Blog  Understanding Hunger: It Takes More Than Empathy

Understanding Hunger: It Takes More Than Empathy

By Lexie Fried, NFTY-NEL

The SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Challenge is a way for people like you and me to experience what it would be like to live off of the average daily food stamp benefit. You are given only $28.70 to buy a week’s worth of food, or $4.10 a day. This allows anyone participating in the challenge to see just how challenging it can be to get enough food, and healthy food, on a very limited budget. Many people around the world are hungry, and starving, and SNAP has served over 10 million households with children every month in the year 2013. While food stamps give them some money to live off of, I believe it is not enough. I wanted to really see for myself what it would be like to live off of food stamps, and decided to take the challenge.

My shopping trip took me three long hours. These three hours consisted of attempting to find gluten free vegetarian food that was not processed, and would last me a week. I found out having dietary restrictions made finding food much harder and more expensive. When I tried to buy fresh food, like apples, it was very difficult. I had to pick the tiniest ones to try and get my price as low as possible. Anything fresh, I had this struggle with. I had to decide on either buying something unhealthy, but with a greater portion size, or something healthy, but a smaller portion. Every penny really did count and I spent most of my shopping trip adding and subtracting prices from my $28.70. Shopping for the SNAP challenge was very difficult, and some Americans have to do this all the time.

I kept running into dilemmas that I have never even thought about being faced with before. These kind of dilemmas are faced daily for one in six Americans. This includes about 15 million children. The effects of children who grow up in homes who cannot afford food are tragic. These children are more likely to have chronic health conditions, stunted development, oral health problems, slower development, a higher risk of death, and more. About 5 million senior citizens are faced with hunger. This can cause a decrease in physical health such as diabetes, dementia, heart disease, and stroke, along with death. Not only does hunger effect physical health, but also mental health such as behaviors and social skills.
When my week ahead began, so did the cravings. Being a very busy teen that doesn’t sleep much, coffee is my go to morning drink, when I found out how much coffee was, I decided to get more nourishing things. I didn’t get to have my favorite guilty pleasure, because I needed to eat, and I realized people on food stamps don’t get their guilty pleasures either. They have to deal with eating healthy and surviving, rather then what tastes the best or any cravings you have.

Trying to imagine living like this for more then a week made me realize how privileged I am. Luckily for me, I have food available to me in my household. No one likes the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach from hunger, and no one should have to know that feeling every day. Some families have to decide if they want to put gas in their car for transportation, or food on the table. These decisions seem tiny to me, and I take them for granted.

Today, there are millions of Americans unemployed or even living off the minimum wage, so food stamps are how they feed themselves and their families. This is saddening to think about. Everyone deserves enough food, and no one should have to go hungry. No one should have to decide between anything and food. I still have four more days of this challenge, and that is it. Others live with this. I hope by the end of this challenge I will be able to empathize even just a little with someone surviving off of food stamps. While I will never know what it feels like to live like this everyday, empathy is more powerful then sympathy. I suggest to anyone in NFTY, who is able to, to take the challenge next year.
Once I started experiencing having a limited budget to feed myself, and how difficult it is, I now am so determined and passionate about helping in any way I can. It is not easy. It is not okay. Look around. Imagine 1 out of every 6 person is starving. We can do something about this. We need to do something about this. NFTY, we can help by getting our voices out, by donating, by taking the challenge. We can be a part of ending this suffering, and ending hunger. Let’s do this NFTY.

To learn more about NFTY’s participation in the SNAP Challenge, visit