When TwitWit, who goes by the handle @MWadeNC tweeted Newark Mayor Cory Booker that "nutrition is not the responsibility of the government," a gauntlet was laid that is now being played out in Twitterville as well as the real world. Booker (@CoryBooker), a prolific member of the Twitterati has amassed celebrity status with a Twitter following of over 1.2 million, while TwitWit whose profile describes herself as a "Daughter of the American Revolution" has only 1008 (as of this posting).
The exchange of tweets that ensued set the ball in motion veering from a generic debate over 'food for the hungry' to governmental subsidized programs:
- "why is there a family today that is "too poor to afford breakfast"? are they not already receiving food stamps?" TwitWit wrote.
- "Lets you and I try to live on food stamps in New Jersey (high cost of living) and feed a family for a week or month. U game?" Booker responded.
- "sure, Mayor, I'm game," TwitWit wrote back.
- "Great. Lets do this. I hope you live in New Jersey. Lets film it and see how we do," Booker responded. He later wrote, "We will have to get a referee -- DM me your number so we can see if we can work out details."
This challenge will focus on the difficulty of living on $4.32 per day, the amount that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides to the almost 46 million people who currently receive these benefits.
Promising that this will not a publicity stunt, Booker believes that the challenge was a chance for those with- and-without means to really begin to understand governmental assistance program as it was intended. He sees the challenge as an opportunity "for us to grow in compassion and understanding" and dispel stereotypes.
TwitWit on the other hand has "protected" her tweets so only her "selected" followers are privy to her incoming and outgoing tweets and in speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, she was also guarded as she has received threats since the challenge was initiated.
According to a Time magazine report, the Newark Mayor set the dates of December 4 through 11 when he will begin to try to live on food stamps for a week. Correspondent Noliwe M. Rooks wrote, that "should he follow through, Mayor Booker will be part of a rapidly growing group. In the last six months, mayors in Las Vegas, Philadelphia and Phoenix have also spent a week living on food stamps, as have the governors of Oregon and Colorado."
And politicians are not alone in participating in this type of social experiment. A few months back, celebrity chef Mario Batali successfully completed a food stamp challenge with his family, and there is a program at the University of Bridgeport inviting students to do the same.
However, with less than a week left to go, Booker might be hedging on his "SNAP" diet with offers of free food from his constituency.
Other criticize the mayor for "dabbling" in the poverty issue for a limited period of time. Yes, while it throws a spotlight on the issue, ulterior motives for political gain could be the source of his motivation. Just hours prior to posting this blog, news stories are emerging that Booker could be taking a run for NJ Governor, against incumbent Chris Christie. "A Christie/Booker match-up would pit two political stars of New Jersey, both of whom have gained significant national prominence, against each other in a clash of titans," notes Michael La Rosa in his MSNBC report.
Booker has also gotten down and dirty in the past. In his first run for the Newark seat, he received a lot of attention by moving into public housing. And most recently he rescued a women from a burning two-story house, based on what was categorized as acting out of "sheer instinct."
With the fiscal cliff looming and conservatives in Congress trying to find ways to increase revenues and potentially diminishing entitlement programs such as SNAP, perhaps Booker's challenge is timely in refocusing on what might have lost Mitt Romney the recent election.
With a presidential candidate that is now vilified by his previous supporters, perhaps it's time for many Americans to venture out from the bubble that excludes them from having to think about man's basic need for sustenance. The safety net that Romney marginalized by describing how the 'the lazy' live off the dole might not be that safe after all. "Let them eat cake, if they don't have bread," was a catchy meme of its time, but we all remember what happened to those heads of state. Oh, SNAP!
UPDATE: Waywire.com - December 3, 2012: Mayor Booker will document his #SNAPChallenge experiences and reflections on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and through video on #waywire.