Special Blog Post By: Gabe Hakim, Stanford Graduate School of Business Class of 2016

We learned that fifteen students from Stanford Graduate School of Business took on the SNAP Challenge in April – they wanted to experience what it’s like eating on the equivalent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (i.e., food stamps). Encouraging others to take on the challenge with them, students wrote a series of articles sharing logistics, tracking tools, and menu planning.

Gabe Hakim took on the SNAP Challenge and shares what he learned.

I chose to participate in the SNAP challenge for 5 days. My biggest learning so far: it’s hard. The difficulty began before I even started the challenge when I took my 5-day budget of $22.50 to Safeway to purchase food. I quickly realized that snacks and desserts would not be an option, nor were fresh fruits, veggies, or meats. To get the biggest bang for my buck, I’d have to stick with the same meal option all five days: yogurt and granola for breakfast, black bean quesadillas for lunch, and fried eggs, apples and peanut butter for dinner.

Shopping was just the beginning of my newfound difficulties. I quickly realized just how much I look forward to eating. By day two, I was despondent over the thought that I would have the exact same meals as the day before. I also lost time. Instead of picking up a quick bite at the GSB, I had to schedule time to get home and prepare lunch. Doing the same for dinner consumed at least one extra hour of the day.

Perhaps most humbling, however, was the social detachment. I couldn’t meet friends for lunch or coffee because I had no money left from my budget. Those who know me know I regularly indulge in a $2 froyo in the cafeteria. Not being able to afford even this simple pleasure made me want it more, made me resentful of those who could, and left me lacking the dignity that comes with the freedom of having choices.

Still, I chose to participate in this challenge. Not only did I elect to inflict this temporary pain but I have a clear sense of when it’s going to end and I still have control over every other part of my life. I took the SNAP challenge to try to experience hunger from the perspective of someone with far less agency: a child. Sadly, 25% of children in the U.S. are growing up in poverty. That’s 16 million children! Half of American children in public schools are food insecure and experience hunger regularly. These children don’t retain the choices, agency, and dignity that I do as I participate in this challenge. It’s just their daily reality. The most disturbing outcome is that nearly half of our country’s population starts life starved (physically and emotionally) during the most critical period of development.

This isn’t their choice. And I can’t accept any ideology that suggests they deserved it. So, whether it be framed as a matter of lost economic potential, a crisis of public health, a threat to educational achievement, or a failed moral imperative—why haven’t we addressed it?

*** Interested in taking on the SNAP Challenge? Here’s how it works – and get tips and resources.