Forty Days of SNAP

Our family's Lenten food stamp challenge

Archive for the tag “health”

Lenten discipline, permanent change

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I’ve lost four pounds. It’s a good thing; I had them to lose.

Before I go any further I’ll assure you that the kids have not lost weight during our SNAP challenge. About the only thing they’re hurting for is Goldfish crackers. When I take one of them to the store and explain that I’m trying to get the best ratio of nutrients to dollars, thus skipping the snack aisle and the $7.49 carton of colored crackers, there’s usually a pause.

Followed by, “But we’re OUT. We need MORE.”

And as it turns out, I broke down Saturday and bought a small package of the Pepperidge Farm goodies anyway, in honor of a glorious sunny day and family ramble in the Sierra foothills. So our kids are not deprived.

I’ve lost weight by abandoning my habit of drinking a glass (or two) of wine at 9:45 every night. You can’t use SNAP benefits to buy alcohol, and because our simulation has us using only our dedicated food stamp-like budget for all the food and drink we consume, the Two Buck Chuck had to go. I have taken to substituting water or iced tea in a wine glass so I can still go through the ritual of shaping my hand just so and swirling.

Someone asked me recently whether we felt our Lenten discipline was producing permanent change. I told her I hope to say a permanent goodbye to those four pounds, and maybe give them a few more neighbors in Lost Pounds heaven. But I hope for more than that.

As far as slashing our grocery spending and eating well, our baseline was pretty good. We were already in the habit of cooking from scratch and chop chop chopping our veggies every night. Most nights. So the SNAP challenge has helped us to further streamline by limiting the number of times per week we go to the store (fewer shopping trips = fewer dollars spent). Plus, we make darn sure it’s a special occasion before we splurge on pricier items such as fish or pre-marinated meat. I hope for more change than that, too.

palm frond

by Felix Burton | Flickr

Yesterday at our Palm Sunday service, Pastor Keith DeVries challenged us to change. He challenged us to change our definition of God. Is God the king of power, of regal colors and flags, evoking a collective tremble in the crowd as he displays his swords and ammunition? Or is God the word made flesh who dwelt among us? Dwells among us. A homeless, unemployed rabbi on a fuzzy donkey, making his way into town on a red carpet of palm fronds and sweaty, dingy clothes.

Not that visions of God as the almighty, omnipotent, Eternal Father Strong to Save are wrong, in their season.

But if we change our definition of God to that of an unarmed king of peace, led in the procession by children, in what ways can that compel us to quit caring about the pomp of the other parade going on? To drop our noisemakers and stop jockeying for position so we can photobomb the celebrities? How do we purge our pride and accept, well, the inevitability of laundry? That thought alone makes it easier for me to imagine laying down my coat for the donkey guy.

Lenten disciplines can help us change our definition of God. It sounds stupid, but by eschewing alcohol and eating out (except for Sundays) I’ve begun to know how it feels to be an outsider. Lots of my friends post on Facebook about their “whew, the kids are in bed” wine or their “happy birthday to me!” restaurant meals. I do this too, but I’m going to be more mindful of it in the future.

Through our discipline I hope to focus more clearly on being an advocate against hunger and for universal access to healthy food. I’m not sure exactly what effects this will have on the shape of my family life or business. But all big change starts with small changes, right? Faith informs our understanding and understanding helps us to take actions in faith. So what’s first? What’s next?

A Primer on Lent

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Lent?  The stuff you clean out of the dryer trap, right?

Nope.

In fact, the word ‘lent’ is derived from the Old English word ‘lencten,’ meaning springtime or the lengthening of days.  The season of Lent in religious observance has become the time preceding the springtime celebration of resurrection and new life: Easter.  In the early centuries of the Christian church new converts would spend 40 days preparing for baptism on Easter Day. These 40 days were an intensive time of preparation, study, and devotion. The number 40 has a deep meaning within Biblical tradition, often pointing to an experience that complete or whole. For example, 40 is the number of days Jesus spent fasting in the wilderness in order to be completely prepared to begin his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing. This sets forth a pattern in the church for a period of spiritual disciplines that prepared not only the catechumens for baptism, but also the believers and members of the church for a fuller, more meaningful life together.

Unfortunately, our common practices of Lent have devolved. More often than not, these practices end up looking more like punitive punishments and less like spiritual disciplines that teach or prepare. “What are you giving up for Lent?” Chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and Facebook seem to be popular answers. (In years past I’ve given up shaving for Lent – I don’t think Susan will let me get away with that again this year.)

Chocolate, Alcohol, Caffeine, Facebook?

I think we can aim higher than that.  Rather than perceiving of Lent as time for grief and self-denial, our family will take on a practice that transforms the way we understand the needs of our friends and neighbors. Our 40 Days of SNAP will be a spiritual discipline in that it will challenge us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Beginning Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, the season of Lent spans 40 days reaching to Easter Sunday on March 31, 2013. There’s a catch, however. If you were to count out days on the calendar, you would notice that in fact there are 46 days until the beginning of Easter. The reason is that Sundays (the Lord’s Day) are days of feasting. The celebration of the Lord’s Day has primacy over the disciplines of Lent; the fast makes way for feasting. We plan to honor this tradition and will not consider Sundays to be included in the SNAP challenge. (But we will not allow Sundays to become days of gluttony, either.)

A Discipline of Incarnational Ministry

The greatest way to value fellow human beings and provide for them an affirmation of their identity and self-worth is to be with them. To spend time with them. To live as they live. To experience the hardships and joys of life with them. This practice is not only at the core of my calling to pastoral ministry, but it is also the core of my understanding of the incarnation of God in the person of Jesus Christ.  What greater way can love be shown than to experience life with or alongside someone else?

There are limitations to this ministry and discipline.  Just as I cannot fully know what is like to suffer from cancer, I also cannot fully know what is to experience food insecurity.  I must be honest about that.  But I can exercise empathy, and I can make the effort to imagine what it is like. These 40 days could be misconstrued that we are pretending or playing at being impoverished. I know I cannot replicate every aspect of living on $23,000 per year for a family of four or even approach the level of pain and stress that it puts on relationships. I won’t know what it’s really like to pay for my food on an EBT card or with a WIC voucher. I won’t feel the eyes on me, questioning my purchasing choices on the public’s dime. However, I do hope it can open a window into understanding how many people try to earn a living, feed and care for their families, and still rejoice in life. I do hope it will open my heart and mind to the experiences of those who face difficult choices day in and day out, and that the lessons we learn during these 40 days will carry forward far beyond Lent.

We’re going on food stamps for Lent

We live in California’s Central Valley, where the best fruits, veggies, and nuts are grown. We care about food and enjoy eating well.

We are members of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one tradition among many that says, “be the body of Christ.” And what is more important to the body–yes, Christ’s body–than food?

So, in 2013 during Lent, we are practicing the discipline of living on a food budget that mirrors as closely as possible Food Stamps, or as it’s now known, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

What will we remove or add to our grocery cart to make the dollars work? How will we deviate from the plan to accommodate the less-movable fixtures of our lifestyle? How will we change our lifestyle to accommodate the plan? What lessons will our children (ages 3 and 7) learn?

Ours is a faith that seeks understanding. We do and we learn and belief follows; we believe and learn and do; the spiral edges outward.

You’re invited to join us on our journey. Please feel free to:

  • Comment on our posts with advice, ideas, tips, and encouragement–honest critique also welcome!
  • Send us links to articles on SNAP and other issues related to food, the Farm Bill, making more with less
  • Send us your own stories about hunger and plenty, and what you’ve learned from that experience

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