Newark Mayor Cory Booker, as we’ve mentioned before, will spend the month of December living on food stamps in order to draw attention to what life can be like for millions of Americans who spend every month living on food stamps. A few days in to his month, he’s missing caffeine pretty badly, and in this short video, he has some insights about how much planning is required when you’re eating on a very tight budget.
I’m on day one of my SNAP challenge, I’m sitting here eating my dinner. Today was a little difficult because I didn’t plan, my travel schedule got a little messed up so I found myself not having access to food and the food I bought with a little amount of money. So I went through a long period of the day actually not eating anything. So I think that it’s very clear that if you are on a very limited budget, you have to put a lot more thought into what you’re going to eat, where you’re going to find food, especially if you’re on a program like SNAP: what places are actually going to accept my SNAP dollars?
The other thing is you make tough choices, and the tough choice I’m going to have to live with this week is that I used my money to buy a lot of different things, but not caffeine, so I’m going to be going this week without coffee, without Diet Pepsi, Diet Coke, which is going to be the first week in my life I can remember doing that. So I’m happy to be sitting here with a really good meal, it actually tastes really good, it’s a nice salad with rice and beans, but I can understand now, clearly already that I will have to put a lot more thought into my days over this week about how I’m going to manage my meals.
The observation about planning illustrates something that people who live without a lot of money know all too well: a “tight” budget is literally tight, in that it constrains you. It constrains where you can go, and what you can eat and when, and in a broader sense, it constrains your sense of possibility and potential in the long term. That reality is in contrast to the rhetoric of the American dream, to the things we tell ourselves as a nation about coming from nothing and working hard to build something big and beautiful and permanent. When your sense of possibility is constrained on a daily basis, it’s awfully hard to dream big in the way that Americans are so often urged to do.