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Day 4 of the Hunger Challenge

Guest post by Assemblymember Yamada: Last night’s meal of stir-fried turkey with black beans and green beans over noodles was a combination borne out of “ingredient necessity”.  Not the tastiest, but filling.

Today is Wednesday and I am “mid-week” with the Hunger Challenge.  I am pleased to learn that there is a staffer in the building who has also joined me for today.  I invited her to send her thoughts to the blog.

During a noon-talk that I gave to the Executive Fellows, several were incredulous that I was participating in this activity, asking me, “How do you do that?” (live on $4.44 a day for food).  I replied that this brief exercise required planning, budgeting, and restraint, and that 2.5 million Californians are facing this every day.

Having left home in a rush this morning, I microwaved leftover coffee from Tuesday and filled my thermos about a third-full.  I grabbed a whole banana, a yogurt (only one remaining from the 4-pk), and a slice of 12-grain bread.  After a full day phone calls, events, presentations, speeches, and preparations for next week’s Senate committee hearings, I do feel hungry and am thinking ahead as to what I will put together for dinner tonight.  Perhaps my can of chicken corn chowder, a lettuce and tomato salad, and toast is on the evening horizon.  I couldn’t imagine if, after a long and exhausting day like this one, I would then have to travel long distances to obtain any fresh food to prepare for a meal, as many who live in “food deserts” across the state must do every day or week.  A few bills in the Legislature address this issue, including  Speaker Perez’s AB 581 which creates the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative to help expand access to healthy foods in underserved communities.  Through our work in the Legislature, I hope we can minimize the burden on these communities with limited nutritious food options.

The Hunger Challenge continues for Assemblymember Yamada

Guest post by Assemblymember Yamada: When I returned from the single-payer, universal healthcare forum in Woodland about 10 p.m. on Monday evening, I was feeling a little hungry.   I had last eaten about 4 p.m. (a turkey-burger with lettuce and tomato).  I decided to make a package of ramen noodles, adding a handful of fresh green beans and about a quarter of the tofu block.  I used very little of the high-sodium content seasoning packet (not healthy).

Looking through my mail, I noticed a number of fast-food ads for chicken and pizza, hamburgers and burritos.  On a $4.44 daily budget, chicken and pizza were not an option; hamburgers and burritos were somewhat more affordable, but if I had chosen to do a “fast food day”, such a purchase would have only covered one or two of my daily meals.  As I settled into my home office chair, I noticed the number of online ads from restaurants whose menu items were out-of-reach.  What occurred to me is that food ads are all around, but for millions of Californians, going out to eat is unaffordable.

Tuesday – Caucus Day

I skipped breakfast, as I customarily do, and drank half-a-thermos of home-brewed coffee this morning.

Tuesdays at noon, the Members of the Legislature gather for their respective weekly noon caucuses, at which lunch is provided (again, Members pay a monthly fee for this privilege).  This is my third year participating in the Food Stamp Challenge as a state legislator, but still taking one’s modest lunch into caucus requires some humor.  News of the 2011 Hunger Challenge had published in what is known as the “Capitol Morning Report”, a must-read subscription news compilation of all that’s happening in and outside the Capitol, so news of my challenge had “filtered out”.

A few members asked me, “How are you doing?”   One committed to joining me next year.  What I brought for lunch was a half-turkey sandwich, lettuce and tomato salad, and a blueberry yogurt.  As a confirmed dessert-fiend, I looked longingly at the trays of rich brownie treats that was put out for the members, but remained disciplined and did not succumb to the sugary temptation!

After an afternoon of meetings, media interviews, and review and editing of various letters and bill communications, I will be heading to an evening reception at which there will once again be an abundance of food.  I will pay my respects and then leave for home and prepare a stir-fry turkey dish with black beans and noodles.

More Wednesday!

Food Stamp Challenge: Day Five

Read about Food Bank staff experiences on the final day of the challenge below.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator. Now I know why children fall asleep in school! No, I didn’t fall asleep at work but when I had to go deliver some barrels to the Walnut Festival, I found I was weaker than normal just carrying 2 empty barrels up a little hill. Maybe a little light headed too. Well my cereal made it for 5 days, no more bananas, I can’t stand peanut butter, and I can hardly wait for the tuna sandwich for dinner tonight. This whole experience does remind me of the man who stopped by the Food Bank about a year or so ago. He came in and said he had a jar of peanut butter but nothing to put it on. No bread no nothing. How happy I am that I have bread – in fact I would rather have bread than peanut butter. He was so happy when a staff member took care of him with several loaves of bread. Here was a man in his fifties, who lost his job and was just mowing lawns to keep his truck and a roof over his head. I will always remember how happy he was to receive the bread. Something so simple and something I always have in my freezer. I think we should all take this challenge several times a year to remind us of how fortunate we are.

Caitlin Sly; Farm 2 Kids Coordinator. Breakfast and lunch have been practically the same as they have been all week and I’m so glad this is the last day.  I cannot take any more of this instant coffee and puffy Honey Corn O’s.  I miss my espresso and Raisin Bran.  Last night was beans, rice, and tortillas again.  Tonight’s dinner will definitely be the most difficult as I am having pasta with tomato sauce and frozen peas for the third time this week.  Friday night is usually a time when I either cook at home or go out with friends, but not with this budget.

I find myself thinking about food quite often.  Not so much because I’m hungry, just that I am constantly planning and figuring out future meals.  It has been a bit stressful.  I can only imagine what it would be like if I had these same worries about all of my other bills, as I imagine most Food Stamp recipients do.  The constant stress about food, rent, clothes, gas, etc. would really take a toll rather quickly.

The phrase “I feel like some…” is not in my vocabulary.  No extras, no treats.  The closest I am going to get to a salty snack is tuna on toast.  It is frustrating to not be able to stop and have some nuts as a snack or some popcorn with a movie.  Or if I see an Odwalla juice at the gas station that looks particularly enticing, I cannot partake.  It is difficult not to be able to satisfy small cravings.

When I do have a craving (be it for vegetables or candy) I end up eating something else in its place that I have in my budget.  This has taken the pleasure out of eating.  This week, food has felt like a pure necessity, not something to be enjoyed or savored.  The enjoyment of food is definitely the main thing I miss.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager. So today is the last of the Food Stamp Challenge and here is my menu for today based on the food items that I have left. Today I get to splurge because I will be able to have two cups of decaf coffee (there were 6 individual servings in the box that I bought).

Breakfast Lunch Dinner Snacks
1 sm apple2 TBS PB

2 C instant coffee

4 oz milk

3 C Whole wheat pasta, 1 cooked carrot, 4oz  broccoli,2 oz cheddar chz Broccoli w/ cheeseTwo pieces of toast

1C Granola w/ 4 oz milk after dinner

PB sandwich

Veronica's favorite challenge dish. Lentils, w/ two eggs, cheddar cheese and 2 pieces of toast

To summarize my FSC experience I would say that it is definitely possible for one person to live off of $4/day, but is meal time going to be an enjoyable experience, probably not.  There was plenty of food to eat, in fact many of the food items that I bought will carry over into following weeks. What I did not have a budget for was the convenience foods and extras that we all take for granted. So, powerbars, organic cocoa to go with my organic fair trade Trader Joes coffee, unlimited tea supply, a variety of fresh vegetables and prepared meals for example were all out of the picture. I never went hungry, often times I didn’t even have an appetite knowing what my choices for food where. It’s tough going from choice and variety in food to very little but had I taken this experiment further say for a whole month I would have been able to take advantage of rolling over foods from previous weeks to add to my small pantry of food items. The key to success is planning ahead so that you can create a menu, as much as possible from whole unprocessed foods and again no convenience foods.

Don McCall, Grants Coordinator. Hunger only comes sporadically, just like when I’m on a diet. I figured out how much I have been spending last night, and since I went shopping on Tuesday night my daily consumption has been $4.20 (Bananas, tea, yogurt, turkey pot pie, broccoli, shredded wheat and carrots). Fortunately I spent (and ate) less on the first two days ($1.76 & $2.83), which means I am on track to have almost $3 left over (unless I get tempted to a diet coke and some corn nuts today).  The $20 for 5 days is completely doable, and with more time I could make it a little healthier. The problem is that when I am doing this, I know that when it is over (tomorrow in this case) I can eat any quantity and quality of food that I want to. This is what gets me through when I go on a diet – I know that the weekend is coming and I can have a diet-free meal or two if I want to. People that don’t have enough money for food do not have this escape clause, which is what makes it bearable.

Patty McDowell, Community Outreach Coordinator. Knowing this incredibly strict Food Stamp Challenge is only lasting for 5 days makes it much easier. Realizing I will, once again, have the “luxury” of unlimited access to food causes me mixed emotions — increased gratefulness for what many take for granted, heightened sadness for our neighbors who are not so fortunate, and a stronger drive to help fight hunger and bring greater benefits to those in need. As noted by some of my “co-challengers”, I have found myself bored with repetitive meals and have missed having choices, variety, and the flexibility of eating out. Being keenly interested in food, nutrition, cooking, trying new ingredients/recipes, and watching the Food Network, it surprised me to experience some disinterest in these hobbies after just 4 days. It is not enjoyable watching cooking shows with hunger pangs, plus I started feeling discouraged knowing I could not make a spontaneous grocery store trip to purchase ingredients to “try” to duplicate a meal or dessert. Exercising on Day Four was really challenging for me, and feeling tired at work on Day Four and Day Five was frustrating. Last but not least, that avocado I was “saving” (because I love and crave avocados so much) ended up being bruised which was oh-so-sad. While this may seem minor to many, I realized how this could impact an individual living on a low-income with only $4/day in Food Stamps. Before this challenge, I would have a few more avocados to choose from. This challenge is an eye-opener.

Have you ever struggled with hunger or experienced living on Food Stamps? Let us know how about your challenges with hunger in the comments section below.

Food Stamp Challenge: Day Four

Food Bank staff are starting to feel the effects of the challenge. Read about their experiences below.

Larry Sly, Executive Director. So I didn’t eat dinner last night.  I had one of those “two meetings in a row” nights and when I was done at 9PM I decided I was more tired than hungry, especially when a bean burrito featuring only cheese as a garnish was what was available to me.  Having cantaloupe for breakfast was a welcome change from oatmeal, but the common theme to my meals is “boring”.  Doing this for a week is one thing, having it be a lifestyle would not be good.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator. I definitely have not been hungry today. I must say I am still loving my Life Cereal – must be the crunch factor that I need. I had to go to a few meetings today and everywhere I went there was a Starbucks and of course I have been to them all. Yes, I miss just stopping by for a quick snack/latte. Someone told me my Starbucks went out of business because I didn’t go this week – hardly true! I am sure they miss my daily cash donation. My stomach has not been growling – must be the bananas I keep eating or all of the water I am drinking. I have to work late so I called my husband to ask what he was having for dinner which he was chewing into the phone and yes, it was tasty and good smelling chicken. I told him I hated him and he said I would get over it come Saturday. I don’t know, he keeps threatening me with padlocks on the cabinets and a separate food stash just for me. For the future, I will have to remember that if I am bad, he will remind me of what I could be eating (peanut butter, tuna and repetitive food choices). Thank goodness he is supportive because evening grumpiness is not a good thing. I am dreaming of lattes on Saturday…

Caitlin Sly; Farm 2 Kids Coordinator. Last night was especially hard.  Guests during the Food Stamp Challenge are my worst nemesis.  My boyfriend came over and while I ate leftover pasta with tomato sauce he had some delicious looking supreme pizza.  He kept trying to tempt me into having “just a bite” and claiming he “won’t tell anyone.”  My strategy was to eat the pasta as fast as I could so that I would be full and no longer crave the pizza.  It worked, but it was very difficult and not enjoyable in the least.  Last night I pre-chopped a honeydew melon for my next two lunches and stored it in the fridge so I would be able to go quickly in the morning.  I awoke to find that a third of the melon was gone because he had woken up in the middle of the night, wanting a sweet snack.  Great…looks like my lunches will be a tad smaller than I planned.  Lesson learned – you can’t share with friends when you are on such a tight budget.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager. Not hungry this morning, unlike yesterday where I was hungry because I had no desire to eat what I had chosen for dinner. But I had a pretty hearty dinner last night; 1C Lentils with 1 cooked carrot, 1 oz cheddar cheese and two eggs with 2 pieces of toast. Then I had about ½ C granola w/ 2oz milk for dessert. Not looking forward to lunch however, it’s leftovers from last night’s dinner. I’ll have my whole wheat rotini for dinner tonight with sugar pasta sauce. I’m sure by the end of tomorrow I will have consumed all of the allotted apples, milk, cheese, eggs, tuna, coffee, broccoli, lentils and cereal.

Don McCall, Grants Coordinator. Bananas for breakfast again. I had Yogurt and Shredded Wheat for lunch yesterday and will have the same today and tomorrow. Dinner last night was a turkey pot pie and some micro-waved broccoli with some more shredded wheat as a snack. I have realized that this diet is very similar to the diet I put myself on when I am eating good food, so I am used to the lack of variety and it doesn’t bother me that much. I am doing well on my remaining food and may be able to splurge a dollar or two for some diet cokes. I almost threw out my tea bag after the first use. At 20¢ a shot, a new bag every time is a luxury that I can’t afford.  The worst part is all of the snack food around the office and warehouse lunch rooms. The other day a caterer brought in some salmon, salad and cookies  for lunch. Cookies, candy, peanuts all over the place – a real challenge for an impulse eater like myself. I have to go to a reception tonight, so there will be many temptations for me to ignore.

Patty McDowell, Community Outreach Coordinator. The last 24 hours have definitely been hungry hours for me. I was missing fresh vegetables so much yesterday that I worked out a “trade” with myself.  I cashed in ½ of my milk plus one can of beans in order to account for some fresh broccoli and another tomato to go along with my Day Three dinner of baked potato and Ceasar salad (minus the parmesan cheese and croutons). I hope this does not mean I am a rule breaker! My learning is: more time needed for meal planning and shopping list creation. As I type this update, my stomach is growling and I feel low energy. Two unusual happenings for me on this Food Stamp Challenge were that I caught myself eating bread crust on my PB&J sandwich yesterday which I absolutely hate (and typically discard), and then this morning I (subconsciously) ate my apple so thoroughly that I hit the core.  This $4 a day is definitely a challenge!

Have you ever struggled with hunger or experienced living on Food Stamps? Let us know how about your challenges with hunger in the comments section below.

Food Stamp Challenge: Day Three

How does it feel to know you only have a limited amount of food to eat today or you might not have enough food in your house to last the week and you know you don’t have money to buy more? That is how are staff are starting to feel on this the third day of living on a food budget equal to what a food stamp recipient would receive. Read about their experiences below.

Larry Sly, Executive Director. The weird part for me was how excited I was when I realized I had the cantaloupe I bought that can serve as breakfast the next two days.  I like oatmeal, but three days in a row is plenty.

I’m also going to have an interesting night because I am going from meeting to meeting and have very little time to have food in between my obligations.  I do not have the option of picking up a light meal (sandwich, other takeout food) so will need to wait until 9 for dinner.  This diet allows no flexibility.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator. I never knew tuna (without mayo) could taste so good. This was my dinner (on toasted wheat bread) last night with a glass of milk and a glass of OJ later. During the day I ate two slices of wheat bread – was already tired of peanut butter – had a banana and dry cereal (Life cereal is actually pretty good). When I was out driving around I saw a deli I actually thought of stopping at and then remembered I didn’t have any money. Even going by a Starbucks (actually many Starbucks) and realizing that you can no longer just stop and buy something when you want to is quite a change. It gives you a better perspective on how lucky we are to be able to do that. I don’t feel hungry, maybe just not food satisfied. I haven’t even missed Cheez-Its yet.

Caitlin Sly; Farm 2 Kids Coordinator. Last night’s dinner was pinto beans, brown rice, and three tortillas.  I also had some frozen peas to add some vegetables.  Luckily hot sauce is a condiment because that added some flavor to the dish.  The rice took long to cook because I was using a rice cooker I had never used before.  Normally, I would make something else and save the rice for another day, but I really didn’t feel like repeating the pasta from last night and I didn’t have another choice, so I had to wait until 9:30pm for the rice to finish cooking.  My lunch has been consistent:  apple, yogurt, carrots.  So far my experience has been that I am pretty bored with the food that is available – it is a lot of repetition.

The main thing I have noticed is a lack of choice.  I have the money to buy enough food just without a whole lot of variety.  It seems I can eat some of the same things but not the brands or flavors I prefer.  The pasta sauce I chose was something I would never eat normally but it was on sale.  The yogurt was a brand and flavor that I’m not especially fond of, but it was half the price of my normal brand.  As far as fresh fruits and vegetables, I am limited to what is on sale.  While I may not feel like carrots, there was a huge bag for 99 cents so I had to go for it.  There were two types of melon available and while I would normally go for the watermelon, the honeydew was $2 cheaper.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager. No more tuna, I’m done with canned tuna, what was I thinking there is no way I could eat 4 cans of tuna a week (is that even healthy???). I have had tuna sandwiches for two nights now and I don’t think that I can stomach another tuna fish sandwich for dinner. I have to rethink my menu and make some adjustments. Yesterday ‘s menu consisted of coffee with milk, a PB sandwich for breakfast then an egg salad sandwich for lunch,  lentils w/ carrots and tuna fish sandwich for dinner. I did wake up at 3am however to a growling tummy.

Today my breakfast was an apple w/ PB, instant coffee with milk, then pasta with sugar, I mean pasta sauce with broccoli and I have to cheat here. There was about half a cup of eggplant in my fridge that I wanted to use so it didn’t go to waste so I threw that in w/ the pasta. I’m not sure what I’ll do tonight… stay tuned

Don McCall, Grants Coordinator. I finally went food shopping last night. First I went to the 99¢ store (never been there before, and I discovered that most of the items actually cost 99.999¢, which they round up to $1).  I purchased 2 pounds of carrots for $1 ($2 sale price at Safeway), and 1 pound of broccoli. They didn’t have any yogurt and all of the bananas were way too green. Went to Safeway and got 6 bananas, 2 four packs of yogurt and since my favorite cereal was on sale (Post Shredded Wheat with Bran) I pickup up a box of that also. Found microwavable frozen turkey pot pies on sale for 89¢ each, so I got four of them.

Had a pot pie for dinner and snacked on some cereal. I was not hungry this morning until after I ate my first banana.

Patty McDowell, Community Outreach Coordinator. PB&J for my Day Two lunch after having the same thing for my Day One dinner was not great, but I devoured this much earlier than my usual lunch time. Being hungrier than usual at the end of my work day caused me to feel unmotivated to venture to yoga (which is what I like to do on Tuesday evenings). However, I “made it” through although I noticed I had lower energy than usual because of my empty stomach. I felt better after my Day Two dinner of 2 soft tacos with ½ can of beans, 2 oz of cheddar cheese, ½ tomato, romaine lettuce, sour cream (this is a condiment, right?), and hot sauce. I really wanted to use my “one avocado” but decided to save this. (I could only afford one avocado with the $4 per day challenge.)

To prepare for Day Three, I roasted chicken breasts so that I could make chicken salad. While I prefer “boneless” chicken (I was a vegetarian for 10+ years and do not like dealing with deboning chicken) and usually chicken breasts (for health purposes), I used bone-in/skin-on chicken thighs since these were less expensive. It was REALLY HARD to not dive into the chicken as I was preparing the chicken salad, but I stayed true to the challenge. Waking on Day Three with hunger pangs started me thinking about food which seems to be continuing all day. Eating 2 hard-boiled eggs and a piece of whole wheat toast for my Day Three breakfast started me on a good foot, but again I ended up eating my lunch earlier than usual. I am looking forward to having some vegetables with my dinner… something I wish I could have bought more of with the $20 for this 5 day Food Stamp Challenge.

There is still time to be a part of the challenge! Visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth for more information on how to get started. Let us know how the challenge is going for you in the comments section below.

Food Stamp Challenge: Day Two

Day two of the Food Stamp Challenge for several Food Bank staff members. They are struggling with not being able to have coffee (or the quality they are used to), the lack of ‘extras’ and being tempted with free food in the office (not part of the rules of the challenge). Is anyone else participating? What are you finding to be most difficult?

Larry Sly, Executive Director. I generally have a pretty repetitive diet anyway, so a second morning of oatmeal and bringing along my yogurt and carrot for lunch is not much different than normal.  I had Cesar salad last night, but had not purchased parmesan cheese for the salad since it didn’t fit in my budget.  My girlfriend is convinced I do not get enough protein since I am a quasi-vegetarian, but I didn’t have the “there was cheese in the salad” rationale.  Sticking to this diet also means I couldn’t accept an invitation to a salmon dinner last night.  The drawbacks are becoming more obvious.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator. I liked my food for day one. I ate nutritiously including milk, oj, fruit, peanut butter, wheat bread – hmm – no vegetables though. For dinner I had 1.5 peanut butter sandwiches and a glass of milk (it was actually 2 sandwiches but I couldn’t eat all of the 2nd one). The for a snack it was a glass of oj and an apple. My husband had chicken so I left the house but when I came back I could still smell it. I guess that is what I miss most is the smell of things and it has only been a day. Yes, I miss my coffee terribly. Hopefully I won’t be grumpy this week – my husband is supportive and when I asked to trade an apple for some wheat thins, he threatened to padlock the cupboards. He knows I want to succeed at this. Anyway on to day two!

Caitlin Sly; Farm 2 Kids Coordinator. Today has been better so far because I was actually able to do some planned shopping yesterday.  I found some “Honey Oat O’s” at the dollar store and that was sufficient for breakfast with my not-so-delicious instant coffee.  I was able to find some good deals at Grocery Outlet and had a dinner of rainbow pasta with tomato sauce and a bowl of frozen peas.  So far, I am not hungry, but I miss the extras I would usually add – parmesan cheese, mushrooms, onions, etc.

 

The results of Veronica's shopping trip.

The results of Veronica's shopping trip.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager. My shopping experience took a lot more effort than I am used to. I had to go to 3 stores to get what I wanted at the lowest price possible (FoodMax, Trader Joes and 99¢ Store) however I had to make some sacrifices. The whole wheat bread that could afford was made it high fructose corn syrup. Normally I purchase Organic whole wheat bread and organic milk from COSTCO. On a positive note, there really is no room for junk food, most of everything that I bought is in its whole natural form with minimal processing (ok, maybe not the instant coffee). Pictured right is the food I bought.

Feeling good this morning, I have had my coffee, with 4 oz of milk, two pieces of bread with two TBs of PB for breakfast. Dinner was not a happy time for me, unfortunately. I was not please to find out that sugar ( corn syrup) was the second ingredient in my 99¢ Del Monte pasta sauce that I had with the whole wheat rotini. My frozen broccoli spears were not as appetizing as my usual TJ’s purchase, (the brown spots were kind of a turn off). Unfortunately I was not  paying attention when I went food shopping, I made the wrong choice in buying  tuna, I bought tuna in oil which I am not used to and did not sit well with me last night. So thus far I have learned that even though you may be able to find many food items for cheap you will pay in the form of quality. And of course today is the day there is free food in the office!

Don McCall, Grants Coordinator. I am taking the challenge by not drastically changing the bad eating habits that I usually follow: I don’t like to cook much, and don’t very often make anything that takes too much time. I don’t plan ahead and eat whatever is convenient, sometimes healthy, sometimes not.

I haven’t been to the market yet… On Monday I had a banana, yogurt and a cup of tea for breakfast. I had the last 1/3 jar of peanut butter (4oz.) for dinner.  On Tuesday – so far I got two bananas at 7-11 on the way to work. 2 for $1. It would have been cheaper at the supermarket. I am drinking tap water for the first time in a long while.

Patty McDowell, Community Outreach Coordinator. I started Day One with oatmeal and an apple which was not bad, but a cup of instant coffee just isn’t the same as a double soy cappuccino from Peet’s Coffee. After having chicken noodle soup (to help heal my sore throat), I ventured to the grocery store to do my Food Stamp Challenge shopping trip. Typically I shop at TJ’s, Whole Foods and the Farmer’s Market, but for the challenge I chose one store: Safeway and intentionally only took $20 cash ($4 a day for 5 days which is only $1.33 a meal not accounting for snacks).

Even though I arrived at Safeway with a shopping list, I found myself spending more time evaluating what to buy than usual. For example, while I only wanted one can of whole pinto beans for burritos, it made more sense to buy 2 cans of vegetarian refried beans because not only were these 2 cans less expensive than 1 can of whole pinto beans, but I scored a package of 10 flour tortillas for free!  When I got to the check-out, I was surprised to learn my total was $22.05 which required me to return one yogurt (60 cents) and tomato sauce ($1.00) and one apple (59 cents). With a $19.86 grand total, I only have 14 cents to spare! The most memorable thing that happened during my Day One was having a customer get impatient because I had to return a few items to bring my total below the $20 cash that I had in hand.

After that experience, eating a PB&J sandwich and a banana for dinner felt easy for me. Day Two started with my stomach rumbling. Adding a banana to my oatmeal and apple breakfast helped me make it through a few hours of work before breaking out my carrots earlier than planned. I am determined to make it through this challenge!

There is still time to be a part of the challenge! Visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth for more information on how to get started. Let us know how the challenge is going for you in the comments section below.

Food Stamp Challenge: Day One

Today is the first day of the Food Stamp Challenge. We challenged all of you to live on a food budget of $4.00 a day – the average a food stamp recipient receives –for five days. Six people on staff at the Food Bank decide to take the challenge and share their experiences with you. Here is what some of them had to say this first morning of the challenge.

Larry Sly, Executive Director. I had a good breakfast of a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee, so I’m feeling pretty good.  Not exactly a time to gloat since I’m only hours into the challenge and I’m pretty sure I will be tired of oatmeal by Friday.

Shopping with my $20 yesterday was educational.  I went to the Farmer’s Market, to Trader Joe’s and to Whole Foods.  I normally don’t pay attention to food costs, but I had a friend with me who is quite cost and health conscious, so I learned a lot.  I made the decision to indulge in coffee, but I had to drop strawberries and avocado from my diet.  Corn tortillas will be my main grain product.  My fresh fruits and vegetables consist of blueberries (a few in my cereal and yogurt), a $1 discounted cantaloupe from the Farmer’s Market and romaine lettuce that will make me two Cesar salad dinners.  Any thought of buying organic food went away quickly; that extra 20 to 40 cents makes the purchase impossible.

I still have 94 cents left for a spontaneous purchase.

Joan Tomasini, Food Drive Coordinator. I was very pleased shopping when the cash register total came to $19.77. I feel that I stayed true to my likes: nonfat milk (I did pay 50 cents more for the brand I liked but chose to make that sacrifice), OJ, tuna, apples, whole wheat bread. But this is going to be a boring menu. So I decided to make my menu a bit different. I volunteer at some soup kitchens in San Francisco and often hear of people who live in a single room with no kitchen so I wanted to experience what they do so everything I am going to eat is without cooking.  Must say this will also make me eat 3 regular meals a day so I can spread out my food. Should be an adventure…

Caitlin Sly; Farm 2 Kids Coordinator. So far I have had only a cup of the coffee I bought from the dollar store.  I missed breakfast today but am going to see if I can get back to the dollar store and find any cereal.  So far, I am really looking forward to lunch and it is only 9:40am.  I have not had time to do extensive shopping so I plan on having a can of black beans for lunch and then do my shopping for the week after work today.

Veronica Wimer, Purchasing Manager. My tummy started growling at 8:40 and stopped at 9am when I had my breakfast of: 1 oz instant coffee, 3 oz milk, and one carrot.

I will not be repeating this menu tomorrow. The combination of coffee and carrot, both which have a negative effect on blood sugar, started my stomach rumbling at 11am, but I had to wait until noon to eat my 1 ½ C lentils and 1 oz of cheddar cheese. Now I feel better. Snack time is at 3pm, one small apple and 2 TBS PB which is supposed to hold me until dinner : pasta, broccoli and egg salad sandwich.

Here is my breakdown, I’m under budget, I’ve got 50¢ to splurge on something…

Food Item Size Quantity Total Cost Daily Allotment
Whole Wheat Bread 1 loaf (15 slices) $            1.95 3 slices
Fuji apples small 6 $            2.49 1.2
Natural PB 16 oz 1 $            1.79 3.2 oz
Carrots ($1.04/ lb) bulk (.38 lb) 7 $            0.40 1.4
Low Fat Milk 32 oz 1 $            0.90 6.4 oz
Cheddar Cheese chunk 10.56 oz $            2.63 2.11 oz
XTRA Lg AA Eggs ($1.49/dz) dozen 10 individual $            1.20 2
Whole Wheat Rotini pasta 13.25 oz 1 $            1.08 2.65 oz dry
Pasta Sauce 28 oz 1 $            0.99 5.6 oz
Tuna, Chicken of the Sea Chk Lt 5oz 4 $            2.72 .80 can
Instant Coffee 1 oz packets 6 $            0.99 1
Frozen Broccoli 16 oz 1 $            1.49 3.2 oz
Lentils bulk ($.89/ lb) 0.98 lb $            0.87 3.2 oz  (dry)
Total $          19.50

There is still time to be a part of the challenge! Visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth for more information on how to get started. Let us know how the challenge is going for you in the comments section below.

Take the Food Stamp Challenge

The average amount a Californian receiving food stamps has to spend on meals is $4 a day. We challenge you to try it September 20 – 24. More than 35 million people in our country live on a food stamp budget – can you?

It can feel overwhelming to even know where to begin. On our Hunger Action Month website you will find the food stamp challenge rules, questionnaire, meal log, shopping log, and  grocery item comparison to help you during the challenge. Be sure to share your experiences and tips each day throughout your journey on our blog and/or facebook page.

Questions? Contact Veronica Wimer at vwimer@foodbankccs.org. And remember, it’s okay if you do not finish the week on the budget; we still want to hear from you!

Food Bank Salutes Mariko Yamada for Taking Challenge

At a time when stock prices are plunging, unemployment rates are soaring and many Americans are struggling with uncertainty regarding their economic futures; it’s encouraging to see elected officials like Assemblymember Mariko Yamada raising awareness about an issue that is affecting a steadily increasing number of Californians.

Assemblymember Yamada

Assemblymember Yamada (second from the left)

The Food Stamp Challenge is an opportunity to not only experience, first-hand, the budgeting constraints that millions of Californians face on a regular basis, but it’s also an opportunity to take stock of our individual eating and food-spending habits.  For instance, have you ever considered how much money you spend on food daily?  Weekly?  Annually?  How would you respond if you suddenly found yourself unable to enjoy or afford some of your favorite treats and dishes?

food stamps

Food stamps are no longer coupons like these. Benefits are now stored on an EBT card that looks just like an ATM card.

Assemblymember Yamada’s reflections of each day’s meals and activities give insight into the necessity of making smart decisions, and, oftentimes, difficult choices in the wake of severely limited resources.  We thank and salute Assemblymember Yamada for, once again, taking the Food Stamp Challenge!  We also want to thank our partners at the Yolo County Food Bank for working with Assemblymember Yamada on this project.  For more information about Assemblymember Yamada’s comments, see their blog at http://yolofoodbank.blogspot.com/.

Here, at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, staff members are joining Assemblymember Yamada by taking the challenge during the month of September.  September is Hunger Action Month, a month where the Food Bank asks everyone to take action in the fight against hunger.  Food Bank staffers are taking the Food Stamp Challenge from September 20-24.  Join us on September 25 for our Open House at our new warehouse in Fairfield where you can hear the experiences of those that took the challenge.  To learn more about the Food Stamp Challenge or more activities you can participate in for Hunger Action Month, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungeractionmonth.