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.