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SNAP Challenge proved time-consuming, humbling

Published May 29, 2013 10:40 am

SNAP • For participating Utahns, the experience gave them new outlook on hunger.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Hunger took the spotlight at Salt Lake City's Broadway Centre Cinemas on Tuesday night.

Following the showing of "A Place at the Table," a documentary about widespread hunger in America, Utahns spoke about their experience in last week's SNAP Challenge, in which participants ate on just $4 per day — an amount equivalent to the average food-stamp benefit.

SNAP refers to the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. About 30 Utahns took part in the seven-day challenge.

Jon Pierpont, executive director of Utah's Department of Workforce Services, along with his wife and son, participated in the effort, as did Communications Director Joe Demma and his spouse.

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, was the lone Utah lawmaker to run with the SNAP Challenge.

"It was a struggle to live off of $28 for one week," Romero said, describing it as a "humbling" experience that will direct her service on Utah's Capitol Hill.

For Pierpont, menu-planning and grocery shopping consumed more time than usual and food choices had to be different.

"Our portions were smaller," Pierpont said of himself and his wife. "We made sure our 13-year-old son had enough." As head of the agency that administers SNAP, Pierpont said he needed to get a firsthand glimpse of what his clients experience.

The advocacy organization Utahns Against Hunger hosted Utah's SNAP Challenge in tandem with similar awareness-raising events in other states around the country. Executive Director Gina Cornia ate for $4 per day, but said she cheated and allowed herself coffee — an item too costly for most food-stamp recipients.

Pierpont and Romero spoke about their experience Tuesday night following a free showing of "A Place at the Table."

According to an interactive tool provided by slate.com, 81,351 people or 8 percent of Salt Lake County's population receive food stamps. An individual's benefit can range from $16 to $200 per month depending on other financial factors.

"A Place at the Table," which debuted at Sundance in 2012 under the name "Finding North," and premiered in area theaters under its new title on March 1, points to the staggering rise of hunger in America since the 1980s. About 50 million people — one in four children — are currently food insecure, meaning they do not know where their next meal will come from.

One in six Americans do not get enough to eat, the riveting documentary reveals, and most of what they can afford consists of cheaper processed foods that are high in fats and sugars and contribute to obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

A lack of transportation coupled with "food deserts" in areas where many low-income people reside often puts nutrient-rich foods out of reach. Government aid and charitable donations fail to keep pace with the nation's hunger problem.

Filmmakers Kristi Jacobson and Lori Silverbush succeeded in serving up the facts in an informative movie filled with real-life stories, policy experts and celebrities who now serve as anti-hunger advocates, among them actor Jeff Bridges and "Top Chef" judge Tom Colicchio.

"It's about patriotism, really," Bridges said on film. "If another country was doing this to our kids, we would be at war. It doesn't have to be that way."

Since 1980, the cost of fresh produce has risen while processed foods have become cheaper, due to lack of political will and what the government is willing to subsidize, Marion Nestle said in the film. Nestle writes a Food Politics blog and will release her book, Eat, Drink, Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Food Politics, this fall.

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

twitter: @catmck