SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge–Day 10

By Sharron R. Blezard, June 10, 2010

Freedom of Choice Edition

Having some freedom of choice is a good thing. In a culture where the individual and his or her right to choose is touted at every turn, a little bit of choice goes a long way to keep one feeling halfway decent. Suppose some mythical SNAP police accosted me in the grocery store meat department and screamed, “No Sharron, no bacon for you! You’re poor. You only get the cheap $1 breakfast sausage instead.” I would be annoyed. I would be ashamed. I don’t like those filler-ized little devils, and I would choose to do without meat.

Conversely, freedom of choice can backfire. I try like everything to avoid having anything in my grocery cart that says “partially hydrogenated” or “HFCS,” but today I still managed to bring home an offending article. Hey, no one’s perfect, so don’t judge me too harshly. We all make mistakes. The mom who buys hotdogs and mac and cheese by the case probably thinks she’s being as frugal as possible and feeding her children something they will really eat. Label shopping for one person may mean price only; for another it may include carefully analyzing the ingredients and nutrition information. Both individuals have made choices based on a set of expectations, needs, and wants. Who are we to judge? Sure, I think tofu is a much healthier option than the mac and cheese, but that other mother may look at tofu in my cart and think “How can anyone in his or her right mind eat that crap? If she saw me paying with an EBT card, she might think I’m putting on airs or am not really needy. Who knows?

Yes, we all make choices. Some of us choose to buy 5,000 square foot houses and have more cars than family members. I know of one man who grew up without indoor plumbing. When he made his fortune, he had 10 bathrooms put in his house; that’s right 10 bathrooms. It was his choice and his house. Some people choose a Hummer, others choose a Smart Car, and most of us choose something in between. Some people choose public transportation over walking; others would rather walk or ride a bike than take a bus or subway. Some of us choose to live out of a backpack wherever in the world we wish to be, while others pay extravagant sums of money to store stuff that isn’t needed, rarely used, and simply gathering dust. A father may choose to steal bread and lunchmeat to feed his hungry children rather than see them in tears with empty bellies.

The thing about choices is that they are not value-neutral. Choices have consequences. I could eat bacon and cheese and eggs every meal for a year if I chose to do so. Even a SNAP budget could manage that menu. The downside would be my health, and my arteries would tell the tale of my unhealthy choice. I choose to set aside a portion of my income to give to others. I could spend every penny on myself and my daughters, but that would be pretty selfish and completely against my belief system. Yes, our choices say a lot about what we believe and where our priorities lie. The SNAP Challenge is helping me to reflect on the power AND consequences of choices.

What if we all choose to build community? What if we all choose to look for the good in a person instead of judging them? What if we all choose to listen to and try to understand each other’s stories and journeys? What if we all sacrificed a little more so that others could have enough? What if we all choose to look at life as a glass half full rather than half empty? Better yet, why don’t we choose to look at life as a glass overflowing abundantly—with enough for all people?

Sure, sure, I know the problems are immense and complicated. No one is going to argue that fact, but how we react to the problems is our choice. Why don’t we choose to do something positive, to build community, and to build one another up?

I want to leave you with a wise comment shared by fellow Compact member, Mimi:

I am better off than I once was, but I still feel the need to help friends and barely friends when they’re low on food, and stressing out. I think that if everyone could help — if not splitting groceries (why I buy in bulk), at least a “rain check” for the end of the month blues, when a dinner could come in handy. Potlucks, “last stuff on shelf” and all that is way more fun when shared.

It’s nothing to be ashamed about to not have food.

The thing is, asking for help is an issue in this world….in this culture. We need to find ways to make it alright to talk about this.

I realize pride is an issue for some, so I’ve done trades….”food for help in the yard” or “trade you rice for beans”.

The economy shows no signs of getting better — we’re all going to have to pull together and keep our friends and neighbors fed.

You’re right, Mimi. We’re all in this together; it’s time use our power of choice to act like it.

State of the Pantry

I went to the grocery today for the first time since starting the SNAP to it Challenge. I came out with 14 items (I’m counting the 1.20 lb. cherries as one item obviously) for a total of $22.70. According to my handy-dandy Bi-Lo receipt I saved $11.65. Only three items were not on sale: Bisquick (the lower fat version with no hydrogenated crap in it), store brand chocolate chips, and a can of great northern beans (again store brand) with which I intend to make some Italian beans and greens. Even on my SNAP budget I exercised a great deal of personal choice.

I chose to buy the healthier version of Bisquick to make chocolate chip and blueberry pancakes for brunch. I chose to buy the “healthier” bacon (Is healthy bacon an oxymoron?). I chose to buy Allen’s brand seasoned peas and Italian green beans. Yes, they were on sale, and wouldn’t you know the peas have the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredient list. That will be my last cans of Allen’s seasoned variety. I could have chosen to buy the dry beans and season them myself. I think that will be the plan next time. I could have chosen to make pancakes from scratch, but I didn’t. I only bought peaches and cherries because the sale was a good one. I could have chosen to buy fresh berries because they looked so pretty even though they were too expensive. I bought a new brand of grits; the boxes were on a promotional two-for-one sale, so it was a cheaper option than store brand. These were my choices for good or ill.

Website of the Day

What began as a wish made by Karen Armstrong on the occasion of winning the TED Prize in 2008, resulted in a worldwide Charter for Compassion. Thousands of people contributed to the process, and the Charter, based upon common religious principles and the golden rule was unveiled on November 12, 2009. Click here to read about the Charter, then go out and build a better world through acts of compassion and community-building.

Click here to access all of the SNAP to it Food Stamp Challenge entries.

About the Author

The Rev. Sharron Riessinger Blezard is an ELCA pastor currently rostered in the Lower Susquehanna Synod. She came to ordained ministry after teaching secondary and college English, working in non-profit management and public relations, and moonlighting as a freelance writer. See more posts by .

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  1. Robert Leaverton

    This is indeed a fine stewardship essay, one that causes me to reflect and think about the choices I make. This essay causes me to be more aware, more conscious of the choices I do make in life. Nicely done Sharron.

  2. Thanks, Robert. I’m glad you found the essay helpful. I hope all of us who find ourselves in positions of leadership will speak out and lift up examples in our lives of trying to always be better stewards of God’s many good gifts. Those of us who have the abundance of “choice” also have the weight of responsibility. Peace and blessing.

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