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Challenging Myself to Experience Hunger

Next week, the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano is joining with Feeding America to encourage people to take the Hunger (SNAP) Challenge  part of  Hunger Action Month. For one week, particpants will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps and known as CalFresh in California).

It is not too late to sign up! If you would like to participate, please fill out the form on our Hunger Action Month page.

Below is an update that was posted to LinkedIn by Ron Shaich, founder, chairman, & CEO at Panera Bread.

Panera Bread founder, chairman, & CEO Ron Shaich shops for groceries in preparation for the SNAP Challenge. (source)

Last week, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times entitled, “On the Edge of Poverty, at the Center of a Debate on Food Stamps.” The article sheds light on the reality of food insecurity in America – millions of families that “look like we are fine,” according to one man, but in reality, “live on the edge of poverty, skipping meals and rationing food.”

The families featured represent only a handful of the nearly 49 million people in America who, very simply, are hungry. We live in the “land of plenty,” and yet nearly 48 million people receive food stamps and 16 million children go to bed hungry.

Whether or not we talk about it, acknowledge it or pay attention to it, hunger is a serious and real problem in the United States.

And yet, despite everything I have learned about hunger and the various efforts I’ve undertaken to try to make a dent in the problem, I have never actually experienced hunger firsthand. I’m not talking about the hunger that comes after skipping a meal. I’m talking about not knowing when or where my next meal will come from on a regular basis. I’m talking about having to decide between paying for an unforeseen medical or housing expense versus buying food to feed my family for the month.

That’s why, as part of Hunger Action Month, I decided to take the SNAP Challenge. For one week, beginning Saturday, September 14, 2013, I will live on just $4.50 a day, the average daily benefit per person provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly known as Food Stamps). I am also extending the challenge to Panera’s Societal Impact Steering Committee, the group responsible for helping Panera leverage its core competencies to help create real change and lasting solutions against hunger. Another partner of mine in this challenge will be Bob Aiken, the CEO of Feeding America.

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m nervous. As the SNAP Challenge week approaches, I feel a sense of fear about my budget, what kinds of food I’ll be able to afford, the impact that the Challenge will have on my work and ability to concentrate. However, as the CEO of a company that is committed to making a difference in our communities, it is critical that I understand this problem in a deep and personal way.

I am aware that this challenge only lasts one week. And I understand that many millions of people, including some of Panera’s own employees, have encountered more prolonged and painful bouts of food insecurity. My week is merely a simulation of what so many millions deal with every day. To be clear, I don’t mean to trivialize anyone else’s experience or claim mine as an authentic representation of what food insecurity looks like. Rather, my hope is to inspire other leaders – in business, government and the nonprofit world – to take on the challenge of food insecurity as their own. In the process, I also hope to inspire myself to continue to innovate and find new solutions to the problem of hunger.

Throughout my Challenge, I will be posting updates on LinkedIn. I will walk you through my shopping experience on the $31.50 weekly budget, my meals, my feelings, my energy level. I also hope to share information about the different solutions out there – from federal assistance to food pantries. And I’ll share insights gained from Panera team members taking part in the challenge.

If you feel inspired to take part in the challenge yourself, visit www.hungeractionmonth.org for more information. As ever, please share your experiences on the SNAP Challenge or with other Hunger Action Month activities in the comments section.

I’ll be back on September 14 to start sharing about my Challenge. As my friends at Feeding America say, Together We Can Solve Hunger™.

Join Mr. Shaich and get a sense of what life is like for those struggling to put food on the table with the average benefit for people who receive SNAP/CalFresh. Sign me up for the Hunger Challenge!

The original content of this post can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130909205336-25745675-challenging-myself-to-experience-hunger.
 

Hunger Pangs

On Monday I found that I drank a lot of water. Not because I was hot but because I was hungry. I hadn’t had time to go to the store so all I had most of the day was water. The water did fill me up and stop the hunger pangs but I kept thinking I am doing this for 5 days. But think about the people who have to drink water many days of the month because there isn’t enough food to last for the month. Especially the children in school. How do they focus, how do they learn? Of course on day one I still had lots of energy. But not so sure how the week will last. And when I did go shopping on Monday I found that I could hardly wait to get in the car and start eating – ANYTHING! Not a good practice but I am sure it mirrors others. I just hope my food lasts the 5 days. I feel a hunger pang – on to some water…

Hunger Challenge: Final Thoughts

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank took the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They tried to live on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits.

Read the final thoughts about the Hunger Challenge and experiences of the participants:

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: Since my budget for Day 5 was $2.60.  I had to be creative. For breakfast, I decided to load up on good carbs. I mixed 1.5 cups of uncooked oatmeal, 6 pieces of walnuts, 1/3 scoop of protein powder and 4 oz of soy milk. That kept me full in the morning. For lunch, I made 2 cups of penne pasta, chopped up 1 slice of turkey, some green onion and toss them in ranch dressing.

For dinner, I made an omelette with 2 eggs and 1 slice of turkey and 6 oz of broccoli. The total cost of food was $2.60. Yes, I made it.  At 6:30pm. I declared that the challenge was over. At 7:30pm, I was spotted at Melo’s picking up a large combo.
That was what Jason wanted for dinner before heading back to college on Saturday. Since the challenge was over, I helped myself to 2 slices. Pizza never tasted this good!

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator: Five days of eating less than I normally would is over and I am glad I participated this year. I definitely plan to do it again next year as it does increase my awareness of those in need in our community. I was also very fortunate that the day after finishing the challenge, I participated in our Vallejo food distribution. We handed out bags of groceries to over 340 people! The potatoes, plums, and cabbage were beautiful. My job was to add the 2 bread products and then place the ready bags on the tables for distribution to the recipients. They also received a bag of canned foods. The recipients all said thank you and were very happy to have us handing out food.

Here are my thoughts concluding the 5 days: I wish we didn’t have to eat on $4.72 per day. I wish we didn’t have to hand out food to people in need. I wish people were not hungry. BUT, I am thankful for my job at the Food Bank and that I can help people in need and be more aware of what it is like (even though I can’t imagine what it must be like for more than 5 days). I am thankful that those that receive food have recognized that it is okay to ask people for help. I am thankful that the people of Contra Costa and Solano counties believe in helping our community through food and monetary donations and through volunteering. I am thankful that the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano exists and thrives. Together we are working to end hunger – I will be truly thankful when that day arrives!

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager: Well… somehow I came across pizza yesterday (free of course) and it made its way into my belly, so I failed this challenge. But today’s lunch was a little more plentiful with the macaroni noodles that were supposed to be last night’s dinner. I’m pretty much out of food, tonight’s dinner will be and egg salad sandwich with the rest of my cheese (I still can’t believe that I ate a whole pound of cheese in 5 days) an apple and the rest of my granola ( about ¼ C)
I definitely did a much better job at obtaining a variety of foods than I did last year, thanks to harvest house where I was able to buy exactly what I need from the bulk bins. This year I didn’t have to buy too much cheap food because I decided to just eat less.

I’ll most likely repeat this menu again for next year’s challenge. $4.72 is doable for me (a small female) but I’m not sure it would be enough for most people, I had a little more variety than last year but I totally failed this challenge because I ate more than my allowance with the free pizza I came across Thursday night. This challenged opened my eyes to a few new culinary surprises, tuna with wheat berries, pintos cooked in vegetable broth, water and onions and macaroni with just butter (isn’t so bad). Also, bulk tea lasts a lot longer than prepackaged, it’s freshness and potency allowed me to reuse.

Rachel Braver, Visual Communications Coordinator: Empathy has never been a problem for me, but taking the Hunger Challenge gave me a much higher level of understanding what it would be like as a member of the working poor trying to get through a week (let alone months or years) on a CalFresh food budget.

We came in under budget, because there are still portions of our food left from the shop we did last week, but the initial shop had us right at the budget. Since you can’t buy half a container of almond milk to ensure money is left over, items had to be very carefully selected.

There were some “cheats” like leftovers in the fridge and sparkling water we already had on hand (those would add $0.89 each to the budget) and a little flax meal on the oatmeal ($2.99/bag).

Some lessons learned:
The amount of planning required to make sure you have enough until your benefits refresh is not always doable. If you forgot to soak and cook your beans, you can’t eat them raw. If I didn’t have a flexible work schedule, I would have been fired for being late twice for prepping my meals. I spent so much time thinking about food, grocery prices, meal prep, ingredients that combine well and have enough fiber and protein, hunger, my next meal or snack, how much was left for the week it didn’t leave room for much else.
A restriction most of us are familiar with is dieting. You may restrict portion size or snacking because you choose to, but it’s a whole different feeling to be measuring out portions to make sure there is enough food to get through the week.
Variety is out. You want a snack? We have what’s on the list. Oatmeal again? Better than going hungry.
Being put into survival mode around food takes a mental toll that severely limits abundant thinking.
Have sympathy on cranky, distracted people. They maybe be working hard and still going hungry.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: So – today is the last day of the challenge. I added up expenses this morning and barring any unforeseen cheats today, we came in under budget at $43.96 (we were allowed $47.20 for two of us). I figure we would have still been within the budget even if I had purchased tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and radishes – which all came out of our garden. Besides the Grocery Outlet, Larry’s Produce usually has in- season veggies really cheap. I was confident in the beginning that I could feed us on the budgeted amount because I have done so in the past. I’ve been unemployed four times over the last 10 years,  on medical disability for four months, and Steve was on disability for eight; when those things occur, you usually buy food with whatever is leftover after paying everything else. The challenge for me this week was making sure we ate a healthy diet and that our meals were varied and interesting.  Having a garden and a variety of produce stands close by helped. Having transportation and the option of shopping several different stores including someplace like the Grocery Outlet, also contributed to making it easier to stay within budget and eat well. Most certainly, everyone doesn’t have these options.

We definitely did not go hungry this week. We had plenty of fresh produce and I felt we ate a healthy diet. I did miss my “Bob’s Red Mill 8 Grain Cereal.” I probably could have budgeted for it, but felt it wasn’t really fair to devote our food dollars to something only I would eat; granted Steve had Fritos, but they were available for both us. I also missed my Cascade yogurt and having nuts for a snack (I try to eat a small handful every day), but didn’t have time to shop for the best bargain on raw almonds as well as take the time to roast them.  I definitely had to plan more carefully and felt somewhat limited in terms of choices because I was committed to the planned menu. I also normally try and use a wider variety of grains like quinoa and barley, but felt it was easier to just use brown rice this week; it was cheap and available at the location I did most of my shopping.

As for our final meals -the spinach-chicken wraps we had for dinner last night were pretty tasty, the cabbage slaw was excellent and should be even better tonight because the cilantro and jalapeno will have imparted more flavor. This morning before work I cooked the brown rice I need for making the stuffing for zucchini for dinner tonight (I could have cooked it last night, but was feeling lazy) – 1 cup rice, 15oz. can of diced tomatoes, vegetable bouillon, little cumin, dry oregano and a dash of Cajun seasoning (and water of course).  To this I’ll add diced carrot, yellow onion, celery, green chiles, cilantro, sliced green onion, and a can of black beans. After it bakes we’ll top with a little co-jack cheese.  Besides the veggies from the garden and lemons from our tree, there are, of course, things not figured into the budget that I used in small amounts this week: olive oil, canola oil, mayo, mustard, spices, salt & pepper, couple bouillon cubes, Ranch dressing we had on hand (which I bought on sale in the refrigerated part of the produce section at Raleys with a $1 off coupon. I like it because it contains fewer unrecognizable ingredients and no high fructose corn syrup).  It has been an interesting week and quite frankly – I am ready for a night out!

Learn more about the challenge and Hunger Action month: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Hunger Challenge: Sticking to the Plan

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants:

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer:I blew my budget on Day 3. In order to redeem myself, my budget on Day 4 is $2.70. My strategy is to hit the pantry for inexpensive food. For breakfast, I ate 1/2 cup of granola and drank 2 glasses of water.  Water is free, right? I was full at first. At about 9:00am, I was starved. I kept myself busy to ignore the hunger For lunch, I made a sandwich with 2 slices of turkey, 1/5 of a loaf of baguette and mayo. I decided to go without tomatoes and lettuce due to budgetary reasons By 3:30pm, I was absolutely starved. I drank more water. For Dinner, I opened a can of New England Clam Chowder that we bought from Winco awhile back. I remember it was on sale for $1.38.  I added some corn starch and water  to thicken the chowder and made 3 cups out of it. It is gonna be a long night since I ate dinner at 6pm. I sort of made it. The cost of food on Day 4 came to $2.74. That means I have $2.65 left for Day 5. I am gonna have to be creative tomorrow.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator: Well it is almost the end of day four and as I was driving and thinking, I realized that last year I was hungrier than I am this year but this year I am definitely grumpier. I still have the same amount of work to do as I would any day but with less food to keep me energized, I am responding in grumpy ways to my poor co-workers. Health wise, I made better food choices and they are filling me up at night but I guess the satisfaction isn’t all there especially by day 4. This morning when I looked at the banana I planned on taking for lunch, I said no way, and left it at home. I still had my yogurt and string cheese (next year I would love to spend all of my money on string cheese – not healthy but I don’t think I would be as grumpy).  For dinner it is a  big glass of milk, two slices of wheat bread , a large salad and tomatoes and licking the bowl from the tasty salad dressing. Dessert is a glass of OJ – that to me is a treat. (And perhaps another cheese stick)…

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: The biggest challenge for me this week has been sticking to the planned menu. My weekly menus are not usually a plan set in stone; my mood changes and I often wind up cooking something else. I also like variety. Wednesday night I really wanted to try out a new recipe for salmon cakes. I have a nice fillet in the freezer, but it was $7.99 a pound when I purchased it. While I may have been able to fit this into the budget it would have required adjusting the menu for today and Friday. The tuna casserole I made was good, but this is a dish I usually only make once or twice a year and during the winter; it also required  taking time to cook the pasta in the morning before work to speed up prep time in the evening, so it took more planning. (Thankfully, Steve is also very good about helping with prep work, cooking, and cleanup, so I have not had to do everything myself) Then there’s the chicken I roasted on Monday; it was over 5lbs. I decided for simplicities sake in working with the budget to try and utilize most of it this week rather than freezing a portion of it to use it at a later date. I also recognize the average CalFresh recipient may not have a freezer and would therefore have to use an entire chicken or larger cut of meat over a week’s time. The challenge then becomes finding ways to create a “new,” dish so meals stay interesting. To that end, tonight we will have spinach-chicken wraps for dinner with a cabbage slaw. I got a good buy on the tortilla wraps at Grocery Outlet and can use other ingredients I purchased for meals this week (co-jack cheese, black olives, New Mexican chile peppers, romaine lettuce) as well as tomatoes from the garden. The cabbage slaw (shredded cabbage mix, jalapeno, cilantro, canned pineapple & home-made lime juice based dressing) will also be served Friday night when I make a vegetarian stuffed zucchini using the remainder of the 16oz. package of brown rice I purchased. (I ate the remainder of leftover brown rice pilaf from Monday dinner for breakfast this morning).  We will still have leftover chicken, however, which provides options for lunch (and breakfast) on Friday: chicken salad sandwiches or wraps, potato frittata, or tuna casserole?

Heidi Kleiner, AmeriCorps VISTA: I’m definitely learning things through this week of being more strict on my spending habits that I will use when the challenge is over.  My own CalFresh (food stamp) allotment is actually lower than what we’ve been using for the challenge so I could benefit from some of these practices anyway, even though I already do a lot to make sure I don’t go (too) over budget.  Luckily, I already try to be healthy anyway and it’s not such a change to eat and shop for things that work more efficiently for my body.  Even though the less expensive, packaged foods are usually cheaper for more food (cost per calorie), it does seem to be possible to eat pretty healthy foods if I am willing to cut out the unhealthy, packaged foods and snacks almost completely.

It would be a much different challenge if I had kids and a family.  Living on a limited food budget would be much more difficult with people with different tastes and desires for some of the food that I am more easily able to discipline myself into not eating, not to mention more mouths to feed and likely less money to do so.

I have learned, by charting out online the nutritional value of what I’ve been eating, that I bought and have been eating too much rice.  With my stir fry, I ended up feeling tired afterwards because I added a lot of rice in an attempt to fill me up…but when looking at the carbs I’ve been eating, I actually get enough carbs just from the fruits and vegetables and maybe a small amount of grains a day.  For my particular dietary needs and habits, I could greatly reduce the amount of grains I buy and use that money to buy some more protein, which I also need more of.  Something I did do well for my plan this week however, was to make sure I got the right amount of fiber.  When I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, I don’t need to buy expensive, fiber-added foods that seem to be popular at the moment.  The problem with buying a lot of produce, however, is that it can go bad quickly, and that’s wasted money (one of my peppers for this week went bad before I could eat it).

I was REALLY hungry when I got home from work today and it was farmers’ market day so I went down with my extra ten dollars to see what I could get.  I ended up just getting 2 heirloom tomatoes for 4 dollars.  If I had spent less money on grains and beans initially (I bought way too many beans), I would have had enough money to buy some more produce at the market.  I then went to Safeway and bought the milk and cereal I was craving.  While I went with the cereal that was the cheapest, it wasn’t the best deal, as the quantity was less for the price.  It definitely saves money in the long run to buy things in bulk, but sometimes people don’t have that much money to spend at once, especially when living paycheck to paycheck or when they are getting close to the end of their CalFresh benefits for the month before the next allotment is added.

There was free pizza in the conference room today.  That was rough.  As someone who really doesn’t have much money to spend on food, I normally take advantage of all free food options I encounter- but I wanted to be true to the goals of the challenge, since many people struggling to feed themselves, even when employed, likely don’t have much access to free food where they work.

Hunger Challenge: No room for take out

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants thus far.

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: Here’s day 3. I blew my budget.  I spent $9.14 today. I now have $5.39 left for the next 2 days. My son Jason is going back to college on Saturday.  He wanted to do dim sum lunch today. How could I possibly say no to that? For as hard as I tried to just admire those shrimp dumplings from afar, I totally blew my budget today. By my own fair calculation, my share was about $7.  Usually, it would have been more like $20. I now have $5.39 left for the next 2 days. I bought a sack of potatoes and some fish scraps from 99 Ranch today. I will eat like the best candidate for a Jenny Craig commercial for the next 2 days to stay on budget…If I manage to stay within budget. On Saturday, I swear I will eat everything in sight.  Thursday and Friday will be the true test of my will. I will prevail………….
I didn’t account for the cost of the sack of potato and fish scraps yet. I will prorate the cost as I consume the food. If $4.72 is all I had for each day, I might not have the luxury to buy extra and prorate as I go along.  Surviving on $4.72 a day is doable as a challenge. Sustaining in the long run on such a budget is a different story.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: Dinner Tuesday night was easy and tasty: a salad of romaine lettuce ($.58 a head at FoodMaxx), heirloom tomatoes, radishes, and lemon cucumbers from our garden and avocado (4 tiny ones for $1 from Larry’s Produce) with Ranch dressing we already had on hand; and a potato frittata made from frozen country style hash-browns ($2.49 for 32 oz. pkg., Safeway), eggs ($1.69 a dozen, Grocery Outlet), green onions (3 bunches for $1 at Larry’s)and approximately 6oz. of grated co-jack cheese ($5.99 for 2lbs, Grocery Outlet). I like to douse mine with a little hot sauce, which we always have in the fridge. There were eight servings in the frittata so there were leftovers for lunch today, as well as enough for breakfast Thursday or Friday.

Dinner tonight will be tuna casserole accompanied by steamed broccoli crowns ($.99lb, Raleys) and sliced tomatoes (from the garden). I like to throw a bit of steamed carrot ($1 for 1lb, Grocery Outlet)into the casserole as well as celery ($.99 a bunch, Grocery Outlet), onion (3 yellow for $1, Grocery Outlet), peas (frozen 16 oz., Grocery Outlet for $.88), and sometimes sliced black olives (15 oz. can at Grocery Outlet for $.79). No potato chips for the top, however, but I might make bread crumbs since I do have bread or I could use some of the co-jack cheese I have. The tuna ($.99 for 6 oz. can); rottelle pasta ($.79 for 16oz. pkg.); and cream of mushroom soup ($.79 per can) were all from Grocery Outlet. We will be having some company joining us for dinner tonight, but I still expect enough left overs to cover lunch on Thursday. Mid-week and so far so good; we are not going hungry and I am actually enjoying this challenge! (Except it does mean preparing dinner EVERY night – no take out.)

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager (second year taking the challenge): Thank goodness for tea, it really helps keep hunger at bay. I don’t think I have ever eaten a whole pound of cheese in a week before in my life but this week this is my new reality. Here is my menu for Wednesday nothing too exciting , same ole stuff but still love the pressure cooker. I cooked barley in 8 minutes last night !!! I’ve been rationing my portions conservatively so I think that tomorrow is going to be a FEAST! I still have macaroni, pintos, some barley, eggplant and an apple. Tonight I’ll finish off my granola 2 eggs, bread and cheese.

Breakfast
Mocha Surprise Tea with
¼ C Rice milk
½ C granola
Lunch
3 oz tuna
2 slices of bread
2 oz cheese
Dinner
1 sm eggplant
1 C cooked Barley
1 piece of toast
2 tbs PB
½ banana
Snacks
PM -1 med fuji apple
2 tbs PB

Hunger Challenge: Not a lot of variety

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge Sept 12-16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They will be living for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants thus far.

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: I came in 36 cents under-budget on Day 2, not bad for 1850 calories of food. This is actually kind of fun. I believe I am having some decent food for the money and eating healthy. I cooked enough brown rice on Day 1 to last for 3 days. I will have one more meal of brown rice on Day 3, and perhaps some soup and a sandwich too.

I have been eating uncooked old fashion oat meal for breakfast for years.  My recipe is oatmeal, walnuts, protein powder and soy milk all mixed together. It only cost 76 cents. It is as balanced as it comes with good carbs, fibre, omega 3 fats, and protein.  It tastes great too.

Caitlin Sly, Farm 2 Kids Coordinator (second year taking the challenge): So, I am ashamed to say that I failed the Hunger Challenge. Yesterday I began to feel like I was coming down with something. My nose is stuffy and my throat hurts. I decided as much as I wanted to succeed, I needed some orange juice, hot tea, and to eat healthy. So I cheated — but what a luxury to be able to cheat. If this were reality for me orange juice ($3.49) and tea ($7.00 /box) would have broken the bank.  What do CalFresh recipients do if they get sick? Are they able to care for themselves the way that I am able to? And although it does not “count” for the Challenge I began to think about the costs of the medicines I bought. There is no way I would be able to afford Day Quill ($7.51) on such a limited budget. Not to mention that I had the luxury of health care (thanks to working at the Food Bank) and was able to call an advice nurse. Last year I learned that the Challenge can be done but it involves a lot of monotony and uninteresting food. This year I learned that is only true as long as you are healthy.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant: Breakfast for the entire week is a variation on a theme: toast with peanut butter and a side of fresh fruit; yogurt and fruit (mostly Steve); toast, a hard-boiled egg and fruit; or just egg and fruit. A loaf of Steve’s favorite bread (Oroweat Honey Wheat Berry) at the Oroweat bread store, was $2.09 and has 20 slices ($.11 per slice) – more than enough for a piece of toast each day and sandwiches besides. A jar of Laura Scudder’s Natural Peanut Butter at the Grocery Outlet was $2.49; it has 14 servings at 2TB each, but we only use 1TB on toast because the slices of bread are very small so it’s only $.09 per TB. I purchased a lot of fruit at the Grocery Outlet: 1lb of strawberries for $1.99; cantaloupe at $.99 each; bananas at $1.99 for 3lbs or $.20 each. Raleys had grapes for $.99lb; and we bought peaches at Larry’s Produce 3lbs for $1 ($.25 each). I prepped everything on Sunday except the bananas and peaches so it is just grab and go. I like to make small fruit salads so I get a combination of the fruit. Yogurt was also from the Grocery Outlet – 3 cartons for Steve (all the same flavor) and 3 for me (plain Greek) at $2 for all six ($.33 each); jumbo brown organic eggs were only $1.69 a dozen so I bought those there as well.  The only change this week for Steve has been a lack of choice in yogurt flavors; for me it has meant no high fiber cereal so I am hungry again by 10am, however, I also was able to purchase a package of string cheese for $1.29 and it has 10 pieces in it ($.13 each) so I did have a snack mid-morning today and Steve has a couple with him should he be hungry this afternoon. I also have yogurt and strawberries if I feel I need something this afternoon.

With the exception of a sandwich on Monday, the plan for our lunches this week is to eat leftovers from dinner the previous night – not a change from our normal routine. Dinner last night was great – didn’t even make the salad I had planned, opted for sliced cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden instead because the head of cauliflower we steamed was so large. This is only day number #2 – will we stay within our budget?

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager (second year taking the challenge): Tip of the century – get a pressure cooker! I cooked 1 C of dried pintos in only 10 minutes (soaked all day while I was at work) which yielded 2½ C cooked. I cooked the beans in 4 C water and 1C Vegetable broth. With the left over broth I cooked ½ C barley which yielded 1C cooked so I’ve got dinner and lunch for a couple days. Cost: 35¢ for the beans 30¢ for the barley and 70 ¢ for the broth. $1.30 for two meals… not bad. In an effort not to use up all of my allotted rice milk I didn’t make the cheese sauce that comes with my mac n chez, I just used butter.

Hunger Challenge: $23.60 for Five Days of Food

Staff and volunteers at the Food Bank are taking the Hunger Challenge September 12 – 16 as part of Hunger Action Month to bring awareness to the issue of hunger in the community. They are trying to live for the week on a food budget of $4.72 per day, the average amount a person receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits. It’s not too late to take part. Learn more: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html.

Read the experiences of the participants thus far.

Shopping

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator (second year taking the challenge): Shopping is about choices. Knowing I only had $23.60 makes it difficult to get everything you want and need. I enjoy milk and orange juice so those were selected first so there went $7. And I really wanted low-fat string cheese (there are 16 so I can have 3 a day – yes, I ate 3 in the car while driving and had a 4th late last night) but that was another $5. Now half of my money is gone. Since this is my second year (taking the Challenge), I decided to go more with fresh produce and eat what I like. So I was able to buy lettuce, coleslaw, tomatoes for my dinner. Tomatoes meant roma and not on the vine (cut the cost in half but also cut the taste in half).

Sharon Zeppegno, Manager of Volunteer Services: I am doing quite well with a few  great buys from Grocery Outlet and find the fact that the condiments do not count to be great too.

Aaron Yuen, Volunteer: I spent a total of $4.48 and consumed by my own estimation 1810 calories. I created a spreadsheet to keep track of things. I had the groceries in the pantry so I simply prorated whatever portion that I ate. For example, 1/2 cup of uncooked old fashion oat meal cost 9 cents since I bought a 10 pounds box for $10 and it has 113 1/2 cups servings.

Caitlin Sly, Farm 2 Kids Coordinator (second year taking the challenge): Day one meant shopping and hunting for bargains.  I decided to try and go a bit healthier this year since last year I carbo-loaded so I wouldn’t be hungry and ended up feeling pretty crappy.  I have always thought of Trader Joe’s as a high-end expensive place, but I have now learned you just have to shop there strategically.  Their produce, cereal, milk, and eggs are very reasonable sometimes verging on cheap.  However their meat and prepared food products (very tempting) tend to be higher priced.  I was happy that I found bananas for 19 cents each and ears of corn for 39 cents each.  There will be some carbo-loading as 99 cents for a pound of pasta is too cheap to resist but I am going to try to find more vegetables this year.  Wish me luck!

Rachel Braver, Visual Communications: I plan and shop for most of the meals in our household of 2 people, which often involves finding fun recipes I’d like to try online and loading our cart with fresh veggies, some fruit and the impulse bottle of wine. As I planned for our week on the Hunger Challenge, my shopping habits took on a whole new attitude. “This recipe calls for x y and z ingredients…” turned into “How can I get the most protein and fiber out of each meal and snack without going over budget?” I am grateful to be able to pool our two allowances as I saw even the cheap stuff adding up on the shopping list (available online here). Variety in our meals this week has been reduced and I am thinking of different ways to flavor meals without the many ingredients a lot of recipes have. The fresh veggie budget was severely cut. Frozen veg took the place of some, and eating seasonally helps bulk up the produce, so we will be having zucchini this week. I also tried to find ingredients that could change forms. For example, lentils can be eaten alone, top a salad, or get mixed into the eggs for a frittata.

Lauren Strouse, Office Assistant*: I am fortunate that I live within a couple of miles of five grocery stores, plus a bread outlet and several ethnic markets. Saturday I made a big circle beginning with the Orowheat bread store, Grocery Outlet, Food Max, and ending at Raleys. Steve also made a trip to a local produce stand for a few things. I did have to make a major change in my choice of breakfast food for the week. I usually have Bob’s Red Mill 8 Grain Cereal or a high-fiber cold cereal most days. I also like a brand of yogurt called Cascade I can only find in Raleys’ natural food department. All of these were too expensive for the budget, so there will be toast and peanut butter or toast and butter with a hardboiled egg, along with fresh fruit. I was able to find yogurt at the Grocery Outlet – 3 cartons for $1 of a flavor of Yoplait Steve will eat, and for me, 3 cartons of plain Greek yogurt for $1. (I don’t eat the yogurt plain, however, but mix it with a little honey and vanilla) The yogurts are an option for breakfast or a snack.

What they ate the first day

Joan: Yogurt, a banana and cheese sticks for lunch and 2 slices of bread for breakfast plus my OJ.

Sharon: Yesterday I had peanut butter, and apple, and several other things I like quite well.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager (second year taking the challenge): Boy did I choose the wrong Monday to start a spin class! I think I ate my whole daily allowance ($4.72) just for dinner, ok not really but I could have. All I had for dinner was two scrambled eggs with mushrooms and one piece of (dry) toast. I was definitely hungry this morning, looking forward to my apple, PB and Tea.

In an effort not to waste the two tablespoons of cooked wheat berries I had left in the fridge, for lunch I decided to add them to my tuna fish sandwich, yum. The wheat berries gave the tuna an extra crunch; it reminded me of adding chips to my sandwich when I was a kid.

Lauren: Breakfast day one for me was a piece of whole wheat toast with 1 TB peanut butter and 1 cup of fruit salad (strawberries, cantaloupe, grapes); Steve took yogurt and strawberries.  Lunch will be an egg salad sandwich for both of us and I will also have a salad of Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and radishes – not sure if Steve took veggies or additional fruit, will have to check this evening.  It is 11am and I am already missing my usual mid-morning snack of almonds. Looking forward to lunch!

Plan for dinner  – roast chicken stuffed with fresh herbs from our garden; steamed cauliflower with lemon (ours); salad of romaine lettuce, black grapes, slivered onion & homemade raspberry vinaigrette; brown rice pilaf (has onion, celery, carrot and frozen peas sautéed in small amount of olive oil and tossed with it). The vinaigrette is made with olive oil and vinegar I already have on hand; rice cooked in chicken broth made from a chicken base already on hand and vegetables are sautéed in olive oil I also have on hand.  It is ultimately less expensive to buy olive oil (very cheap at the Grocery Outlet, Trader Joe’s and some ethnic markets) and vinegars, and make your own salad dressings, especially if you like variety and are making small amounts, but I did find a 16 oz. bottle of Kraft Light Balsamic dressing for $.99 at the Grocery Outlet which is an excellent buy.

How it went the first day

Joan: I did not eat on Monday until dinner time (of course I started eating in the car because I was hungry) because I did not have time this past weekend to go to the store. In real life it could have been that I was in between paychecks or hadn’t received my food stamp allotment.

Heidi Kleiner, AmeriCorps VISTA: I have discovered the importance of bringing enough food and snacks to work.  I’m accustomed to thinking of nearby restaurants and the vending machine as fallback options for when I don’t have time to cook.  But I’m making the time!  I won’t let the vending machine win!!

Lauren: So – Day #1 is under way and I’m a little hungry because I only had one piece of toast and it isn’t as filling as a serving of high-fiber cereal. I forgot to bring yogurt so I don’t have a snack because my almonds are off limits. Oh, well, lunch is coming up soon and maybe I’ll lose weight this week!

Comments and observations

Joan: I traded in the canned tuna (from last year’s challenge menu) for the OJ but I will be happier with these selections. I may not be full but I like what I chose. Choice is important and I learned to give up something (such as my favorite vine tomatoes to get something else  – roma tomatoes). And I love my cheese sticks.

Sharon: As my coworkers and some of our warehouse volunteers know I have a  wooden sign over my desk that says “I Drink Coffee For Your Protection”. Coffee however, especially that non fat latté that I would really like to get on the way to work,  is another thing.  When you think about what our neighbors in the community give up every day my coffee is really not significant. I will be reminding myself of that all week.

Aaron: 2.99 Ranch Market at Park and Shop in Concord is a great place to shop if you are on a budget and still want fresh and top quailty food and produce. Buyer beware that it is predominantly an Asian grocery store but they do carry things you find in Safeway. I found some “Salmon scraps” for $1.99 pound.  It certainly is not for everyone. It has bones, fins and skin and about 20% meat if you are lucky. I sauteed it with some garlic and it was tasty beyond expectations, not to mention the overabundance of omega 3 oil.  I had salmon bones sticking out of my mouth. It was quite a sight. Seriously, many cultures don’t consume fish in the form of filet. We are simply too pampered here.

I had the luxury of prorating what I had in the pantry. If I started out with nothing but $4.72, I am sure it would have been tougher. Also, we all have items such as cooking oil, spices and dressings etc. that are not part of the budget of $4.72.

I love food and doing this is not naturally high on my priorities. On the bright side, one can think of this as joining Jenny Craig at no cost for a week! What a deal!

Rachel: Planning our shopping took a lot of extra thought. I carefully pre-shopped in the weeks before the Challenge, writing down the costs of various items I would otherwise just toss in the cart. The excitement of a sale was heightened. While Nelda and I (my Mom and Challenge partner) shopped Saturday for a party, she grabbed a box of mission figs ($3.99). As she went to put it in the cart I said, “If you aren’t going to eat those all tomorrow, we can’t afford it this week.” Our Monday- Friday budget had been planned with little wiggle room. The look of disappointment on her face was mixed with the realization of how serious food insecurity can be to a family. I imagined the way it must feel for a parent to tell their child no, even to something healthy, and worry about where their food would come from if the money ran out mid week. I am hungry and distracted as I write this, but I know it is over when I wake up Saturday. Living with daily hunger challenges is something no one should have to go through.

Lauren: I prepared for this week like I prepare for any other week – checking grocery store ads, making a tentative menu and grocery list. I say tentative menu because I am always open to a surprise bargain. Usually I develop a menu for the week based in part on the advertised specials and partly on what I already have on hand. I’m a frugal shopper. I buy staples on sale as well as meat that can go in the freezer. We eat seasonally and take advantage of lower prices when produce is at its’ peak. We also have a vegetable garden, grow fresh herbs, and have quite a few dwarf and semi-dwarf fruit trees (lemon, oranges, grapefruit, peach, apples). Planning this week was a little different, however, since I am not relying on anything I have in stock other than condiments, although I am supplementing our menu with garden produce, specifically – zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes – the wax and green beans aren’t cooperating.

Heidi: I am admittedly going into this challenge with a little bit of guilt– this is something I should be doing all the time anyway.  I should be doing this anyway because I am an AmeriCorps VISTA and the way the VISTA program works is that instead of a salary, we get a living allowance (or stipend) which makes us eligible for CalFresh (food stamps) and other food assistance programs.  Since AmeriCorps VISTA is a program that focuses on issues of poverty, the idea is that VISTA members should gain perspective from having to deal with some of the same issues of balancing tight budgets that our clients and communities struggle with daily.

I have applied for CalFresh, I have used food assistance from The Food Bank, and I have spent a lot of time thinking (and worrying) about what I can afford to eat…but sometimes I stray due to some of the same issues I feel many people have with eating affordably and healthfully, whether they are low-income or not.

Being healthy on a budget requires me to do a LOT of planning and cooking.  Food often has to be purchased in bulk and meals have to be planned in advance since buying smaller amounts or prepared meals tend to be more expensive.  It’s often hard to find the time and energy to approach food in this manner.  It can be enticing to have that instant gratification of buying prepared food or going out to eat, which results in spending too much money, (even if it’s fast food!).   Sometimes, excessive frugality and planning can start to make feeding myself feel more like a chore and a burden than a fun activity.  The way I help fight this (and my approach to this week) is to not only plan meals in advance but also to make them in advance.  Nothing is worse for me than the times I wait until my stomach is growling before I begin cooking a meal.  Feeling impatient about how long the meal will take to cook, I turn to snacking and can end up eating more than I had originally intended by the time the meal is ready.

Although I’m tempted to buy Ramen, my goal is to use the spending restrictions this week as a way to also make me eat healthier, including organic and farmers’ market food when I can.  What I am doing today is preparing several meals at once and storing them in Tupperware containers.  This cuts down on some of the stress and unintended snacking and also helps me to ration out my food better so I don’t eat through it too quickly!

*Lauren’s husband Steve – also a Food Bank employee – is taking the challenge as well.

Hunger Challenge: Can you live on $4.72 per day?

Join Food Bank staff and volunteers as they take the Hunger Challenge to eat on $4.72 per day for five days – the average amount an individual receives in CalFresh (Food Stamp) benefits per day in California. It’s not too late to join! Try it for the rest of the week or event just a day! It’s an exercise in empathy to live in someone else’s shoes. By raising awareness of the barriers to access nutritious food on a CalFresh budget, we hope to mobilize the community to work with us to end hunger.

You can find the “rules” here: /events/hunger-action-month/hunger-challenge.html. Share your stories and challenges on our Hunger Challenge Facebook Group and encourage others to take part as well.

Lauren, a Food Bank staff member, is taking the challenge and has this to say about the first day: “I prepared for this week like I prepare for any other week – checking grocery store ads, making a tentative menu and grocery list. I say tentative menu because I am always open to a surprise bargain. Usually I develop a menu for the week based in part on the advertised specials and partly on what I already have on hand. I’m a frugal shopper. I buy staples on sale as well as meat that can go in the freezer. We eat seasonally and take advantage of lower prices when produce is at its’ peak…”

Lauren continues, “Day #1 is under way and I’m a little hungry because I only had one piece of toast and it isn’t as filling as a serving of high-fiber cereal. I forgot to bring yogurt so I don’t have a snack.”

Read more about Lauren’s experiences and the experiences of other staff and volunteers on our facebook page: www.facebook.com/foodbankcss.

The Hunger Challenge Begins Next Week!

Attention All you Hunger Challengers: Set your $23.60 aside and go shopping this weekend! It might help to pre-plan and write out your menu for the week using the Shopping Log that way you get an idea of how far your weekly allowance will last. Planning ahead will help you to focus on buying foods that you can see yourself eating for a five day challenge and that can also be pared together to make a balanced meal.

The biggest mistake that I made last year was thinking that I would eat carrots every day for a snack. I didn’t care how inexpensive and good for you they were; by the end of the second day I had no desire to eat them again every day for the rest of the week. In preparing my shopping list I can see that it’s going to be the same ol’ things day after day, not a whole lot of excitement for my menu unfortunately.

The Hunger Challenge will take place Monday, September 12th – Friday, September 16th and will give you a feel for how a person receiving CalFresh Benefits (formerly the Food Stamp Program) would deal with daily eating on a budget of about $4 a day. Share your stories and challenges on our Hunger Challenge Facebook Group.

Week Long Hunger Challenge Continues

Guest post by Assemblymember Yamada: Planned ahead to brew coffee last night, setting the pot up so I could just hit the “on” button this morning.  What’s important to note is that the cost of coffee filters, and even the electricity and water necessary to brew my most important beverage isn’t calculated into the weekly challenge.

For lunch today, I made a tuna sandwich from leftover salad from Wednesday night’s dinner, and decided to stretch my remaining cup of yogurt and one banana into two portions to last for two days, so  I will have a blueberry-banana yogurt for today and Friday.

We have received interesting news coverage over the course of the week. A popular Davis Enterprise columnist has written about the challenge for the past two years; he believes that by shopping at Costco, with the average monthly maximum benefit for a family of six ($952) in Yolo County, his food dollars could be stretched.  The good news is that Costco now does accept EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer); the not-as-good-news for low-income families is that a Costco annual membership is $45.  Further, the poor, the elderly and people with disabilities face barriers to transportation, and are less likely to be able to negotiate the bulk-size commodities that Costco sells.  However, if a “food shopping club” could be organized, something that I helped put together years ago for a group of seniors living in one apartment complex, the benefits of cooperative purchasing could actually help.

Our local columnist also suggests that he would spend his $4.44 on dollar cheeseburgers.  If he accepted my challenge, how he chooses to spend his benefit would be entirely up to him.  But choosing the fast food option highlights one of the main issues with food assistance—that fresh and healthy food choices are largely out-of-reach for low-income individuals and they often have poorer health outcomes as a result.

Haven’t thought ahead to dinner tonight, as I will be spending time at a Sacramento phone bank in support of a 2011 state budget that includes a revenue extension.

Friday, I will be visiting an elementary school in Fairfield, responding to several 5th and 6th graders who wrote to our office about the cuts to education.  These students will soon be on summer vacation; those who rely upon free- or reduced-price breakfast and lunch during the school year may also have access to a summer nutrition program:  http://frac.org/pdf/summer_2011/summer_report_2011_ca.pdf

Final thoughts coming tomorrow.