By Jordan Kreikemeier
In my last blog post, I talked about my plan to do the SNAP challenge, while at the same time using the USDA’s MyPlate tool to evaluate whether the food I purchased could meet the USDA’s own nutrition guidelines.
I didn’t expect to fill up MyPlate with my week-long $35 SNAP stipend, and I didn’t. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, serves the most vulnerable populations including children and older Americans, and lifted 4.6 million people out of poverty in 2015.
The USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan, modest guidelines determining the minimum benefit to reach basic nutrition requirements, does not address factors like health, age, or illness. Therefore, the food seniors can access under SNAP benefits are not able to provide them with nutritious food.
In 2015, for example, 2.9 million households with seniors age 65 and older experienced food insecurity. This number is expected to grow, in part, due to SNAP not acknowledging age and health needs. By 2025, food insecurity among older Americans is projected to reach 50 percent.
I did this challenge to gain more knowledge around food insecurity, since my initial definition of hunger was missing an occasional meal. During the challenge, I found myself distracted by my growling stomach and drained by a lack of energy. My meals were uniformed and I alternated between bread, eggs, tuna, popcorn, bananas, applesauce, and carrots in different combinations.
The lack of color on my plate was evident. You can find pictures of some of my meals here. I would have had to skimp in other areas, like grains or protein to purchase more fruits and vegetables. Unsurprisingly, I did not fill up the entire plate in any meal and ended up running out of food by the last day.
Fortunately for me, this only lasted for one week. But for millions of Americans, this is their daily reality. After seeing the effects of the SNAP challenge on my diet, my new stance is to advocate for nutrition over calories. SNAP funding should be increased to allow recipients to purchase nutritious food to meet the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines.
Increasing SNAP benefits will allow older Americans to purchase more variety and healthy foods to alleviate illness and medical needs. Current SNAP funding levels have been successful in lifting millions of people out of poverty, and an increased stipend could help even more people. In addition, recipients would be able to eat healthier food and for a longer period of time, such as throughout the month, instead of running out of food.
It is not enough to feel bad or guilty about food insecurity. It is urgent that privileged individuals take responsibility to advocate for and promote increased government funding for programs that will benefit vulnerable populations, such as children and senior citizens. More than 75 percent of Americans agree that SNAP benefits should be increased.
I encourage you to take part in the SNAP challenge to raise awareness of the importance of SNAP and nutrition. We all might disagree on how the amount of SNAP benefits should be calculated, but an increase that is in line with the USDA’s own nutritional guidelines should be a starting point.
Jordan Kreikemeier is a government relations intern at Bread for the World.