This blog will discuss the relevance of food security with its accordance to socioeconomic status in the state of Hawaii. The truth behind poverty does not only lie in the faces of the homeless on Fort Street. It lies in the middle class, those contributing to society every single day, who have families and stable jobs. The social stigma surrounding food assistance creates a shameful bias towards those who seek access to it.
I did a participant observation on the beach at Ala Moana park, where I encountered a family throwing their son’s fifth birthday. Several family and friends helped celebrate the event, a couple uncles and aunties, and other children approximately 3-6 years old and 10-14 years old. The birthday space consisted of two tents covering a barbecue, coolers, a food prep station, a few beach chairs and a couple of small keiki’s napping after a good swim. Music filled the air of sweet Hawaiian melodies and ukuleles. This family was local, and as they threw around the ball to each other during a game of tackle-football, pidgin was the language of choice.
A few more guests arrived, bearing additional food items such as a watermelon, a box of assorted Maui Onion chips, a large variety pack of canned iced teas and a piñata. Food was declared “ready to eat!” and the group flocked to the tents to begin filling their plate with what looked like laulau, barbecue chicken and steak, poi, Okinawan sweet potatoes, homemade musubis, chips, watermelon, and more.
After the family began to grab seconds and head back out to the water for more swimming, I decided to introduce myself to the mother of the birthday boy and other aunties surrounding. As I began to talk story about the party and the reason behind the celebration, I learned that the mother, Mahina, was expecting twins in about 3 months. This was the last family event that would be thrown before they expected their newborns. Mahina explained that they throw their birthday parties at the beach because its cheap and has the most space for their family and guests. She admitted that times were tough for her and her husband, and that most of the event’s food was provided by the food stamps that she qualifies for. Despite the appearance of middle-class and abundance, the families food source was secured due to government food assistance and general reciprocity of the Hawaiian family culture.
My questions by this time in the observation included: how long does the average participant have to rely on food stamps before they consider themselves back on their feet? Is the amount given each month truly enough to help sustain TRUE nutritional value to each meal, even in a family as big as 5 or more?
“As a family, we have been using SNAP benefits on and off for the last two years. Adding more children sets a higher expectation for my husband and I and we try to reduce spending anywhere possible… we even moved to the city to be closer to our jobs.”
Nationally, more than 44% of SNAP Financial Food Assistance participants are in working families, however in the state of Hawaii that number jumps to 53%. As of 2017, the percentage of families with children receiving SNAP in Hawaii is 64% (HumanServices.Hawaii.Gov). Those high numbers may represent an increased amount of poverty, but higher numbers also mean that our government is doing the most to ensure a large majority of those in need are covered. It also means that the government is encouraging future economic growth by providing the grocer-consumer with (strictly food) capital which then increases the flow of money in the economy. 
With SNAP food assistance, families such as Mahina’s are able to sustain consistent healthy meals each day, exponentially creating more value to each dollar being spent at the grocery store. SNAP statistics estimate that every $1 spent for food assistance generates $1.70 in economic activity, which enables financial program security for future SNAP participants.
Gaining a better understanding of this family’s source of food security allowed me to open my eyes to the impact and importance government meal assistance, not only for those who are considered to be in “poverty” but also for those working to join the middle class. Poverty is more than what meets the eye, it entails issues of food security that affect more than just the lower class. Food assistance needs to be socially reconstructed to be better understood for the economic value for every consumer and those striving to live above the poverty line.