40 Days of SNAP: Look! A Free Banana!
The Herman family, members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) living in California's Central Valley, have decided to follow a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food budget during Lent. They will be blogging about their journey and sharing their stories on the Bread Blog.
By Ivan Herman
Knowing that fruit is really one of the most expensive parts of our food budget, I took the chance. Nobody was watching. It wasn’t free, exactly, but nobody wanted it. No, I didn’t steal it. It was in the trash bin. Sitting right on top of a bed of dry paper (come on people, recycle!), gleaming yellow with light brown freckles. It looked a bit soft on the bottom end, but the peel was unbroken and clean. I reached down and quickly snagged it, hoping nobody would notice. If someone did see, they would think I was retrieving something I dropped accidentally. I quickly made my way out to the parking lot and chucked it into the front seat of the car to save until my meetings were over.
I felt like a hunter-gatherer or a survivalist who isn’t fool enough to pass by an opportunity for nutritious calories that drop in my lap. Low-hanging fruit, one might say. But plucking someone else’s banana from the top of a trash can isn’t freegan dumpster-diving. I mean, it’s not the same as digging through rubbish bins and scarfing down other people’s half-eaten chicken sandwiches or cold Pad Thai takeaway.
Or is it?
Statistics alert: More than half of all fruits and vegetables end up rotting in bins, fields, or landfills rather than being eaten. We lose more than we use! If, as a nation, we could improve efficiency and reduce just 15 percent of our food waste per year, we could feed more than 25 million people just on what we save. As it stands now, it seems I’m more likely to find fruit in the trash than I am to find it in a bowl.
As I watch the budget, I’m aware we’re not halfway through the month, yet we’re two-thirds of the way through our SNAP allotment. We’re cooking quite a bit from scratch (e.g. baking bread, making yogurt). We are trying to be frugal, and are maintaining a nutritious and balanced diet. Yes, a fair amount of consumable assets still reside in the pantry and fridge, but it’s starting to look like lean times will be upon us.
Perhaps I’ll keep my eyes open and visit the bin again soon.
Ivan Herman is associate pastor at Carmichael Presbyterian Church in Sacramento, Calif.
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