I’m lying in my queen-sized bed in my college house on the Gold Coast of Connecticut at the end of a long day of class, clubs and socializing with my peers. Browsing through my phone and checking all of the usual social media suspects, I feel my stomach grumble.
I open my Uber eats app and browse the restaurants available for almost instant delivery to my door, for only a fee of a few extra dollars. Scrolling around, I think about how much I’ve spent on food in the last few days. Will I feel guilty about this purchase knowing I could have used the money better and considering I have an entire kitchen full of food?
I add some $15 dollars in takeout to the app and ask my housemates if they want to join my order. As usual, they jump on board.
Later, as we sit around frustrated because the delivery is taking a few more minutes than originally anticipated, I feel my stomach grumble again. It makes me wonder how anyone has ever survived longer than a day in hunger. I decide I couldn’t handle that; it’s too much to deal with on top of all of life’s other stresses, and I think my body would crap out on me.
And then, almost instantly, I realize that this decision—to never have to deal with prolonged hunger—is quite possibly the most privileged outlook on the basic human need for food that anyone could ever have. After all, it’s food. We can’t live without it, and deciding with ease that we never have to shows the complete developmental wonder of our species’ ability to obtain excess food through agriculture. It also shows my own personal experience of never living in a home where the next meal was an uncertainty.
Food insecurity in the United States is more common and more dire than anyone wants to talk about. It’s so easy to look down upon those who can’t afford to feed themselves or their families and think of them as lazy or irresponsible with their finances.
The truth is that there are so many necessary essentials that food can end up taking a backseat in an effort to avoid homelessness, unemployment or worse. Mothers and fathers will go hungry to feed their children, and the elderly will suffer in silence to hold on to their dignity as a role model for their families and for their own self-esteem.
When I used to hear “food stamps” as a child, I often thought of the coupon leaflets at the entryway of the grocery store (aka free stuff.) I never gave much thought to how or why they existed, but I remember being confused as a child about why some people got “free stuff” and some didn’t. Little did I realize how hard it was to be in a situation so extreme that you needed to apply for the assistance; there’s not much excitement in receiving “coupons.”
Food is an essential, basic human right, and in a country that has more food than it knows what to do with, no man, woman or child has any reason to ever go hungry or wonder where the next meal will come from. We waste 40 percent of the food we consume, and still there is too much to go around before it goes bad.
The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) is the leading program in fighting hunger. It isn’t just coupons for free stuff; it isn’t a government handout for the unmotivated; it is, quite literally, the difference between life and death for millions of Americans every single day.
SNAP is a way of survival for families that can’t make the most basic ends meet. How can an adult logically hold down a job or a child concentrate in school without food? How can we fuel the mindsets of the workforce and the next generation of Americans to be better than the last if they can’t even fuel their own physical bodies?
My phone chimes and snaps me out of my daze; my Uber driver’s phone number pops up on my screen. My stomach turns again, but this time in a different way. Later, as I finish a measly 2/3 of my meal before wanting to call it quits, I think about all the people who are going to bed hungry tonight, unsure of when they will eat again. I wonder what I have done to deserve the luxuries I experience—including the luxury of more food than I can eat. I conclude that I’ve done nothing.
Hannah Phipps is a junior at Sacred Heart University majoring in health science with a concentration in public health. She spoke to Connecticut representatives about the SNAP program at the RESULTS International conference in Washington, D.C., in July.
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