Day 1 of the SNAP Challenge…
Every Friday, I get lunch in dhall with my closest friends from freshman year. Since we’ve all gone our separate ways since then–some of us are in Greek life, some on the Ultimate Frisbee team, some on Mock Trial–this is our way of reconnecting and making sure we stay in each other’s lives. Not wanting to break our tradition, I still swiped into dhall but brought my own food to eat. While everyone else perused the food options for that day, I sat at our table and constructed my peanut butter sandwich–whole wheat bread, peanut butter on both slices and pineapple jam that was in my fridge from a recent trip to Belize. I was reminded of middle school because I used to eat peanut butter sandwiches every single day.
Although I very much enjoyed my peanut butter sandwich at lunch, which was around noon, I was hungry again by 3pm. Luckily for me, a team member brought her grandmother’s homemade shortbread from Sweden to our meeting at 3. It was DELICIOUS! But how many people living on SNAP ever get to eat homemade Swedish shortbread? But that didn’t stop me from enjoying a piece. After all, (I’m going to sound callous for a moment) when else am I going to have Swedish shortbread? Nevertheless, it was just enough to get me over the hump until dinner.
Now dinner is a tricky thing here…I went out to dinner at the Tobacco Company with my Delta Gamma Big’s family for University of Richmond’s annual Ring Dance. Technically I adhered to the SNAP Challenge because my Big’s parents paid for the meal. But, again, how many real life SNAP participants have family friends take them out to a somewhat fancy meal? Not many. Poverty is often an multi-generational phenomenon. People living in poverty often don’t have close family that can feed them because they are most likely living in poverty themselves. Similarly, we tend to associate most closely with people who are like us. Thus, the people living in poverty and on SNAP closest friends are probably in very similar situations. It also doesn’t help that middle to upper class Americans tend to look down on people living in poverty as abusers of the system who are in the position they are in because they are lazy or have some other unfavorable characteristic. No one living in poverty wants to live like that; its usually outside factors that put them in that situation. There needs to be a re-evaluation of American values to change the way the poor are perceived and treated.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with it, the Tobacco Company (interior pictured above) is a fine dining restaurant that used to be a tobacco warehouse. It’s now a Richmond hot spot for dining and drinking. I think the chandelier in the photo says it all–this isn’t a place that people on SNAP can afford. Looking at the menu, I had a bought of sticker shock. None of the entrees were under $20. To put in perspective, I had just spent $23 on food for a week. This was the cost for one night. Each of these entrees cost almost an entire week’s worth of SNAP benefits. A little part of me felt a little (morally) sick for eating here. How could it be that someone can easily drop a couple hundred dollars on one meal for eleven people and some people have absolutely no idea where they’re next meal is coming from? How can we, the privileged population, allow this level of blatant inequality to happen right in our own back yards?
Though these thoughts made me a little sick, that didn’t stop me from eating dinner at the Tobacco Company. Someone else was generous enough to pay; I wasn’t going to refuse to eat because that would be rude. I had the company pork which came with homemade apple butter, whipped sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts–three of my absolute favorite things. Everything was good, but I thought the pork was a little overcooked. Personally, I like my meat with a warm pink center, not cooked through like a hockey puck. Then it occurred to me, how many people living on SNAP know how they like their meat cooked? How many have never been asked that question? Sure, adults who once were financially secure and are now on SNAP probably know whether they like rare or medium well pork. But what about the kids who grew up on SNAP and are still stuck in the cycle of poverty? To me, this is just one more example of how I’m privileged in a way that I have always taken for granted. Never before have I thought about the social framework that I grew up in that allowed me to be able to tell a waiter that I would like my pork, “medium-well, please.”