If you go to this web page and leave a comment, Tyson Foods will donate 100 pounds of chicken and other protein-rich food to a Bay Area food bank – up to 200,000 pounds total. It all happened because of the Hunger Challenge. As of this post, there were more than 1,500 comments – that’s 150,000 pounds of food!
I saw the light at the end of the tunnel – and was shining on some dark chocolate, a wedge of triple-crème cheese and a good bottle of red wine. I’m on my final day of the Hunger Challenge, the final day of spending just $3 for all my food.
And to kick it up a notch today (yeah, try saying “Bam!” to a bowl of plain oatmeal for seven days, Emeril!), my husband and I were headed for Costco and Trader Joe’s, to do our shopping. But first I fortified myself with the usual breakfast: the bam-less oatmeal, a fake latte (milk+instant espresso) and my last pear. The pear was looking as battle-scarred as I felt. In fact, Paul tried to throw it out yesterday when he was rummaging through the fridge looking for good things that had gone bad during my week of ignoring the stuff I couldn’t eat.
That pear was still beautiful to me; as the only fruit I had all week, I’d cherished every single one of those aging $0.49/pound Bartletts. Hunger Challenger Lisa Barnes commented on this, too. She found herself eating things she normally would have tossed without a thought. Today I found a spot of mold on my little stump of oatmeal quick bread. No problem! I excised it and gobbled one of my last two slices. That bargain stew meat that was past its expiration date? Sure, it had been a little grey around the edges, but it made my best dish of the week.
Amazing how un-picky we become when we don’t have any choice. And on the plus side, there was very little waste this week. My compost bucket was nearly empty. Yes, that’s partially because there wasn’t much produce that I had to prep – and when I did, you can bet I took just a thin sliver off the bottom of my broccoli stalks, instead of lopping off the entire stem, per usual. I didn’t toss out the fat, woody end of the carrot, either; I chomped away at it and was glad to have every last bit to fill my belly.
Truth be told, we toss out stuff that has gone bad every week. The neglected bag of salad greens that turned to mush because at the grocery store, we didn’t stop to consider how few meals we’d be eating at home that week – we just reflex shopped. The apples that got shoved to the back of the produce drawer. The shallot that’s turned into a science project. We are stocked up on items that are standing by, ready to serve our food whims, as they are patiently rotting away.
It makes me feel good to know that San Francisco Food Bank takes in a lot of food that would otherwise go to waste – the surplus plums that have blemishes but taste just fine, the cottage cheese that’s got a few days of grace remaining after its expiration date. The food bank’s fresh rescue team visits some of the toniest grocery stores in town, coming back with cases of heirloom tomatoes that are looking a tad tired or organic basil that’s a bit peaked. It’s the kind of stuff I’d push aside as I pawed through a produce bin, but boy, would I have loved to have it this week.
I felt a real satisfaction in knowing I was actually eating everything I’d bought. In that spirit, I used the last of the spaghetti, my final two eggs and the lone remaining carrot for a spaghetti frittata (aka Hakuna Frittata) for lunch (I threw in two non-Challenge eggs and split the result with Paul). $0.59.
Then it was off to shop. I find the big-box store Costco overwhelming even when I haven’t been living on $3 a day, but today it was nightmarish. Demo people were hawking all sorts of foods, which seemed frightening and complex compared to what I’d been eating. Ravioli? I looked at it like a cave man contemplating fire for the first time. What being eats this strange and exotic food?
I picked up the smallest package of wild salmon in the refrigerator case. $14.45. That one item, which took 30 seconds to put in my cart, cost more than the six items I eventually picked out on my nail-biting 45-minute Safeway shopping trip last week.
The capper had to be after checking out, when we were waiting to push our cart onto the elevator. The beefy man in front of us had a pallet of 24 cupcakes slathered with frosting in his cart, which he maneuvered with one hand while he shoved a hotdog into his face with the other.
But at Trader Joe’s I reclaimed some serenity. I realized how comforting it is to pick up all the things that you’re used to. Organic arugula, organic bran muffins, Niman pork chops, organic milk, crusty pugliese bread. They were like old friends and I was happy to see them again. Oh, Plugra butter, I missed you so! Did you miss me?
It brought home again how arduous it is to bend your meals around buying only what’s on sale. There’s no groove, no pattern – only that desperation to get the most for the least.
Now comes confession time. I stuck religiously to the Challenge the entire week – until my last meal. We had promised to attend a potluck dinner, and I decided it would just be too uncool to take a plastic tub with my last piece of chicken and final florets of broccoli. Or to show up with nine servings of oatmeal as my contribution.
I made the appetizer I’d offered to provide – halved green figs from the farmers market, spread with a dab of soft blue cheese and wrapped with a band of prosciutto. I felt like the kitchen staff preparing for a society shindig.
And, after a week with no chocolate, I decided to whip up a batch of super-rich brownies to take along, too. I was even willing to share them!
My total for the day, counting my remaining dinner ingredients: $2.91. My grand total for the week: $17.81. With the ingredients I’d purchased for my $21, I was also able to feed my husband three dinner entrees and 1½ lunches, plus I had surplus oatmeal. I won’t be eating it any time soon.
As I sipped my first glass of wine in seven days, I felt like a guilty Cinderella who got to go to the ball but didn’t deserve it. I told my friends about the Hunger Challenge and described my scintillating menu for the week. And then I dug into grilled lamb chops, mâche salad with goat cheese, CSA-box green beans with fresh lemon zest, corn pudding and homemade peach-ginger-cardamom ice cream.
At the end of the meal, I didn’t even have room for that brownie I’d been craving. I didn’t really miss it, either. I realized I could have a brownie the next day, the day after, or the day after that. I could probably have a brownie whenever I wanted for the rest of my life.
But I don’t think I’ll ever forget about the people who can’t. Because looking at the world with hungry eyes for one short week, I’ve seen what a struggle it must be for those who live this challenge for real. That bitter taste of inequity will season everything I eat for a long time to come.
♥ Learn about the San Francisco Food Bank.
♥ Read the blogs of people taking the Hunger Challenge. There’s a blogroll here.
♥ Donate and receive a special thank you gift!
1. Click on donate to go to the donation page.
2. Fill out the necessary info and make a donation of $50 or more.
3. About 2/3 of the way down the form, look for a header that says, “Food Drive/Event Information (not required)”
4. Use the drop-down box to select “Bloggers Hunger Challenge,” so we’ll know you are participating.
5. Be one of the first 12 people to donate $50 or more and you’ll receive a brand new free cookbook as a thank-you.