Honors students take food stamp challenge
As biochemistry sophomore Kristen Haney ate her breakfast Sunday, she was optimistic, but by lunch she was hungry, and after lunch, she was still hungry.
Fatigue overcomes Haney as she manages to go about her daily schedule, but the small amount of food intake does not seem to register with her body. Soon after every meal, she is hungry.
Fortunately, Haney has to experience this for only a week, as she is part of assistant professor Daphne Hernandez’s honors nutrition policy class, which is participating in the food stamp challenge, simulating the life of an individual who lives off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“Many of us have never experienced hunger for more than a few hours, and we usually have the freedom and budget to feel full and satisfied whenever we want,” Haney said. “This week, we’re experiencing what 47 million Americans are faced with on a daily basis — attempting to sustain on a very tight food budget and often going hungry.”
Single adults eligible for SNAP benefits are given a weekly average of about $25 in food ledgers. According to a UH press release, the food stamp program served about 47 million low-income United States citizens in 2013.
The students began their challenge Feb. 16 and will stop having to worry about eating on such a small budget on Sunday.
“We are not satisfied with simply knowing the textbook impact of being on food stamps. We want to live it,” Haney said. “Our class is closely analyzing the nutrition facts of each bite we take by entering our meals into a database that generates nutrient reports, calorie counts and how your diet is meeting the USDA recommended values.”
After monitoring their diet for a week, each student will submit an individual data report that includes how many calories and carbohydrates each student consumed. With this data, the students will be able to generate a class nutrition data set for analysis. They will come up with ways to improve policy based on their findings and observations and will present their findings at the University’s Undergraduate Research Day.
“As the challenge continues, I’m praying that I will feel gratitude for each meal I enjoy. I have complained about the meals offered to me too many times, and as I think about the meals I’ve fussed about, my stomach is growling, reminding me that I shouldn’t turn up my nose at anything other people are starving for,” Haney said.
“All in all, this week has been a blessing to me and incredibly humbling, so I hope to take my thankfulness and this sharpening experience and serve other people using what I have learned.”
Provided with a $25 gift card to H-E-B, each student was expected to spend that money for a week’s worth of groceries. As students completed their grocery shopping for the challenge, they noticed a trend in the prices and nutrition values of food products.
“We are starting to notice how poverty and obesity go hand in hand,” said nutrition junior Fatimat Audu. “The healthier the food, the more expensive it is.”
Money for the program, including the cost of the gift cards, came from a University-funded curriculum development grant to Hernandez intended to support research in undergraduate courses.
“People are living around me in poverty, suffering in silence,” Haney said. “I am now aware that there are people who feel forgotten, anxious and hungry in every neighborhood and city — putting on a face and trying to survive.”