Walking in the shoes of poverty


Jenn Proffitt is a senior journalism major and Editor-in-Chief of The Journal
Ever wonder what it would be like to live off food stamps for a day? What about for three?
In a recent class experiment, my teacher asked us to do just that. We were given a little more leeway than the typical food stamper and were asked to eat off just $4.25 a day. Over the course of three days I created a budget — my average meal would drop from $5 dollars per meal to just $1.41 per meal.
Yes, that’s right, just $1.41 — that’s the equivalent of a soda from the vending machine and a breath mint.
Now with a little more planning (which sometimes fell through) I was able to at least get three meals into my day. I started on a weekend when keeping to a strict diet was relatively easy, especially since I slept for the majority of the morning and into the afternoon. So with skipping breakfast for that morning I made a turkey sandwich for $2.25 and pasta and tomato sauce for just $1.50. The real challenge came the next day.
I had to wake up an hour earlier than my typical time, which was usually a mere 20 minutes before my class. Because of this I was barely able to wake up in time, let alone make the sandwich I had planned to make for the day.
So, as I ran off to my 9 a.m. class with my 20 cent waffle with peanut butter in hand, I didn’t think anything of my lack of lunch, or of the long day I had ahead of me. The waffle didn’t stay with me for long; by 11 a.m. I was starving.
With 75 cents of my budget I bought a Buddy Bar — the cheapest and most filling thing I could find in the school’s vending machines. Despite my conviction that I would last the entire day until I could go home at 5 and make my 79 cent pasta, I found that I couldn’t.
By 1 p.m. I was feeling light-headed and nauseous, and by 4 p.m. I was about ready to pass out. Day 2 of my semi-self-inflicted starvation taught me one thing — pack my lunch, plan ahead and chew very, very slowly.
As the beginning of Day 3 approached, I was optimistic. While my pasta and tomato sauce hadn’t last nearly as long as I thought it would and I had woken up with a hunger headache pounding in my head, I thought for sure that today would be better than the day before. I was wrong.
From lack of food I felt sluggish all day. I had remembered to pack a turkey sandwich, costing me $2.25 and had had two of my Dollar Tree waffles in the vain hope that the massive amounts of carbs would fill me up — they didn’t.
During the three days, I drank more water than I have in the last month, mainly for two reasons: first, because I couldn’t afford the expensive sodas at school, second because water fills you up. Although I now realize that once it leaves your system it leaves you feeling more hungry than before because it expands your stomach.
Those three days were miserable, and I apologize to the people I had to interact with. I was irritable, short tempered and really, really whiny. But I learned an important lesson. People on food stamps often get a bad rap.There’s the perception that they’re lazy and not hard workers, that if they truly worked hard enough that they could get out of the situation.
I’ve had that perception. I’ve gone to Aldi’s in the past, thinking “I’m just trying to save money” and “If I really wanted to I could go to Schnucks, I can afford it and they can’t.”
That’s just not true. There’s a flaw in the system when our citizens starve. The “real” price of food stamps is just a little more than $2. It seems that our system is trapped in a cycle. We give tax breaks to the rich, we leave people in the slums to suffer and even when we clean up the impoverished neighborhoods in our cities, the rent soon becomes too high, forcing the tenants to move out into even worse neighborhoods.
Last week in The Journal, our news editor talked about his consumption habits and American food. In between the lines, a reader can observe the huge flaw in America. We’re so focused on overconsumption, consumerism, and quantity over quality that we miss the main problem. I refer back to my original question: Ever wondered what it was like to live off food stamps for a day?
Of course not, because as long as the poor remain out of sight and out of mind, no one cares unless it’s for a good laugh at someone’s expense.
I would like to challenge the Webster community for just one day to put aside their debit cards and their upper middle class privilege and walk for one day in the shoes of someone less fortunate than them. Would you still shrug off the outstretched hand of a homeless man searching for change or would you still use him as a source of entertainment like Ted Williams, the homeless man with an amazing voice?
America is known as the land of opportunity, but that opportunity is only extended if you work hard enough and happen to be white, middle class and not on the poverty diet. We all can’t be Oprah.

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