Friday, October 7, 2011

Exploring the world of food stamps

In the United States over 45 million American citizens live off food stamps. That is a troubling idea to stomach. What’s even more difficult to wrestle with is that food stamps allow for only $4.30 per day/per person. How is it possible to live off of less money per day than the typical American spends on gasoline for their car per day? This is a difficult question and I decided to find out exactly how it would feel for two days by eating only $8.60 worth of food for two consecutive days. For the purpose of this project I decided to lock all of my money and cards away so I could truly emerge myself into the situation. You have to figure that a person living on food stamps does not have a lot of disposable income to spend on other luxuries. A little nervous at the prospect of starving to death, I put the $8.60 into my completely empty wallet and began my adventure into a task that, over the course of 2 seemingly endless days, would change my perspective on everything.
Tuesday morning I woke up excited and a little anxious at the prospect of eating on such a limited budget. After getting showered and dressed I walked to the modern language building for my Spanish class, walking through the Michigan league on the way and picking up a ninety cent chewy chocolate chip granola bar from “U-gos”, a small university run café. By the time I arrived at my classroom in the basement of the building I had already scarfed down my entire breakfast without consciously recognizing that this would be the first of my three small meals of the day. By halfway through the class I began to think ahead to lunch because I was not in any way fully satisfied with my 90-calorie breakfast. After Spanish class I rushed to my political science lecture and as I started to take notes my stomach let out an intrusive growl. I could barley focus on the lecture. After 20 minutes of class I stopped taking notes for the first time in the class all semester. I couldn’t focus on any aspect of my professor’s lecture of which I usually find captivating. This wasn’t good. It was time for lunch. With only $3.40 left to spend for lunch and dinner I needed to be creative. How could you go wrong with a nice hot easy mac lunch for only 1.70? I finished my Easy Mac lunch quickly and was surprisingly satisfied with my meal. After my last class of the day I went to the library for a few hours and within 45 minutes of working it was clear to me that I was increasingly unfocused and disinterested in my assignments, two words that rarely describe my relationship to my class obligations. Something was going on, I simply could not focus having only ingested 330 calories when my body requires over 2500 calories for the day to maintain my current body weight (Calorie Counter). Frustrated and surprised at my body’s clearly diminished performance and abilities I decided to treat myself to my final meal of the day. For $1.50 I purchased a bowl of cup-of noodles soup and sat in my room savoring my final meal and reflecting on my first day on food stamps. The day felt longer than any day at school had ever felt. Even though I had less class than I usually do on a given school day I spent virtually my entire day thinking about my stomach and what I could eat for my next meal that would offer me more satisfaction. This was absolutely no way to live. How could someone be expected to be successful in society and get back on their feet if their situation constantly forces them to think about how to satisfy their hunger for the remainder of the foreseeable future?
The next morning I woke up feeling sick which quelled my hunger a little bit so I decided to grab another ninety-cent granola bar from the league café. This time I decided to switch it up and got a peanut butter flavored bar. After eating my breakfast I felt a little better and was generally satisfied. During my 2-hour discussion I began to feel really hungry again and stopped focusing on the class as I contemplated what I could eat for lunch that would give me more satisfaction. I grabbed a $1.25 slice of pizza from Back Room Pizza, perhaps the best lunch deal in Ann Arbor. After lunch I went to the library to study for my Spanish exam that is rapidly approaching. Within an hour and a half of working, my focus was shot. I was starving for dinner and I needed something filling to keep me going at the library for the rest of the day. I ventured over to Wendy’s at the union for some cheap fast food. I never eat fast food but I knew I could get the most bang for my buck at Wendys. My dinner consisted of a cheeseburger deluxe and a value fries. Both items are on the dollar menu so my daily total spent was at $4.10, just $0.30 shy of my budget. Once I got back to the library I got right back into my studying and for another hour and a half I was satisfied.  My weak stomach quickly began to bother me from the fast food and the initial feeling of a full stomach began to ware off. By the time I finished working and returned home I could barley think. I was starving, my stomach was feeling weird, and I was out of money for the day. 
This assignment was one of the most challenging tasks I have ever accomplished. I cannot imagine having to rely on food stamps on a daily basis. Even though my experiment only lasted 2 days I have gained a stronger understanding of how terrible of a situation living on food stamps is. How can we as a society expect those relying on food stamps to pull themselves out of poverty when we don’t even allow them the adequate funds to meet basic nutritional needs? If I had to quantify my decrease in productivity over the last two days I would say I was at least 35 percent less productive. How can society allow impoverished children to break the poverty cycle if they cannot get requisite nutrition on a daily basis? According to a study conducted by the Washington State Board of Health, students from families with insufficient food had significantly lower arithmetic scores and were more likely to have repeated a grade. Ignoring this issue will not solve the problem but rather perpetuate the cyclical nature of poverty and malnutrition at the expense of innocent children. I never recognized the effect that diet has on daily focus and level of concentration. Eating on such a limited food budget impedes daily productivity because you become forced, to the point of obsession, to constantly think about your next meal and if it will quell your hunger. The food stamp system in the United States is a necessary system that, if given the resources and economic support, could be greatly enhanced. However, due to limited resources and tough economic times around the country it is virtually impossible that there will be an increase in the food stamp allotment. This was a sobering experience that forced me to recognize, through direct emergence, that it is extremely difficulty for those on food stamps to become economically self-sufficient when there diet does not physically allow them to achieve the appropriate nutrients to thrive as a human being and reach a productive level of concentration and focus.

"Calorie Calculator." Calorie Counter - Free Online Diet Journal. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>.

"Nutrition, Physical Activity and Achievement." Washington State Board of Health. Web. 07 Oct. 2011. <>.

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