Stewardship of Life

Snap to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day Seven

The SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge is almost one quarter complete, and the Lucas household is chugging right along with plenty of good food to eat. Some folks may wonder if this experiment is serving any real purpose, or if I am simply an over-educated, highly verbal white woman of privilege on some kind of a blogging lark who can easily go drop a couple of Franklins and come home with a trunk full of the food of her choice.

Like most everything dealing with humankind the truth is complicated. Yes, it is true that I have two master’s degrees (English/writing and Divinity) and a resume chock-full of experience. Until a little less than three months ago, I had never been without some form of health and life insurance or a decently-paying career-oriented job. I am a 49-year-old single parent of two daughters, one of whom just graduated from college and the other a high school junior. I’ve seen some tough times, made some poor choices, but I consider myself to be extremely fortunate, and I am grateful for the opportunities and experiences life has brought so far. So then, what do I really know about lack of choices and public assistance? What gives me the right and the credibility to speak about this subject?

Again, it’s complicated. As part of my ordination vows I promised to work publicly for justice and on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves, and I take that charge very seriously. During seminary I worked three part-time jobs along with a generous scholarship, navigated the paperwork to get insurance for my children through Pennsylvania’s CHIP program, and was the grateful recipient of food from the seminary’s food pantry. I’ve seen very worthy candidates be denied help due to technicalities, and yes, I’ve seen people take advantage of the system, too. I’ve also seen people too proud to ask for help whose families are suffering. I am no expert, but issues of justice, poverty, and love of neighbor are things I take very seriously. Plus, walking the journey with someone even when it comes to something as seemingly random as this SNAP Challenge is a lot more instructive than simply talking about the journey—or judging the journey.

Finally, I’m underemployed and couldn’t lay down $200 on a trip to the grocery even if I wanted to do so. About three months ago, I went on leave from call to return home to help my aging parents, and I assumed given my credentials and experience that a job would be relatively easy to find. So far that has not proven to be the case. My savings are gone, and if it wasn’t for the help of my extended family, I’d be starting to swim in some pretty deep, dark water. The income I’m bringing in from freelancing barely covers my rent and utilities.

What I’m learning through my current situation is how it feels to watch one’s choices become more and more limited with each passing day and every little expense. Liberal arts and theology degrees may prepare one for a lot of things, but they do not cover how to deal with repeated rejection in the job market and being one or two months away from completely empty pockets. I know how hard it is to tell your child no—over and over again about things that used to be no big deal. I’m learning what it’s like not to be able to afford health insurance for my daughters, while hoping I can generate enough income to keep mine in place (almost $600 a month) because I am considered high risk and uninsurable thanks to the cancer. So yes, I’m learning a tiny bit about what it is like to have limits to my choices, and the SNAP to it Challenge is giving me an all-too-real taste of what could possibly happen. Let me say again, I am still very, very fortunate. I am not even close to facing the poverty and lack of opportunity that hundreds of thousands of people in this nation do every day, but I am getting a taste of it—both literally and through this SNAP to it Challenge.

Poverty, hunger, and public assistance are controversial subjects. Not many people will dispute this fact. Bring the subject up at a dinner party, post it to a Yahoo group, or mention it at a church council meeting, and the discussion that follows will be lively, opinionated, even heated. Why does this subject bother us so much? For those who belong to various religious traditions that require a response to the poor and marginalized (I can’t think of a major world religion that doesn’t have at least some provision for care of others.), maybe it’s a sense of guilt and hopelessness at the magnitude of the problem and the seemingly endless need. For the business person it may be frustration at paying out so much in taxes and facing so many regulations while hearing tales of fraud and graft within the system. For those in need talking about this subject may stir up feelings of having been judged and deemed less than, worthless, or lazy. Perhaps for many of us, especially in these tenuous economic times, there may be the taint of fear as we realize that “but by the grace of God, there go I.”

Whatever the reasons we respond the way we do, the important thing is that we keep the lines of communication open and the dialogue going. Only when we truly get to know one another, listen respectfully to each other’s stories, and see the world through the eyes of our sisters and brothers will we ever have a hope of making a dent in the problem and of making this world a better place. Like I said, it’s complicated, but it is NOT impossible.

State of the Pantry

Breakfast was oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts. Lunch was leftover cheesy potato soup and watermelon. Afternoon snack was a cheese stick and a handful of cherries. Supper was a huge salad and baked pasta (whole wheat rotini, spaghetti sauce, sautéed onions and garlic, and mozzarella and parmesan cheese). I am sad to report the first instance of food waste—30 cherries bit the dust in the back of the veggie keeper. I was able to salvage at least that amount, but wasted food is not cool. Shame on me.

Website of the Day

Click here for a wonderful audio interview with Barbara Kingsolver on NPR’s Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett. “The Ethics of Eating” episode examines Kingsolver’s year of “eating ethically” on her family’s farm in southwest Virginia that resulted in the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. I think you’ll enjoy it.

Photos shared graciously via Flickr though a Creative Commons License (in order): Clementine Gallot, Indiewench, Lee Bey, and Maulleigh.

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