in my heart, but in my life.
Because I realized that it’s not true that I’m not the one whose awareness needs to be raised. It’s not true that I’m not the one with the power to make a difference. I do have the power. We all have the power and when we use it to work for change we partner with God in the in-breaking of the Reign of Christ. Because the Reign of Christ isn’t just a spiritual realm, pie in the sky by and by when we die. It is here. It is now. But I cannot enter the Reign of Christ unless you do. We cannot enter unless everyone does. We cannot fully realize the Reign of Christ spiritually until the basic physical, human needs are met for all.
God Incarnate came to Earth, took on the flesh of a human being showing us that our human flesh, our bodies, our entire beings mean something. They are important. They have value. They are not separate from or inferior to our spiritual selves. We cannot fully realize the Reign of Christ until all God’s children have access to the good things of Christ’s Reign—nourishing food, adequate housing, meaningful work, living wage, medical care, safety, peace, wholeness, the gifts of heaven, the gifts of earth, the gifts of God that God desires and yearns for us all, all God’s beloved children. For you, for me, for each one of us lovingly created in God’s own image. This is my prayer. May it be so.
Photos by Rev. Meghan Davis
Meghan Davis was born and raised in Taos, NM. She studied Russian, theatre and comparative literature at the College of Wooster in Ohio, before earning an MA in theatre history and criticism at Ohio University. Meghan had a brief career as a dramaturg before entering seminary. She is a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor and teaches yoga in the church. Having just ended a wonderful first call after five years at Longview Presbyterian Church in Washington, Meghan is excited to be starting a new call at First Presbyterian Church of Newton, Iowa, in June. In the interim, she is living with family near Sacramento, CA, while working on a book about yoga as a Christian spiritual practice.