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The SNAP Challenge: Thoughts On People, Privilege, and Rice With Every Meal

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I believe it’s safe to say, on behalf of everyone working at FRN, that we are invested in fighting hunger and food waste to the best of our ability. It’s a continual process trying to understand the extent of these issues, and there’s always more we can do to learn. After hearing about the SNAP challenge– one week of subsisting only on the average allotment of food stamps- we thought partaking might give us more insight into the problems we are trying to tackle.

After some research, here were our rules:

  • Based on the average SNAP allotment for a Washington, D.C. resident, food and beverage purchases could not surpass $30 for the week (or $4.28 per day).
  • All food and drinks purchased and consumed in this time must be counted in total spending, including dining out.
  • Do not eat anything purchased prior to the start of the challenge.
  • Whenever possible, avoid accepting free food from family, friends, and coworkers.
  • Eat as healthy as possible, keeping in mind that this is how many people eat every day, whereas you can make up for lost nutrients next week.

Upon looking into further details of the challenge, I had a few hesitations. First, one must be in a place of privilege to even choose to participate or not. The capacity to willingly decide to “live off of food stamps” would make my experience inherently different than someone with no other choice. Second, the SNAP challenge is not an accurate representation of utilizing SNAP, nor of being continually hungry. I imagine other circumstances in my life such as work, family, and health would also be greatly altered if I were food insecure. Third, having a finite end to the challenge negates significant stress. The anxiety of limited access to food everyday is augmented when there is no guarantee of escaping that circumstance.

Nonetheless, I hoped that there was something meaningful I could learn from partaking. I couldn’t put myself in another’s shoes, could never equate my experience during the challenge to another’s reality, but maybe I could take a tiny step closer.

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Though I’d lived on what I had thought was a tight food budget before, I couldn’t say that grocery shopping had ever been as agonizing. I spent over an hour in Trader Joe’s, debating nervously what food would best get me through the week and recalculating the total cost many times over. I was left wondering- who has the luxury of that much time? In 2013, ⅔  of households that utilized SNAP had a child, an elderly person, or a nonelderly disabled adult. If I was taking care of another human being, I wouldn’t want to waste precious minutes adding up every last item. Additionally, despite my best efforts, I was still 38 cents over budget. What would it have been like to have to ask the cashier to take an item back, or come up with extra change?

Throughout the first three days, I didn’t feel much like myself. My state of being was either hungry or bloated, never satiated. The absence of coffee I could no longer afford left me sleepier and more distracted than usual. I was sick of rice by the end of day one, and I felt both guilty and preemptively relieved to know I could avoid it after the challenge. At its lowest points, my daily intention to do my best was reduced to simply trying to get through the day.

My discomfort and stress created a strange dichotomy. On one hand, I had to admit that I could be far too sensitive. The challenge wasn’t pleasant or easy (the very reason it’s called a challenge), but I was getting by. I’d have to toughen up, and eat less, and purchase even cheaper products to continue to eat on such a restricted budget, but it was possible. On the other hand, didn’t people deserve better than just trying to get by? I wouldn’t want anyone to feel like I did over the past few days. So why are there 49 million Americans who have to worry about having enough food to eat every single day?

I was also struck by how my eating limitations set me apart from the people I typically interacted with- namely, those who didn’t have to consider every penny when purchasing food. I had never realized how freely they were able to give it away until I found myself continually refusing it. I was surrounded by the fortunate. And as I turned down their food, I swallowed offers to reciprocate, bathed in fear of giving up any of my own food. There was an unsettling element of isolation in suddenly keeping my meals separate from everyone else. This, the inability to share and be shared with, was the most discouraging part of the challenge. Though that particular rule may not translate when living on SNAP benefits, I wondered what my current relationships would look like if this was my permanent reality. Would I be able to maintain these friendships? Would I (falsely) come off as selfish? I may never be able to afford dinner, drinks, or coffee out. Would any sort of outing mean a sacrifice of a different need? Why did I spend so much time and money on food?

All of these questions made me realize, over and over and over again, that I knew absolutely nothing about what it was like to be an average SNAP recipient. Even before I began, I didn’t believe that this challenge would give me a complete, multi-faceted insight into this issue. But now I understood that its true purpose was not to give me a comparable experience; it was to show me how much I still needed to learn.

In the remaining days of the challenge, I decided to save the rest of the rice for another time and put my energy into finding out as much as about SNAP as possible. I learned how SNAP benefits are calculated and the answers to many common questions surrounding the program. I read testimonials from average Americans and stories of those who had enough to eat because of SNAP. I also found some concrete reasons why the SNAP challenge wasn’t necessarily accurate (rather than my own conjectures), and why someone refused to take the SNAP challenge. I could go on and on, but I think the point is clear. If you truly want to see what it’s like to live on SNAP, you have to ask the people who know.

To those who have the privilege to partake: if you are curious to see if you can learn anything about yourself, or your own eating and spending habits, I encourage you to take the SNAP challenge. More importantly, I encourage you to read further and to listen even closer. As with most things, gaining a full understanding without firsthand experience is impossible. Consciously working to dig deeper, though, is far from it. I urge you to take a different kind of SNAP challenge- the challenge of seeking out others’ perspectives in hopes that your own may widen.


Written by Nicole Lesnett. Send her your thoughts on the SNAP challenge at nlesnett@foodrecoverynetwork.org. 

Passing the Torch to a New Leader

Posted by on 9:18 am in Blog | 0 comments

The following is a letter from FRN’s Founder and Executive Director Ben Simon, sent on April 3, 2015.

Dear FRNds,

Today I would like to announce some big news. I have decided that I will be transitioning out of the Executive Director role at Food Recovery Network this summer.

It is the dream of every founder of a startup to build something bigger than themselves. And it is the mission of every leader to make themselves replaceable by empowering others around them. In the past few months, I have come to feel very confident that Food Recovery Network has reached a place where it will continue to grow and thrive without its founder as the Executive Director.

I see it in the dedication of our staff and board, in the passion of our student leaders, in the wisdom of our advisors and in the commitment of our donors. It is all of you who make FRN what it is and give me confidence that the next four years will be even better than the first four.

I would like to thank all of you for giving me the amazing privilege of leading this great organization. Together with your support, our students have started chapters at 127+ colleges and fed over 550,000 meals to hungry Americans. We have reached tens of millions of people with our simple message and put higher education on track to be the first sector where food recovery is the norm. Although I will be moving on from the ED role, I will be staying involved in FRN to help develop Food Recovery Certified and other new initiatives. My amazing co-founders Mia Zavalij and Cam Pascual who have been with FRN since its first recoveries will also be staying on as full-time staff. The next year will be a very exciting time for FRN as we continue to expand the student movement while exploring some huge new opportunities.

Our board is leading a rigorous search for a new ED to take FRN to new heights and we need your help! If you know someone who might be a good fit, please encourage them to learn more and apply here.

As for me, I will be moving to Oakland, California to launch a social business called Imperfect. Our mission is to sell “ugly” fruits and veggies for a reduced price in order to divert some of the 6 billion pounds of produce that is wasted each year due to looks. In 2015, as we increasingly feel the effects of climate change and as California farms suffer from drought, we can’t keep wasting 20% of our produce just because it’s funny-looking. I’m honored to be joined by FRN co-founder Ben Chesler and “ugly” produce expert Ron Clark, and we will be unveiling the brand in the coming weeks.

The most important word in FRN’s name is the last one—Network. It’s not any one person but all of us who have brought this idea to life and will carry our mission forward into this next exciting phase. So, in this important moment for FRN, I would like to ask you to make a donation in honor of our first four years to help take FRN to the next level in our next four years. Thanks to support from Newman’s Own Foundation, all donations up to $10,000 will be matched dollar for dollar!



ben signature
Ben Simon

Founder and Executive Director, Food Recovery Network

Faithful on the Front Lines

Posted by on 12:01 pm in Blog, Featured | 0 comments

Faithful on the Front Lines

As we barreled up the stairs of the Harambee House, an intentional living-learning community on the southeast end of Grand Rapids, my leadership team and I were unsure of what would come of our event. A few days before thanksgiving, the Food Recovery Network from Calvin College, as well as many other sustainability-focused groups on campus, gathered and conjured up the idea of hosting a Letter Offering, which is an event sponsored by Bread for the World, and is aimed at gathering people to write letters towards local officials. The hope is then that those handwritten letters, which we addressed to junior Senator Debbie Stabenow, would be read with humbled hearts as we sought to address the food injustices in this country.


Earlier in the school year, our chapter celebrated Food Day 2014 as we gathered together to enjoy delicious locally produced food and lamented over the injustice we saw in the documentary, A Place at the Table. As last spring was our first semester of recovering food, we were intentional about being active in the movement towards seeking food justice at the systemic level, and ways in which Calvin students are beginning to do this is through the watching of documentaries and writing of letters.

It wasn’t the feasting on fajitas and tasty desserts or the singing of songs that I will remember long after the letters are tossed in the paper shredder, but it is the way in which a group of college kids gathered on a Saturday night and wrote letters to a woman they had never met. I was utterly fed up with the way in which those who are struggling financially and down on their luck are treated in this country, especially those who benefit from S.N.A.P. (i.e. food stamps) We have brothers and sisters here in Grand Rapids who not only do not have the financial capital to go and purchase groceries, but probably couldn’t tell you where a grocery store is located in the area.

This is a problem, and at Calvin College, we are no longer going to ignore. We can’t.


I have a friend who has a sticker on her laptop, one that inspires me upon sight. It’s a quote from William Wilberforce, the English politician and abolitionist. It reads, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.”

Those involved with the Food Recovery network at Calvin College, can no longer say that we did not know. We no longer have the luxury of living in ignorant bliss, but have been called to live faithfully on the front lines as we fight for food justice in this country and throughout the world. And we’ll do it one plate of mashed potatoes and one handwritten letter at a time.

Cameron Kritikos

Check us out on Facebook at Calvin College Food Recovery Network. If you have any questions, want to hear more, or would like to get involved, you can contact me at csk5@students.calvin.edu

Homelessness and Hunger at Denison University

Posted by on 5:33 pm in Blog | 0 comments

Homelessness and Hunger at Denison University

Hello fellow Food Recoverers (Recoveries? Recoverites?)!

My name is Rachel Auerbach and I am a part of the Food Recovery Network chapter at Denison University in Ohio. Food recovery here has been around for a couple years, but just recently we amped it up to include two pickups a day for both our dining halls. We collaborate with the student organization Homelessness and Hunger (HnH) and we recently held an event that might interest you all!HnHSandwich2

Denison University is located in Granville, OH which is about 15 minutes away from Newark, OH, a city that has about 10% of families and 13% of the population below the poverty line.  Every semester, HnH holds a “Homelessness and Hunger Week” where we try to really amplify our efforts to get the whole Denison community involved in our efforts to help out different organizations in Newark. We held our Homelessness and Hunger Week this year in mid-October and started out the week by hosting a movie night where we watched Pay It Forward (if you haven’t seen it, I recommend it!) to get everyone motivated to help. We hosted sandwich drives in our dining halls and made over 1000 sandwiches (meat & cheese and PBJ) to donate. They ended up going to organizations like the Salvation Army, YES Clubhouse (an afterschool program for youth who are considered financially disadvantaged), New Beginnings (a battered women’s shelter), a few elementary schools, and many other organizations. We also made a sort of homemade trail mix for the kids at YES Clubhouse and ended up donating 70 snack bags. Lastly, we held a sleep-out on our Academic Quad, where students slept outside all night to raise awareness about homelessness. We had over 25 people stay the entire night (and it was cold!) with many others joining us to hang out for a bit. We also continued our food pickup as usual, and advertised it to more students!


There are two amazing things about Homelessness and Hunger Week in my opinion. The first is that it allows us to help the Newark community in a huge way during a time of year that is not always filled with donations. The gratitude expressed by everyone at the various organizations always makes the week worthwhile. Secondly, Homelessness and Hunger week gets Denison students involved and talking about the issues of homelessness, hunger, poverty, privilege, and many other topics. Seeing fellow students sleeping outside prompts people to stop and ask about it; hosting sandwich-making events in public places like dining halls encourages people who might otherwise not participate to put some gloves on and give us a hand; starting discussions in classrooms, on our campus radio station, and in our newspaper make students, who are often in a bubble of papers and classes, more aware of these very local issues. And best of all, people have tons of fun participating! We get to work together with Greek members, athletes, classmates, faculty, dining hall staff, and other people we may not have gotten the chance to work with.

In addition to organizing our chapter’s food pickup for FRN, Homelessness and Hunger Week is one of my favorite events on campus. If you all would like to know more information about how to start one at your campus, please don’t hesitate to contact me!

Happy Recovering!

Rachel Auerbach

Denison University ‘16


FRN Core Values: Anyone can be a leader

Posted by on 5:27 pm in Blog | 0 comments

FRN Core Values: Anyone can be a leader

The following is the third post in our series of blogs detailing FRN’s core values–six key components that motivate us and influence the work we do. Member Support Fellow Marlene Haggblade walks us through core value number three. Stay tuned for the next three! What are your core values? Let us know in the comments below!

Many of the students in our movement had no idea they could start or lead their FRN chapters–until they did. At FRN, we meet people where they are to maintain and build on students’ optimism and energy around making a difference while helping them work with existing institutions. We accept that everyone we work with has his or her own way of doing things, inspired by experience and creativity and we are flexible and adaptable to ensure that everyone can make unique contributions to the food recovery effort.

Take a minute to close your eyes and picture a leader. Who materializes in front of your very eyes? Your wonderful mom? Nelson Mandela? Your friend who fought and survived lymphoma? Hillary Clinton? The student body president? Chimamanda Adichie? Who is a leader?

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I argue that within each individual lies a potential leader. And believe me, I was initially skeptical to come to this conclusion! But, I don’t think leadership can or should be myopically defined as those who hold ‘top’ positions in groups, organizations, or countries. Leaders exist all around us. People have and will continue to constantly influence our lives–an ebb and flow of actions, words, and passion. Influence, a multifaceted and complex endeavor, comes from the top-down, from the bottom-up, from the left, from the right, and often from the people we interact with most on a daily basis. Jim Rohn, a famous motivational speaker, said we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Who does that make you?

Leadership calls for every one of us to influence and to change. To embrace our roles as a leader, rather than excuse ourselves simply because we are not, nor will we ever be Martin Luther King, Jr. Leaders surround us, support us, guide us. The diversity and depth truly penetrates present static definitions of leadership. You are a leader. What kind of leader will you be?


FRN Core Values: Respect is Paramount

Posted by on 12:00 pm in Blog | 0 comments

FRN Core Values: Respect is Paramount

The following is the second post in our series of blogs detailing FRN’s core values–six key components that motivate us and influence the work we do. Member Support VISTA Mika Weinstein walks us through core value number two. Stay tuned for the next four! What are your core values? Let us know in the comments below!

We believe that the end is a reflection of the means. In order to achieve a more just food system and reduce inequality, all of our actions must uphold respect for the people and partners we are working with and the environments we are working in.

“Treat others how you want to be treated.”

Students from Belmont Abbey College FRN pose with members of their partner agency, Open Arms Ministry Gastonia. The students help serve food every week, even if they don’t have recovered food to donate.

Students from Belmont Abbey College FRN pose with members of their partner agency, Open Arms Ministry Gastonia. The students help serve food every week, even if they don’t have recovered food to donate.

The golden rule is one of those maxims that most people meet with reflexive support, but few use as a platform for deeper reflection. It inspires a vague notion of respect, which could play out at many different levels of interaction. Often, though, it is invoked with our classmates, coworkers, or family in mind. This makes sense; it may be easier to envision yourself in the shoes of someone similar to you. The last few years, however, have helped me recognize that an important element of respect is inclusion—to bring those who are marginalized or invisible into your conception of your community. A simple greeting to the homeless woman on the corner, or the custodial worker in your building, can demonstrate respect by acknowledging others as human beings.

This speaks to the fact that we should not just muster respect for those with whom we have formal interactions. In order to be congruent with FRN’s social justice oriented mission, we must examine our day-to-day interactions and promote a culture of compassion, understanding, and inclusion around us.

At FRN National, our commitment to respect manifests in formal and informal ways, through trusting the autonomy of the students we work with to carry out their programs using their best creativity and skill, through forming a repartee with the other individuals in our office complex, and yes, through acknowledging the work that goes into keeping our office space clean and each taking part accordingly.

Embodying respect at all levels of our work creates a more understanding, effective, and even happy community.

FRN Core Values: Empowering for Change

Posted by on 2:42 pm in Blog | 0 comments

FRN Core Values: Empowering for Change

Over the next six weeks, we’ll post a series of blogs detailing FRN’s core values–six key components that motivate us and influence the work we do. New Chapter Coordinator James Souder kicks things off below. Stay tuned! What are your core values? Let us know in the comments below!

Wasting food is a big deal.

JamesEdited1Consider all the resources that go into creating a meal. Think about the water used to irrigate the crops, the fertilizer and pesticides used to increase yield, the sweat poured into the planting and harvesting, the grains grown to feed cattle, the fossil fuels burned to transport and refrigerate food, the materials used for packaging and selling produce, the time spent shopping and preparing food… and the list goes on.

Now throw all those resources into the landfill. That’s right. Throw it all away. When we waste food, we waste valuable resources.

Let’s go one step further: After throwing away your food, turn around and look into the eyes of people in your local community who don’t have enough to eat.

Every day, Americans throw away enough food to fill the Rose Bowl. At the same time, one in five families are food insecure. See the paradox? Let’s work together to fix this problem.

At FRN, we empower individuals, communities and food businesses to change the way they view and handle food surplus. Our goal is to make sweeping systemic change across the food industry. Successfully generating this shift will mean significantly reducing hunger and greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.

Food recovery can and will replace food waste as the food industry norm, in large part because it is in the best interest of food businesses to participate. Cafeterias and restaurants that donate their excess to food rescue organizations reduce their waste removal cost and are eligible for tax breaks.

Recovering surplus food is a win for everyone! Start a Food Recovery Network chapter today.



Learning about Food as a Human Right

Posted by on 12:26 pm in Blog | 0 comments

Learning about Food as a Human Right

At the end of September, the Member Support Fellows from FRN National used almost all forms of DC public transport (the bike share, the metro, and the MARC train) to trek to Baltimore for the Fighting Hunger in Maryland: From the Ground Up conference. Impassioned by our desire to quell hunger, we arrived an hour and a half early, bright eyed and bushy tailed (see Figure 1). The conference hosted workshops on policy, messaging, funding, and innovative solutions to tackle the issue of hunger. For our team, it helped reinforce our understanding of the broken state of the systems in place in the United States. Nationally, federal programs to fight hunger have eroded, and internationally the US has failed to adhere to basic commitments. At our very core, we believe access to food should be recognized as a human right.

Figure 1: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

Figure 1: Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

The conference helped us locate Food Recovery Network’s mission to fight waste and hunger in the historical context of hunger in the United States. During the first workshop, the panelists argued that we should use a rights-based approach when discussing hunger in the US and working toward improved access to food. They explained how hunger and food insecurity have persisted in the US despite economic growth and have worsened through the recent recession.

Both the number of Americans experiencing food insecurity and the number of those receiving public benefits have increased due to greater economic inequality, lower wages, and unemployment. The past 40 years have seen an erosion of workers’ earnings and benefits, not because the economy has shrunk, but because the affluent have been the ones to make the gains. So, despite economic growth, earnings for many Americans have declined: the median income for a 25-year-old with a high school education has dropped one third since the 1970s.

The federal government has taken some steps to address wage losses, but the current amount offered to food insecure households through SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as “Food Stamps”) is only 75% of what the government has declared to be the cost of a healthy diet. The workshop panelists therefore argued that the US government is clearly not truly prioritizing the fight against hunger and it should do much more, especially if we consider access to food a basic human right.

Historically, the United States does not have a great track record when it comes to recognizing access to food as a human right. In 1966, President Carter signed the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which included the right to food, but the US Senate did not ratify it. This failure of our government to officially declare food a human right has continued: in 2008, the US voted against the Right to Food resolution at the United Nations. The resolution was simply a statement of principles and was not legally binding, yet the vote at the United Nations on this covenant was 180 to 1 — the US being the only nation to vote against it.

The panelists encouraged those of us who take the issue of hunger seriously to exert pressure on the US government to take a serious stance on eliminating hunger. We can do this by increasing the visibility of the issue of hunger in this country and working to increase access to food. Food Recovery Network has been doing this since its inception, and continues to empower students to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in this country.

We would also like to note that 66.6666% of FRN team members who attended this conference received prizes. (Can I get a WOOPWOOP! Who doesn’t love free tickets to a professional indoor soccer game?) Rule Number 1: Do good. Feel good. Get good prizes.


Figure 2: Winners.

Written by FRN Member Support fellows Sarah Gross, Marlene Haggblade and Mika Weinstein.

#GivingTuesday #FRNdzy: The Power of Hashtags

Posted by on 5:11 pm in Blog | 0 comments

#GivingTuesday #FRNdzy: The Power of Hashtags


Giving Tuesday is the global giving day, modeled after Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It is more than just a day, or a nice hashtag. It is a movement celebrating giving. Each year, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving there is a call for people all over the world to give back.

A #GivingTuesday #FRNdzy

Food Recovery Network is kicking off the season of giving even earlier, starting November 1st and culminating our campaign on December 2nd, Giving Tuesday. It’s Giving Tuesday with FRN flair:  a #GivingTuesday #FRNdzy. We’re inviting our supporters and FRNds to give back this November.

Can you help us raise $10,000 during the #GivingTuesday #FRNdzy? That’s the equivalent of 10,000 meals that we can distribute to homeless shelters and soup kitchens across the country. By donating just $10 to FRN, you donate 10 meals to those in need across America. 

“FRN has provided bread and produce items during a time when it was difficult to obtain them otherwise.”–Wayne Briggs, Director of Operations of Just Food, partner agency of FRN at University of Kansas

How can YOU give meals to those in need this Giving Tuesday?

  • Donate!! $10 = 10 meals. Don’t want to wait? Donate today!
  • Support your local FRN chapter! Look out for links to chapter #GivingTuesday #FRNdzy pages and more information for how to support their work.
  • Create a Piggybackr page and share with your family and friends this November
  • Share this post and spread the word about #GivingTuesday #FRNdzy:

  • Share a dare for our Executive Director, Ben Simon. Ben will be accepting a challenge on #GivingTuesday if we reach our fundraising goal! Simply tweet or comment on this post: “I dare Ben Simon to [insert your challenge here]” and be sure to use the #GivingTuesday #FRNDzy hashtags.  Ben will announce the challenge he’s accepted on November 1st.

The issue and FRN’s work:

In 2013 –  49.1 million Americans lived in food insecure households, including 33.3million adults and 15.8 million children. At the same time food is the number one item in America’s waste stream. Americans wasted 36 million tons of food in 2011, 40% of the total amount produced for consumption. Since 2011, nearly 100 campuses have recovered over 450,000 pounds of food with FRN. That’s over 344,000 meals. By May 2015, we aim to be at 150 chapters and recover a total of 610,000 pounds. Give $10 this November to help us reach our goals!