Binghamton University tries the Food Stamp Challenge

Students limit themselves to $4 of food per day

How much food can $28 buy? One group of Binghamton University students set out to find the answer.

Binghamton Insecure started the Food Stamp Challenge to raise awareness of the struggle to lead a healthy life on a limited food budget.

The average SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) allots $28 a week, which averages out to $4 a day. The Food Stamp Challenge asks students live on that budget for a week.

It was created as a project for the class Women, Gender & Sexuality: Activism, Feminism & Social Justice.

“We watched a documentary called ‘A Place at the Table,’ which sparked our collective interest in raising awareness about food insecurity in our local area and campus community,” said Leah Ferentinos, a senior double-majoring in cinema and English.

Food insecurity is a state of limited or uncertain availability of food, according to Ferentinos. The group decided to focus on food stamps and families’ difficulty living solely off of food stamps for their project.

Melissa D’Angelo, a senior majoring in sociology, took the challenge.

“The act of calculating and planning out every meal a week in advance takes a great deal of organization and management. Doing the challenge has limited many conveniences that I regularly take advantage of; such as buying a cup of coffee when I’m out for the day, or going out to dinner with friends,” D’Angelo wrote in an email.

D’Angelo also cited health concerns with the challenge.

“Eating on $28 a week is also very limiting to the quality of food that can be purchased,” D’Angelo wrote. “Most of the items I have been eating are carbohydrates and inexpensive processed foods, where fruits, vegetables, and whole grain items tend to be more expensive at the grocery store and were out of my budget for this weeks challenge.”

The ultimate goal of the Food Stamp Challenge is to reach out to the Binghamton community, starting with making Binghamton University students aware of the hunger problem.

“We believe that hunger fundamentally marginalizes those in poverty and discussing the issue of food insecurity is an important first step towards issues of class inequality, food access, and living wages,” D’Angelo wrote.

Ferentinos agreed, saying that the challenge helped her better relate with those who rely on SNAP benefits.

“Those of us participating in the challenge now have a much greater understanding of the economic disparities in our current food system,” Ferentinos said.

As for the future, this is something that members of the class say they are eager to continue and encourage others to participate in as well.

“The most we can hope for is that this experience will have an impact on individuals who in the future will have the power to make decisions that will affect food insecurity, income inequality, and living wages for all,” D’Angelo wrote.

Even though the Food Stamp Challenge is new to Binghamton students, it has been made popular by mainstream politicians like New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who participated in the challenge.

“I heard about the Food Stamp Challenge through social media,” said Gilad Eisenberg, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry. “I think it’s great that Binghamton students participated in this kind of event. I would definitely consider looking into it if this became a repeated event.”

Although the challenge lasted only a week, participants said that it has left a strong impression on them.

“What has been the most powerful piece of the challenge is that I keep catching myself thinking how inconvenient a time of the semester this challenge is for me, but I think that solidifies the purpose of the challenge,” D’Angelo wrote. “Many people consistently live meal to meal and have to plan and organize this way in every circumstance and I have the privilege to be doing this as a week long challenge, with an end date.”

Victoria Chow, who is Pipe Dream’s Copy Desk Chief and an organizer of the Food Stamp Challenge, was not involved in writing or editing this article.

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, the group of students who organized the Food Stamp Challenge was referred to as a club. The group is not a formally organized club. 

Clarification: This article refers to the class as Women, Gender & Sexuality: Activism, Feminism & Social Justice. The class is called Activism, Feminism & Social Justice and it is within the Women, Gender & Sexuality studies program.