Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Mario Batali's Week-Long Food Stamp Challenge Draws Attention to Vital Nutrition Programs

Screenshot taken from The Chew

Taking the food stamp challenge for a week is a far cry from the reality nearly 49 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) recipients face trying to stretch their SNAP dollars to the end of the month. But for celebrity chef Mario Batali, taking the food stamp challenge starts a conversation, and that's a good thing.

The reality for people who rely on SNAP goes beyond just the struggle to eat, and often includes a myriad of other challenges, such as gaining stable hours at work, paying for rent, keeping the lights on, and getting to the doctor. Nearly 99 percent of SNAP households have net incomes below the poverty line (about $22,000 a year for a family of four in 2011). For Batali, who is currently taking the food stamp challenge for one week, planning a week of meals for his family of four on $124 was, “not at all relaxing.”  Batali says, “It’s very much thinking about it all the time, which is what I imagine hunger feels like on a regular basis.”

In a brief backstage interview for his TV show, The Chew, Batali goes on to note that taking a challenge is not the same as living the reality, “It’s easy for us because we all know that next week we are going back to whatever we do. But it’s an interesting conversation every day to think about what hunger is, what food is, what nutrition is -- in a way that really makes us think about it on a much more personal level.” [See the video below.]

Another reality is that SNAP works. In tough economic times SNAP has been a life-line to families. As the economy heals, participation in the program will decrease.

Yet some in Congress want to force families out of the program. The House has proposed cutting $169 billion to SNAP and some have said that the churches can pick up the slack. Proposed changes like block granting would mean 8 to 10 million people would lose benefits that put food on the table. It would require roughly every religious congregation, on average, an additional $50,000 per year over 10 years to make up for these cuts. 

We need your help to turn the conversation into action. In June, members of Bread for the World will be in D.C. for our annual Lobby Day. We will be carrying petitions to our members of Congress that say people of faith find cuts to SNAP unacceptable. We have set a goal that the petition will include 5,000 religious leaders. Sign the petition and please make a commitment to ask your community’s leaders to speak up and defend our nation’s most effective line of defense against hunger.

Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.




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this has impressed me deeply this week, Mario has shared it on the show daily. in addition to the $124 budget for a family of four, it also includes not eating any of the free food that comes past him constantly, not using the pantry where volumes of quality additions are stored for regular use, and not leaving the road for a drive-thru meal or, what would frustrate me, an espresso. so it's greater than the slip at the check-out aisle at the grocer. so it's a deep committment i'm not sure i could pull off here. thank you for sharing this, Robin.

My husband challenged me to come up with a way to feed a family of four for $4 a day starting from a totally bare cupboard -- not even a container of salt. I said, "Can't you give me at least one more dollar?", but he insisted that I see what could be done with just $4. He was motivated by all the stories we were seeing in the news and by the challenges facing members of our extended family. We know people who struggle to put food on the table who are also reluctant to participate in food assistance programs. Off to the kitchen!

I had years (we won't say how many!) of experience cooking within a limited budget and so I took up the challenge. As a result, I did a 6-week menu plan and shopping list detailing how I did it. At first the meals are repetitious, but there are three meals a day from the start and a fair balance of nutrition. As one gets further along, the variety increases and by the end, there are three meals and two snacks a day per person.

Full marks to Mario for taking up the food stamp challenge. It is eye-opening to see what it is like to have a restricted food budget. I hope his efforts bring lots of attention and action to the problem of hunger here in the United States.

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