foodstamps 

Some rights reserved by clementine gallot

During the week of Thanksgiving, we will share the reflections of students in Dr. Lisa Ottum’s rhetoric class.  This fall, they focused on what it means to eat well, including a number of interesting field experiences that challenged many students to consider issues of food justice.

Have you ever tried to shop on a budget?  If you depend upon food stamps for your groceries, you know exactly what it means to purchase food based on a tight financial plan.  A few weeks ago, a group of young Xavier students learned exactly what it means to bear the burden of feeding a family on an empty wallet.  Lisa Ottum, an English professor at Xavier University, took her students on a field trip to a nearby Kroger to give them some hands-on experience with food stamps.  The students split into groups, and quickly realized how difficult it was to feed a family of four on a budget of seven dollars and fifty cents.  The students were also informed that they had about twenty minutes to shop, check out, and meet back.  The pressure was on.

The groups hurried off, clutching their modest allowances.  Many were very surprised to discover how much food they could purchase, when they put their heads together, bought off-brands, and occasionally consulted a calculator to make certain that they had not yet run over their limit. When lining up at the register, it was apparent that each group had thought very differently about how to best spend their money.  One group decided on an Italian lunch after realizing that a box of pasta and a jar of sauce go a long way; another group found frozen dinners on sale and stocked up on those.  Upon meeting back with the class after paying, the groups realized that they had let one important factor slip by while making their purchasing decisions: Not a single person worried about the health value of what they purchased.  Between the starchy pastas, the high- carb breads, and the sodium filled frozen dinners, the students were shocked to realize that in their shopping bags they carried nothing that would be constituted as “healthy”.

The bus ride back to campus was quiet, as the students contemplated the health implications of their purchases.  Many realized that shopping and eating this way could never lead to healthy lifestyle choices.  Professor Ottum left the students with a heavy learning experience.  In one day, they rode public transportation to a chain grocery store where they shopped both on a tight budget and under a tight time constraint.  The message they took away from this field trip was clear: sometimes, your decision alone to eat healthy is not the deciding factor in what ends up on the dinner table.  These students received some first-hand experience about shopping and eating on food stamps, and they learned that healthy food tends to lose the battle when you are down to your last dollar.

Mckenzi Monday is a first-year at Xavier University.  She is working on an English major and Writing minor and is a Performing Arts student.