Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate the value of broadening the horizons of social marketing with a transformative approach. Through an investigation focused on the intersections of food, poverty and health, the lived experience of Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) is identified and described. This depth of insight is useful to achieve research-informed public policy and social marketing efforts. Design/methodology/approach: This ethnographic research design combines shadow shopping and phenomenological interviewing. The research site is an outreach center of a south Texas food bank and the targeted sample are SNAP recipients visiting that outreach center. Audio and visual recordings along with field notes were used to document the process. Findings: The findings are presented as two emergent themes identified as SNAP but no food and SNAP, health and food. These two themes demonstrate the intersections between food, poverty and health and effectively capture some of the complexities within these connections. Research limitations/implications: An underlying assumption of this study is the context-dependency of the findings. In focusing this research on SNAP recipients visiting an outreach center of a Texas food bank, the findings are limited to this context and this context only. Generalizability is not the goal but rather providing a depth of insight on the lived experience of food, poverty and health for impoverished consumers is the goal. Practical implications: Practical implications of this paper include implications for policy implications targeting impoverished consumers. More specifically, evidence shows value in investing in SNAP rather than divesting or reducing funding. Social implications: This research demonstrates that this outreach center offers the community not only a food hub but also a social hub. Originality/value: This paper demonstrates the usefulness of adopting a transformative consumer research approach for social marketing. Documentation of the lived experience of SNAP enables research-informed public policy and research-informed social marketing strategies. Broadening the horizons of social marketing with a transformative approach is, therefore, advantageous for impoverished consumers, policymakers and social marketers. © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited.