This week, my VERY active, healthy, tri-athlete, twenty-six-year-old daughter is eating like a poor person -- or at least like an idealized, nutritionally conscious poor person. She, along with other MBA students across the country, is trying to eat on $4.50/day, which is what the USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) clients attempt to do. Real SNAP participants augment the paltry allowance at their local Food Banks, church socials, and other gatherings where they can get a free meal or free food.
True to our mother/daughter dynamic, my daughter is being annoyingly (to me, but I'm proud of her, too) rigorous in her adherence to her SNAP budget. I say, here's a heel of (high-end, artisan olive) bread. She refuses. I say, have your friends buy you a beer. No. That's not in the spirit of the challenge. I say, here's a cookie. They're way more than a day old. Surely a baker would let a SNAP person have an old cookie. No. A SNAP person wouldn't have such generous opportunities.
Why are these mainly well-to-do, very highly educated young people taking the SNAP Challenge? According to Lisa Mazzocco, brave organizer of the SNAP Challenge at the Stanford Graduate School of Business:
"As GSBers we aspire to change lives, and for many of you, that includes those whose basic needs are under-served. Fortunately and ironically, though, few of us have actually experienced life at the neediest level. So how do we know what solutions will work?
Well, as with any customer, to solve their need we have to go on their journey. We’re doing this to
Examine the effects on our abilities - physical, mental, and emotional - that result from constraints on nutritional access
Raise awareness of the true value and cost of food, including wasted food
Get insight on a huge market in dire need of innovation, where even simple ideas have giant potential to create value and elevate quality of life...."
This attitude of innovation from the ground up is actually what has shaped American foodways since our country was started. As I detail in my next book, working title, REFINED: THE CAPITALISTS WHO COOK UP WHAT AMERICA EATS, American food systems need fixing. The often strange machinations of capitalism got us where we are today: ecological devastation from overfishing and indiscriminate industrial agriculture, coupled with 45 million people (probably many more who don't "qualify" for SNAP) in need of nutritional assistance, and an obesity epidemic. However, capitalism is all about disruptive innovation. The time is ripe to redirect our foodways to more sustainable, equitable outcomes. I'm so happy that all these smart, young capitalists are taking on this challenge. SNAP to it!