Harvesting Change: Transforming Thanksgiving into a Feast for All

Parker G. Davis

As we gather with loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, a day synonymous with family and feasting, it’s crucial to reflect on the stark reality faced by many in our communities. One in eight U.S. households experienced food insecurity in 2022. However, the very programs designed to combat this issue are under threat.

While the long lines at food banks are visible, they aren’t enough to address food insecurity. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP; and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which is known as WIC, are two essential national programs that help combat hunger. These programs extend beyond mere sustenance, significantly impacting overall health, education, and well-being for those grappling with hunger.

WIC extends a lifeline to over six million families with low incomes. However, the threat of budget cuts risks participants’ access to essential nutritional support. The program was extended until January 19, 2024, through a continuing resolution, but because of rising food costs and more families receiving help, supporting the program at last year’s funding levels will not meet the current need. This means that hundreds of thousands of eligible children and their parents could be put on waiting lists or turned away.

SNAP is the nation’s largest food assistance program; in 2022, it provided monthly benefits to 41.2 million people in 21.6 million households. Yet, like WIC, its future is uncertain. Earlier this year, the debt ceiling agreement added work requirements for older adults who receive SNAP, putting nearly 750,000 adults at risk of losing food assistance.

However, there is one encouraging aspect to the continuing resolution. It includes a one-year extension of the Farm Bill, which gives lawmakers more time to consider important reforms to the program that reduce food insecurity while also having bipartisan support.

While the extension of the Farm Bill is important, more must be done to ensure that SNAP remains sufficient and accessible to all. Equitable modifications guided by principles of trust, repair, and trauma-informed care are possible, but they will take both the will of Congress and individual and organizational advocacy. Congress has the opportunity to reform SNAP by including increased funding for program beneficiaries to buy fresh fruits and vegetables; boosting the minimum SNAP benefit; allowing purchases of hot foods; and reducing barriers to eligibility for the program for individuals re-entering communities, immigrant families, and college students.

Congress also has the opportunity to address food insecurity in Indigenous communities by allowing people who participate in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations to receive SNAP benefits at the same time. Current law forbids them from doing so.

This restriction would be unjust regardless of the time of year, but it seems particularly punitive now. While the Thanksgiving holiday is a time of gratitude and reflection for many, it’s essential to recognize that it’s not a celebration for everyone. For our Indigenous brothers, sisters, and two-spirit peoples, it is a day of mourning. In our quest to expand access to food assistance, let’s not forget the historical context. Take a moment to read “11 Ways to Decolonize Your Thanksgiving and Honor Native Peoples” by Cultural Survival.

This Thanksgiving, I encourage you to extend gratitude beyond our own tables through advocating for systemic changes that ensure no one goes hungry. By safeguarding and enhancing programs like WIC and SNAP, we can make strides toward a future where everyone has access to the nourishment they need to live, thrive, and succeed.