Participating in the Teen JUST-US Boston program has been an absolutely amazing and eye-opening experience. I have learned so much about extremely important topics, and I now feel as though I am better equipped to combat the social issues that are prevalent in today’s society.
Something that I found particularly meaningful was creating a grocery list from a set budget, an activity related to food insecurity. As my group and I scrolled through an abundance of food items on the Target website, we were overwhelmed with the responsibility of creating a meal plan for a family of four. Bread, fruit, and snacks; there was so much to keep track of, and it was particularly stressful knowing how restrictive our budget was. My eyes quickly scrolled across the screen as I attempted to search for the least expensive version of every food item. I jotted down notes, making sure to count every penny as we added up our current items and subtracted it from our total amount. I had so many questions. Would this much food be enough? Are all nutritional values being met?
As a teenager living under my parents’ roof, I have never had to think this hard about how much food would sustain a family. Having to balance both a strict budget and the nutritional needs of four people was something that I found extremely challenging. The stress that I am experiencing is something that thousands of people in the United States have to deal with every day. This activity really opened my eyes to the struggles that people who experience food insecurity face and how difficult it is for so many people to find their next meal. Every person should have access to adequate nutrition, yet, even with governmental assistance, there is still so much suffering.
As my group shared our experience of trying to figure out this meal plan with the rest of the cohort, I realized how similar most groups’ problems were. We all struggled with finding the best value foods to buy and making sure that there was enough protein and other nutrients. As we continued our unit on food insecurity, my mind continued to circle back to that one group exercise. Pairing food injustice lessons with a real-world example allowed me to better understand how the statistics we talked about manifest in the lives of the eleven percent of Americans who struggle with food insecurity. I now understand how prevalent and difficult it is for those on a restrictive food budget to feed their families, and I came away from the lesson wondering what more I could do to help those statistics.
As I continue to research hunger relief programs and ways to help, I am constantly reminded of the stress that I experienced during the food shopping exercise. This moment is one of many where I felt as though the Teen JUST-US programming helped me better understand social justice issues. I know that I will take what I learned from the food insecurity unit, as well as all of our other activities, with me well into the future. This program is truly so special, and I cannot wait to further share what I have learned with those around me.