Newark Mayor Cory Booker’s food stamp challenge has inevitably brought out those who seek to portray most public assistance recipients as welfare queens and drug addicts who abuse the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).* Despite those critics, Booker’s challenge has made a positive impact with the dialogue stirred by his experience. After a conversation with one of his followers on Twitter went viral, Mayor Booker elected to live for one week on the budget for a single food stamp recipient. That meant Booker, a vegetarian, would have to live on the $27.98 worth of groceries purchased at the beginning of his SNAP challenge.
I do not know how Booker typically plans his meals but it is clear that he is not used to shopping on less than $30 per week. His Twitter followers have questioned many of his food purchases. Booker himself acknowledges that he should have purchased eggs. An admitted caffeine addict, Booker seems not to have realized that instant coffee (while not Starbucks) would have alleviated the caffeine withdrawal he is currently experiencing. Michael Strahan joined Booker on his challenge and seems to be faring a bit better with his food choices. Strahan bought eggs.
Let us also understand that as a vegetarian, Booker’s diet for the week is significantly healthier than many people in this country (those who use SNAP and those who do not). Additionally, while families receiving SNAP benefits could stretch their credits buying in bulk, many families cannot afford the membership fees to shop at bulk stores. Lastly, the neighborhood corner store doesn’t provide the healthiest of food choices for those living in nutrition deserts. If you know you have to catch a bus to get to a chain grocery store, how much more likely are you to buy foods that will hold longer? Processed foods? Foods high in preservatives?
Mayor Booker’s challenge illustrates the difficulty faced by the 46 million Americans on food stamps. Followers of the challenge tell their own stories about personal challenges, sending the message that they are not alone. Booker’s challenge highlights the nutrition gap that affects the education gaps in this country. How do we expect children facing the hunger pains described by Booker, to do well in school? Children whose SNAP challenge doesn’t cease after the weekend.
For those interested, you can follow Mayor Booker’s SNAP challenge on Facebook and Twittter @corybooker or #SNAPchallenge
*Critics who advocate drug testing welfare recipients to cut fraud costs should look to Florida, where after spending time, money and resources to pass legislation and subsequently drug test recipients, found that 98% of those tested were clean. Ultimately, taxpayers were left to foot the bill for far more money than the state would have saved on the 2% of welfare recipients who tested positive.