With so many dining options on campus, food is plentiful, colorful plates and cups are filled to the brim, and it’s easy to go back for seconds. The choices often revolve around where to go. D-Hall or Lou’s? Passport Café or Eight-Fifteen?

Meal plans make it easy to not think about price or quantity.

An associate dean and a visiting lecturer in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies wanted to change that this semester. Kerstin Soderlund and Kim Gower challenged students in their Justice and Civil Society classes to live on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) budget of about $4 a day for one week. SNAP, once known as the Food Stamp Program, helps millions of Americans buy food each month.

Throughout the week, students found themselves paying attention to the details – how many ounces in a container, cost per ounce, and whether the ingredients listed on the generic package are the same as the ones on the brand name package – and the big picture.

“This challenge is all about empathy,” says Gower. “While we can never truly experience how other people live, we can become more empathetic and gain an awareness of the issues.”

Students maintained blogs during the challenge. Below are excerpts from blogs written by Ali Grogan, ’17, and Katie Tanner, ’17.

The day before the challenge, Katie

I start the SNAP challenge at 11:59 p.m. tonight. It still hasn’t hit me how difficult it will be. I made sure to not hold back today, eating what I wanted when I wanted. I started off the morning with a Trenta iced green tea from Starbucks for $2.95.

Day 1, Ali

Reality check, Ali. Buying a measly half salad from Lou’s is more than an entire day’s worth of food in the SNAP Challenge.

Day 1, Katie

My days literally revolve around food. Every morning when I wake up I think about what time I will get all my meals, who I will get them with, and where I will go for them.

Day 2, Katie

As I sit in class and look around the room, it’s funny to see how many people have brand name drink bottles such as Vitamin Water and Powerade filled with tap water today instead of their usual sugary contents.

Day 3, Ali

Hello again. It’s currently 11 p.m., I'm sitting in my bed, and I have boycotted doing homework for the rest of the night. I can barely keep my eyes open. My schedule today required a significant amount of caffeine and different foods that would keep me energized throughout the day. Unfortunately, I did not have either of those things.

Day 4, Katie

Imagine going to one of the best restaurants in the area and reading the extensive menu, then telling yourself you can’t order anything. It sucks.

Day 5, Ali

I'm starting to realize that I've been eating primarily carbs all week long, my meals have been so repetitive, and the limited choices I have to eat are not giving me the energy I need to fuel my busy days.

Day 6, Katie

I spent the rest of my money for the day on an awesome wrap, banana, iced tea, and even a cookie for dessert. It felt like a feast, although I found that the more I ate, the more food I still wanted.

Day 7, Ali

I cannot say that I truly understand how it feels to be poor and starving, but I can say that I experienced a fraction of that struggle. Participating in the SNAP Challenge was an experience that I will never forget, and although it sounds cliché, it truly helped me to step out of my bubble and become a more empathetic person.

Photo credit: Katie Tanner, ’17