This is the second installment in our ‘SNAP Challenge’ guest blog series this week by Jasmine Zandi and Claire Thompson
Today was the Arkansas Healthy Child Summit. From 7:30 am to 5:00pm we were at the Robinson Center volunteering and working.
Everyone at the summit works for an organization dedicated to improving children’s health, and although the conference was free, we felt privileged enough to have been invited— thanks to the contacts we have made through our internship with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.
This is not the case for most SNAP recipients. Because we were working here for the entire day, two meals were provided. Glistening rows of buffet-style foods welcomed us all through the main doors. When we arrived this morning, we could smell the bacon from the parking lot and immediately our stomachs rumbled, despite the breakfast we had prepared for ourselves earlier. After much debate about whether or not we would allow ourselves to eat the breakfast they were serving, we decided that, in theory, anyone could be offered a free meal, SNAP recipient or not, and only a fool would turn it down.
While we spent the day learning about the many facets of health in our state, here are some reflections on our individual experiences so far.
Going into the challenge, the way everyone made it out to be, I anticipated feeling starved and absolutely famished all the time. This is not the case. I am being fed. The difficulty lies in the inability to branch outside of the collection of things I have allotted for myself on my budget. I don’t have as much variety. I crave a snocone, but paying $4 for some shaved ice and food coloring is simply unrealistic when it is an entire day’s budget and doesn’t allow for very much repeated benefit. Either way, I realized how much I would give in to my cravings before this week, simply because I had the means to be able to. On the bright side, the lack of variety has upped my level of creativity in the kitchen in order to excite myself for the food process. The other day I made a fried rice concoction that was actually really good; I rediscovered my love for eggs and the many ways they can be cooked.
Another thing I’ve realized is the meal prep. The hardest thing has been having to constantly keep food in the back of my mind and making sure that I have time in my day to prepare it for myself. It takes so much time, especially if you have to add a couple of minutes every time to read the package cooking directions because you aren’t well versed in the kitchen. I’m certain Claire and I have not been late to work once this entire summer, until this week. We’ve definitely been pushing it due to underestimations of how long it would take us to make oatmeal, or an egg, and make lunch! The best part is, I only have to worry about getting myself out the door in the morning. I can only imagine what it would be like to have to do all of this preparation and schedule management for more than one person. It takes serious commitment and dedication in order to make it work.
My next challenge is my dad’s birthday tomorrow. Normally my family goes out to dinner on birthdays. Where can I get dinner for seven cents? Hit me up if you’ve got the plug! (Look to Claire’s restaurant trauma to see what kind of social restraints get presented to SNAP recipients.) We’ll let you know if we can think of tips or solutions.
Hangry Scale: Honestly not that bad, maybe a 3.
Despite our hardships at the grocery store, everything seemed to be going fine by Monday afternoon. I was somehow staying motivated, reminding myself that there are people who do this everyday. “I got this,” I thought. By eleven I was hungry, but I had a small green apple and half a peanut butter sandwich in my bag to save me. Finishing my lunch in record time, I slept during my actual lunch break. Re-energized, I finished the day at work fine. However, I usually go straight from work to night classes and had forgotten to prepare a snack. Usually, this wouldn’t be a huge deal–I would just run into a gas station and grab a bag of something. That’s when I realized I couldn’t satisfy my goldfish craving with seven cents. I couldn’t really afford anything for that matter. Not to mention Jasmine would probably get upset with me for spending our last cents on the first day of the challenge, considering that seven cents had to last us all week! About half-way through the class, my stomach was aching and audibly rumbling. All I could think about was if I could find something to eat, counting down the seconds until class ended, and if the cute boy next to me could hear how hungry I was. I couldn’t focus on equations and was doing simple math wrong, mixing up negative signs and rearranging numbers, making careless mistakes.
Tuesday, I slept through my morning workout so that I might be a little more energized, but underestimated the amount of time it would take to make breakfast. So, I hurriedly made microwave oatmeal in a Pyrex container, sliced up a banana and was out the door! By the end of our 11 o’clock meeting I was tired and parched. However, I was attending a church youth group get-together at lunch at a restaurant I couldn’t afford. Of course, most social gatherings involve food, and some are even centered around a meal. We are simply social eaters. How do you keep an active social life without eating? How do you explain to a group of people why you’re not getting lunch? This was a little easier for me to explain than it would be to a SNAP recipient, but the aroma of my friends’ food was near torture. I ended up heading home after to reheat some brown rice and frozen veggies, feeling like a real top chef. But even this took too long to prep, and I was late getting back to work.
Last night, I had a headache from lack of food and caffeine, was tired, and extremely hangry. I apologize to my family and friends and dear coworker Jasmine for the things I said and the times I snapped at them. I just wanted some quiet. I couldn’t think, and took it out on others out of frustration.
Today was a good day–we got free food we decided to accept because it was easier to eat than to skip meetings to make a sandwich and explain to people why we weren’t there. I cherished every last bite. I was so grateful to have a full, colorful plate and to have a desert other than a frozen banana in a blender (actually very good–10/10 and budget friendly). But, I still felt guilty for eating it.
Hangry Scale: Probably about an 8/10. Think overdramatic Disney movie teenager–the world is out to get me; I just know it.
As we finish the week, we definitely have some things to figure out. Check back with us Friday for our final thoughts and reflections. Thanks for reading (and please pray for our friendship to last).
Claire and Jasmine