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Hungry to finish the CalFresh Challenge

Originally posted in The Vacaville Reporter: As part of Hunger Action Month at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, I am now finishing my week of living on a CalFresh (formerly food stamp) budget.

I began living on $34.31 worth of groceries last Sunday, and am so looking forward to this coming Sunday, when every meal will no longer be a major decision in my life. For the people we serve, it is not a decision they can make as easily.

I learned from the CalFresh challenge that I am a terrible planner. I’m not good at grocery shopping anyway and am worse when I have to strictly pay attention to costs. Shopping on a budget is all about planning, so this was a challenge.

Couple that with a lack of imagination, and you have breakfast every day this week being a slice of toast and a piece of fruit. As part of the CalFresh Challenge, I agreed to not eat food served at events, to truly feel the limits of the budget. When I was the agency speaker at a United Way event with Wells Fargo leadership, I could have had a bagel and cream cheese with a nice plate of expensive fruit and, truly, if I were on food assistance, I would have.

Lunch has been yogurt, fruit, a carrot and a piece of cheese. Every day. Forget variety when the budget is tight.

Fried eggs with toasted bread was a filling Sunday night dinner. Bean burritos Monday night (with some greens). Chicken on Tuesday, with a salad. Home late from a meeting on Wednesday, so scrambled eggs (tortillas instead of bread). Black beans and toast on Thursday night because I had to hustle to an evening meeting.

So, my pattern seems to be lots of carbs and some protein. Good thing I’m getting fruit, because vegetables are not working into my limited cooking and food dollars.

I also wonder how a diet heavy on eggs and dairy products would work long-term, since I’m trying to limit cholesterol, but they are an affordable source of protein. I also realize that living on a CalFresh diet would require me to be more deliberate about grocery shopping. I’m sure I could find different options than the breakfast and lunch treadmill I am on, but it requires much more thought.

I am grateful to be able to stop making these tough food choices after a short week. I have gained empathy for the people who rely on CalFresh to help them access fresh, healthy food every month because, without it, many would go hungry.

If you are someone you know are in need of food assistance including CalFresh, please call the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano at 855-309-FOOD or visit us at www.foodbankccs.org/get-help.html.

The author is executive director of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, based in Concord.