Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

The Most Interesting Thing About Cory Booker's Food Stamp Challenge

By Sarah Godfrey

If you've turned on a television or computer this morning, or cracked a newspaper, you probably know that Newark mayor Cory Booker starts a weeklong SNAP challenge today. Booker will attempt to stick to food budget of $4.32 per day, the average daily Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program allowance in New Jersey.

SNAP/food stamp challenges can be problematic, for a variety of reasons. Attempting to eat on a typical SNAP allotment for just a few days doesn't come close to replicating the experience of the roughly 45 million Americans who rely on the federal nutrition program to feed their families. Program recipients don't get to go back to "normal" after a week.

That said, SNAP challenges can be beneficial in raising awareness around the importance of the program—especially when someone as prominent as Booker decides to participate. Local officials take SNAP challenges fairly regularly, but Booker is a rare city mayor whose every move attracts national attention. 

Plus, Booker's challenge appeared to be more interesting than most at the outset, because it seemed he would be participating with someone vehemently opposed to SNAP.

The challenge was inspired by a November Twitter conversation Booker had with a North Carolina woman who had remarked that "nutrition is not a responsibility of the government." After a back-and-forth, Booker invited her to participate in a SNAP challenge with him. She agreed.

It's rare for someone so vocally opposed to SNAP to participate in a challenge, let alone in such a public way, so her participation presented a real opportunity for meaningful discourse between those who support federal nutrition programs, and those who do not. Would it change this woman's mind about SNAP? Would she realize how vital it is, and how harmful cuts to SNAP would be for millions of hungry people—many of them children? Would the challenge turn her into a pro-SNAP advocate?

We many not find out. There have been conflicting reports about whether or not the woman, whose Twitter handle is "@MWadeNC" is participating along with Booker.  The Associated Press has reported that she started her challenge on Sunday; Slate wrote that the woman says she was never approached by his office, but did not say whether she would embark on the challenge on her own. The Washington Post has reported that the North Carolina woman plans to participate, but because she received death threats after sparring with Booker, she has decided to do so privately.

The fact that Booker's SNAP challenge has sparked a flood of discussion and media coverage at this critical time is a good thing. But if it had also could’ve managed to help two people with differing opinions on SNAP come to some sort of consensus around the program, the challenge would be even more helpful.

Sarah Godfrey is Bread for the World's associate online editor.

Take action: As budget negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" continue, pressure to cut SNAP and other programs that impact hungry and poor people has never been higher. Tell your members of Congress to create a circle of protection around SNAP and other domestic nutrition programs.


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