TODAY   |  December 08, 2012

Mayor on food stamps: There’s so much I take for granted

Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker is eating on a food stamp budget for one week, and said that he hopes to create “communities of compassion” with his challenge. He told TODAY’s Erica Hill, “In order for our city to be successful, we all have to be invested in each other’s success.”

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> newark, new jersey, mayor cory booker . he's known for carrying a neighbor out of raging kitchen fire in april, and then springing to to action at the scene of an accident scene. he has brought awareness to the millions of americans who rely on food stamps .

>> i think the three for five brussels sprouts is going to be my best buy.

>> the latest challenge for cory booker , feed himself for just about $30. that's what the average person on food stamps gets in his city, where one in three people live below the poverty line.

>> i think it was like $29.78. it got me a lot of cans. about 17 cans. got me seven sweet potatoes . three bags of broccoli and cauliflower, two bags of salad, two apples, which i am savoring already this week. a bottle of oil. let the record show that i still have 22 cents to spend.

>> we were with him on day one. as a vegetarian ate a simple salad, beans and corn for dinner. do you feel like you had enough to eat?

>> i actually do. but i really miscalculated. there's so much that i take for granted when it comes to consumption.

>> reporter: the mayor's food stamp challenge came when booker got into a debate on twitter when a woman wrote that nutrition is not a responsibility of the government. booker's reply, "let's you and i try to live on food stamps ." now known as snap. so you do this for a week, but then what happens. you go back to your regular life?

>> if it becomes a distant memory, then nothing's changed. hopefully things like this can help expand our consciousness and motivate us to act on a more consistent basis. so maybe people can realize there's a can of something i don't eat in my cup ard. let me support my foot kitchens more.

>> mayor beerk has his share of critics. he's also not the first to take on this challenge. just last month, philadelphia's mayor and a pennsylvania congressman did it as well. the number of americans relying on food stamps , meantime, continues to grow. up almost 46% in the past four years.

>> i was surprised on twitter to see how many people were engaging with me on this presumption that people on programs like snap don't work. that people on programs like snap are lazy. these are hard working families who care about their kids, who play by the rules, who often work harder than other americans .

>> do you understand sometimes where people are coming from when they say look, you know what? pull it together. my family did it. my parents did it. that's what i learned how to do.

>> well, that's a lie. you want to create communities of compassion where we're all aware that hey, somebody next to me is struggling. there is challengines around me. it's my struggle, too, because in order for our city to be successful, we all have to be invested in each other's success.

>> so he's had kind of a tough time with this challenge. he's going through really bad caffeine withdrawal and he told me he should have shopped smarter. should have bought some eggs maybe for some protein. but that he found it eye opening. and even within the first day, he said he was calling his food policy director and saying how do we get more urban gardens . how do we get better access to food. it's an interesting discussion point.

>> he's incredibly passionate. he spoke at my younger son's college commencement back in june and i was struck by how passionate he is. he has this ability to make you discuss things and make you think about things. he makes a good point that if this ends up in the rear-view mirror, then there's no impact.

>> right. and it is all for naught and it does feel like a stunt, and he's committed to that not