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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.

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!

Day Two of the Hunger Challenge for Assemblymember Yamada

Guest post by Assemblymember Yamada: Sunday evening, I divided the 1-lb ground turkey into thirds. I stir-fried 2/3rds and with the remaining 1/3, added the ends of my bread loaf as filler and cooked three turkey-burger patties.

Monday morning, I brewed a pot of coffee, filling a thermos to bring with me to work, rather than going to the Member’s Lounge where coffee is always available (Members do pay a monthly fee for this privilege). For today’s lunch, I brought a half-banana and a yogurt; for dinner before attending a speaking engagement on single-payer universal healthcare in Woodland, I will have a turkey-burger on wheat bread with lettuce and tomato.

With last Thursday’s release of the new USDA “ChooseMyPlate.gov”, I have tried to balance the food I have available with my day’s activities (Capitol visit with local elementary school children, Floor Session, and an evening speaking engagement). However, I do not think I reached 50% fresh fruits and vegetables today.

We have Assembly floor session today (Monday). I will be seeing my Hunger Challenge-mate, Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr., on the Floor in a few minutes, and will see how he is faring on Day 1.

Note: Read more about the Assemblymember’s reasons for taking the Hunger Challenge on her website.

Assemblymember Yamada Blogs About the Food Stamp Challenge

This is the first guest post from Assemblymember Yamada as she takes on the Hunger Challenge. She will be living on a food budget for one week equivalent to what the average CalFresh (Food Stamps) would be receiving in benefits. In California that average is $4 per day.

Assemblymember Yamada:

Day 1
After speaking at Davis Community Meals 3rd Annual “Hand in Hand” Fundraiser, I went to my local Safeway armed with the grocery ads and a calculator.

Here is what I bought for this year’s Hunger Challenge:

1 pound ground turkey – $3.99 (50% discount due to expiration date today)
1 extra firm Tofu Lite – $1.99
1 can chicken corn chowder soup – $1.29
1 can black beans – $0.79
1 can tuna – $0.99
1 4pk yogurt – $1.49
1 6pk Top Ramen – $0.89
1 loaf 12-grain bread – $2.49
1 red leaf lettuce – $0.79
3 bananas – $0.62
2 tomatoes – $0.52
1 pk fresh green beans – $2.00
1 can organic coffee – $3.49

13 items total = $21.34

What is different from previous years is that I found in-store coupon deals through which I could afford COFFEE.  Since this is my beverage of choice, and practically one of my five basic food groups, the week ahead should be a little easier for everyone around me.

Going to cook the ground turkey now because it expires tonight.

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.