By Alexandria White
If I was like the 45 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (i.e. food stamps), I would have $22 to spend on food for five days. Since I am participating in Net Impact’s Empathy Week and taking the SNAP challenge, my husband and I went to the grocery store to see if we could stick to that budget.
Eligibility requirements for SNAP begin at or below 130 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and nearly 44 percent of SNAP participants are children. We kept these numbers in mind as we walked into the grocery store.
We typically snack on red grapes, but they were $6 a bag — no way we were allocating more than 13 percent of our budget to grapes! We made our way to the reduced produce section, an area I normally pass by, and found cheap cucumbers and bananas — we felt like we cracked the case! That is until we got to the meat department. We could only afford six chicken breasts since we wanted to buy organic, a decision we may regret later in the week.
No coffee, no wine, no chocolate, no cheese — by the time we went to the register we both had a newfound consciousness about decisions we take for granted at the grocery store.
As the cashier rang me up I realized we had gone over our budget before she even included the whole grain bread that was a cornerstone of our meal plan (toast with peanut butter, not the healthier almond butter that was $15, and bananas for breakfast every day!). Panicked and slightly embarrassed (I’m in B-school, shouldn’t I be able to do math?), I asked her to remove the romaine lettuce and a jar of pasta sauce so I could afford the bread and stay in budget.
If I had been thinking rationally rather than rushing to not hold up the line, I would have asked to remove the olive oil I bought that had a sign that said $5.35 but rang up for $6.99! This was quite annoying since I didn’t realize I was overcharged until we left. It made me think about a time I stood in line frustrated by someone arguing with the cashier over a dollar or two. I now understood just how much difference that dollar or two can make.
On the drive home, we also realized how fortunate we were to have a car and time to plan and cook meals.
While one week cannot come close to the challenges faced each day by SNAP participants, my husband and I have already developed a heightened appreciation of the value of food and the lack of variety and flexibility with such a tight budget.
The events of Empathy Week will provide me with a better understanding of the solutions and innovations that exist to help reduce food insecurity in America.
Alexandria White is a first-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year Program. Prior to Kellogg she worked in asset management on a fixed income portfolio team managing over $5 billion. She will be interning at Goldman Sachs in Private Wealth Management this summer.