As of November 1, 2013, SNAP benefits for all recipients were cut by 10 cents per meal. That means that a family of four will face a $36 decrease in benefits per month. A huge decrease to have right before a holiday season. This isn't about myself anymore, it's about my friends, neighbors and fellow citizens who will struggle to put food on the table this holiday season.
To recap the past week, I have eaten ONLY the food that I purchased on my limited budget. I ate handfuls of almonds- the most expensive item that cost me 2/3 of my food allotment for 1 day. I carefully portioned out the number of cups of rice that I could eat per day without running out- the only item that I bought that would curb my hunger for a couple hours. I have not become an expert on the matter in just one short week, nor do I feel proud that I was able to avoid all of the additional food that was available to me throughout the 5 days. I don't feel a sense of accomplishment that I completed the challenge because fact is, this was an experience for me but this is life for others.
To prepare for the SNAP Challenge, I watched the documentary "A Place at the Table", which explored the relationship between obesity and hunger. Food insecurity affects 1 in 6 Americans, and for those that it does effect, many times distance to the nearest store and the farm policies put in place by the USDA are what can mean the difference between getting fresh or processed food at a lesser price. Food deserts are areas where there is little to no fresh food available within some distance. For people who live in residential areas that are food deserts, this can affect how often they go and how much they can buy from the store. On another note, The farm policies control the food that we subsidize and the food that we don't. Since from the 1930s to the 50s, farmers benefited from these programs. However, today 70% of the food that is subsidized are basic ingredients in processed foods. In short, there needs to be changes in policy to fix this problem.
For those of you who ate in the dining halls this week, you may have seen myself, my fellow interns, and REMP representatives scraping the leftover food off of each students' plate and into buckets before it was sent back to be washed. At the end of the meal time, we weighed these buckets to gain a general understanding of how much food we waste as a campus. Unlike WasteLESS Week Weigh the Waste, that focused on weighing napkins and other paper waste as well to look at it from an environmental standpoint, this time we were only focusing on food scraps.
As we delve deeper into the food waste that we throw away every day, we remember the people who carefully portion their meals every day so they have enough to sustain themselves through the week. We recognize the difficulty people face trying to supply their children with gifts this holiday season without taking money out of the food budget. It is difficult now for me to even fathom what it must be like for someone to walk by the produce section in a grocery store and right to the canned goods section because having access to fresh food has become a privilege. My concern isn't about those who can afford the fresh food, its about those marginalized individuals who can't fit it into their budgets.
The key take away here is quality affordable food for all. This past semester we have worked diligently on fundraising for and awareness of hunger in Tompkins County. Our efforts to raise money for the Food Bank of the Southern Tier's Backpack Program through Walkin' in the Country and Food Frenzy, as well as the three weeks we spent going around to each dining hall to bring awareness to the food we take for granted, have been very well received by students. We thank you for your comments in support of our initiatives and your excitement to join the "Clean Plate Club" after finishing a meal.
Warm Thanksgiving wishes to you and yours from the Sustainability Interns!
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