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.
What even is SNAP and what is it like to live on it? How is eligibility determined and how much money do you actually receive? Can a household actually earn enough from this program to fully supply their family with sufficient food for meals? These are just a few of the multiple questions that came to mind when I first learned that our English Rhetoric class would be traveling to the local Kroger in order to experience what it is truly like to live on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP as it is commonly called. Initially, I was uncertain that this event would change me in any way, whether that had been spiritually, mentally, or even physically. Wow, was I terribly mistaken!
The adventure began by the entire class meeting in front of the Xavier Garden. Upon each group receiving an envelope with their situation and money bus fare ($2.25 for a transfer), we headed towards the bus stop. While walking, a few more questions came to me: Why do we have to take the bus? Can’t we just drive there? Upon further reflection, the answers hit me like a ton of bricks: If these families are unable to pay for groceries, then more than likely they can’t even afford a car or gas money for that matter. There only option for a mode of transportation is either the bus, or a bike, or just walking. This can cause some serious problems when encounter the elements because if you are in a desperate need of food and you can only go to the store during a certain time, and it just happens to be pouring down rain or a blizzard, then you must persevere and face whatever nature has in store for you head on. Also, taking the bus requires money, money which could have been used for more groceries.
So next time you are complaining about wanting to drive or how the Hoff Dining Center doesn’t have enough variety, keep in mind that there are families who either go hungry because they can’t spare any extra money in order to have three meals a day or who even eat the same food for every meal because it’s cheap and one of the few things that their family can afford.
Once arriving at our destination and reading our situation, my partner and I set out to see what we actually could buy. As it turns out there is not much that a mother with a four-year-old daughter can buy with only $4.00 for a meal for both of them. Nevertheless, we continued our search until we came upon the frozen food section and discovered some T.V. dinners that were only a dollar each, which meant that we could get four of them and feed ourselves lunch or dinner for the next two days.
Although, as it came to our attention shortly after buying these items, we had assumed that our family had a functioning microwave and refrigerator in which to heat and keep these T.V. dinners cool for the following day. The issue this brings about is that if these families are on some sort of federal funding then in most circumstances they are probably not able to pay for electricity, which means that the meals themselves could not be heated, or that any left over meals would be wasted if not consumed.
As our expedition came to an end we were left with some reflection questions to ponder on our way back to the campus of Xavier University. These questions contained the generic information, like “what was your experience like,” “did you gain anything from it,” etc. At first I had not put any thought into these questions, but upon further contemplation I became aware of the many things that we assume will always be there for us, such as food or transportation or shelter. Yet, there are so many families, not only in Cincinnati or even the United States, but also in other countries were poverty is a normality, that must live through this every day of their life, and have no means of emerging from it either. So the next time you are in the Hoff Dining Center or even out to eat at some restaurant, complaining about the type of food or food service, be a little more considerate because you don’t know how well you actually have it, and realize that most people would do anything just for the crumbs on your plate.
Nick Jannazo is a sophomore H.A.B. major with a Natural Sciences minor. He wants to pursue a job in medicine, hopefully as a medical examiner or a radiologist. He enjoys hanging out with friends and practicing for Club Water Polo.