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Food Stamp Challenge: Great! And, Do I Have To?

Over the High Holidays, my rabbi asked our congregation to participate in a week-long Food Stamp Challenge—to limit our food spending to the equivalent of “food stamp” benefits, $31.50 per person, for one week. “What a great way to raise awareness about hunger, poverty, and food issues in our community!” I thought.

I liked the idea of people in my congregation participating in the challenge. But I didn’t want to do it myself.

I mean, I get it. Many people live in food insecure households—that is, households in which there may not always be enough food. By the numbers: in our country, one in six; in our state, Texas, almost one in five—and among children, one in four. Not only am I aware of these numbers, but I work here at the Texas Interfaith Center, which promotes policies and programs to alleviate hunger, fight poverty, and create more just and equitable communities. Supporting programs that enable those in need to access Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, more commonly known as "food stamps") benefits is one facet of this work.

Last year, I was the lead researcher for and author of “Taste and See: A Justice Framework for Faith and Food,” which considers religious teachings about food and explores how food practices affect our lives, communities, and environment. Because the Farm Bill is where SNAP funding comes from—and recent versions of the Bill have included proposals to make deep cuts to SNAP funding—I am a fan of the Jewish Farm Bill Working Group, I signed the Jewish Petition for a Just Farm Bill, and I work to promote awareness in my community about food issues and opportunities to advocate on the Farm Bill.

“See, I’m already doing my part,” I told myself. “Plus, I’m too busy.”

I’m at a point in my life where I’m trying to say “no” to any and all new projects—and this is something of a spiritual practice for me. Really. I’m married with two kids, ages 9 and 12, and I work full time. My youngest just got braces, so I find myself juggling orthodontic appointments with football games and band practice for the eldest, not to mention shuttling them both to and from religious school twice a week. Did I mention that I’m taking two graduate-level classes to finish my Master’s degree, and that I occasionally like to do things for myself—like sleep?

This “Food Stamp Challenge” sounded like one more project that I just didn’t have the time or energy for. And yet, that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? People who rely on SNAP benefits to feed their families don’t have a choice about whether or not to plan the best way to stretch their food dollars. In the face of the reality of poverty and hunger in America, all of my self-satisfied reluctance to participate in the challenge appears pretty hollow.

So fine. I’ll do the Food Stamp Challenge. My congregation is participating together, November 1st-7th, 2012. Oops, that’s coming up pretty quickly! I guess I’d better start meal planning…

For more information about SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges and how your community can plan one, visit these sites:

Food Research and Action Center SNAP/Food Stamp Challenges page Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge page Food Stamp Challenge Action Toolkit, Fighting Poverty with Faith, from the National Council of Churches USA Poverty Initiative

This piece originally appeared in the online journal, State of Formation.

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