Second Major

Political Science


Widell, Robert

Advisor Department





hunger; policy; charity; SNAP; food insecurity


Food insecurity has been a persistent element in the history of the United States. Efforts to address the problem - and the larger issue of poverty - have been wide-ranging, but the debate about how best to respond to hunger has often centered on the relative roles of government and charity. Often that debate has led to hybrid solutions that combine government sponsored welfare such as food stamps and community-based food relief programs such as food banks. Yet, even such complementary approaches leave many people’s needs unmet, and there remains a significant population, both across the country and in Rhode Island, that lives without adequate access to an affordable and nutritional diet.

Identifying a solution to food insecurity is thus a difficult proposition. The federal and state governments cannot solve the problem by themselves, nor can charities that operate with limited resources and other constraints. Complicating the problem is a widespread misunderstanding (or deliberate misrepresentation) of the factors that contribute to food insecurity. In an effort to craft a workable program to alleviate hunger in Rhode Island, I decided to experience for myself what it is like to live off of the average food stamps budget. Taking a cue from my studies in Philosophy, I hoped to determine the fundamental concerns at the root of food insecurity in order to devise a more viable and effective set of solutions. In particular, I sought to investigate several myths of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and to feel for myself the restrictions imposed by such a budget. At the same time, I hoped to investigate the important role played by one’s community in supplementing SNAP’s monthly allowance. Finally, I hoped to bring to bear my personal knowledge of Rhode Island’s farm and agricultural economy.

Considering research on SNAP policies and charity effectiveness along with my anecdotal experiment with the Food Stamps Challenge, I propose a multi-faceted approach to eliminating hunger in our community. Rhode Island, as the smallest state, should seek to be self-sufficient in terms of growing its own food for local food banks as well as restaurants and markets. New construction in urban areas should be regulated to include green/agricultural rooftops and restaurants should be encouraged to offer pay-what-you-can donation sites following the success of several restaurant chains. There must be a shift in reality for community awareness and action; we as a community must recognize the time in which we live and act accordingly to move toward a self-sufficient, sustainable, and equitable society where no one is left hungry or without the chance to thrive.