It was more than six weeks ago now that I posted my last blog post on Ooooh SNAP!. Where have I been, you ask? Well, after a very long week, I hopped into my DeLorean time machine, hit 88 MPH, and traveled back to the future to the year 2013, where I find you now on this chilly Los Angeles winter’s day.
I needed a vacation. I had just finished my law school final exams, started this new blog here, and of course, had just completed the #SNAPchallenge, a one-week experiment in compassion that has brought us here today.
As I explained in my inaugural post last month, Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker issued a nationwide challenge to those who enjoy the bounty of the American breadbasket, to try – for just a week – to step into the shoes of those less fortunate and see for yourself how hard it is to live on a food stamp budget of less than $5/day.
I took Mayor Booker up on his challenge, for which he was kind enough to call me with encouraging words. It was an exercise in humility and gratitude, and by the end of it, I felt radically motivated to do something about our failed public policies on poverty.
Food stamps are a government subsidy that protect people from starving when they find themselves down on their luck – whether by losing their job, their house, or getting hit with an unaffordable medical bill. It’s supposed to be a temporary program to get people back on their feet, but with the massive job crisis that has plagued the United States over the last five years, we now see a record 44 million of our American citizens on the program. Five dollars a day is all they get (if they’re lucky…), and the message we send them by not talking about this phenomenon openly and publicly is: “You’re on your own.”
As a result, what we find is that people on food stamps are stigmatized – both through irresponsible national discourse on the subject, and by a lack of education about how to make the best of your food on five dollars a day.
The key word here is stigma. It is not new. We’ve seen it in the eighties with HIV/AIDS, when those in national office and those at the FDA refused to talk about the disease, refused to take it seriously, and refused to educate people about prevention and science. We’ve seen it for the last forty years when it comes to drug use, which, without a proper public discussion, has been confined to a black market and treated as criminal – rather than as a public health issue. And, in more recent times, we’ve seen it with women’s rights, by those who wish to shame and stigmatize women who would choose to make their own decisions about their reproductive health, and who have tried to stifle meaningful discussion and education in schools and around the world about safe sex and family planning.
But I’m not here to talk about those issues (not just yet, anyway). I’m here to talk about food. I’m here to talk about how we can make food security part of a healthy, vibrant discussion in America, and use the power of our resources to educate people on how to eat healthy, warm, flavorful meals on the cheap, without the sense that they’ve done something wrong to deserve them being on government assistance.
So let’s pick up where we left off. For the next 31 days – beginning on Sunday, February 3 – I will return to the #SNAPchallenge, limiting the totality of my food budget to $149.05 for the entire month. That’s just $4.80/day, for three square meals a day.
As I did during the last #SNAPchallenge, I will blog not just about my everyday experiences, but also my thoughts on public policy big and small, cultural issues, and, this time around, issues affecting low-income and working families in my hometown of Los Angeles, where I am working closely with Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo, a candidate to represent Hollywood, Silver Lake, and Echo Park in LA City Council in this upcoming March 5th election.
As much as I like Twitter (you can find my tweets here), I make my online home on Facebook. So if you want the latest and greatest from Ooooh SNAP! without refreshing this website a million times, please friend me on Facebook here. I’m hoping to post 4-6 times a week, so let’s start the conversation!