Originally posted on the Vacaville Reporter: During Hunger Action Month every September the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano joins with people throughout the country to take action to end hunger. We are working to create a movement that will no longer accept hunger in a society as rich as ours. Part of this effort is helping people understand why their neighbors are hungry and what we can do to make a difference. For someone who has been doing this work as long as I have, this is an opportunity to step back from what we do every day and look at why we do what we do.
As part of Hunger Action Month, I have spent this week living on food I bought with the average CalFresh (Food Stamp) allotment. For this working week, I took my $22.50 ($4.50 per day) and bought what I needed to get by. A box of store-brand Toasty O cereal was just over two dollars. Enough yogurt for five lunches was a little over three dollars and I bought bananas to put in the yogurt (bananas are a lot cheaper than strawberries). For dinner, spaghetti was on sale for 99 cents and pasta sauce was $2.99. I also bought lettuce, cucumber and a pepper to make a salad my dinner. I also bought six eggs for $1.75. A couple ears of corn were pretty cheap, and I was set.
This effort reminded me that living on a low-cost diet can be done, but it takes planning and sacrifice. I had to make compromises because I really would have preferred strawberries, but I had two pasta dinners with half an ear of corn and two salad dinners with corn as well. Scrambled eggs were my fifth meal. Even though my meal selection was deadly boring, I got through a week living on a CalFresh diet, getting a glimpse of what life is like for those who need assistance. It helped me understand the situation faced by those who do not have the money they need to get the food they need. Making difficult decisions about where your limited resources go becomes a constant concern for people with low incomes.
Emotionally, it was a strange feeling when the week came to an end. Rather than feeling proud of myself, I felt as if I had been a bit condescending. I had only “sampled” being poor, not lived that life. I lived the CalFresh diet one week, not for months at a time. I only had my food needs to worry about, not those of my children. I didn’t have any car problems, medical issues or other problems pull money away from me. I pretended to be poor in one small way for five days, and on Saturday, I could take my credit card and go out to a dinner at any restaurant I wanted. Living on a very limited food budget for the long term is much more serious than boring meals. People make hard choices every day between buying food or paying the rent, utilities or putting gas in the car to get to work. These benefits and help from the Food Bank allow a little relief to those hard decisions.
To try the Hunger Challenge for yourself, visit www.foodbankccs.org/hungerchallenge.